Welcome Back David Duval

by Jeff Skinner

The never ending saga of The US Open at Bathpage Black (yes, it is so wet it is now Bathpage) continued until the players ran out of daylight on Sunday. The sentimental favorite is of course Phil Mickelson and untested Ricky Barnes and one time winner Lucas Glover are good stories. However, no matter what the outcome after the final round, win, lose or draw, David Duval has had a tremendous tournament. This week has been Duval’s resurrection. His comeback to the top of the leader board in a major seemed highly unlikely at the start of this tournament. Considering that Duval has made only four of thirteen cuts on the tour this year and thirteen of forty cuts since 2007 with no top ten finishes during that period, it is a miracle he made the cut here. Duval is at -2, five strokes back tied for third with Mickelson, Hunter Mahan and Ross Fisher. If Barnes or Glover falters under the pressure of leading a major in the final round Duval, Mickelson, Mike Weir, Woods and Retief Goosen are all major winners within seven strokes and are capable of claiming this one.

Duval is a misunderstood character that has become a fan favorite during his recent resurgence. He is the recipient of many cheers and support from the fans at Bethpage, who love an underdog. He has even acknowledged the fans adulation which was quite a change from the Duval that was the number one golfer in the world in 1999. Duval was drawn to golf naturally. His father, Bob Duval was a touring pro and then a club pro when David was a child. When Duval was nine he lost his twelve year old brother Brent to a rare illness and it sent David and his family into a sadness that broke the family apart. His parents had difficulty dealing with the loss and David turned to the only aspect of his life that he felt comfortable with, golf. He would spend all his time at his Dad’s course on the range, playing and practicing. He withdrew into himself and lived his life as if he was the only one he could trust. When Duval entered college at Georgia Tech his attitude rubbed his teammates the wrong way. Duval thought he was the best player and had little use for any of his teammates if they weren’t of the same mind. Luckily for Duval his coach, Puggy Blackmon, was an understanding man of unlimited patience. He worked with Duval on his golf and his attitude and tried to show Duval that this world was best when he can share it with friends. It took Duval years to see what Blackmon was trying to instill in him.

When Duval turned pro in 1993 he thought a PGA Tour career was there for the taking. He was rudely awakened to the fact that there were many golfers on the tour that were better than David Duval. That fact did not sit well with him. He was relegated to the Nike Tour for a few years. When his time came, it came in a tidal wave. Duval won his first tournament in 1997, the Michelob Classic and won his next two starts and before long he was on top of the world. In 1999 he won The Players Championship on the same day his dad won on the Champions Tour, he shot 59 on the final day of the Bob Hope to win and was number one in the world. He had endorsements and huge paychecks and flew around the world with his buddy Tiger Woods. He was at the top of the golfing world and when he won the 2001 British Open he had attained one of his most significant goals. It would be his last win.

Duval asked himself “Is that it?” His career goal accomplished, he fell off the face of the golfing world. He had a breakup with his longtime girlfriend and lost his edge for the game. He couldn’t compete with the best in the world and soon couldn’t make a cut or break par. He withdrew from the game and lived a life out of the public eye. During that time he fell in love and married a woman with three children. Since then he has had a child and found that being a husband and father was more fulfilling than anything he could do on a golf course. The new David Duval has a new appreciation for things off the course that involve people, people that he loves.

Duval is very positive about the state of his game. For weeks he was saying he was close, closer than his scores indicated. He was right. This week he is very close. He told Rich Lerner that “he is comfortable with his position.” He also said He was “confident with what I’ve been doing… it is good and fundamentally sound.” If the leaders slip and Duval can manage a few birdies we may be witnessing one of the greatest comebacks in golf. Duval is number 882 in the World Golf Rankings. If he wins the Open it wouldn’t be a comeback, it would be a miracle. The fact that he is on the leader board on the final day of The US Open is enough to prove he is back. It may not be enough for Duval; he wants to take home that trophy as the US Open Champion.

Check out Gary Smith’s 1999 Sports Illustrated article.


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