Van de Velde is home away from home at Fanling

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 November, 2008, 12:00am

Hong Kong might not have had any local professionals playing in yesterday's final round, but Jean Van de Velde was the next best thing.

The charismatic Frenchman, best known for his final hole meltdown at the 1999 Open Championship when he had the tournament all but won, spends the majority of his free time in the city with his fiancee and two Hong Kong-born sons.

'I love Hong Kong and becoming a resident is a top priority,' said Van de Velde (pictured), who finished tied 53rd after a final-round 68 left him at two-under 278. 'They say New York is the city that never sleeps, but what about here? It's not like any other place I've ever experienced.'

The 42-year-old's connection with the city stems from his fiancee Jessica, who was born and brought up here. And the two-time European Tour winner, who played in the infamous 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline, intends to cut down his playing schedule and settle in Hong Kong full-time to spend more time with his family.

'I'm going to play a lot less next year,' said Van de Velde (pictured), who finished 126th on last season's European Tour Order of Merit. 'I have a young family and being with them is the most important thing for me. I still hope to compete, but I will spend less time in Europe and more in Asia.'

Despite sliding to 435th in the world rankings, Van de Velde has shown glimpses of the form that won him the Madeira Island Open in 2006. A decent showing at the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in July was followed by his best finish of the season - a tie for 16th at the Quinn Insurance British Masters.

'I won in my 20s and I won in my 30s - now I want to win in my 40s. I want to win in three different decades,' said Van de Velde, who missed most of the 2002 and 2003 seasons through injury. 'That is the goal. You have to have goals.'

Although he was never in contention for this week's title, the Frenchman's affection for Fanling and the Open is deeply rooted.

'The French Open is my home tournament, of course, but Hong Kong comes a very close second. The tournament holds a special place in my heart,' said Van de Velde, who finished in a tie for eighth in 2006.

It was at another great old club where Van de Velde famously entered golfing folklore - but for all the wrong reasons. Holding a three-stroke lead playing Carnoustie's final hole at the Open nine years ago, his decision to go for the green on his second shot set off a series of calamitous events that resulted in a triple-bogey. Mentally shot, he lost the ensuing play-off to Scotland's Paul Lawrie.

'The way that ball hit the grandstand and came down was freaky,' said Van de Velde, who earned praise from all quarters for his handling of the media mayhem. 'You have to remember [that] golf is a game, it involves luck. You could argue that I played the wrong shot, but I could have hit an eight-iron back to the fairway and it could have hit a sprinkler head and gone out of bounds.

'At the end of the day, if golf is what defines you as a person, then you're a loser, because you're always going to lose more times than you win. Golf is a part of me, but it's not me. The way I reacted in 1999 is an aspect of me.'