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Van de Velde enjoying being first

Jean Van de Velde, fully recovered from his infamous collapse in the British Open, is thoroughly enjoying being the first Frenchman to play in the Ryder Cup matches.

"The atmosphere here is fantastic, and the people are very encouraging and very helpful," Van de Velde said on Wednesday just before a practice round in the rain at The Country Club, where the 33rd Ryder Cup matches begin on Friday.

Van de Velde, whose shocking triple bogey on the 72nd hole at Carnoustie cost him the lead and led to a playoff loss in the British Open in July, said he was impressed with the huge crowds -- estimated at 30,000 -- that filled the course for the first day of formal practice.

"The people are here to enjoy golf and it doesn't matter if you're an American, or if you're Irish, or if you're French, or whatever, you hit a good shot and they respond to it."

Van de Velde, 33, also said he would draw strength from his experience at Carnoustie, where Ryder Cup team-mate Paul Lawrie beat him and American Justin Leonard in the playoff.

"The Open was a great experience ... It's not like I was five behind and all of a sudden after 71 holes I was three ahead," he said in response to a question about playing in the pressure of a Ryder Cup.

"I was ahead from the 35th to the 71st hole. If that's not coping with pressure, I don't know what is."

Van de Velde, who has only one victory in 10 years on the European PGA Tour, also displayed the keen sense of humour that has helped him endure the disappointment of Carnoustie.

In describing one hole on the golf course here Van de Velde said, "the green is like a handkerchief."

"I think you need to be the first to play, because if you hit your ball on it, there is no room for another ball, it's so small."

The Frenchman also got an opportunity to take a dig at his national airline, which temporarily lost his clubs in transporting them to the PGA Championship near Chicago last month.

Asked if his clubs arrived on time this week, he said, "Yes, they did. I took British Airways this time, so they arrived."

Van de Velde, who used his day without clubs at the PGA to tour Chicago, also took time this week to visit nearby Boston, a picturesque city filled with historic sites, museums and universities.

"Of course, golf is the most important thing this week, but it's not the only one," said Van de Velde, who took his wife, Brigitte, and daughter on a tour of Boston on Monday.

"We had a great time," he said. "For me it's important to feel comfortable where I am and see a little of it."

Van de Velde also realised the impact he was having at home as the first golfer from his country to play in the Ryder Cup matches, which pit 12-man teams from the United States and Europe against each other for three days.

"It's fantastic," he said. "People (at home) are talking about it more; the media, TV and newspapers are more into it. The general public is looking at golf with a different view."

Van de Velde was also personally delighted with his pioneering Ryder Cup role.

"It was my dream to play in the Ryder Cup when I was a kid and I worked pretty hard for it," he said. "I'm going to cherish every moment of it, every little detail, and everything that happens this week.

"I'm going to keep it in the back of my head and have it for the rest of my life."


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