by Jeff Skinner
The 2009 U.S. Open had plenty of drama and more than its share of rain. I spent plenty of time at Bethpage Black that week including the Friday which was wiped out by rain. Along with my brothers and son we spent hours in the Trophy Club chit chatting with the State Troopers while we waited for the rain to subside. It never did and Bethpage was a quagmire the rest of the week, at least outside the ropes.
But we all were able to see more golf as we came back over the weekend. I remember standing with my brother behind the green at one of those monstrous par fours straining to see the golfers on the tee.
We watched as David Duval, who even back then was trying to find his world class game, tee off and hit a shot so far left we figured he couldn’t even find his ball.
It reminded me of a scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where Paul Newman, my old drinking buddy (that’s another story) and Robert Redford are up on a mountain watching a posse track them. Part of the posse veers off way to the left following the tracks of their horse which they had abandoned and set off in the wrong direction. Left, left and more left they rode, so far left that Butch & Sundance were sure they had fooled them. But shortly they turned back towards the real trail and were headed straight for them.
Duval took the same route on his way to this green. After somehow finding his ball in knee high fescue he pounded a shot to the green. He gets it up and down for a miraculous, round saving par and my brother and I look at each other in disbelief. We both thought he had no business making par from where he was but that was how Duval played that week. He had no business being in contention and he nearly won the damn thing.
Duval’s 2008 was miserable: making only five cuts in 20 events. His 2009 season coming into the U.S. Open was just as poor: four made cuts in 13 tournaments with a top finish of T55. Not a formula to contend at Bethpage Black.
But Duval persevered that week and went into the final round, played on Monday due to the rain, in third place and we were there when he came down the stretch.
Duval (-3) was five shots back of third round leader Ricky Barnes who was at -8. Barnes blew up on the front nine and the tournament was wide open giving Lucas Glover, Phil Mickelson, Ross Fischer, Hunter Mahan, Mike Weir and Duval all a chance at the championship.
Duval stumbled at the par three third hole with a horrible triple bogey six but true to his persistent nature, Duval hung tough and fought back with three straight birdies at fourteen, fifteen and sixteen. Heck, no one birdies fifteen but Duval found a way and he was in the thick of it coming into seventeen. And we were there in the bleachers watching as the entire field came through.
Phil Mickelson got the loudest cheers from the fans at seventeen that day but David Duval was a close second. Unfortunately for Duval his birdie streak ended with a bogey there and then he missed a birdie putt on eighteen.
He tied for second as his comeback had fallen two shots short of winner Lucas Glover. But for that week Duval’s words had rung true: his game was close and he was hitting the ball well.
Five years later we are still waiting for the former world number one to break back into the winner’s circle.
But Duval still carries on, thinking that he is close and this week there is solid evidence of that.
That week at Bethpage was a special one for me. And David Duval and his comeback was a big part of it.