He was never on my list of favorite athletes-if you don’t mind me calling a professional golfer an athlete. He had a personality only slightly better than a parking meter. He wore those sunshades and a little goatee.
He was so expressionless he seemed to be wearing a mask. You couldn’t help but wonder who painted his face on him. Smile? I doubt if he could spell the word. Emotion? Ice cubes show more.
And on the golf course, he was about as much fun to watch as a four-putt. We weren’t sure if he was a human or a robot. He reacted the same if he made a 60-foot putt for birdie or missed a 1-foot putt for par.
However, over the years he has won me over because his middle name should be Class, not Robert. Yes, I’m referring to David Robert Duval. And it has nothing to do with him finishing tied for second in the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am last weekend, one shot behind Dustin Johnson. It’s all about how he handled his golf game being in a Dumpster for almost eight years.
To refresh your memory, Duval, not Tiger Woods, was king of the hill back in 1998 and 1999. He was ranked No. 1 for more than a year. In ’98, he led the PGA Tour in scoring average (69.13) and money ($2.59 million). In ’99, he shot a 59 when he won the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and became the first player since Johnny Miller in 1974 to win four tournaments before the Masters. He was No. 2 on the 1999 money list.
Duval won once in both 2000 and 2001. In 2000, though, he was out for 10 weeks because of back problems. The next year he fought off a wrist injury to win his first major, the British Open, but tendinitis forced him to withdraw from the Bay Hill Classic and The Players Championship.
Then came the slide, followed by a total collapse. In 2002 Duval not only finished out of the top 10 on the money list for the first time in six years, he dropped all the way to 80th. He had broken up with a girlfriend he had been with for eight years, which I’m guessing didn’t help his golf game.
Then the bottom fell out. From 2003 through 2009 Duval played in 122 Tour events and made the cut only 34 times. He shot 83-82 in the ’04 U.S. Open. To his credit, his demeanor never changed. He didn’t throw a Tiger-like fit, along with a golf club or two. He just packed up his stuff and went home.
Finally last year, he finished second in the U.S. Open, his first top-10 finish in 116 tournaments.
How Duval handled his collapse is what makes him special. He never complained, at least not publicly, about his struggles on the golf course. If he spewed obscenities, we never heard them. He didn’t threaten to give up the game and go sell life insurance. He didn’t turn to drugs or booze. He didn’t blame anybody but himself.
He simply dealt with it and was obviously determined to turn his game, and his life, around. Both started their comeback when he met Susie Persichitte at a restaurant in Denver in 2003. She had three children from a previous marriage. They were married a few months later and have two more children.
So let’s hope Duval the golfer is back. Could be. Last week at Pebble Beach was the first time he had shot in the 60s in all four rounds of a Tour event in eight years. And this week he is playing in the Mayakoba Classic in Mexico, with his wife and four of their kids watching.
He has won only 13 Tour tournaments, and 11 of those came in a three-year span back in the late ’90s. Not that anyone will be able to tell, given his stoic persona, but his confidence has to be at a level he hasn’t felt in a long time. And that is huge when you are doing battle with par.
So Mr. Class, show us that last week was not just a flash in the Pebble but a sign of more good things to come. You have suffered enough. More than paid your dues. I want you to go to Augusta National in April, win the green jacket and shut up the Duval skeptics.
Then I want to hear the golf world shout, "He’s baaaaack!"
Rick Woodson’s column appears each Friday in the Rochester Business Journal print edition. His book, “Words of Woodson,” is available at www.authorhouse.com/bookstore. Listen to his weekly program, “The Golf Tee,” at 9 a.m. Sunday on WHTK-AM 1280 and FM 107.3.
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