Not so long ago, Duval was the best golfer in the world. In 1998 and early 1999, he won eight times and was the No. 1-ranked player for 15 straight weeks. Tiger Woods was still just Woods, not Tiger. There was no Ernie, no Vijay, no one to challenge Duvals dominance.
But Duval was about to hit the skids. And when he self-destructed, he really self-destructed. Oh, Lee Westwood may have rivaled it somewhat, but this year Westwood pulled out of that terrible tailspin. Duval goes into this season still wondering when will it end?
As late as 2001, he was still pretty competitive. In that year, he won the British Open. However, the nagging injuries began slowly popping up. There was a five-week layoff early in the year when tendonitis inflamed his left wrist. He has always had problems with a tender back. And in 2002, the trickle of bad news became a torrent.
First, he and his longtime girlfriend ended their relationship after eight years. As could be expected, the breakup was a mental setback of immense proportions. Then the following week, Duval hurt his right shoulder. The downhill slide had already begun ' and as we know, practice makes permanent, not actually perfect, Duval said. That is, if you are practicing with faulty moves, those faulty moves soon begin to feel like the right moves. The train was about to leave the station.
I was making a lot of compensatory moves for my back, my wrist, he said during a Golf Channel appearance late in 2003. So through the course of that, Im ingraining a bad setup, bad address position, a bad takeaway. Those kinds of things are hard to get out of.
Vertigo the wrist the shoulder the back the romance what else could go wrong?
He fell to No. 44 in the world in 2002, then to 238th by the end of 2003. In 2003, he was so lost that he made only four of 20 cuts. Could things have been much worse?
Hes exempt through 2006 with his British Open victory, so he still has plenty of time. But there has to be that little whisper of a doubt ' will he ever regain it? And the question is, can he once again remember what it felt like in 98 and 99 when he was steadily rolling up the victories? If he can find that feeling of a near-perfect golf swing ' great! If he cant .
Duval has earned well over $20 mil in paydays and endorsements. He is in no danger of missing a meal or a house payment for the rest of his life, even if he never makes another penny from the game. But what if, at age 32, he finally found it impossible to play? What would he do to occupy the hours in the day?
Duval looks at Westwood and realizes that golf is a fickle game indeed ' one day you are absolutely without a clue as to how to play, then one day it starts to come back and suddenly you win again ' and again. Until that time comes, he will keep searching for the swing he had in 1999.
It's times like these when you find out what type of impact you have, you know, he said. And it's times like these when I feel most responsible to act like a professional.
It's easy to act that way when you're winning golf tournaments, finishing high on the money list, and conduct yourself in a proper manner. It's hard when you're shooting 83. But that's when you need to do it most.
David Duval isnt one of the names mentioned when the 2004 Ryder Cup is being discussed. He isnt being touted as a potential winner at Atlanta or Memorial or the Players Championship. No one can see him shooting 59 again at the Hope ' which he did in 99. If he is on somebodys comeback list for this year, it is purely through faith and an eye to 98-99 when he swung so effortlessly and won so easily.
I said, I'm a lucky man. I've achieved a lot of things. I've played for 10 years now and I've had eight and a half, nine great years, he noted.
Unfortunately in this game, you know, you can't choose your obstacles. In this life you can't choose your obstacles. So I have some pretty good obstacles to overcome at this moment.
Sounds like life will go on, regardless of whether his golf game is world-caliber or not. He wants to regain it, feels certain he will regain it, but if by some chance he doesnt, he will simply move on to something else. Maybe he will be Lee Westwood. Maybe he will be Ian Baker-Finch.
Its just golf, he says. Im damn lucky. Ive got a great life. Nobody wants to believe that. Im not playing good golf right now, but it doesnt define my life.
We assume he will start the season with a clean bill of health and a settled personal life. We hope we can assume a return to prominence of the PGA Tour. But if thats not possible, Duval is more than willing to settle for a happy remainder of his life.
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