LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — If you were looking for evidence that World No. 775 David Duval still cares about his game, his career and winning again, you’d have found it on the practice range at Royal Lytham and St. Annes on Tuesday afternoon. Nursing bone bruises in his knees, tendinitis in just about every major joint, and nagging soreness in his back, Duval spent two hours under a steady rain, seeking answers in the sod.
His swing — the silky rhythm, the soft arms, the high finish — looks much the same as it did 11 years ago when Duval, near the height of his powers, won the last British Open played at Lytham. But if you could have peeled back his 40-year-old exterior, you’d have found a revamped soul within.
“I’m an entirely different person,” Duval said Wednesday afternoon in an introspective chat with the media that at points felt more like an episode of Dr. Phil. “Back then it was all about me and all about golf.”
Today, it’s all about family: wife Susie, her three children from another marriage, and another two kids the couple had together. That’s seven of them in all, a regular Brady Bunch. Duval’s oldest stepson, 22-year-old Deano, is in town this week, supporting his old man in his long-shot quest to win his first official title since his Open win at Royal Lytham. Yes, it’s been that long. Eleven long, strange, painful, but ultimately joyous years for Duval, a stretch during which his professional and personal lives seemed to barrel at a furious pace in opposite directions.
Which is OK with Duval, because he’s a family guy now.
“That doesn’t mean I don't love [golf], don't think I'm really good at it, and don't think going I’m going to be really great at it again and don't desire to be,” he said. “But that goes to where I was asked about what's kind of gone on in the last however many years of my life. Life has opened up to me, and I've seen life, and I love it and enjoy it and embrace it.”
Duval doesn’t get summoned to many press scrums these days. (That’s what happens when your game goes from the cover of magazines to the side of a milk carton.) That’s a shame, because it turns out Double D is a bit of a Double C — a Chatty Cathy. Behind those wraparound shades, the same ominous specs that for years seemed to bark, Stay the hell away from me, I’m working here, Duval emerged Wednesday as thoughtful, candid and articulate. No topic was off limits, no query too trivial. On a couple of occasions, Duval balked at a reporter’s question only to proceed to answer it in great detail.
Reporter: “You were one of the original rivals to Tiger. Can you describe what kind of relationship you had with him at that time and what kind of relationship, if any, you have with him now?”
Duval: “Can I ask you why? What’s the importance of that?”
Without further prodding, Duval went on to explain that he and Tiger were “decent” friends 10 years ago, but that they no longer speak. “I wouldn't hesitate to have a beer with him,” Duval said. “But it would probably have to be hidden in some house somewhere; it's not like he can go to the pub and do it. And that sucks that he can’t do that.”
Duval explained what he liked about the new crop of young American players (“They don’t look like golf machines”); the commonalities among the players who have ascended to World No. 1 (“They all swung it kind of funny and different, but they were all convinced that it was the right way to do it”); and whether he could get beyond his 10 missed cuts in 2012 and possibly hang up a miracle W this week.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I feel good about what I'm doing.”
He just doesn’t feel good doing it. On uneven lies, which he’ll find many of on this rolling links, Duval’s bum knees are a wince waiting to happen. “As the knee flexes more, where the location of the bruise is, the patellar tendon is rubbing across the bruise,” he said. “Doesn't really feel very good.
“Yesterday I hit three or four shots that kind of almost put me down.”
That’s been the story of Duval’s downfall: the physical, and psychological, problems that have ravaged him. If it’s not a creaky shoulder, it’s a tweaked wrist. If it’s not tendinitis, it’s vertigo.
“Our egos think that we can just play and get through it,” Duval said of his and other pro athletes’ mentalities toward injuries.
“In hindsight, the big mistake I made in my career was not stopping sometime in early 2002 and probably not playing again until ’04. I should have taken at least a year, maybe more off, just made sure everything kind of got healed, protected my confidence, protected my golf game and moved on and just given away that year and a half, not give away eight years like I did.”
Instead, he plummeted to unthinkable depths, notching just six top-10s since 2002 and falling, at one point, to 882nd in the world.
Grim stuff, right? Not according to Duval.
“I’m pretty lucky to not be the same person I was 10 years ago, 11 years ago,” he said to the assembled reporters at Lytham. “I would imagine everyone in this room is a little different than they were at that point in their lives.”
“Everybody changes,” Duval said.