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BILL DWYRE

Golfer David Duval uses a different stick to measure success

David Duval has not won a major or minor since the British Open in 2001, the last time it was played at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. But he chooses to reflect on his 'wonderful' life outside of golf.

July 19, 2012|Bill Dwyre

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — Wednesday was the last day for reflection before the start of British Open fireworks here, and so David Duval did exactly that.

In a shocker, the sun came out, the mud upgraded to merely gunk, and the wind howled and whistled as if doing a dress rehearsal for the next four days.

And Duval gave it all perspective.

If you are scratching your head, don't feel bad. Duval is about as well-known as your neighbor, unless your neighbor is David Beckham. He was drawn to the sound and fury of the present here because of the past.

In 2001, the last time the British Open was played at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Duval was the winner. He had been No. 1 in the world a couple of times in the years before that and, despite the dominance of Tiger Woods, his victory in a major was not the least bit surprising.

What was surprising was how quickly he fell off the mountain, and how far he slid.

Since that Sunday, July 22, 2001, when he held together in championship fashion with a closing 67 and held the Claret Jug high, he has not won again. Not a major, not a minor. Nada. When it was time to say hello to the top of golfing world, he said goodbye.

Since then, hundreds of stories have been written in attempts to analyze how he became a missing person so quickly after becoming a household name. Duval, for a while frustrated and reluctant to join the discussion, started to do so, especially during the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage State Park, where he made a run and finished second.

But there has seldom been an elaboration as thorough and introspective as Wednesday's. In essence, Duval did what the legendary columnist Red Smith used to say he did when he sat down to write. He opened a vein and let it bleed. This was no bland recitation of birdies and bogeys, nor a mind-numbing discussion of the horrors of heavy sand in pot bunkers.

Duval, an American, began by calling the British Open the best week of the year and said the other players who came here and also said that, after saying the same thing at other events, were finally telling the truth. He said it felt good, after not having been back here in 11 years, to see his name on the club board "in the gold ink." It also felt good to hear parents pointing him out and telling a child who hadn't even been born when he won here that "that's an Open champion there, you know."

"That's really cool," Duval said.

But then he got the "could you reflect" question. And oh, my, did he.

He began by making sure everybody understood his game had degenerated as his body did, that he has gone through a decade of back, arm and knee maladies; that he is currently playing with bone bruises on his knees that are so bad they occasionally make him nearly crumble in pain when he is forced to hit off uneven surfaces.

"But enough about golf," he said.

And it began.

"My life in general has blown up exponentially in a wonderful way," he said, "with meeting my wife, having an instant family with stepchildren, having a couple of kids of my own biologically.

"I'm an incredibly, incredibly wealthy man. I've got a wife who loves me. I love her.… Maybe it's not cool to say, but I think she hung the moon.

"The kids are wonderful. You know, they are a pain in the rear like everybody else's kids, sometimes, but we have fun.... I've been lucky."

He bristled a bit at a question that implied he might not have totally appreciated his only major title.

"I fully understood the magnitude of the accomplishment, the height of the mountain," he said.

"... I certainly expressed that it was a bit of an existential moment … that that sure as hell wasn't all there was. I go back to the luck I've had in life, off the golf course.…That's what it is about."

He said he just never could get healthy enough to get his game completely back, and said that, instead of taking a few weeks off here and there, he should have taken a long break. "I should have just given away that year and a half," he said, "not given away eight years, like I did."

He spoke to the immaturity of that.

"Our [golfers'] egos think that we can just play and get through it," he said. "... All I did was get worse and wreck my golf game and my confidence."

He said that, for a while, he didn't like golf and what it was doing to him. Now, at age 40, he talks about going on into the 50-and-over Champions Tour.

"I believe in what I do," he said. "I believe in myself as a person. I believe in myself as a golfer."

Duval is now No. 775 in the world. He has played in 13 events this year, missed the cut in 10, withdrew in another and has won a total of $26,696. Before his current ongoing drought, he won 13 tour events from 1997 to his British Open in 2001.

In a world of sport, where we perseverate on numbers and titles to measure success, Duval's self-measurement is refreshing.

"I'm a very lucky man," he said.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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