June 22, 2009

David Duval Earns Back The Respect He Deserved All Along

Once the #1 Player in the world, and a major champion, starting in 2002, David Duval was beset like Job: depression that reared its head constantly, a back injury, a split with his finacee and possibly worst of all, a bout with vertigo that took away his keen sense of balance -- something of vital importance to a top-flight golfer.

Since his victory at the 2001 British Open, he's yet to win any tournament anywhere, and he's plummeted from golf's #1 to #882 coming into the US Open this weekend at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, New York. Few if any gave David Duval any chance to make the cut, much less vye for the tournament win.

"[T]he PGA Tour should assign someone to follow him and scream "Fore!!!" during his backswing, just to give the spectators time to duck behind a tree." - Rich Tosches, Devil Ball Golf, 2008

In fact, when people in pro golf have heard Duval say lately that he felt like his game was back, they laughed at him. But it was David Duval who had the last laugh, this week anyway: with a mere four holes to go in the 2009 US Open, he was tied for the lead and poised to win the tournament. This not being a fairy-tale, there was no happy ending so far as a US Open win was concerned, but in reality, David Duval proved that he is still a winner and that's a win in and of itself not only for Duval personally, but for golf generally.

How soon they forget: this is the guy that shot a 59 at the Player's Championship, the guy that was always in contention, and the guy capable of reeling off victories with ease. The simple fact is that David Duval has accomplished more in golf than most players ever do, yet he became the victim of snide jokes filled with contempt.

Depression is not accurately described by its dictionary definition: "a mental state characterized by a pessimistic sense of inadequacy and a despondent lack of activity." It's not a state of feeling sad and not feeling good enough, though that can be part of it. It's certainly not something one can just shake off, as though they had a bad day at the office -- the popular conception of the disease amongst a lot of people. Research increasingly demonstrates a biological condition where "[of the thirty] or so neurotransmitters that have been identified, researchers have discovered associations between clinical depression and the function of three primary ones: serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. These three neurotransmitters function within structures of the brain that regulate emotions, reactions to stress, and the physical drives of sleep, appetite, and sexuality. Structures that have received a great deal of attention from depression researchers include the limbic system and hypothalamus." [link] In layman's terms, clinical depression is as much a physical disease as is muscular distrophy or a heart defect. Overcoming the disease is difficult, and while there is no cure, its symptoms can be mitigated with the proper treatment, and eventually the patient can function at near-normal levels.

It appears that Duval is doing just that, and just in the nick of time: he is in the last year of his PGA Tour exemption, meaning that he will need to either win a tournament, finish in the top 125 of money earned or re-qualify for the PGA Tour by going through Q-School this fall. His check for his second-place tie will go far to vaulting him up the Top 125, and if he brings the same sort of game that he had in his bag that he had this week at Bethpage, a win is not at all out of the question. Duval was achingly close this afternoon, and truly, it was only a lipped out putt and a raw rub of the green here or there that kept him out of at least a playoff with eventual winner Lucas Glover. Duval tied Phil Mickelson, and beat Tiger Woods, not to mention the rest of the field. He finished under par at a US Open venue. If he can do these things at Bethpage, he can do it again at a regular tour event.

And when he does, the know-it-alls in golf who haven't gone through one tenth of the turmoil in their lives that Duval has had in his won't be laughing. David Duval will be, but it will be with his wife, his family and to him, he says, that's all that matters.

In my mind, and with all due respect to tournament winner Lucas Glover, considering the arduous journey, David Duval is the real winner this week.

1 comment:

  1. Well said, Charles. It looks like we were on the same wavelength. :)

    I myself haven't joked about Duval's woes. I think that's tacky. But I have written about his miseries and openly doubted if he had any kind of future in golf. I admit that I thought he was a bit delusional when he said he was "close" even though he continued to miss cuts and shoot rounds in the 80s.

    But I am so so impressed by what he accomplished at Bethpage. It's extremely inspirational and a great golf and life lesson.


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