Friday, July 13, 2012


Next week at the 141st Open, sympathy will predictably be our go-to emotion as the spotlight shines on golf’s poster boy for the mighty who have fallen. For so many years, the name David Duval has been treated like a communicable disease on fairways across the planet.
And now the game returns to Royal Lytham and St Anne’s, where it all began to go wrong; where the hapless Duval won his only major title. If ever there was a sporting example of “careful what you wish for” then it has been written in Duval’s tale. And written and written and written.
He’s heard all the questions before, we’ve asked them all before. Yet still we shall persist as we’re just not satisfied with his response. We want tears, not shrugs.
The truth is, Duval has given us plenty in explaining the outrageous sense of anticlimax, particularly when one considers that a wordsmith such as Bob Geldof could only manage “Is that it?”
“When you have worked so hard and had so many near-misses and then win when you didn’t play that well, it’s like, ‘Are you kidding me? Are you really gonna do this to me?’,” said Duval.
“It’s not like I played badly at Lytham in 2001; but out of all the tournaments I won that’s the one I played the worst in.”
Duval thought the scenario should unfold like it had in his dreams, instead it unfolded in what he felt to be an unworthy reality. Before it had always seemed everything; in the event it didn’t seem very much at all.
That Sunday night, on a chartered jet to a Canadian skins tournament, he turned to his caddie and said: “I thought it would feel better than this.” Duval later called it “my existentialist moment”.
Of course, when all this came out and as the former world No 1’s ranking proceeded to dive past the 1,000 mark, the amateur psychiatrists leapt into action. It stemmed from his childhood, they said, from the moment when his bone marrow could not save his brother, Brent, from dying from aplastic anemia. Nothing could ever make up for what he perceived to be his life failure, or so said Bob Freud and his mates down the boozer.
Except there is a more prosaic explanation; one that involves the mental issue of confidence, as every dramatic golfing downfall has to. By Lytham, Duval’s game had already embarked on the first stages of its spiral. He had sprained his lower back the previous year and his swing had gone from flat to upright.
The flexibility which dictated his rhythm had been forsaken and, without the proper treatment, the slide was inevitable. When he developed viral vertigo in 2002 the perfect storm had erupted in which a supreme talent went missing.

With Duval’s sporting psyche weighing him down he never has been unable to rescale the mountain, despite tantalising glimpses of greatness, most notably when finishing second in the US Open three years ago. His best finish this season is a tie for 60th at something called the Valero Texas Open. And so the soundbites and sentiment will spout forth all over the Fylde coast. Poor, poor Duval; the man who had it all and lost it all.
Yet what exactly did he have, except a dented old jug? Within hours he realised it wasn’t the be-all and still doesn’t accept it was the end-all.
If Lytham offered him anything lasting it was the impetus to find what he calls “genuine fulfilment“.
In the midst of his Open soul-searching, he broke off a long-term relationship and a year later found the wife with whom he now has five children. “I’m happy,” says Duval.
If only we could take his word for it.



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