LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – David Duval can’t find a surgeon to fix what ails him.
When the magic in his swing detached, there was no specialist to reattach it.
It wasn’t like Tiger Woods tearing his anterior cruciate ligament. The injury can be more traumatic when mystical powers tear away. The rehabilitation process can be fraught with more uncertainty.
We saw that with the former No. 1 player in the world again Thursday in the first round of the Children’s Miracle Network Classic at Disney World.
Duval, who turned 38 on Monday, opened with a 4-over-par 76 on the Palms course and finds himself in a hole in his bid to remain among the top 125 on the PGA Tour money list. Duval is on the bubble at No. 125. He needs a strong rally Friday on the more difficult Magnolia course to make the cut and position himself to preserve fully exempt status next season.
Though he’s signed up for Q-School next month, Duval doesn't want to go. And yet he would rather not have to play next year with conditional status as a top-150 player on the money list. He would rather not have to write letters for sponsor exemptions to fill out his schedule, but these are the options unfolding for him.
On a miserably cold and wet morning Thursday, Duval started ominously. This kind of weather isn’t good for his bad back and the tendinitis in his shoulder and wrists. Duval hooked his first tee shot left into the woods and had to pitch out to the fairway. He opened with a bogey and never got to red numbers on a course that played easier than any course on the PGA Tour last season.
“It’s frustrating,” Duval said after his round. “I just didn’t play that well today. I didn’t hit the ball that great. I hit it very mediocre and hit a couple crazy shots.”
The frustration has to be knowing the greatness he’s capable of, knowing that within him lies the heart of a 13-time PGA Tour winner and British Open champion. It has to be in knowing that if he found the magic before he can find it again. He showed us that with his second-place finish at the U.S. Open this summer. Duval keeps telling us he’s close. He’s still a lot like Tiger Woods that way. No matter how off Woods’ game appears to be, he always insists he’s close. Apparently, there’s power in believing that.
Faith is the strength of Duval’s game today.
He’ll drive the ball terrifically for spells, then lose shots right or left.
His putting comes and goes.
The faith hasn’t left him.
After ending the first round tied for 124th in a field of 128, Duval was asked why the game hasn’t driven him crazy, why he hasn’t given it up to spare himself the aggravation.
“Maybe I am insane,” he cracked leaving the scoring area. “Maybe it’s why I don’t get upset anymore. I just feel like I’ve seen a lot, experienced a lot and had a rough go of it for a few years, but I just know I’m close to doing everything I want to do again. It’s just a matter of patience, which is the hardest quality to have at this point, when you’ve put in a lot of work. It’s hard to be patient.”
Patience is another evolving strength in Duval’s game, and nobody who knew him growing up thought they’d ever say that.
Duval didn’t make his first birdie Thursday until his 16th hole of the day, but you wouldn’t have known it watching his body language. There were no thumped clubs, no kicked golf bags, no expletives leaping out of his mouth.
“Oh, I’m good for two pretty good explosions each year,” Duval said. “But I think I’ve gone through my two this year. I can still sail a club pretty good, but it’s a very rare thing for me to lose it like that now. I’ve never seen much in the purpose in it. I’m not a screamer or a cusser.”
At the 18th tee, Duval’s ninth hole of the day, he hit a smothered hook that was nearly a cold top. His ball nosedived into the left rough barely more than 125 yards off the tee. Duval’s reaction? He bowed his head and pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. That’s about as close as he came all day to showing his frustration in a round that included three bogeys, a double bogey and a single birdie.
“David used to be so serious,” said Bob Gedeon, Duval’s uncle, who followed him Thursday. “He poured his heart and soul into the game. He lost all that weight, became good friends with Tiger Woods. If you went out with him, he wouldn’t drink. Go out with him now, he’ll have a beer with you. He’s got his family he loves. He’s happy in life.”
When Duval spotted Gedeon after four holes, he walked over and hugged him at the ropes. Gedeon and Duval’s father, Bob, were teammates at Florida State in the ‘60s. Hubert Green was on that team, too.
“Bob was a great player,” Gedeon said. “Bob used to give Hubert a shot a side when they played in college. That’s how good Bob was.”
Gedeon and Bob Duval married sisters.
“We’re inlaws, but Bob calls us outlaws,” Gedeon said.
Gedeon spent a lot of time with David growing up. They fished and hunted together, and they played golf. Watching David hit that smothered hook at the ninth tee, Gedeon felt his nephew’s frustration.
“Days like this, your heart goes out to David,” Gedeon said. “David used to be able to take the left side of the golf course out of play. He had a swing where he could hit it as hard as he wanted with that fade. He started hitting the hook, and it affected his confidence.”
Gedeon will affirm what Duval’s told us, that his nephew’s faith and patience are bolstered by his wife, Susie, and their blended family of five.
“You think about it, and it’s crazy David lives in Denver ,” Gedeon said. “Golfers live in Florida and Arizona .”
But Denver was Susie’s home, and Gedeon says that’s where Duval’s heart is. Duval’s spoken more than once about how family is his motivation to return to form. He wants his children to see what made him special in golf. He isn’t playing for money anymore. It’s all about pride. You could see that in Thursday’s round. After making double bogey at his 15th hole, Duval was 5-over, but you would have thought he was contending in a major the way he grinded over his chip at the next hole. He didn’t have a birdie until getting up and down at his 16th hole, but he appeared to give his best effort over every shot.
“David will hit a couple bad drives, a couple bad irons, miss a couple putts, it’s not quite 100 percent,” said Davis Love III, who was paired with Duval on Thursday. “There are a lot of battles when you’re working your way back, but he has it in spurts.”
Duval believes those spurts will blossom into lengthy runs. His faith that will lead to a return to form sustains him.