Rating a Revival: The golfing public's view of David Duval has changed the second time around

Thursday July 9th, 2009
David Duval with his son at the trophy presentation ceremony at the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black.
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

You've probably heard of the Zagat restaurant guides. Did you know there's a Zagat guide to golf courses, too? Joe Passov, the Golf Magazine and GOLF.com travel guru, is one of its editors. Courses in the guide are reviewed and rated by regular, anonymous paying customers in layman's language and in four categories on a 0-to-30 scale. A grade of 20 is very good, and 30 represents perfection. In the published guide there are quoted, linked snippets from the reviews, and above them are the average numerical grades in each category.

There's no word on when, if ever, Zagat will start publishing fan guides to professional golfers. But in the meantime, and inspired by Zagat, we here at the British Open Preview Department at Sports Illustrated Golf Plus offer this review of the resurgent David Duval. The comments were culled from more than 40 e-mails posted on GOLF.com last week in response to a query asking about the game's most opaque player and winner of the 2001 British Open, plus the musings of some other sources even closer to home. Speaking of which: The numerical ratings (right) are strictly our own. Bon appetit!

This former world No. 1 lost his game "to say the least" and fell to 882nd coming into last month's U.S. Open at Bethpage, where he tied for second. A major win would be regarded as "the biggest golf comeback story ever." In '01, when Duval won the British Open at Royal Lytham, he was, a GOLF.com respondent notes, a "mystery behind welding glasses." Duval's long-standing habit of wearing shades provokes many people, even his fans. One reader describes Duval's ubiquitous glasses as "Terminator wraparounds." Another says, "He seems smug, and I hate those Oakleys. Can someone please get the guy a sponsorship with Maui Jim or something?" As a subject of interest, Duval's sunglasses will not quit. Another reviewer notes, "You can't root for a guy with no eyes." And another says Duval won him over only after taking off the wraparounds upon winning at Lytham.

Draw more shades: Duval is often credited with being "his own person" and a "groundbreaker" as one of the first Tour pros to wear wraparound sunglasses on the course. In that regard he "paved the way" for both "New Age golfers" such as Annika Sorenstam and traditionalists like Davis Love III, Duval's close friend and "snowboarding buddy."

While fans tend to ignore Love's shades and focus more on his "Polo uniform" and press affability, Duval's treatment is generally the opposite. Fans question his "high-tech garb" and dealings with the media. One reporter notes he could "listen to Double D all day long" and says Duval's candor years ago about Ryder Cup money going everywhere except to the players "was a breath of fresh air." But a longtime director of Tour events counters that Duval is "always wary" of the press. Some balanced reporting would likely help Duval: One citizen reporter on GOLF.com points out that Duval wears sunglasses because of "pollen allergies."

Duval will play in next week's British Open at Turnberry, a course he has never played. He skipped the Open in 2005 and '07 because of his "downfall" and back, neck and wrist injuries. Majors clearly motivate him. He played in the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, in the midst of his slump, and finished 16th, prompting one GOLF.com reader to say, "I think DD wins another major before he wins a regular Tour event."

This year marks 20 years in the public eye for the winner of the 1989 U.S. Junior, but recent years have been spent "in his quagmire," during which Duval sought "blue-chip help," including David Leadbetter for his swing and Bob Rotella for his head. With the "possible exception of Ian Baker-Finch," no elite golfer in modern times has "fallen so far so fast."

In recent years Duval has returned home and sought the advice of Puggy Blackmon, his former Georgia Tech coach. Blackmon notes that "David has only one real teacher," namely his father, former club pro Bob Duval, and that Blackmon's role "is to show David tapes" from his vast collection. Blackmon says that Duval's "rhythm looks better now" because his swing "is more technically sound" and has "fewer moving parts." Blackmon also comments that Duval is "healthier now than he has been in years" in body and mind and that he has "found his true soul mate" in his wife, Susie Persichette.

One writer notes that Duval's Bethpage play "didn't come from nowhere," citing Duval's 66 and 69 in a sectional qualifying event while wearing "long plaid shorts, dark ankle socks and white shoes," proof that "he's more like us than them." After years with Tour caddie Mitch Knox on the bag, Duval now employs longtime friend Jeff Webber, with whom Duval "appears to be exceedingly comfortable."

After his glasses, the most popular subject for Duval's fans and detractors is his weight, which goes "up and down like an elevator in the Sears Tower." In his chiseled prime, Duval was "six even and a buck eighty" with, Blackmon says, "Nicklaus's legs, Norman's upper body and Hogan's head." At Tour stops back then Duval spent "more time in the gym than on the range." He was "pudgy" as a kid and has returned "to his youthful ways." To many observers his "rounder bod" has made him "more approachable."

Monday at Bethpage was "extraordinary" because Duval had "as much fan support" as Phil Mickelson did. And while love for Duval is by no means universal — various GOLF.com respondents call him "aloof," "unfriendly," "an enigma" and "a jerk in victory and defeat" — many others are rooting for him passionately, praising him as a "class act" and a "poster boy for guts, determination and indomitable desire." Several note the triple bogey he made on the 3rd hole in the final round at Bethpage, but also point out that he was a shot off the lead while standing on the 17th tee. Many recall Duval's quote after the U.S. Open: "I had no question in my mind I was going to win the tournament today."

Some see Duval, an avid reader of novels, as a potential "hero in his own narrative." One GOLF.com respondent writes that "people just like seeing someone come back like he has — it's part of the American Dream and fitting in these times we're in." Another notes that "it's a shame he had to fall so far professionally before people rallied around his cause. That says something about the public. But the beautiful thing is that I don't think David Duval cares what we think about him. I hope he wins again."

Another GOLF.commer posts a virtual haiku: "Before: machine, hidden, emotionless. Now: tempered through suffering, passionate, open and approachable." And yet another, citing Duval's ability to make fun of himself in an old Nike ad in which he breaks a window on Tiger's car with a golf club, writes, "I hope Duval wins the British."

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