Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Part I of British Open Preview
By Jared Trexler
Propped up by a Scotty Cameron magic wand, the introvert with the wraparound shades used to conceal even the smallest hint of emotion stares blindly at Hoylake's countryside.
It's been five years since the pinnacle at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
Five long years of injury and intrigue, sulking and slicing, whiffing and wondering.
Will it ever be the same?
It's a question that crossed David Duval's mind on a daily basis. How could it not when a man that once showcased superior talent in front of an awed audience suddenly didn't feel comfortable hitting a golf shot in public.
I stood on the third hole at Shinnecock Hills during the first round of the 2004 United States Open waiting for Duval to approach the green. Many early-morning golf fans had grabbed coffee and fled to find Duval after a load roar accompanied a stylish birdie two at the daunting par-three second hole.
I followed Duval for the next three holes, never once seeing the pressed cuffs on the bottom of his pants because of thick gorse that seemed to swallow the man's ankles...
And his pride, punishing his game and damaging his fragile mind set.
On the short fourth hole, a young boy on his dad's shoulders pointed out into the fairway at a man that appeared to be Duval. The Nike swoosh dotted all accessories and facial hair had sprouted on his chin.
"That's David Duval," the kid proudly exclaimed to his father.
"It used to be, son," his dad pronounced somberly. "It used to be..."
As a sports writer and passionate golf enthusiast, that conversation will be a lasting image in my mental scrapbook of sports.
The complete free fall -- mental, emotional and physical breakdown of a professional athlete -- had been summarized in one brief conversation between a father and son.
At Shinnecock, Duval was still completely in denial. His head was full of swing thoughts jumbled into a hacker's mess. His confidence was shattered through early work weeks. His swing was a teacher's nightmare, molded into a pile of flaws due to overcompensation from numerous injuries.
Duval followed the philosophy of "Play Through Pain." He should have popped Percocet, for the agony made even those not experiencing it cringe.
After America's championship, Duval hit rock bottom. He made just one out of 20 cuts last season, earned only $8,000 and carded a 49 on the back nine during a round at the birdie festival which is the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.
He shot an 85 along the Pacific Ocean at Pebble Beach. Thoughts of jumping off the cliff had to run through his mind.
Yet, he bit his lip, wrote down "6s" in permanent ink and left the golf at the course.
That part was easy. For as Duval's golf game continued to spoil, the 30-something bachelor built himself a life outside the ropes.
He met the love of his life, Susie Persichitte, during a chance encounter at a restaurant in Denver while he was in town for The International. Along with a wife and confidant, Duval also walked into a built-in family (three children) from Susie's first marriage.
It was then that Duval realized a life lesson that began his turnaround. While the man upstairs was handing him bogey after bogey on the course, he was pouring on a pile of birdies at home.
Now, the motivation isn't just a desire for individual success, but the hope that he can show his children how good he once was. And still can be.
That's why Duval is even at Hoylake. Lonelier souls would have faded into Sunday Nassaus at the local Country Club, picked up a PGA professional job and coached tee ball.
But Duval is no longer alone -- on or off the course -- and that drives him to rekindle the form displayed during a Players Championship victory that briefly moved him into the top spot in the world rankings.
It's been five years since a slow, steady avalanche began pushing Duval down golf's mountain.
Fittingly, among the Rockies, Duval reached the bottom point of his career and began the climb back with the support of a family.
Like they say, behind every good man is an even better woman.
Whether Royal Liverpool is the place where Duval's comeback comes full circle remains to be seen.
However, the question, "Will it Ever Be the Same?" is no longer permanently engraved in his mind.
There will be a time in the very near future when a son sits atop his father's shoulders looking out into the fairway.
Not certain if his eyes are deceiving him, the youngster will inquire of his pop, "Is that David Duval?"
The father, his voice not hesitating, will answer, "Yes..." then silently chronicle the American's road back to respectability before finishing the thought.
"That is David Duval."
Jared Trexler is the Golf Writer and College Basketball Columnist for The Phanatic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org