Duval not giving up on his game

By John FeinsteinMay 1, 2014, 6:42 pm

David Duval understands completely. He knows when tournament directors turn down his request for a sponsor exemption to their event it isn’t because they don’t like him or don’t respect who he once was as a player.

“The truth is I’ve played myself into this position,” he said recently. “It’s up to me to try to play my way out of it. But it’s not easy.”

It isn’t easy when you have to depend on the kindness of others to get a chance to play. But that’s where Duval is at age 42 – 13 years removed from winning the British Open and 15 years after he was the No. 1-ranked player in the world.

Duval has teed it up seven times since the wraparound season began last October. He played once in October; twice in November; didn’t play in January; played twice in February; once in March and once in April. It’s likely he won’t play at all in May.

Duval won 13 times on Tour before he turned 30 – including the 2001 British Open – his most important and, as it has turned out, final victory. Since then he has been golf’s mystery man, someone who went from thinking of himself as someone who could look Tiger Woods in the eye to becoming virtually invisible in what felt like the blink of an eye.

Duval has given a lot of thought to what happened to him after his signature victory at Royal Lytham and St. Annes. He had been close in other majors – most notably the 1998 Masters where he was sitting in the Bobby Jones cabin on Sunday with then-Augusta National chairman Jack Stephens as Mark O’Meara lined up his birdie putt on the 18th green. At that moment, O’Meara, Fred Couples and Duval were all tied at 7 under par and, unless O’Meara made the putt, the three were heading for a playoff.

“No need to worry here, David,” Stephens said. “Nobody ever makes this putt.”

O’Meara made the putt.

“The second the ball disappeared Mr. Stephens stood up, put his hand out and said, ‘Look forward to seeing you next year,’” Duval said, able to laugh at the memory now. “Then he walked out the door.”

Golf had not only been Duval’s passion as a kid, it had been his best friend. When he was 10, his older brother Brent died of aplastic anemia, a disease that attacks the bone marrow. David donated his bone marrow to Brent but the operation didn’t save his brother. With his family in tatters, David found solace on the golf course.

“I didn’t need anyone in order to go play, hit balls or just spend hours in a bunker,” he said. “I was a pretty good baseball player, but you need others to play baseball. Golf was where I went to escape. Fortunately, I was pretty good at it.”

Good enough to be a four-time All American at Georgia Tech and then to find stardom on Tour not long after turning pro. Duval had seven second-place finishes before he got his first win on Tour, but when he finally broke though in the fall of 1997 at Kingsmill, he proceeded to win three tournaments in a row. Early in 1999 he shot 59 on the last day of the Bob Hope Desert Classic and soon after that he was ranked No. 1 in the world.

“I honestly thought back then that I could compete with Tiger on a regular basis,” he said. “Not beat him all the time, obviously, but some of the time. I thought my entire game – physical and mental – was in the ballpark with his.”

He paused. “Turned out I was wrong.”

Like everyone else in golf, Duval was blown away by what Woods accomplished in winning his Tiger Slam in 2000 and 2001. Even so, Duval’s win at Lytham should have been a beginning, not an ending. And yet, Duval clearly wasn’t the same after that victory.

“A lot of things happened,” he said. “When I won, it was thrilling, absolutely fantastic. But not long afterwards I realized I didn’t feel any different about who I was or about my life than I had before I won. It was an existential type of thing, you know, is that all there is? I thought my life should be different – feel different – and it really didn’t. Something went out of me there.”

Soon after, happiness intervened. He met Susan Persichitte while waiting for a table in a Denver restaurant and was smitten instantly. They were married, he adopted her three children and they had two of their own. No longer was golf Duval’s best friend or his No. 1 priority.

His game – when he played – spiraled. There were some injuries thrown into the mix, too. Duval had a five-year exemption after his British Open win. When that was up he was able to use two more yearlong exemptions because he was in the top 25 on the career money list. After that he began to depend on sponsor exemptions.

