Sunday, June 21, 2009

Who Pulled The Stake Out of Duval's Heart?

The US Open has been plagued by bad weather this year, but it has suffered from no shortage of great stories. My personal favorite is that of David Duval's possible return to form.

Duval, until he practically fell off the face of the earth during the 2003 season, was my favorite pro golfer for several years. I loved how he went about his business on the golf course: the guy was more stoic than Hemingway's eponymous Old Man. He never bought into being a celebrity, and didn't really care to be one, either. Blessed with one of the most rhythmic swings on tour, Duval became one of three pro golfers to shoot a 59 - yes, a 59 - in competition, and he did so in the final round of the Bob Hope Classic ten years ago by eagling the 18th hole to win.

He dethroned Tiger Woods as the world's number one player for a time, and he quickly earned the dubious distinction of being the best player never to have won a major. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride seemed to be his cruel fate in major after major. That is, until, he captured the Claret Jug by winning the Open Championship in 2001. I'll never forget that tournament. I was living down the Jersey shore for the summer with a couple of buddies and it just so happened I had the place to myself when Duval figured out a way to win while not even playing his best golf.

And then, as they say on every E True Hollywood Story, tragedy struck.

Some say it was the swing. Some say it was physical injuries. Some say it was a form of vertigo. Some say it was personal troubles. Who knows why, and even Duval himself might now know why, but for whatever reason or reasons, he lost his game. As the oft-repeated saying goes, you never own the game of golf; at best, you only borrow it for a short time.

He'd played a cut swing for most of his career, one that was so finely tuned he'd all but taken the left side of the golf course out of play. But suddenly he was hitting hooks and couldn't find a fairway. His motivation and his competitiveness, right around the same time, left him. He struggled. Every once in awhile, he would show flashes of brilliance, popping back up on the radar screen just long enough to make us wonder. But he couldn't seem to break through.

And that's why it's so exciting to see he's currently tied for third at the US Open, with sixteen holes left to play. This isn't a flash in the pan, play well for 18 holes sort of thing. Duval has put in a wonderful performance at one of the toughest venues out there: Bethpage Black. Though he's five shots behind the leaders, it IS the US Open, so anything can happen, especially at a course known to wreak havoc. It would be the golf story of the year if he were to win.

24 comments:

seanag said...

Brian, as you know, I'm not really a golf fan. But you do write a good sports story. I'll root for the guy. He's a trooper.

Brian O'Rourke said...

Seana,

Thanks for that.

I just read that Duval's currently No. 882 in the World Golf Rankings. Talk about a comeback.

Phil Stiefel said...

l am also a huge Duval fan... love sitting here at the store watching a Monday final round.... making a slow Monday morning more enjoyable. Definately think 4 or 5 under is the winning score no matter who wins

seanag said...

Well, you know I won't be watching it, but do post here about the outcome if you think of it.

Brian O'Rourke said...

Philly,

I may have jinxed him. Last I checked, he'd dropped a few shots and was seven back with only 13 holes to play. I do think you're right about the winning score, though.

Brian O'Rourke said...

Seana,

Will do. I should be in a bar watching it right now.

marco said...

It is Wimbledon season! How can people think about golf?
Heatens!

Brian O'Rourke said...

Marco,

What's Wimbeldon?



jk

Brian O'Rourke said...

Congrats to Lucas Glover on playing a great tournament.

And it was great to see Duval tie for second. He's finally back, and the golf world is a better place for it.

adrian mckinty said...

With a final round of 68(!) 10th place goes to Rory McIlroy. Extraordinary for the curly haired 20 year old from N Ireland, only a year or so into his professional career, pretty incredible if you ask me.

seanag said...

Sounds like a good day for more than one golfer's career. Although I'm really not sure what being curly haired has to do with anything...

Marco, we are no doubt heathens here, but probably not heatens.

seanag said...

A little link about golf stat geeks, for those so inclined.

marco said...

Seana,have mercy. You know Inglish be not mine natal Langue.

Though in a song I'm listening , water is heaten up and people get eaten by heathens. By the way, Adrian, Ulster Fry is people.

Extraordinary for the curly haired 20 year old from N Ireland, only a year or so into his professional career, pretty incredible if you ask me.

Hope he won't be the proverbial flash in the frying pan.

Brian O'Rourke said...

Adrian,

Shooting 68 in the final round of a US Open and placing 10th is ridiculous. This kid's got skills to pay the bills.

The British Open, er, excuse me, the Open Championship is coming up very soon...

Brian O'Rourke said...

Seana,

Nice linkage. I particularly liked this snippet:

Broadie also pokes a hole in another piece of conventional golf wisdom. Many good golfers have a distance from the green where they feel most comfortable hitting approach shots—perhaps they like to hit a 9-iron from 120 yards. So, on a par 5, if they can't reach the green in two, they will often hit their second shot into that comfort zone, the strategy being that it's better to groove a 9-iron than to sweat over a 40-yard wedge. Broadie has found that the "comfort zone" feeling doesn't hold up. Everybody gets better—they hit it closer—when they are closer to the green.

I for one always tried to give myself a full shot in if I couldn't reach a par 5 in two, but now I'll have to rethink that. Very interesting.

Brian O'Rourke said...

Marco,

You are always listening to a song with interesting lyrics.

Brian O'Rourke said...

Adrian,

I forgot to mention this. Dad played Bethpage Black back in 2002, literally a week or so after the US Open. He shot 84 and said it was the best 84 he ever shot in his life. (Dad plays to about a five or six handicap.) That course is just brutal.

adrian mckinty said...

5 or 6 is pretty decent. I had a jnr hcap of 14. I havent played a round for nearly twenty years but I do still enjoy going out to the driving range once a month. And sometimes that can be really fun. I used to go this place in New Hampshire that allowed you to smoke cigars and drink on the range. Its a very male pleasure to knock out a basket of golf balls while puffing on a Romeo y Julieta and sipping a Sam Adams. Guaranteed way to chip twenty points off your blood pressure.

Brian O'Rourke said...

That place up in New Hampshire sounds great. The driving range is always a blast, but if you add booze and cigars to the mix, it's probably like vacationing in heaven.

Dad's living the dream right now. The folks are retired, living in Florida, and playing golf four or five times a week. The old man loves to call me up from the golf course while I'm at work to rub it in. Love you, Dad.

Me, I don't get out too much anymore myself. I jokingly like to say that's because I'm married, but it's really because golf is an expensive sport and in my spare time I'm trying to write. If I ever earn enough as a writer to quit the day job, the first thing I'll do is take up the game in earnest again.

That and maybe mow the lawn more regularly too. I almost lost one of my dogs in the backyard once, and she weighs 60 pounds.

seanag said...

Marco, your English is impeccable--better than mine, I'd wager. Just trying to keep you up to your usual high standard.

I suppose driving balls on the golf range with beer and cigars might be a very male pleasure, though I can't think why. My mom was the only golfer in the family, though she more or less gave it up after she had kids, probably because of the money aspect. My father detested golf, I suspect largely for class reasons, and if I heard that Twain quip about golf being a long walk ruined once, I heard it 50,000 times.

I'm so glad you found your dog again, Brian. But I don't believe you when you say that you will mow your lawn more when you quit your day job.

Brian O'Rourke said...

Seana,

Have you been speaking to my wife? :)

seanag said...

No, Brian. Sadly, I'll bet she still has hope.

Brian O'Rourke said...

Seana,

For once you're mistaken. The wife gave up her hope a long time ago with me.

seanag said...

Then she's an even wiser woman than I thought she was.