Duvals long-time coach and friend was marveling again Saturday when Duval shot 32 on the back nine at Bethpage Black to close out an even-par 70 and keep himself in contention at the U.S. Open.
It isnt the shots Duval hit that impressed Blackmon, or the fact that Duval is 3 under par and tied for fourth, five shots back of leader Ricky Barnes, halfway through this rain-soaked championship.
What moves Blackmon is what hes seeing beyond Duvals game.
Its that Big Apple New York State Troopers pin Duval wore on the right side of his shirt collar in the second round and the New York City Fire Department pin on the left side. Its all the time Duvals spending getting to know the troopers in the clubhouse this week and the time hes spending signing autographs for fans. Duvals father-in-law was a former firefighter and artist who created a sculpture of a fireman holding a baby as a 9-11 memorial tribute. Its on display at the New York City Fire Museum.
The player Blackmon sees today isnt the headstrong, self-centered collegiate star he remembers coaching at Georgia Tech.
Blackmon said there were moments he wanted to strangle that guy.
Today, Blackmon mostly wants to hug his player.
Davids more human now, Blackmon said near the doorstep of the Bethpage Black clubhouse after Duvals second round. He has feelings. He cares and respects people. You watch him, the number of autographs he signs, the balls he signs for kids, the way he talks to just about every guard in the clubhouse. Before? Are you kidding me? It was like no one else existed. Im really proud of the way David has turned out. I dont care if he wins another tournament. Hes just become a great person. As a coach, thats what you really hope for.
Duvals transformation has much to do with his marriage to Susie five years ago. They have two young children together and three older children by Susies previous marriage.
That Duvals marriage has transformed his life isnt news, but that hes getting nearer to realizing the dream his new family gave him is.
That little scene that plays out over and over again on the PGA Tour, where children race onto the 18th green to hug their father after a victory, might trump any moment in Duvals career if it ever plays out for him.
The U.S. Open probably wont end on Fathers Day this year, with expected rain likely pushing this championship to Monday, but any day Duval wins again will feel like Fathers Day.
Id really like for my wife and my family to see how I can actually play this game, Duval said Saturday. They havent seen me at my best, and I want them to.
While Duval has said this before, hes never said it in better position to reach his dream. He arrived this week believing hes close to a breakthrough but frustrated that his record offered no supporting proof. He has missed seven of his last nine cuts.
Patience is crucial in this game, Duval said. I think Ive been patient for many years and continued to work hard. If anything, my patience has been most tested over the last six to eight months. I really felt like everything was falling together and nothing was happening for me.
Its happening this week.
Duval made four birdies over his final eight holes. He carved a 7-iron at the last hole to 15 feet and made the putt for his final birdie. This will be just the fourth cut he has made in his last 15 majors. He hasnt recorded a top-10 on the PGA Tour since the Invensys Classic in October of 02, a span of 115 PGA Tour events.
Blackmon, like Duval, has sensed something better was on its way.
There came a point in time, where our discussion was, `Hey, your swing is back, its not going to be exactly like it was when you were No. 1 in the world, because youre a little older, so lets just go play golf, said Blackmon, the director of golf at the University of South Carolina. Davids gone from the technical stuff to where hes now back to picking targets and playing to targets instead of worrying about where the balls going.
Blackmon can remember when Duval fearlessly attacked all his targets at Georgia Tech. Often, Blackmon was the target. The headstrong Duval wasnt so easy to coach.
During one trip to the University of Virginia when Duval was a freshman, Blackmon left a team practice to go play golf elsewhere with sports psychologist Bob Rotella.
At the end of the day, Blackmon called back to where the team was staying to invite them all over to Rotellas home for pizza. Duval answered the phone.
Where are you? Duval asked his coach. We played a practice round today and you might really think about where your priorities are.
Blackmon lost it. He launched into a tirade that Duval never heard. Duval dropped the phone and let it dangle off a table while Blackmon ranted.
I was screaming at nobody, Blackmon said. You have to understand, a lot of things led up to that.
Rotella ended up getting Duval and Blackmon to sit at opposite ends of a table at his home to work out their differences.
We had to have an intervention to keep us from killing each other, Blackmon said. This happened several times.
Blackmon said there was always something within Duval that he admired, though.
He was just focused on being a great player, Blackmon said. He challenged you so hard to be a better coach. You couldnt just throw something out there at him. You had to know what you were talking about. If you wanted him to do something, he would want to know why.
Why? It was always an important word in Duvals life. With his wife and children so important to him, he has the answer to most of his questions. He would love for the U.S. Open to be the answer this week.