Announcing The Creation Of The Jean Van De Velde Fan Club.
By Tom Danehy
JULY 26, 1999: MY NEW FAVORITE golfer in the world is Jean Van De Velde. Actually, golf being what it is -- a good walk, spoiled, and so much less -- I've never really had a favorite golfer before, so Jean is my first-ever favorite golfer.
For those of you who missed it, my new French homie Jean had a three-stroke lead going into the final hole of the British Open in the Scottish village of Carnoustie, which rhymes with nothing you've ever uttered before in your entire life.
He blew up in world-class style. He shot a Rube Goldberg seven on the par-four 18th hole, going from off the fairway to the thick rough to the bleachers to the water to the sand and finally to the green, where he sank a tough putt to join two other guys in a unique four-hole playoff. He lost that by two strokes.
When it was mercifully over, Van De Velde laughed and joked. And won himself more fans than Tiger Woods would ever do if he won 100 tournaments in a row.
He also did the near-impossible: he had the guys at the gym on Sunday talking about golf. In the 15 years that we've been playing ball on Sundays, we've talked about golf exactly twice.
Once, I recounted a story I had read about Lee Trevino, who had used his earnings to move into a brand new house in a ritzy Texas neighborhood. One morning he was out washing the windows when one of his female neighbors walked by. Obviously surprised to see a Hispanic man in her 'hood, the woman asked, "You do such a good job on those windows. How much do they pay you?"
Trevino responded, "Oh, I don't get paid any money. I just get to sleep with the woman who lives here."
The only other time was when Tiger Woods burst onto the scene. Since none of us gives a hoot about golf, the discussion was about whether there was a chance in hell of Woods getting anybody to buy that "I'm Asian" bit he was peddling.
The final verdict was that Woods is 50 percent Asian, 25 percent black, with smaller percentages of Native American, Irish and Scotch. But mostly he's 100 percent full of shit.
This was displayed during last week's tournament, when he complained about the layout of the course. He whined that long hitters such as himself were punished by the narrow fairways and the twisting, hilly landscape.
Woods said, "This course takes clubs out of your hand."
Dude, you never play with a full complement of clubs, anyway. You always have to have at least one stuck up your butt so you can maintain your sour disposition.
To be fair, Woods wasn't the only one bitching and moaning about the course. He had lots of company, including Papa Joe Idiot on talk radio Monday, who complained that the best golfers in the world had to actually struggle to end up with above-par scores. Boo-hoo, you moron. I simply don't understand the problem; they're all playing the same course.
(Hey, I just had a great idea for a "Candid Camera" gag. Have one guy tee off on a par-three surrounded by grass. But then, the next guy gets up and, by remote control, some fake grass is rolled back to expose a couple humongous sand traps right in front of the green. See Tiger, that would be unfair. But if you're all playing the same hilly course with the same wind and rain in your faces, shut the hell up and play.)
Which is what Van De Velde did, quite splendidly. Some say he did it for 71 holes, but I say he did it for 76. He played the only way he knows how and it almost worked out for him. I wish it had.
It's kinda weird rooting for a guy from France, what with their war record and that Jerry Lewis thing. (Speaking of their war record, how do you imagine a French guy came to have the last name Van De Velde? Probably a plunderer or a pillager in the family woodpile somewhere. Gee, how would you like it if your country sucked so bad, it got its butt kicked by the Dutch?)
Actually, the only Frenchman I've ever cheered for was Jean Reno, when he saved young Natalie Portman's life in The Professional. And that was, well...you know, a movie, so it doesn't really count.
I especially hated the announcers second-guessing what Van De Velde did on 18. Announcer dude, you're only 60 years old and 75 pounds overweight; you're still qualified to play top-level golf. Get your sorry butt down out of the tower and go show us how it's done. If not, just tell us what he did, not what you think he should have done.
I have to admit I was in the minority with my support of Van De Velde. One guy put it in terms I might understand. He asked if one of the girls basketball teams I coach had a two-point lead with a minute left, would I want them to be shooting three-pointers.
Anyone who has seen my teams play knows the answer is obviously yes. If you think you can make it, shoot it. Go ahead, especially if shooting threes all day has gotten us that lead.
Hey, over the years, my teams have blown some spectacular leads. But I've never had a losing team, so the go-for-it attitude works far more often than not. And if it doesn't, you shrug and go on to the next game.
That's what Van De Velde did. He went for it, and in doing so, he brought life, spirit and emotion to the most boring sport on earth. Plus, he knocked that stupid French bike race off the front pages for a day or so.
Five years from now, you'll remember Van De Velde, not because he choked, but because he tried. But how 'bout this? It's been a few days. What's the name of the guy who won the British Open?
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