ST. ANDREWS, Scotland - Jean Van de Velde came to last year's British Open at Carnoustie a virtual unknown, a European Tour journeyman whose claim to fame was his lone victory at the 1993 Masters - the Roma Masters.
Van de Velde still only has one win in 13 years as a pro, but it was his agonizing and widely second-guessed defeat at last year's Open that raised the profile of the 34-year-old Frenchman.
Who can forget Van de Velde blowing a three-shot lead on the final hole of regulation with a triple-bogey 7, then losing in a four-hole playoff? Who can forget his heroic stance afterward?
"Am I a better person?" Van de Velde said yesterday, responding to a question. "I don't know. Better golfer perhaps. I am more confident and I believe more in myself."
Van de Velde has not been consumed by the heartbreaking defeat in a three-way playoff that also included eventual winner Paul Lawrie of Scotland and former champion Justin Leonard. Yet he admits that he might play differently given a similar situation this year.
"I would probably hit a putter off the tee," said Van de Velde, who did just that in a commercial he filmed. "Being serious, the mistake was on the third shot definitely. The grandstand was a bit too close from the green, especially after I hit it."
Yet Van de Velde earned enough at Carnoustie to finish in the top 125 on the PGA Tour money list, giving him a spot on this year's tour.
"It is always one thing I always wanted to do as a golfer, so I am thrilled," he said. "It is pretty hard. It is a great experience. The conditions are great, the courses are great and they try to make life as easy as possible for the players."
He is currently 86th this year, with $343,458 in 14 tournaments.
Van de Velde laughed when he was asked if he dreamed about what happened to him at Carnoustie.
"I have some better things to dream about," he said. "I put that one far down on my list."
Lawrie misses practice
Lawrie, who hasn't won since Carnoustie, didn't practice yesterday afternoon after being hit on the wrist by one of the youngsters he was giving a lesson to at a clinic here earlier in the day.
Lawrie is expected to defend his title, and will likely play in today's four-hole exhibition of living British Open champions.
"I've just got a bit of swelling that will go down tonight," he said. "It's very disappointing because I wanted to play today. "