David Duval is the possible feel-good story of the decade in this week’s Buy.com Open, at the CordeValle Golf Club in San Martin, California. He knew all along that it was possible.
He was the number one player in the world in 1999. In 2001, he had won his first major, the British Open, and $2.8 million, but only $838,000 the following year, 2002. That was the beginning of the slide. In 2003, he fell off the face of the planet, dropping all the way to 211th on the money list. He’s been lost in the wilderness ever since. This from a guy who played on two Ryder Cup and three Presidents Cup teams.
Mostly due to back injuries and tendonitis, he had to take seven months off until he was finally able to play in the 2004 U.S. Open. He shot 83-82 to miss the cut. Not a total surprise; the grueling nature of the U.S. Open with its penal setup probably isn’t the best place to mount a comeback. But the U.S. Open is the U.S. Open and if you’re exempt, healthy and think your game’s ready, you go for it. Unfortunately, this turned out to be right in the middle of the six-year wasteland of his career, when making cuts was a big deal and he won just $718,577…to be clear, for the entire six years.
The thing about David Duval is that he’s very smart. Very smart. A graduate of Georgia Tech, he’s a voracious reader. But maybe that’s from an imbalance of some sort because for as many words as he reads, he’s a man of few words.
In interviews, he thoughtfully deadpans monotone answers to any questions you ask him, but they were always succinct and seemed always to be delivered from behind the wraparound cover of his Oakley sunglasses. The sunglasses were once explained away as protection from allergies, but you just wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake the greatness out of him. Is anybody in there? even though you knew that there was. He was never a particularly sympathetic character because of this, but he didn’t seem to be bothered by that either: a stoic’s stoic.
Yes, he was finally healthy. Yes, his swing change was coming around. Yes, he was hitting the ball as well as he ever had. Yes, he wasn’t scoring yet, but he knew that he would. Yes, it’s just a matter of time. He was a model of transformational thinking.
In 2007, he had to take a Major Medical Extension due to the difficult pregnancy of his wife (both mother and daughter are doing fine now). It was one thing after another.
But he always believed that things were coming his way and that he would return to his championship form, even though there was no evidence for it. In 2009, he just squeaked into 130th on the money list to at least be able to get into some tournaments on a 126th to 150th exemption.
And finally this year, he’s managed to lumber his way up the money list to 109th, high enough to keep his card and be fully exempt if he can just cling there.
But wait! But wait! Duval is T3 this week after shooting 68-65 in the first two rounds! Yesterday’s 65 was a clean card, 6 birdies, no bogeys. And he had 6 birdies in the first round too.
So perhaps this will be the week that all that belief in himself, all that tenacity, all that persistence in the face of one potentially disheartening setback after another will finally be rewarded with a win: the return of the champion! But if not this week, he knows that it will be another one soon. Belief and tenacity are powerful things.
How can you not root for the guy? How can you not watch? The guy with the big heart.
I know I will be.
With so many great, inspiring stories, it’s a wonderful time of the year.