Column: Duval returns to Open after lost decade
The last time he played this course on the northwest coast of
England, David Duval was cheered by thousands as he made a
celebratory walk up the 18th hole to claim his first major
championship. The British Open was his, the rivalry with Tiger
Woods was back on, and even the wraparound glasses couldn’t hide
his delight in having finally won a big one.
Further proof that golf can be a fickle and cruel game came
Wednesday, when Duval played his way around the links at Royal
Lytham & St. Annes, a solitary figure accompanied only by his
stepson and caddie. Fans filling the bleachers on the fourth green
were so unimpressed most of them turned their backs to watch Lee
Westwood play up the third fairway rather than watch Duval hit
shots into the green.
Hard to blame them. It’s never pretty watching someone who once
was a champion struggle with what he is now. And what Duval is now
is a 40-year-old who hasn’t won a thing since his Open victory in
2001. He struggles mightily just to make the cut at most
tournaments, and struggles just as much to explain why.
”I love playing the game. I’m really good at it,” Duval said.
”But there’s times when I feel like – it’s like enough is enough.
And I don’t mean golfwise, but I mean talking about it. It’s like
kicking a dead horse. We know what’s happened.”
What’s happened is Duval has mostly disappeared from competitive
golf. Once the No. 1 player in the world, he has made just two cuts
this year in 13 tournaments, earning a grand total of $26,696. His
first trip to Lytham since winning the Open by three shots in 2001
doesn’t figure to last more than a few days unless he somehow finds
the magic that’s eluded him for most of the last decade.
Duval blames injuries, and he listed enough of them Wednesday to
fill a medical textbook. He’s got bone bruises on his knees,
tendonitis in his shoulders, elbows and wrist. At one point he had
vertigo, and he’s long had back problems.
He doesn’t much like talking about this; at times, he doesn’t
seem to like talking about anything. Brought into the media tent
for the obligatory last player to win at Lytham interview, Duval
bristled at a few questions and lobbed back a few of his own.
But he ended up answering them all, some with the kind of detail
that few of the robotic players who have a chance at winning the
Open this week would ever dare. He talked about not only his golf
but his life, and even his hope of playing the senior tour in
another 10 years.
He also talked – though somewhat reluctantly – about Woods,
whose private jet he shared back to the U.S. after Woods won at St.
Andrews in 2000.
”We were decent friends 10 years ago, 12 years ago. We talked a
fair amount,” Duval said. ”Now? No. I don’t … are we friends? I
guess so. We don’t talk.”
It couldn’t have been comfortable, and at times he stammered and
squirmed when asked about what might have been. But it seemed to
come from the heart, and not some formula written up by an
”I’m an incredibly, incredibly wealthy man. I’ve got a wife
that loves me. I love her,” Duval said. ”I think she hung the
moon. Maybe it’s not cool to say, but I think she hung the moon.
The kids are wonderful. You know, they’re a pain in the rear like
everybody else’s kids sometimes, but we have fun. They’re high
energy. They like to do stuff. And we’ve just had a lot of fun over
the last nine years of being together. I’ve been lucky.”
Lucky everywhere but the golf course. Duval’s free fall from the
top has been startling, as if winning the Open at the age of 29
satisfied all of his competitive desires. Outside of a good run at
the U.S. Open in 2009 – where he tied for second at Bethpage – he
hasn’t been a factor for years in tournaments he was once expected
Duval doesn’t enjoy being reminded of it, doesn’t want to
believe his best golf is past. The years are going by, though, and
the player once described as being as thin as a 1-iron is now a bit
on the chunky side, with aches and pains that never seem to
disappear. On the days Duval does seem to strike he ball well, his
putter fails him, as it did last week at the John Deere where he
missed another cut.
He made a point of saying he was out in the rain hitting balls
on the driving range for two hours Tuesday, perhaps to emphasize he
still works hard and the game still means something. He believes he
can still play at a high level, and says most of his problems stem
from trying to do too much with a balky body.
”I think on two occasions I took extended time off, but in
hindsight the big mistake I made in my career was not stopping
sometime in early 2002 and probably not playing again until `04,”
Duval said. ”I should have taken at least a year, maybe more, off.
Just made sure everything kind of got healed, protected my
confidence, protected my golf game and just given away that year
and a half, not give away eight years like I did.”
That’s all ancient history now, a fact Duval readily
But he can hope his game isn’t ancient history, too.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated
Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or