2006: Perserverance personified - Joe Durant
A dominating Sunday performance led Joe Durant to a four-shot triumph and some playful posing with Mickey Mouse on the 18th green at the Funai Classic, and darkness was descending by the time he finally arrived to the interview room at Walt Disney World.
Durant settled into his chair, leaned into the microphone and politely announced to those in attendance, “Thanks for waiting.” Hey, the man knows a little something about the subject.
It had been five years, seven months and 18 days since Durant last made the champion’s toast (at the 2001 Genuity Championship at Doral). In between he’d played 151 PGA Tour events. For years, Durant, who shot 25-under 263, has been one of the top ballstrikers on PGA Tour. But with the short stick, he’s just an Average Joe.
Or worse. Durant has been to putting what Shaquille O’Neal is to free-throw shooting. But on those rare weeks Durant heats up on the greens, he can be a dangerous force.
At Disney, to his credit, he turned a 64-65 weekend at Disney’s Magnolia Course into something of a casual yawner, overtaking Frank Lickliter (who posted 10-under 62 before Durant had made the turn) and keeping 54-hole leader Troy Matteson (closing 70) at arm’s length on the final day. Matteson was coming off his first Tour victory a week earlier in Vegas.
Durant’s final-round performance was downright flawless, with seven birdies, no bogeys and a tidy 25 putts on the card. There was little Matteson – or anybody else – could do to stop him.
“Obviously, every birdie I made, he made a birdie to match,” Matteson said. “He just kept applying pressure all day. Sooner or later, a guy like that is going to run away.”
And so he did. Durant ran to a winner’s check for $828,000 and a leap inside the top 30, to No. 29 on the money list (nearly $2.1 million), with one week to go before the prestigious Tour Championship.
It was only a couple of months ago that Durant was mired in yet another underachieving season, sitting at No. 125 in earnings. His results would show a third-place finish in Flint, Mich., at the Buick Open as his turning point – it sparked a run of four top 10s in seven starts, including a playoff loss at the Southern Farm Bureau and victory at Disney. But Durant, 42, says his season turned the week before that when he finished 62nd.
“We actually were robbed in our hotel room on Thursday at Milwaukee,” he said. (Durant’s wife returned to their room after his round to find a computer, his briefcase, car keys and a couple of iPods missing.) “That was probably the low point of the year. I was so depressed. I played terrible that day but went back out on Friday and shot 64 or 65 (actually 67) and made the cut. For me, that was like winning the U.S. Open, because I felt I had hit rock bottom and things were going to turn around.
“Sometimes you just have to hit rock bottom to know where it is and start working your way back up.”
Perserverence, like patience, is a subject Durant knows, too. One would have to be a battler and survivor to weather the putting woes he has endured through the years, when others with his type of ballstriking numbers would likely be ranked among the top players in the world. This season, he ranks first in driving accuracy (78.8 percent), eighth in greens in regulation (69.5 percent) and 185th (29.92) in putts per round. At Disney, he tied for fourth (27.0) in putts. How does his putting affect him?
“Almost always adversely,” he said, “because you get to where you feel like you have to flag it from 200 yards to make it for birdie or eagle. And you go back from there to the drive. You know you have to put it in the fairway because if you miss the green, you’re probably not going to get it up-and-down because you’re going to miss the par putt. It’s such a domino effect.
“That’s why you really have to have some mental fortitude to fight through it. . . . That’s all I have ever done is keep fighting.”
Fifteen years ago, Durant was so doubtful he could support his family with his golf that he left the game and took a job selling insurance. His wife, Tracey, told Joe that if he went back to golf with the proper frame of mind, things would be OK. They’d fight through the tough times and make it work.
“I knew he wasn’t happy doing that,” she said, recalling the days her husband was cold-calling customers from the Durant home in the Florida Panhandle. “I knew he needed to get back out here.”
With his fourth Tour victory on Sunday, he surpassed $9 million in career earnings.