Duval at peace with himself despite struggles

David Duval speaks with the media during the third practice round prior to the start of the 141st Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

David Duval speaks with the media during the third practice round prior to the start of the 141st Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -– Question after question, David Duval gave a long and thoughtful answer. His depth wasn’t the usual surface fare served by professional athletes. So impressed by Duval’s outside-the-box takes over about 45 minutes, a veteran journalist in the back of the interview room asked whether Duval might want to be a politician or lawyer when he is done chasing a dimpled ball around the globe.

Duval laughed and answered in the negative. Later, apparently amused by the thought, he mumbled the word “politician” under his breath. Truth be told, he is far too candid and honest for that career path. His unfiltered session Wednesday on Open Championship eve was the latest evidence.

Duval spent a minute or two, minimum, tackling each inquiry, going on and on, being conversational rather than preachy, showing a most human of natures, giving takes one doesn’t normally hear from men wearing multiple logos.

Even his expressed reluctance, followed by a willingness, to go over his prolonged slump yet again was compelling. “It’s like kicking a dead horse,” he said.

Now 40, Duval went into great and happy detail about how he is an “entirely different person” than he was when, as a single-minded assassin in the wraparound shades, he won the 2001 Open here at Royal Lytham. And he wasn’t talking about dropoff in performance; he was speaking of personal growth.

“Back then it was all about me and all about golf,” he admitted. He then added he was fortunate to branch out and “realize there are things greater than this (golf).”

“Life has opened up to me,” he said. “I’m pretty lucky not to be the same person. ... It was a very narrow-minded existence back then. I’ll be certain to never live that way again.”

Duval has had it all; just not at the same time. The Open success, the grandest bottle cap in his golf case, was the last of his 13 victories on the PGA Tour. Instead of being the springboard everyone figured, it eventually prompted an existential “Is that all there is?” moment. It would be followed by perhaps the most spectacular free falls in the game’s history and a union with the love of his life.

Back injury, suffered inexplicably a week before the 2000 Open at St. Andrews, was the catalyst to golf woe. Wrist, shoulder, neck and knee problems followed. Trying to avoid pain during the ordeal, he compensated and his setup and swing changed. He sought help from at least six instructors over two years. He questioned his technique and wondered where his ball would go next.

“All (the injuries) did was wreck my golf game and confidence,” he said.

His lone regret, hindsight having provided clarity, is this: He says he should have taken a year or so off in 2002-03 to let his body heal and protect confidence. “I might have given away a year and a half and not given away eight years,” he said.

During a miserable 2003 season, when he made but four cuts in 20 starts, Duval would meet, by chance at a Denver restaurant, Susie Persichitte, a mother of three who would become his wife just seven months later. That meant instant family and, he is delighted to say, extreme and enduring joy.

Duval at once Wednesday revealed his inner romantic and paid the ultimate compliment of holy matrimony when saying, “I think she hung the moon.” Further, he was speaking of Susie and family, not the multi-millions he has earned, when saying, “I am an incredibly, incredibly wealthy man.”

These days, Duval loves golf despite many unfavorable results. He has made but two cuts in 13 Tour starts this year while playing on limited past-champion status and sponsor exemptions. Injury and low confidence have held him back. He has played all season with a bone bruise in his left knee and came here with a brace to help with elbow tendinitis.

He talked about his elbow twinging and his knee buckling after some shots in a Tuesday practice session. “Three or four shots almost put me down,” he said.

Duval also did this on Tuesday: He hit balls on the range for two hours–in the rain. He walked off soaked.

Earlier, he was soaking up atmosphere and feeling the love from spectators at his favorite tournament. He said he heard a father tell his son that Duval was a past champion here.

“That’s really cool,” he said. “Fans never forget.”

Duval, meanwhile, insists he hardly has forgotten how to play golf. He says he feels good about the progress he is making with his swing. He cooed about how well he played last week at the John Deere Classic, where he shot 3 under for 36 holes but missed the cut by one. And he answered quickly when asked if he could win this week.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I believe in myself. I believe I can still play as well as anybody.”

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