Conversation: POTW 3 – Garrigus vs. Van de Velde

October 31, 2010

LG had some problems with my presentation in POTW 3. His remarks are reproduced below.

Comments from LG:

Hold up. You SERIOUSLY think that blowing a three-shot lead on the final hole is worse than VAN DE VELDE?!? *blink* *blink* How is this even a real comparison? Sure, three is more than two, especially in golf, but, respectfully sir, that is the only factor that falls in your favor. Admittedly, a two-shot lead going into what is probably the most difficult closing hole in the Open rota is far less safe than a three shot lead at the St. Jude, but as far as the biggest choke? No Contest.

I fail to see how you can even compare losing the St. Jude Classic to losing the Open Championship. Venue has to play a role. Carnoustie versus … wait, where’s the St. Jude played again? Let’s not forget, also, that this would be the first time in God know’s how long that a Frenchmen would have won a major championship. While this may not seem like a big deal, Van De Velde had the opportunity to bring golf to the forefront in his home country. Consider the impact that Arjun Atwal’s win at the Wyndham Championship has had on golf in India. The impact of a win at golf’s oldest contest would have sent shock waves throughout the country. I don’t recall this even being mentioned in the highlights in SportsCenter.

Moreover, as you describe it, Garrigus had one opportunity to play the right shot (the shot after his drop). Van De Velde had no fewer than THREE. First, he should NOT have played a driver on the final hole. 4 iron was always the play. Second, after getting lucky to not go OB, he should have hit the wedge to lay up. Instead, he takes 4 iron and goes for the hero shot. AGAIN he gets the biggest break of his life and hits the grandstands. Rather than bounce into Barry Burn, he lands in the weeds behind it. AGAIN he should have pitched out, but again, he goes for the green and this time lands in the burn. Another reason why Van De Velde is easily the biggest choke of all time: I didn’t need a video to write that description. It’s burned into my memory in the same way as Norman’s epic collapse in 1996. Majors will always matter more than any other tournament. Especially the epic collapses.

JK, you know who Van De Velde lost to in the resulting playoff. You know the only person to ever beat Tiger when he held a 54 hole lead going into the final round of a major. You know who shot 67 to beat Norman in 1996. Without looking, who did Garrigus lose to? yeah.

Response from JK

Without looking, Westwood ended up beating Garrigus in the first hole of the playoff. I think Westwood beat Stenson in the second hole of the playoff, but I’m not sure–I know it was a Sweed.

Anyways, that’s incidental. Basically, what you’re saying is that venue matters more than the degree of difficulty of the course, the degree of difficulty of the hole, the cushion of the lead, the way that player had played earlier in the week and earlier in the day, and how that player’s game fits the hole? Nevermind the amount of pressure on the player because of the size of the win. The whole “3 shots vs. 2 shots” is not “the only thing that goes in [my] favor.”

So, let me start at the top: The course. Carnoustie. One of the nastiest, craziest, unbelievable courses in the whole world. There are burns, blinds, crazy winds, small targets, pot bunkers, tight fairways, and hazards everywhere. People forget how bad it was: in a major championship, with the best golfers in the world playing, Van de Velde’s gaffe put him from +4 to +6. That’s right: a 3-way playoff at 6-over-par!! Tell me that course wasn’t hard. Garrigus finished at -10. Tell me that TPC Southwind is more difficult.

Note, as well…Tiger Woods, +10. When does Tiger ever shoot +10 for a tournament? That alone shows how unbelievably difficult Carnoustie was.

Next, the hole: 18 at TPC Southwind….

versus, 18th at Car-Nasty:

Look at that. Tell me where the “safe spot” is. Tell me where a 4-iron is supposed to land. Tell me how Van de Velde–who blocks 3 straight shots dead right so bad that he hits THE GRANDSTANDS–is supposed to get around that hole hitting a 4-iron off the tee. Tell me that it was not absolutely conceivable that Van de Velde could make a 6, standing on that tee.

Meanwhile, look at Garrigus at 18th of TPC Southwind. There is no way that a guy who hits the ball 350+ should ever have made a 7 on that hole. He could hit a driver into the trees, pitch out, hit up to the green, and 3-putt it without making a 7. There is no way that 18 at TPC Southwind compares to this…

Not to mention, 18 at TPC Southwind is a 450-yard dogleg, where Garrigus could easily have cut the corner. 18 at Carnoustie is 499 straight away; and you have to navigate the wind. There is no way to shorten it or make it easier.

Garrigus could easily dominate 18th at Southwind. No one can dominate 18 at Carnoustie.

But that brings me back to your other point: that Van de Velde had 3 bad decisions and Garrigus had only one; FALSE. Rather than smashing his driver to make sure he got his ball over the water, Garrigus decided to bring all the trouble into play by laying back with a hybrid. While Van de Velde brought the trouble into play, at least he was “going for it” by doing that. Had he nailed that driver, he would’ve walked it in for victory. Had Garrigus nailed his hybrid, he still would’ve had to get over the water to the green. But Garrigus made more bad decisions: he shouldn’t have dropped a ball in the rough; he shouldn’t have gone for the green on the next shot, but rather should’ve just laid up in the fairway with a wedge; and, once he hit the tree, he shouldn’t have hit the ball backwards to get it back into play. I mean, if you’re going to go for it, keep going for it. It’s bound to work out at least once.

But, perhaps most importantly, Van de Velde is French. I don’t know about you, but watching Van de Velde fall apart, I just knew it was going to happen. Somehow, you just knew he was going to throw it away. While it was unbelievable to be watching it, you knew it would happen.

