At the ripe old age of 32, and as the 434th-best golfer in the
world, David Duval has finally found some things he never had
five years ago when he was No. 1. Things like love, peace,
happiness, family and home. Less important, but maybe more
surprising, he has also found that he has a following. ¬∂ Back in
1999, Duval was a better golfer than Tiger Woods, but he was
detached from the public. Duval never let us behind the
wraparound shades. He carried himself with poise and dignity on
the course, but at times he seemed robotic, and he almost never
displayed emotion. No one had a feel for the guy, so everyone was
unprepared for Duval's curious return to the game last week in,
of all places, the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. ¬∂ We were
unprepared for his emotional pretournament press conference
during which--between choked-up pauses and deep breaths--he
admitted to being in tears on June 12, when he called his wife,
Susie, from the 4th tee at Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver to
tell her that he had decided to end his eight-month hiatus from
the Tour and play in the Open. He said he'd been "in and out of
tears" ever since.
We were unprepared for the vulnerability that he showed when
talking about his new life with divorcee Susie Persichitte, whom
he met at a Denver bar last August during the International and
married in March, becoming an instant father to her three children,
ages 14, 11 and eight. "I'm learning to be a husband, learning to
be a father, learning to be a son again," Duval said slowly. "I
don't know if I've ever taken such pride in a house and a place to
live and the people around me. I can't say it any more simply other
than I've found where I'm supposed to be."
We were also unprepared for Duval's troubled game. At times he
looked better than his score--he shot a stunning 25-over-par 165
on rounds of 83 and 82, the next-to-worst total in the 155-man
field. At other times he looked worse, spraying tee shots to the
left and to the right, the telltale sign of a golfer without a
clue. Duval ranked dead last in greens (nine of 36) and fairways
(six of 28) hit. "It goes without saying that I'm not
tournament-ready," said Duval, whose preparation had been playing
rather than practicing, often by himself, at two Denver clubs,
Cherry Hills and Cherry Creek.
We were totally unprepared for his new role as sentimental
favorite, the game's latest and strangest underdog. Fans who had
been ambivalent about Duval as he was winning 13 tournaments,
including the 2001 British Open, were suddenly pulling hard for
him. Duval flashed a big smile at the 12th green on Friday when,
after he holed out for bogey, a fan shouted, "David, New York
loves you!" Throughout both of his rounds Duval waved to
well-wishers and acknowledged the crowd's cheers as he soldiered
on. He was afforded an ovation as he finished the first round,
and the cheers only got louder when he turned and saluted one
grandstand and then the other at the 18th green. "I've never been
received this way," Duval said. "Not through winning tournaments,
not through shooting a 59 and not through winning the [British]
Open. I can't give you a reason. Maybe it's the human
factor--everyone can struggle in this game. I don't know, but I
can't thank the fans enough."
June 27, 2004
We were unprepared for Duval's candid assessment of the depth of
his unhappiness before meeting Susie. "I look back and feel as if
I made a mistake," he said. "I had what I thought was a pretty
broad goal: to see how good I could become at this game. It
turned out to be a pretty narrow goal. I won a lot of
tournaments, I went to Number 1, I won the Open, I figured it
out. A week removed from the British Open [victory], I went
through my existentialist moment: Is this it? That's the simplest
way to put it."
When asked to describe the best moment of his week, Duval
answered, "When I arrived at my accommodations, got to my room
and didn't want to go home. A year and a half ago when I'd get to
a tournament and arrive at my hotel, I wanted to go home."
No question, Duval's life had been uneven. He was a loner who
used golf as an escape after his older brother, Brent, died from
aplastic anemia despite a bone marrow transplant from David, who
was nine at the time. It became even more of a refuge after his
parents split up while Duval was in college at Georgia Tech. More
recently he has endured a lawsuit against Titleist, a bout of
vertigo, a messy breakup with longtime fiancee Julie McArthur and
back, wrist and shoulder injuries. As his game nose-dived, so did
his attitude. For a well-read, intellectually curious person like
Duval, life as a struggling Tour pro--endless travel, on-course
futility, postround solitude--became empty and insignificant.
