FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (AP) — David Duval is playing an American major for the first time in nearly three years, excited to have qualified for the U.S. Open because of how much he likes the Black Course at Bethpage State Black.
And this from someone who missed the cut the last time he was here.
“It’s wonderful,” Duval said Sunday after playing his second practice round in as many days. “It’s a big, hard golf course, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Duval was among a dozen or so players who took advantage of a quiet – and eventually sunny – afternoon on the day before most players arrive for practice rounds at the U.S. Open.
The sunshine was a treat, the forecast is for mostly wet conditions when the championship starts Thursday.
“Looking at the forecast, it will be a slog,” USGA executive director David Fay said.
Duval, who rose to No. 1 in the world a decade ago, has not played the U.S. Open since 2006, when his five-year exemption ran out from his victory in the 2001 British Open. He did not qualify for the U.S. Open, Masters or PGA Championship the past two years as he tries to get his game turned around, and he believes he is making progress, even if it doesn’t show on the scorecard.
But he offered a bold prediction – not for himself, rather Bethpage Black.
“There is nothing to complain about,” he said.
Duval referred specifically to the 10th hole and 12th hole, two long par 4s that generated so much criticism when the U.S. Open was played at Bethpage in 2002. Some players couldn’t reach the 10th fairway, others couldn’t keep it in the 12th fairway.
Among the many changes to the course, which is 7,426 yards at par 70, is the fairway was brought closer to the tee on 10th hole, requiring a carry of no more than 230 yards. The fairway is slightly wider on the 12th, so players who carry the cross bunker will have better odds of playing from the short grass.
Even so, what would a U.S. Open be without complaints?
“I thought the U.S. Open was supposed to identify the best player,” Duval said.
He thought Bethpage Black had a better chance of doing that than most courses. It is still too early to say because the public course on Long Island has hosted only one U.S. Open. Tiger Woods won in 2002 by three shots over Phil Mickelson, while playing in the final pairing with Sergio Garcia. The tournament was not lacking quality players.
Woods is coming off a victory last week at the Memorial and again is a heavy favorite, while the sentimental favorite is Mickelson, who disclosed last month that his wife is battling breast cancer. He decided only two weeks ago that he would play the U.S. Open.
“This could easily be – and you couldn’t say this after one U.S. Open – one of the top five best U.S. Open venues you see,” Duval said.
A greater mystery is what to expect from Duval.
He plunged from the A-list of golf stars not long after winning the British Open for his lone major, most of that injuries that led to a loss of confidence, and then starting his family. He is playing the PGA Tour this year on a one-time exemption from career money, and he had to earn his way back to the U.S. Open, posting scores of 66-69 in the sectional qualifier last Monday.
“I’ve made no bones about this, the two Opens (U.S. and British) are the most important events of the year,” Duval said.
He is happy to be back, but fans might not see much more of him the rest of the week.
Duval walked a little slower, his swing looked a little more tired, over the final four holes. He played the 36-hole qualifier on Monday, then played three rounds in Memphis at St. Jude Classic, where he missed the cut, then came straight to New York and played consecutive 18-hole rounds on a course that is a long, tough walk even without having to chase the ball around.
Duval said he would work on his short game Monday, play nine holes on Tuesday, then take his wife and children into the city on Wednesday. After a weekend on the Black, he feels like he knows the course.
It was everything he remembered.