Now, I get it–I’m not going to argue with you that throwing away the St. Jude Classic is like throwing away any major tournament. But, on the flip side: along with leading The Open Championship comes a whole deal of pressure that’s sure to lead to meltdowns. It happened to Tom Watson at Turnberry; a guy who had played beautifully all week suddenly takes 4 shots to get in from 170 yards. And don’t forget about Mickelson at the 2006 US Open; don’t forget how Mickelson double-bogeyed the last hole of that major championship to throw it away, just like Van de Velde. And, 18 at Winged Foot (see below) doesn’t even have water on it. What was Mickelson’s final score? +6, just like Van de Velde. So, why is Van de Velde’s collapse so special, when Mickelson did the same thing? Van de Velde was not the first time pressure played a part, and it won’t be the last. And, Turnberry and Winged Foot (even in US Open conditions) are way easier than Carnoustie in general, and the 18th holes are no comparison.

I know Garrigus didn’t throw away as much as Van de Velde or Mickelson did, but I’m not arguing that. I’m arguing that Garrigus’s collapse was far more painful to watch; it was far more unbelievable; it was far more gutwrenching. It has to be the biggest collapse in golf.


LG’s Reply to JK’s response:

In order to resolve this conflict, we have to go back to the question originally posed: What has been the biggest collapse in professional golf history?  .  Our mutual disagreement seems to stem from our respective definitions of “epic collapse.”  I think you believe that this term must mean which collapse is more unbelievable given the circumstance and the difficulty of the “collapsing” hole, while I take this term to mean the collapse that had the greatest impact on the history of the game.  To this end, I don’t believe you’d (reasonably) argue with me that Van De Velde’s collapse had a greater impact on the history of game. (if you do, please let me know, i shall be happy to post all the reasons you’re wrong :P)

I also believe that my understanding of “epic collapse” is the one that most golfers would apply to this question as well.  In the alternative, if we accept your definition, I still believe  (though not as emphatically) that Van De Velde’s collapse could be greater.  Here are the reasons why:

While I appreciate your analysis of the difficulty of the finishing holes, I think it more valuable to consider how difficult the hole was playing for the field.  We can analyze the holes to death, but really the only thing that matters is how hard it is for the professionals playing it that day because you and I both know that this game depends heavily on the conditions on the day of play.  Even the 106-yd par 3 seventh at Pebble can play anywhere from a lob wedge  to a 4-iron for the pros.    To this end, I think we should look at a better metric for determining difficulty of hole than our personal evaluations of the yardage book.  *(quick aside – If I learned anything while researching this question JK, it’s that you and I have are NOT the first to argue this point.) A google search turned up the following table of final round scorecards for 1999 Open Championship top 10 finishers:

Lawrie 4 4 3 4 5 4 4 2 4 34 4 4 3 4 4 4 3 3 4 33 67
Leonard 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 3 4 35 5 4 4 3 4 5 3 4 5 37 72
Van de Velde 4 4 5 4 5 5 4 4 3 38 4 5 5 3 4 4 3 4 7 39 77
Cabrera 4 4 3 4 4 5 4 3 4 35 4 3 4 4 5 4 3 4 4 35 70
Parry 4 4 3 4 4 5 4 2 4 34 3 4 7 4 5 4 3 6 3 39 73
Norman 4 4 4 5 5 5 4 3 4 38 4 4 3 3 4 4 3 4 5 34 72
Frost 5 6 3 5 6 4 3 3 4 39 4 4 5 2 4 4 4 4 4 35 74
Love 4 3 4 3 4 5 3 4 5 35 5 3 5 2 4 4 4 4 3 34 69
Woods 4 4 4 4 4 5 4 3 4 36 4 4 6 3 4 5 3 4 5 38 74

As you can see, for a representative sampling of Van De Velde’s peers, the WORST score that he should have reasonably had on 18 was a 5.  Instead, Van De Velde scored a gentleman’s 7; a full two shots worse than the WORST of his peers.  Though no such table exists for the St. Jude (lending credence to the wide acceptance of my construction of “epic collapse”), my guess is that Garrigus’s performance was within two strokes of the worst of his peers on the final hole.  Moreover, though you do make a fair point in arguing that the scores for the 1999 Open were some of the highest in history, a glance at the table shows that the scores on the final day are not reflective of the most difficult conditions experienced during that week, or even during the 10 most difficult rounds of the open championships.  In the end, even if the difficulty of the hole is relevant to the determination of the most epic collapse, I think it’s questionable whether this factor falls in favor of Garrigus.

I also appreciate your attempts to muddy my “three mistakes to one” argument.  This is not an argument related to general strategy as you frame it, but rather the mental mistakes that one must correct for once making the initial mistake off the tee.  I agree with you 100% that had Van De Velde hit the driver well, he would have likely made 4 or 5.  I also submit that had Garrigus hit the hybrid well, he would have likely made 4 or 5.  The mistakes that I’m referring to come after the tee shot.  Garrigus’s mistake here is not laying up.  He first dropped it in a shaved area near the hazard mark (not in the rough) and then pulled his shot in the trees.  His pitch out sideways is not a mistake.  You tell me how he could have gone for the green from this position (note – green is behind Garrigus 1/2 way between him and his caddie in the picture below):

I kindly refer you back to the discussion of Van De Velde’s mistakes above.  Garrigus really only made one mistake.  His failure to lay up is the only thing that should be causing him nightmares.  Van De Velde should (and has) taken long looks at three independent decisions he made en route to his 7 in 1999.

While I anticipate your worthy reply,  I refer our readers to a similar discussion that was had by the writers at ESPN on whether Van De Velde’s gaff was the greatest blunder in major championship history.

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