Who partnered Jean van de Velde in the final round of the 1999 Open Championship? Only golf geeks will know so dominated is that tournament’s narrative by the Frenchman’s calamitous finish and Paul Lawrie’s subsequent victory.
It transpires Van de Velde is not the only one with bitter memories of that Sunday afternoon at Carnoustie, 19 years ago. The answer to the question is Craig Parry, whose third round of 67 meant he earned a spot alongside Van de Velde in the 2.40pm tee time.
Van de Velde started day four holding a five-shot lead, but after 11 holes Parry led the field. Ask him now about his emotion when that Open is raised and the response is immediate: “My first thought is that I blew it. You don’t get many chances to win major championships and that was my best.”
This, though, is one of those stories that must start at the end. The image of Van de Velde, shoes off, standing in the Barry Burn after his third shot on the 18th is one of the most iconic in golf. A double bogey six at the last would have won him the Open; the rest is the stuff of chaotic history. Parry had the perfect view; he has a theory on where Van de Velde went wrong before taking a penalty drop from the water.
“I was already across on the other side of the burn and I could see the ball was half buried, it wasn’t that bad a lie,” Parry explains. “It was back far enough from the wall that he could quite easily have played it. If he had gone straight to the ball, he could have played it no problem at all but the tide was coming in quite quickly. The ball was oscillating, getting lower and lower and the ball was getting deeper as he was taking his shoes off and going to look at it.
“I wasn’t seeing the humour part of it. I was feeling for him at that point because I knew Paul and Justin [Leonard] were in the clubhouse.
“He had to make a double bogey; and he made triple. He was a little bit shellshocked but that was understandable. He has gone from standing on the 18th tee looking like winning the Open Championship to being in a play-off and having to regroup. He couldn’t manage it obviously.”
Parry insists Van de Velde’s strategy of a driver from the 18th tee – which was duly carved on to the 17th fairway – was perfectly sound. “He had to hit driver off the tee because if he didn’t, all the thick rough off the tee comes into play,” says the 52-year-old. “Even if he hit it into the burn, he would be playing three up by there which wouldn’t be that bad.
“He hit it out to the right so now he is going diagonally into the green. There is out of bounds on the left so the only shot he can hit is towards the bunker and grandstand. He hit at the grandstand and the ball hit about six inches above the foot traffic; two round objects hitting each other, the ball flies back across the burn and into wet long rough. You can pull the ball easily from there, which is why he decelerated and it went into the burn.
“We had a little bit of misty rain late in the afternoon that the TV didn’t pick up on. We played the 18th straight into a breeze, maybe only 10-15kph but strong enough to affect the ball, with the rain as well.”
From the drop, Van de Velde had gone into the same bunker as Parry. The Australian was to hole his bunker shot for a birdie three at the last and tie for fourth. “That’s the shot I need,” Van de Velde told his partner. Parry was in no mood for levity as he watched the Frenchman fail to follow suit before eventually putting from eight feet to make the play-off.
“I was pretty filthy with myself, making a bogey, a double bogey and a triple bogey on the back nine,” he explains. “I felt like I had thrown it away.”
Trouble had begun on the 12th when he found thick rough. “I was lucky to see it in there, let alone play it. The ball moved a foot and a half.”
While not blatant, it is easy to infer Parry would not laud what was Lawrie’s only major win given the Scot had a Sunday time 70 minutes ahead of Van de Velde and the Australian.
“Look, obviously he played well and he was out there early enough to shoot a score,” Parry says. “That’s hard enough to do in its own right so good luck to him, he played well enough to win the Open and did that. But there were obviously other factors involved.”
Parry can still recount the last day of the tournament, stroke by stroke, as well as recalling an earlier message from officialdom after stark criticism of the fierce Carnoustie setup. “The R&A had taken a long time to mow the first cut of rough, I think it was the Wednesday afternoon. You had 4ft high rough. They came to me on the Saturday after my 67 and said: ‘Thanks very much, you got us off the hook.’
“Hopefully this time they don’t have the rough as thick and the best player wins. For me, major championships get too focused on what score wins, which should be irrelevant. You only ever remember who won the championship, not the score.” Or, on occasion, who lost.