Jean Van De Velde

On July 18, 1999, French professional golfer Jean van de Velde stood on the cusp of winning the Open Championship. He led by five strokes at the start of his final round and, although that lead was cut to three strokes, he still only needed a double-bogey six on the eighteenth, on which he had scored a par four and two birdie threes in his three previous rounds.

To the consternation of BBC commentator Peter Alliss, Van de Velde elected to take driver off the tee and struck a wild tee-shot so far right that he missed the water hazard and ended up in front of the seventeenth tee. His two-iron approach shot was equally wild, richocheting off the grandstand into deep rough some way short of the green. Electing to hack out left off the flagstick, towards the front of the green, Van der Velde advanced his ball only as far as the water hazard known as the ‘Barry Burn’.

Having removed his shoes and socks and waded into the hazard, he eventually decided against attempting to hit his ball – described by Alliss as ‘pure madness’ – and took a penalty drop instead. Even so, he pitched his fifth shot into the bunker short of the green, thereby needing to get up and down to force a three-way playoff with Justin Leonard and Paul Lawrie. That he did, but only after holing a slippery six-foot putt. Paul Lawrie eventually won the the four-hole playoff, having started the day ten shots off the lead. Reflecting on his meltdown, Van de Velde remained philosophical, saying, ‘Things happen for a reason. You find out what you’re made of. It’s a game. It’s nothing more.’

Greg Norman

During a long, illustrious career, Greg Norman won 91 professional tournaments, including 20 on the PGA Tour. However, his two wins in major championships – both in the Open Championship, at Turnberry in 1986 and Royal St. George’s in 1993 – were scant return for the 331 weeks he spent as the number one ranked golfer in the world, according to Official World Golf Rankings.

‘The Great White Shark’, as Norman was known in his heyday, finished runner-up in major championships on eight occasions during his career, losing in a playoff four times and snatching defeat from the jaws of victory more than once. Of course, it wasn’t always entirely his fault, as was the case when, in 1986, 46-year-old Jack Nicklaus played the back nine at Augusta in six under par to win the Masters by a single stroke, but he did experience more than his fair share of misfortune.

The following August, Norman surrendered a four stroke lead after 54 holes of the PGA Championship at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, eventually finishing two strokes behind Bob Tway, who holed out from a greenside bunker for an unlikely birdie on the final hole. Back at Augusta in 1987, Norman was involved in a three-way playoff with Severiano Ballesteros and Larry Mize, but lost out again in extraordinary fashion. On the second playoff hole, the par-4 eleventh, Mize ‘bailed out’ to the right of the green with his approach shot but, from what has become known as ‘Larry Mize Country’, holed his pitch shot to win the Green Jacket. Last, but by no means least, in 1996 Norman led the Masters by six strokes heading into the final round, but shot a disastrous 78, finding water from the tee at the twelfth and the sixteenth, eventually suffering a five-stroke defeat by Nick Faldo.


Jana Novotna

The late Jana Novotna, who died in November, 2017, at the age of 49, after a long battle with cancer, won 24 professional ladies’ tennis singles titles and, in her heyday, was ranked number two in the world. Born in the former Moravian capital, Brno, in the days before the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, Novotna won just one ‘Grand Slam’ ladies’ singles title, at Wimbledon in 1998. However, she will always be fondly remembered for her agonising defeat, from a seemingly unassailable position, in the Wimbledon ladies’ single final in 1993.

Seeded eight, Novotna beat fourth seed Gabriela Sabbatini 6-4, 6-3 in her quarter-final and second seed Martina Navratilova 6-4, 6-4 in her semi-final to set up a final meeting with first seed and defending champion Steffi Graf. Graf won the first set 7-6, 8-6 in a tie-breaker, but Novotna continued to execute her trademark serve-and-volley tactics with a degree of confidence.

Novotna won the second set 6-1, losing just four points on her serve, and took a 4-1 lead in the third. However, in the sixth game, leading 40-30, she served a double fault and, at that point, a nervous realisation may have dawned on her. In any event, she missed a forehand volley and an overhead to gift Graf a service break and never really recovered.

Thereafter Graf took control, winning the next four games and clinching the title 7-6, 1-6, 6-4 with a decisive overhead smash. Visibly distraught after suffering one of the most famous collapses in sporting history, a tearful Novotna was comforted by Duchess of Kent during the ensuing trophy presentation. Thankfully, her words of consolation, ‘I know you will win it one day, don’t worry’, proved prophetic five years later, when Novotna beat Nathalie Tauziat in straight sets.

Derek Redmond

Derek Redmond was a hugely talented, but desperately unlucky, athlete, whose career was constantly unterrupted by serious injury, often requiring surgery, which prevented him from achieving the success he might otherwise have enjoyed. A specialist 400-metre runner, Redmond twice broke the British record for that distance, running 44.82 seconds at the Bislett Games in Oslo, Norway in July, 1985 and 44.50 seconds at the IAAF World Championships in Rome, Italy in September, 1987.

The following year, at the Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, Redmond was forced to withdraw from his heat with an Achilles tendon injury. Redmond gained consolation at the IAAF World Championships in Tokyo, Japan in 1991; alongside compatriots Roger Black, John Regis and Kriss Akabusi, he was part of the Great Britain team that beat the hotly-fancied USA team to the gold medal in the men’s 4 x 400-metre relay.

Despite eight operations in the interim, Redmond arrived at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, injury free. He comfortably won his heat, in 45.03 seconds, and his quarter-final, in 45.02 seconds, and was in confident mood when he lined up for his semi-final. However, down the back straight down, just as he appeared to be making serene progress towards his first Olympic final, he heard a pop and, strides later, felt excrutiating pain in his right hamstring. Redmond grabbed the back of his injured leg and fell to the track, his Olympic dreams in tatters.


Nevertheless, determined to finish his race, Redmond waved away medical personnel and, slowly, clambered to his feet. Limping painfully, he was joined at the top of home straight by his father, Jim, who had made his way onto the track and helped him hobble, tearfully, to within a few feet of the finish line. With the race long since over, officially, Redmond crossed the line, under his own steam, to rapturous applause.