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Jean Van de Velde earned an unforgettable place in golf history with his sand'n sea adventure in 1999. (David Cannon/Getty Images)
Jean Van de Velde earned an unforgettable place in golf history with his sand'n sea adventure in 1999. (David Cannon/Getty Images)

Maginnes: Sometimes a major disaster defines a career

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Big-time champions from Sam Snead to Phil Mickelson have blown majors but accomplished many other great things. In the case of Jean Van de Velde, says John Maginnes, most of us will only remember his catastrophe at Carnoustie.

By John Maginnes, Contributor

Jean Van de Velde has become a punch line.

His triple bogey on the 72nd hole at Carnoustie in 1999 -- when double bogey would have won -- has become the stuff of legend. It couldn't happen, yet, it did. It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion. It is often forgotten that his second shot actually cleared the Barry Burn only to bounce off the railing of the grandstand and carom back into the ever-rising tide.

Jean won't be at Carnoustie for the Open Championship this week, but his epic collapse will be recounted time and time again. The unwitting Paul Lawrie was the ultimate beneficiary of the Frenchman's demise, and he remains the last European to win a major championship.

Van de Velde escaped the European sneers for a short time after the Open and came to America to play. The fun-loving Frenchman embraced his notoriety and fame, and American crowds responded favorably. But unless he somehow finds the magic again, he will forever be remembered for one of the greatest collapses in golf history.

Phil Mickelson called himself an idiot moments after an implosion of his own on the 72nd hole at Winged Foot. The 2006 U.S. Open was Lefty's for the taking, with Mickelson needing only bogey to win. You remember. We all remember. But that was probably not the worst ever collapse in U.S. Open history.

Sam Snead didn't know that a par 5 on the final hole at Philadelphia Country Club would win in 1939. There were no scoreboards in those days, and "Slammin' Sammy" would later say he thought he needed to make birdie. His aggressiveness was punished in trademark U.S. Open style, as he recorded a triple-bogey 8 and missed a playoff by two strokes. Sam would never win the U.S. Open, although he would win each of the other majors -- and amass seven total for his career.

Ed Sneed had the 1979 Masters in the palm of his hand, entering Sunday's final round with a five-shot lead. When he stood on the 16th tee, three clear of the field, he must have felt like the tournament was his. But he made bogey at No. 16 and again at the 17th. His third consecutive bogey at the 18th opened the door for a Masters rookie, Fuzzy Zoeller, to capture the Green Jacket. Fuzzy, Tom Watson and Sneed played two extra holes before Fuzzy emerged victorious.

Seventeen years later, Greg Norman looked in control at Augusta National. In 1996, he was the most popular player in the world. The hopes of Shark fans everywhere were on the line as Greg held the 54-hole lead by six shots over Nick Faldo. It is often forgotten that Faldo shot the low round of the day that fateful Sunday. His 67 was 11 shots better than Norman's 78.

The impact of the collapses of Phil, Greg and Sam Snead are tempered a bit because they won other major championships. For Van de Velde and Ed Sneed, the impact of their final-round stumbles is far more reaching. World Golf Hall of Famers who consistently put themselves in the line of fire are going to take the occasional bullet. But those who capture only our imagination, and never a title, are different.

There is actually a psychological term now known as the "Carnoustie Effect." Really, Google it. According to Wikipedia, the Carnoustie Effect is "the degree of trauma experienced when what is undertaken in confident spirits founders on unforeseen difficulties." It is rare that someone's failing transcends an event.

Mr. Van de Velde, I would like to introduce you to Mr. Murphy. No, not Sarge -- the one with the Law. Despite extensive research, there is no word on whether that Murphy was a golfer, but it is rumored that his grandson caddies on the European Tour for an ailing Frenchman. Or at least he used to. Neither player nor caddie have been seen in a while.

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