Whatever happened to David Duval?

There was a time when David Duval was the best golfer on the planet. A time when he was, realistically, the only person who you could count on to challenge Tiger Woods. A time when every shot he played seemed destined to be great.

Between October 1997 and April 1999, he entered 34 tournaments and won 11 of them. That’s pretty staggering, when you think about it. On average, he soared to victory every one in three tournaments.

It was a surge that compelled Sports Illustrated to print a famous cover, which you can see here:

 

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But as swiftly as he ascended, he crashed. He won The Open Championship in 2001, and after that never won a major title again. In his prime, at the age of 29, he plummeted from top rankings. 

In a fascinating interview with Herald Scotland, he said:

“We all have thoughts about wishing things could have gone a different way in our lives. More than anything, my curiosity revolves around what I might have continued to achieve, had I not had my injuries. But I suffered about 12 different injuries in all: my back, my knees, my ankle, everything. My body just couldn’t cope.

“A lot of bad things started happening to me which made it difficult to play golf consistently. You do start to think, ‘what might have been, had I stayed healthy?’ But it’s neither here nor there now – I didn’t. My body broke down.”

At a time when Tiger Woods was the people’s champion, a fan favourite, always saying the right thing in interviews even when he wasn’t really saying anything at all, Duval was a polar opposite. His trademark Oakley shades hid him from the outside world. He wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, whether it won him fans or not.

And yet, in those glory days, you couldn’t help but admire how he played. And even if you didn’t, you’ve got to admit his fall from such sparkling form was astonishing and more than a little disappointing.

Not that you could be disappointed in him – just disappointed for the sport of golf more than anything, as you are always disappointed for a sport that loses one of its brightest stars too early.

It leaves you wondering – what if?

What if he didn’t get injured? What if he didn’t lose his confidence? How good could he have been?

There was a time when it was Duval vs Woods - then everything went wrong.

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Unfortunately, the injuries coincided with personal problems for Duval. He split with his girlfriend of eight years in 2002, and for months he was on antidepressants. In 2003 he was diagnosed with positional vertigo, the sudden sensation that you’re spinning, which can cause intense dizziness.

It was a hazardous cocktail. By 2002, he’d dropped to 80th on the money list, and a year later he’d fallen all the way to 211th. When 2004 rolled around, he’d slumped as far as 434 in the world rankings. He was winless in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009, and after that lost his Tour card, so had to rely on sponsors just to play. At his lowest point, in 2013, he tumbled as far as 1508th in the world rankings – a far cry from his dominant streak at the end of the 20th century.

As his prowess on the course dwindled, he turned to other ways to stay involved in the sport, working as a commentator and studio analyst. It’s the textbook corner for a sportsman to take when their playing days are over, a fact underscored by every major sport out there.

But Duval hasn’t retired. Far from it. Although he’s playing far less golf now than he used to, the spark is still there – and it was rekindled by his stint in the commentary box.

He said, “Sitting up there when you’re announcing and recapping the tournaments, you realize, ‘Man, these guys hit some really ugly shots.’ Seeing that, it’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, everybody screws up and does bad things,’ and so it removes a little bit of the pressure of ‘I have to go out and play perfectly.’ ”

Commentating on other golfers has given David Duval fresh perspective.

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Playing at the British Open this year, Duval showed some of the magic that made him such a dominant player in the early stages of his career. And perhaps unlike then, now he’s got everyone rooting for him.

Ron Levin, who has caddied for 29 years, had the best view in the house for Duval’s shots, and got emotional when asked about his play. He said:

“I’ve seen the hard times he’s gone through and the adversity. And he keeps going. He wants to win golf tournaments. That’s all he’s ever wanted to do. He didn’t grow up and say, ‘I want to be a golf announcer.’ ”

Even Tiger Woods’ fall from the golfing elite has not been as dramatic as Duval’s. But now, fourteen years after his first and only Major win, he seems to have rediscovered the love for the game that perhaps slipped away in the jumbled rush this last decade has thrown at him.

We can only hope that he continues to play, and continues to enjoy himself. Who knows – maybe there will be a Hollywood ending to all this after all?

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