Go figure. David Duval, shooting 25 over par, drew more applause than the guy who actually won the 104th U.S. Open.
Such is the empathy shared among golfers. “We’re all humbled by golf,” said Tiger Woods, who has tasted plenty of that pie in recent months.
Duval’s three days at Shinnecock Hills were extraordinary and perplexing. He cut an emotional artery and let it bleed. He found solace in ineptitude. He left us guessing about his future.
“For what I was trying to accomplish this week, I think I did that as well as anything I’ve ever accomplished,” Duval said after posting rounds of 83-82 and besting only one other contestant in the field of 156. After 36 holes he ranked last in fairways hit, last in greens in regulation and a respectable T-37 in putts.
The road to Duval’s golf recovery next leads us to the village of Troon, Scotland, with a possible detour to Chicago or Silvis, Ill.
After declaring his appearance at the U.S. Open “an enormous victory,” the enigmatic Duval said he plans to compete in the British Open, with perhaps another tune-up at the Cialis Western Open or the John Deere Classic. The only other definite on his schedule is an August home game, The International at Castle Rock, Colo.
Duval, of course, was the last player to hold the mantle of No. 1 in the Official World Ranking before Tiger Woods began his 254-week run at the top. Affected by back and shoulder injuries, vertigo, a failed relationship and a confidence crisis, Duval has free fallen from British Open champ in 2001 to jester in Nike commercials in 2004.
When he arrived at Shinnecock Hills on Wednesday, only four days after deciding to compete here, he sounded like a man who might be bidding the game farewell. His voice faltered and at times he appeared to be fighting back tears as he talked about his decision to get back in the fray, if only for a few days.
“I’m learning to be a husband, learning to be a father, learning to be a son again,” he said. “I feel like in Denver (his new residence) with my wife and the family out there that I’ve finally found home. . . .
“I can’t say it any more simply other than I’ve just found where I’m supposed to be. I’ve found my wife, my best friend, and I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Susie.”
Duval described life on the PGA Tour as long, hard and lonely. More than once he told reporters that if he had to make a choice between his family and playing golf, “I’d never play competitive golf again.”
“In some sense, to be honest with you, I haven’t missed it,” he said. “I haven’t missed being away, but I just wanted to play this week. . . . I was anxious for my wife and my family to see me and what I do, to see the atmosphere of golf.”
Susie Duval, who has three children by a previous marriage, was here, watching David play tournament golf for the first time. When the couple met last year at The International, Susie had no idea who David Duval was or what he had accomplished. She knew nothing of his reputation as an eccentric.
Asked if she had done any homework on Duval after meeting him, she replied: “I’d already spent five hours with him at dinner. My mind was made up.”
Duval said it’s important for a spouse “to understand what you’ve been doing for so long, that’s so consumed your life and so shaped who you are. I just want her to see me play like I’m capable of playing.”
If the Shinnecock experience did indeed reinvigorate her husband, Susie Duval said she’ll encourage him to get back to work ASAP.
“I want him to play as much as will make him happy,” she said. “I’m totally supportive of whatever he wants to do.”
Thanks to his British Open victory, Duval is fully exempt on the PGA Tour through 2006. It was
suggested to Susie Duval that many Tour watchers are skeptical of David’s desire to compete full time.
“I wouldn’t agree with that,” she said.
Nor does instructor David Leadbetter, who has worked with Duval a half-dozen times since January.
“He loves the game,” Leadbetter said. “He loves playing the game. . . . He’s just been missing
something in his life. Now he’s more comfortable, more relaxed. I think more than likely, we’ll see
the old David Duval back.”
Leadbetter already had seen what reporters observed about Duval at the Open. “He seems to be a lot happier individual,” Leadbetter said. “When you’re on the comeback trail, that’s the first thing that has to happen.”
Watching Duval’s Open performance on TV, Leadbetter noticed that “when he was aggressive, he hit good shots. When he was tentative, that’s when he got into trouble.
“It was a baptism of fire, but he had to start somewhere,” Leadbetter said.
Duval’s last taste of competition before the Open was last November, at the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan, where he withdrew after seven holes because of back pain. Earlier in the week he had been in China for a course opening. Duval had gotten engaged only a week before, and it was obvious he would have preferred to have been elsewhere.
“All I’ve wanted to do when I showed up in my accommodations in the last year, hotels, whatever, I just wanted to leave,” Duval said.
The U.S. Open was different. He wanted to stick around, but noted wryly, “83-82 won’t let you do that.”
Duval seemed genuinely enthused Friday evening, buoyed by a six-hole stretch that he negotiated in 1 under par.
“My timing was a little off,” he said. “My release wasn’t exactly where I want it to be. But those are little kinks you work out, not necessarily on the range but you have to do it out here on the road to really get sharp.”
Asked if he’ll have higher expectations at Troon, Duval replied: “You can ask me that when we get there.”
More comfortable, yes. But ever the man of mystery.