Jean Van de Velde finally returns to golf tomorrow 10 months on from the knee injury which threatened his career.
“It’s a dream to be competing again,” said the 36-year-old Frenchman, forever to be remembered for his amazing triple-bogey finish to the 1999 Open at Carnoustie.
“I was stuck in a chair basically from last July until February and there was a time when I thought I would not play again.”
Coming as it did on top of a marriage break-up, Van de Velde will not forget 2002 in a hurry.
But as he added: “I am one of 150 guys teeing off tomorrow and that’s a big thrill.”
How long he remains in the Benson & Hedges International Open at The Belfry remains to be seen, however.
The two practice rounds he has played this week were his first 18 holes since his right knee gave way in Ireland last summer. He described the first as “shocking”, the second as “ugly.”
And Van de Velde accepts he might not risk playing certain shots in the tournament for fear of doing damage again.
“I would be very pleased to survive the cut here,” he added. “The objective is not to put any pressure on results and be grateful to finish each round. I’ll be really happy if I make a cheque – it would be proof that I can come back pretty quickly.”
And he needs to. Van de Velde finished only 157th on the Order of Merit last season and the medical extension he was given for this year means he needs to earn around €90,000 in 12 events to retain membership of the European tour.
“It’s not a gimme, but I hope to save my job,” he said. If he had taken double bogey at Carnoustie, of course, he would have no worries until the end of 2009.
The injury actually dates back to a skiing holiday in 1993 when he tore a cruciate ligament in his right knee.
He was still able to play a full schedule of events that season and battled on. It was not even mentioned as he finished second to Paul Lawrie in the Open and that was still good enough to win him a Ryder Cup debut.
But his last appearance was a second round 81 at the European Open on July 5 last year, the day he woke up and realised something very bad had happened inside his knee.
“I eventually had an operation on September 10 and it was March 11 before I hit a single shot. While the knee is stable now everything around is painful.”
Van de Velde had treatment at the same clinic which treated Real Madrid star Ronaldo and seeing the Brazilian back playing so well both for club and country has boosted the Frenchman enormously.
Those at The Belfry or watching on television might not see him at his best, but he is just glad they are seeing him at all.
Ten members of last year’s Ryder Cup side – all except Sergio Garcia and Jesper Parnevik – are competing for the €257,000 first prize too, as are their captain Sam Torrance and the man who twice lifted the trophy on the course, Tony Jacklin.
Winner of the inaugural event at Fulford in 1971, Jacklin now competes in the last one as well. A Government ban on tobacco sponsorship brings the curtain down on Sunday.
Twice winner Jose Maria Olazabal commented: “It’s a great shame that we are going to lose a tournament like this one. I truly mean that.
“I know the reason is some laws, but it is a shame that a sponsor like Benson & Hedges are going to have to stop because of it. The loser is the game of golf.
“It’s going to be a very great loss to the tour because this tournament is like a curtain-raiser for the season. It’s like the ringing of a bell to signify that it is now the time of the season for everyone to start to play well.”