Duval's return at the Open wasn't really about golf at all. It
was more of a celebration of his arrival as a man in full--happy,
healthy and living with a clear purpose. It was also a test to
see how he'd handle being back in familiar territory. "I can't
remember him being this content with his life, ever," said Bob
Duval, who followed his son every step of the way at Shinnecock.
Susie Duval, attending her first tournament, was just as pleased.
"He missed it," she said. "When he was home, he'd watch his
friends playing on TV."
Bob admitted that he was as nervous as he's ever been before
David's opening tee shot at 7:40 a.m. After David piped a
three-wood down the fairway, Bob had tears in his eyes. "That
might be the most important tee shot he's ever hit," Bob said.
Minutes later, after knocking a wedge to within 15 feet, Duval
sank the putt and momentarily, amazingly, led the Open. The small
gallery cheered wildly, then urged him on as he walked to the 2nd
tee. "Easy game," said an amused David.
He sank another 15-footer to save par at 2, then two-putted from
long range for par on the 3rd hole. Then reality set in. Duval
hit drives into the fescue, took unplayable lies and
double-bogeyed the next two holes. He didn't make a par on the
final 10 holes. He had a birdie, eight bogeys and a double but
proclaimed the round a "huge victory." He had achieved his goal
of enjoying the day--no small feat. "I'm proud of him for
playing," Bob said. "I don't care what he shot. It took courage
to get out there and do it at one of the toughest venues in golf.
And he did it with a smile on his face."
Duval's unofficial family--the other Tour players and
caddies--were as happy as the fans to see him back. Justin
Leonard was among the first to spot Duval when he walked
hand-in-hand with Susie onto the front porch of the Shinnecock
Hills' clubhouse on Wednesday afternoon. Leonard stopped Duval
and gave him a hug. When Leonard stepped away, Kirk Triplett
removed his bucket hat and shook Duval's hand. The scene was
repeated countless times with dozens of players, caddies and
officials. Darren Clarke was walking briskly on the practice
range, cigar in mouth, when he noticed Duval. Clarke spun on his
heels and walked over to say hello.
Duval wanted to show his wife "the game that consumed me for so
many years" and to have her experience an Open. He'd also like
to show her the kind of golf he is capable of playing, but that
would require a full-blown comeback, and at the moment Duval
plans to play only in next month's British Open at Royal Troon
and in the International at Castle Pines. He said nothing at
Shinnecock Hills to indicate that he was going to get serious
about the game again. In fact, Duval's appearance in the two
Opens has the feel of a farewell tour, like the actions of a man
making peace with the game, and with himself. "What I took away
is a desire to do this," Duval said after missing the cut by 20
shots. "I took away a comfort level that I haven't had in a year
and a half." At the same time, he said, if forced to make a
choice between his family and the Tour, he'd stay home and play
golf with friends, and "you'd never see me out here."
What he learned at the Open is that he could play again and enjoy
it--if he chooses. And now he has newfound support. Tom Kite
spoke for many in the game when he stopped to shake Duval's hand.
"You have a lot of fans out there pulling for you," Kite said. "A
lot of 'em."
In the end, whether or not Duval returns on a full-time basis
doesn't really matter. He doesn't need golf, and golf doesn't
need him. The game might have a place in his life again, but it
will never be the most important place. That seemed obvious at
the 16th hole on Friday. Duval blocked his drive so badly that
his ball almost landed in the tented corporate village, then he
pitched out through the fairway into a bunker. His third shot
could wait. Instead of stalking after his ball, Duval headed to
the gallery ropes, put an arm around his wife and gently kissed
David Duval is back, and he's never been better.
"I'm learning to be a husband, to be a father, to be a son
again," Duval said. "I'VE FOUND WHERE I'M SUPPOSED TO
"He missed it," said Duval's wife, Susie. "When he was at home
HE'D WATCH HIS FRIENDS PLAYING ON TV."