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.’