It was either the ancient Greek philosopher Zeno, Casey Stengel or Fred
Couples -- one of those deep thinkers with distorted syntax -- who said
you can never get where you are going because to get there you have to
get halfway there first.
You spend all your time getting halfway home and never arrive at your
goal. Perhaps it would have been better for David Duval if he had stayed
trapped in that philosophical paradox. When he got where he was going he
found out it wasn't what he had expected it to be.
Now, he is simply lost, a man of much talent and significant intellect
who discovered that sometimes dreams are better left as dreams because
when a fantasy becomes reality the lure of the illusion is gone. He'd
have been better off staying halfway, still chasing the carrot on the
end of the stick.
For most people, disappointment comes from not being able to get where
they want to go. For Duval, disappointment came disguised as success.
After seven second-place finishes on the PGA Tour, Duval finally got his
first victory in 1997 and, in fact, won the last three events of the
year. That started a tear in which he would win 13 times and briefly be
ranked No. 1 in the world, culminating in his triumph at the 2001
British Open. He has not won since.
It was almost as if when Duval caressed the silver claret jug he gazed
deep into his reflection on the ancient trophy and asked: "Is that all
there is?" The old jug, Duval found, is empty. If he were expecting it
to be brimming with happiness he learned he must look elsewhere.
Since that 2001 season, Duval has made the cut in only 23 of the 55 PGA
Tour events in which he has played. Granted, it is early in the year and
his effort at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic was only his second tour
event of the year, but there was very little in his performance in the
desert to make anyone think his drought is near an end. In fact, the
82-79-85 he shot in the first three rounds is even worse than it sounds.
The rotation of courses used at the Hope are pretty much the easiest
venues the tour plays all year. More indicative of how Duval played was
the fact he shot 72 in the fourth round of the 90-hole tournament to
finish 20 strokes out of next-to-the-last place. He was 56 strokes off
the lead. Think about that. Fifty-six strokes off the lead. Joe Ogilvie
could have given Duval seven shots a side for four days and still tied
The numbers are so positively numbing that it is impossible to say this
is merely the story of a guy trying to play his way back into
competitive shape. Something much deeper is going in here. Duval missed
65.5 percent of the fairways and 51.4 percent of the greens. That he
averaged 28.5 putts per round only indicates that he did a lot of
chipping. In his first 54 holes at the Hope he had 10 holes of six or
higher. In the third round he shot a 49 on the back nine at Tamarisk
Country Club, at one point making three consecutive triple bogeys. If he
is posting these scores Duval will make a pretty good partner in this
pro-am next year -- as an am.
What is going on here has nothing to do with swing plane or grip or
tempo. It is all about the most important five inches on the golf course
-- the space between the ears. The most difficult part of this ancient
game is the age-old battle we all wage with the little gremlins who
perch on our shoulders and whisper words of doubt.
Athletic endeavors performed at the highest level are a seamless meshing
of the body and mind. And when the focus is no longer there, when trust
has run out on us, when there are other things that seem more important,
great athletes become just like the rest of us -- greatly frustrated
people trying to be athletes.
What Duval is experiencing is rare only because of the level of
excellence which he had achieved, but it is not unique. Curtis Strange
won 14 tournaments from 1983 through 1989 and in 1988 became the first
PGA Tour player to win $1 million in a single season. He won the U.S.
Open in 1988 and '89 -- famously saying "Move over, Ben," a reference to
Hogan who in 1950-51 was the last man to win consecutive Opens -- and
never won again on the PGA Tour. One theory is that Strange put so much
emphasis on winning a third consecutive Open that when he finished T-21
in 1990 his subconscious figured there were no other goals worth
pursuing. He was only 34 and next month will give the Champions Tour a
There once was a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates named Steve Blass
who won two games in the 1971 World Series -- both complete games -- and
went 19-8 the next year with an ERA of 2.49. Then, for some inexplicable
reason, he could not throw the ball over the plate. Some say he was
haunted by the death of his good friend Roberto Clemente between the
1972 and '73 seasons. In 1973, he was 3-9 with a 9.85 ERA. In 1972, he
walked 84 batters in 250 innings. In 1973, he walked 84 batters in 88
innings, threw nine wild pitches and hit 12 batters. He pitched one game
in 1974, walking seven in five innings on April 17, the day before his
32 birthday. He never pitched in the major leagues again.
David Duval is 33 years old and is an extremely complicated man. As his
professional life has spiraled out of control his personal life has
never been better. He is married now with stepchildren, an instant
family in which he has found happiness in such activities as cooking
breakfast for the kids. What this could be about is that while Duval
found that hoisting the claret jug did not guarantee lasting happiness
he has found some other things are a lot more satisfying. Like family.
Duval is one of those people clever enough to realize that golf is what
he does, not who he is. We may never see him return as a top-tier
player, but he may find happiness elsewhere. And that would make him a
Ron Sirak is the Executive Editor of Golf World magazine