Originally created 06/17/04

Duval's goals surpass golf game



SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. - David Duval might not hit a fairway today. He might not break 80. He might not play another golf tournament the rest of the year or the rest of his life.

David Duval might not ever be the same David Duval we've struggled to figure out for the past 15 years, but he's here at Shinnecock Hills anyway. He's here for one reason - he wants to be here.

For those of us who have sorely missed one of golf's most talented and intriguing figures, that's the best news in the eight months since he walked away.

"I haven't missed being away, but I just wanted to play this week," Duval said Wednesday on the eve of the U.S. Open. "The U.S. Open is a very hard thing for me to miss and I was anxious for my wife and my family to see me and see what I do - to see the atmosphere of golf."

Duval hasn't played competitive golf for eight months, and it was 12 months before that since he's truly been competitive. Yet he chose quite possibly the toughest course and tournament test of the year to put his unprepared and unrepaired game on display.

"I sit here very nervous about this week," Duval said, revealing emotions with a quietly wavering voice. "Scared, too. I haven't done it in quite sometime. But ... the number of people who have

said simply, 'Nice to see you again,' that's what matters."

At age 31, when most golfers are entering their prime, Duval needed to walk away from the game. In October, after missing his 16th cut of the season in Las Vegas, he had seen enough. He left the PGA Tour to get healthy and collect himself - his return date undetermined.

Duval didn't even decide to come back to the U.S. Open until Saturday night when he was playing alone at Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver.

"I was in tears when I called home Saturday night, when I was out golfing, and said that I was going to New York, and I've been in and out of tears ever since," he said. "The emotion came from just the sheer desire to do it. I didn't know if I wanted to."

Duval has spent more than half his life striving for what he calls the "mastery of the game." You could argue he was pretty successful. He's won 13 events. He shot 59 and was ranked No. 1 in the world in 1999. In 2001, he won the British Open and his destiny seemed fulfilled.

But he wasn't.

"Through it all, my mistake was I had what I thought was a pretty broad goal but it turned out to be pretty narrow, and that was simply to see how good I could become in this game," he said.

"Through winning a lot of tournaments through going to No. 1 through winning the Open, I figured it out. If anything, a week removed from the Open Championship is when I went through my existentialist moments of kind of, 'Is this it?' That's the simplest way to put it."

Fulfillment finally seems to have found Duval away from the golf course. Meeting Susie Persichitte last summer filled the void of his ex-fiance Julie McArthur. He and Susie married March 6. Duval suddenly had three children age 8 to 14 and a whole new life in Denver.

"I'm still learning routines," he said. "I'm learning to be a husband. Learning to be a father. Learning to be a son again. I feel like in Denver with my wife and the family out there that I've finally found home."

We always thought Duval was supposed to be on a golf course and on leaderboards with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. But that might not be the case. If his game never comes back, he's fine with it. Golf is not his top priority any more.

"If I had to make a choice between playing golf and friends and family - between that and competitive golf - there's not much of a choice," he said. "I'd never play competitive golf again. I love to play the game just to play."

Duval didn't show up to the course until Wednesday. He was wild off the tee in his only practice round, hitting a spectator with his first drive on No. 1. By all accounts he should be scared of his game.

But right now Duval doesn't seem to care.

"It's realistic to think I'm going to be smiling and having a good time," he said of his goals.

Duval has been a reluctant celebrity, never afraid to offer his honest insights into anything but his own heart. He opened that heart a little this week and revealed a young man who's found happiness, even if he's lost his game.

"I'll never look at (golf) the same again," he said. "I've been blessed and had an amazing career to this point. I'm amazed people care."

People do care. And no matter what Duval shoots this week, it's good to know he's finally found himself.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.