No one who saw it will likely forget French golfer Jean Van de Velde's catastrophe at Carnoustie on the 72nd hole of the 1999 British Open. "Such theater!" writes Ben Hogan
biographer Curt Sampson
in Royal and Ancient
, his stunning chronicle of the event. "Character is destiny, the ancient Greeks believed. And to many people--at Carnoustie and elsewhere, then and now--Van de Velde's unfolding disaster looked like an unmistakable expression of French style: cavalier, ironic, and more concerned with style than substance. He seemed to be treating the beloved Jug like a chamber pot." In one golf hole, what had been a tour de force devolved into a tour de farce. What writer could ask for more?
Not Sampson, who deftly uses Carnoustie as a prism to refract the history of golf's most storied tournament. Weaving back and forth through time, Royal and Ancient links the 1999 champion--playoff winner Paul Lawrie--to champions past, from the first--Willie Park in 1860--to Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and to those such as Ben Hogan, Gary Player, and Tom Watson who've conquered the wind-wracked Carnoustie track before him. In his detailed recounting of '99 affair, Sampson certainly reports on the shots, but goes well beyond them into the minds of such competitors as veteran Steve Elkington; Zane Scotland, the youngest qualifier ever; and even John Philp, Carnoustie's proud, beleaguered superintendent, who constantly battled the elements and carping of the players and the press. Fittingly, the last word goes to Van de Velde, a fine golfer who chose the one moment the world was watching to come utterly undone. "It took a lot of bad luck for me to lose," he tells Sampson months after the tournament. "When I think about it now, I'm a little nostalgic.... It's not like I burn emotionally... but... I left more over there than I expected." Sampson brings it, and a good deal more, back for us. --Jeff Silverman
From Publishers Weekly
The saving grace of this disappointing work comes near the end, when Sampson finally gets around to describing the last round of the British Open held at Scotland's Carnoustie links course in 1999. In one of the most stunning collapses in a major golf tournament, the unknown Frenchman Jean Van de Velde squandered a three-stoke lead on the last hole, forcing a playoff with Paul Lawrie and Justine Leonard, which Lawrie ultimately won. Van de Velde didn't merely lose the three-stroke lead, he blew itAblasting an ill-advised drive into an adjourning fairway, hitting a second shot that bounced off the bleachers into Carnoustie's impossibly long rough and then bopping a third shot directly in the burn guarding the green. Van de Velde's play on the 72nd hole at the Open will undoubtedly be one of the most analyzed in golf history, and Sampson gives an insightful and humorous account. Unfortunately, the balance of the book is a jumbled story of past British Opens and the men who competed in them. Sampson (The Masters) seems to have run into bad luck when his original plan of incorporating the rounds of Steve Elkington, Andrew Magee and Clark Dennis into the fabric of the 1999 Open fell apart when Dennis failed to qualify for the event and both Magee and Elkington missed the cut. In scrambling to fill the void, the wit and flair Sampson brings to bear at the end of the story are largely missing from the rest of the book.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.