There were spasms of good play: his out-of-nowhere tie for second place at the 2009 U.S. Open when he came into the championship ranked 882nd in the world. There was a second place at Pebble Beach the following year, which helped him get his exempt status back at the end of that season. Since then, there have been very few encouraging moments. Which is why Duval understands when tournament directors turn him down for sponsor exemptions in spite of his past status as a star.

“David will always be someone who I give serious consideration to,” said Kym Hougham, tournament director for the Wells Fargo Classic. “For one thing, he’s David Duval. For another, he’s one of those guys who treated people well when he was on his way up the ladder and that’s something you remember. I get a lot of guys who are struggling asking for sponsor exemptions who were impossible to deal with when they were going well. That’s an easy no.

“David’s a hard no. This year, it was close but I had to say no. We’d given him exemptions two of the last four years. I like to use as many spots as I can for guys with local ties. I had three local guys (out of four spots) and David just didn’t make the cut. Doesn’t mean he won’t next year if he asks. I called and left him a message telling him I was sorry he hadn’t made it. He actually called me back to thank me for calling. That’s the kind of guy he is.”

Duval understands the position that Hougham and other tournament directors are in. His game has been MIA for a while. And yet, he believes it’s still out there somewhere.

“I feel better about my game right now than I have in a long time,” he said just before the start of the Zurich Classic. “Problem is it’s tough to prove that if you aren’t playing. I’m playing this week and then may not play for five weeks.”

Duval was hoping to finish top 10 in New Orleans so he wouldn’t need a sponsor exemption in Charlotte. He played well for three days and was T-12 going into Sunday. But a Sunday 73 dropped him to a tie for 25th place. Even so, it was his best finish since a tie for 23rd in Las Vegas in 2011.

Now, though, he has to wait for another chance to play. He will try to qualify for the U.S. Open and play in Memphis in June. After that, he doesn’t know.

“I’m not ready to give up,” he said. “If I honestly thought I was done, I’d just stay home. But I don’t think I am.”

Here’s hoping he’s right.

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Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook played a six-hole stretch in 6 under and shot an 8-under 64 in breezy conditions Saturday to take the lead at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook began the run at La Quinta Country Club with birdies on Nos. 4-5, eagled the sixth and added birdies on No. 7 and 9 to make the turn in 6-under 30.

After a bogey on the 10th, he birdied Nos. 11, 12 and 15 and saved par on the 18th with a 20-footer to take a 19-under 197 total into the final round on PGA West's Stadium Course. The 26-year-old former Arkansas player is making his first start in the event. He won at Sea Island in November for his first PGA Tour title.

Fellow former Razorbacks star Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were a stroke back. Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 on the Stadium Course. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. They are both winless on the PGA Tour.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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Jon Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium Course to reach 17 under. The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3, Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

Scott Piercy also was two strokes back after a 66 at the Stadium.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course, and Harkins shot 68 on the Stadium Course.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium Course to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time.

The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. The Southern California recruit had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over for the week.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine – and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

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Mickelson misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.

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Defending champ Gana co-leads Latin America Amateur

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 11:20 pm

Toto Gana moved into early position to try to win a return trip to the Masters Saturday by grabbing a share of the first-round lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship.

The defending champ posted a 3-under-par 68 at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Chile, equaling the rounds of Argentina’s Mark Montenegro and Colombia’s Pablo Torres.

They are one shot ahead of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz and Mario Carmona, Argentina’s Horacio Carbonetti and Jaime Lopez Rivarola and the Dominican Republic’s Rhadames Pena.

It’s a bunched leaderboard, with 19 players within three shots of each at the top of the board in the 72-hole event.

“I think I have my game under control,” said Gana, 20, a freshman at Lynn University. “I hit the ball very well, and I also putted very well. So, I am confident about tomorrow.”

The LAAC’s champion will get more than a Masters invitation. He also will be exempt into the The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event he is eligible to play this year. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

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LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in the Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.