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If you think Van de Velde is agonizing, you're all wet

Frenchman has shed a few tears, but can joke about last month's British Open collapse.

He arrived in the Windy City, his clubs lost somewhere on the way from France. Not to worry, said Jean Van de Velde. If blowing the British Open in such catastrophic fashion last month didn't alter his good-natured foundation, a minor nuisance couldn't shake him.

So instead of preparing for the PGA Championship, which begins this morning at Medinah Country Club, Van de Velde headed downtown to visit the city of broad shoulders.

No sports locale in America could embrace him more. The Second City, home to lovable losers, is the perfect place for Van de Velde to resume his very public life.

He has been swarmed by autograph seekers at the course, recognized on the streets among the skyscrapers. Chicago sports fans have learned to appreciate futility, and Van de Velde is the reigning champion. The Cubs have nothing on the Frenchman.

"I was on the TV for a few hours at the British Open, so they got to know my face a little bit better," said Van de Velde, 33, the winner of one European PGA Tour event in his 11-year career.

Golf fans around the world are painfully aware of Van de Velde's failure at Carnoustie, his flameout on the 72nd hole. Leading by three strokes with one hole to play, he inexplicably unraveled, using poor judgment at least three times with club selection, finishing with triple-bogey 7.

That put him into a four-hole playoff with Scotland's Paul Lawrie and American Justin Leonard, which Lawrie won.

But Van de Velde has gained far more fame.

"I could not live with myself knowing that I tried to play for safety and that I blew it," Van de Velde said again Wednesday. "That's not in my nature. I made my choices. I made my decision."

Van de Velde remains slow to question his tactics. He does not regret hitting a driver off the tee that nearly found the Barry burn. He does not regret hitting a 2-iron second shot that bounded off the grandstand and back across the burn. "You could say that was unlucky," he said. "I can stand there all day trying to aim at the grandstand, and I'm not sure the ball would come back."

From there, he knocked his third shot into the burn, before removing his shoes and socks and considering playing from the water. He regained his senses in time to take a penalty drop, from where he played into a bunker and needed an incredible save just to make 7 and get into the playoff.

There are no regrets, he said. Maybe he would play the third shot differently, maybe not. "One thing I don't think you can do is play against your nature," he said. "To me, it was in the spirit of how I see the game and how I like to play. To me, that was the shot that was dictated. And so I just played. It's not fun hitting a 9-iron if you can hit a 3-iron on the green. What would you do that for? I mean, I wouldn't do it. I haven't done it."

Many wondered if Van de Velde's caddie had fallen asleep on the bag. Christophe Angiolini is still by his side. How could he let Van de Velde choose those ill-fated clubs? "I made a choice, and I take full responsibility," Van de Velde said. "I don't think he could have stepped in my way, saying I should hit a 5-iron off the tee. I would have felt even worse missing the fairway with a 5-iron."

Yet Van de Velde admitted the past month has not been as happy-go-lucky as he sometimes portrays. Tears were shed, and he hardly slept after the tournament, once confiding to his wife, Brigitte, "I had my dream. Why was I so stupid?"

Afterward, instead of returning to his home in Geneva, the Van de Veldes headed to the French village of Mont-de-Marsan, near his hometown. He emerged from his funk and began to feel a warm reaction to his failure, receiving messages and letters from around the world. In France, golf is not a popular game, played by few. His countrymen were thrilled he finished so high.

"I haven't received one letter saying, "You stupid idiot,' " he said. "Everybody was very encouraging and supporting. People have been very nice. A lot of good things have happened. Fair enough, my name is not on the trophy. But one day, maybe it will be on it."

He did get one letter from an impolite Englishman, however. It found him despite being addressed to: Jean Van de Velde, southwest France. The person simply cut out a picture of Van de Velde standing in the Barry Burn, attached it to the envelope and drew an arrow with the words "that's him."

Van de Velde's sense of humor has remained intact. He joked that his sponsor, Euro Disney, should name a ride after him. "I suggested the Jean Splash or Velde Water Chute," he said.

The clubs eventually arrived, and Van de Velde played part of Medinah No. 3 in a practice round Tuesday and Wednesday. If anything, he said, the experience at Carnoustie gives him the belief that he can contend again. And despite the cruel ending, finishing tied for second did open doors.

It got him an invitation here and to next year's Masters and the $289,025 he earned gives him the opportunity to earn his PGA Tour card, which he is considering using to play more in the United States.

Yet he knows the British Open will follow him, no matter where he goes.

"What can I say to people who tell me, "You should have done this, you should have done that?' " he said. "Maybe I will answer to them, "Well, I haven't seen you on the tee of the 72nd hole three shots ahead. If you ever get that chance, I'm going to give you a quarter and you give me a phone call.'

"That's maybe one thing I can tell them."

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