British Open 2016: The Barber, the Bookie and David Duval: A Scottish Love Story

July 14, 2016

TROON, Scotland — The world’s biggest David Duval fan became the world’s biggest David Duval fan at the 1995 British Open at St. Andrews.

Roaming the Old Course in search of a player to support, Stuart Gow stumbled upon a 24-year-old Tour rookie in wraparound shades and a hat pulled low over his brow. Duval was the name. David Duval. He was playing in front of just a smattering of fans, so Stuart decided to tag along.

“He had a caddy with a limp and no one followed him,” Stuart, now 47, recalled earlier this week. “I thought, ‘What a shame.'”

John Daly triumphed that week in an epic playoff with Constantino Rocca. Duval finished 20th. But Stuart appreciated the golfer’s low-key demeanor and workmanlike approach. “He doesn’t look for any attention,” Stuart says. “He’s a genuine guy.”

Stuart is a barber in Perth, a historic city on the banks of the River Tay, about 100 miles northeast of Troon. A year after that St. Andrews Open, he opened his own barber shop, just down the street from a betting parlor. Stuart would pop in to the bookmaker a few times a week to wager on cricket and soccer and anything else that caught his eye. Whenever Duval played a tournament, Stuart would drop a few quid on him.

In 1999, Duval shot to No. 1 in the world and established himself as Tiger Woods’s first true rival. Stuart says he was raking in “loads of money” on his golf bets. As Duval tore up the Tour, his No. 1 fan happily followed his progress and dropped into his galleries every year at the Open. Sometimes, when Double D strolled from green to tee or finished a range session, Stuart would say hello or offer a few words of encouragement. Duval often acknowledged him with a head nod or cap tip, cementing Stuart’s fandom.

“He’s just normal,” Stuart says. “If you give him a shout, he’s good with it.”

One cloudy afternoon in 2010, Stuart visited the betting shop to wager on (who else?) Duval when he noticed a new bookie working behind the counter — a perky brunette named Kirsty. Stuart placed his bets and went on his way. On subsequent visits Stuart and Kirsty began chatting, some might say flirting. She remembered him for his bets on Duval, who by this point was far removed from his prime. “He was 250-to-1,” Kirsty says. “But I like people who don’t follow the code. Stuart liked Duval before he won anything.”

One day, Kirsty’s coworker tipped off Stuart — what punter doesn’t like a good scoop? — that the brunette had recently become single. Stuart asked her out right there at the counter, and the couple headed out for lunch at a Chinese restaurant. He placed his usual order, chicken-fried rice. She had the barbecue chicken.

The couple began dating. Stuart’s interest in Duval never waned, and Kirsty joined the fan club. At the 2012 Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Kirsty stood in a downpour to ask Duval for a glove after his practice session.

“It’s soaking wet. Why do you want it?” Duval said. Kirsty explained that her boyfriend was a huge fan. The golfer shrugged, peeled the cold leather off his hand, and signed the glove.

As the couple’s relationship blossomed, sports remained a mutual interest. They decked out Stuart’s barbershop with memorabilia, which included a collection of Duval swag. While traveling in Barbados last year to see an England-West Indies soccer match, Stuart proposed on the hotel balcony. When they began planning the wedding, Stuart joked that they should invite Duval.

“Don’t worry,” Kirsty said. “He’ll be there.”

On May 14 of this year, Stuart and Kirsty were married in a traditional Scottish ceremony — with a surprise twist. At the reception, just as the groomsmen stepped up to give their toasts, Kirsty and the gang brought out a life-sized cardboard cutout of Duval. Everyone was thrilled — well, almost everyone.

“My real reaction was disappointment, because I thought it was really him,” Stuart says with a laugh. “But it was good fun.”

Last month, the couple posted one of those wedding-reception photos on social media and Duval himself took notice. This week Duval is here both as a Golf Channel analyst and as a competitor, thanks to the exemption he earned for winning the Claret Jug in 2001. (The sports books currently list him at 2,000-to-1, and, yes, Stuart has a wager on him.) On Monday the Gows introduced themselves to Duval at the range, and the golfer signed a glove and ball for them. Kirsty whipped out her cell-phone photo from the wedding reception, where cardboard Duval is propped between the newlyweds.

“What on earth possessed you to do that?” Duval said. He’s a humble man, which appeals to the Gows.

They told him their story.

“If we bring it tomorrow, will you sign it?” Kirsty said.

On Tuesday, the Gows returned to Troon and lugged the cutout across the course. Walking off the 4th green, Duval spotted the couple and his life-sized likeness and slipped under the ropes to greet them.

Mission accomplished, the Gows didn’t stick around long, fearing the cutout, which now has a signature inked across the chest, might get drenched in a sudden rainstorm. Besides, they have tickets for the week. They’d be back. Hustling for the parking lot, they bumped into a reporter who asked them if Duval, in a cosmic way, deserves any credit for their nuptials.

“I would’ve met Kirsty anyway,” Stuart said, “but maybe in a tiny, tiny little bit he helped.”

“Probably slightly,” Kirsty added.

They unleashed a joyful, throaty laugh, the kind you often hear from happy couples.

Stuart and Kirsty bid farewell and headed for their car.

It was time to take David home.