Duval 'different person' than 2001 champ

David Duval of the U.S. watches his tee shot on the fourth hole during a practice round ahead of...

David Duval of the U.S. watches his tee shot on the fourth hole during a practice round ahead of the British Open golf championship at Royal Lytham and St Annes, northern England July 17, 2012. (REUTERS)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:14 PM ET

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, ENGLAND - David Duval is back here, back among the mounds and fairways that lead up to the brown brick clubhouse in front of which he stood 11 years ago in one of those ultimate moments of fulfilment.

It has to be, right?

He held the Claret Jug as the British Open champion and those looking on must have thought it doesn't get much better than that, a man who was a former No. 1 -- when Tiger Woods was Tiger Woods -- holding a gleaming silver trophy at the end of 72 holes of the greatest golf championship on one of the finest courses.

That is what we could see.

We saw a man in wraparound sunglasses standing on the summit, holding his silver reward aloft, but we had no idea what was going on behind those Oakleys.

Duval is back at Royal Lytham & St. Annes this week, by his own description a decade and another lifetime later.

So much has happened to the 40-year-old since, the two tracks of his life -- professional and personal -- running in opposite directions. The result is his eyes have been opened to the one that truly matters to him.

He said Wednesday he hardly remembers that first life now, that other life before, a life that was marked by personal tragedy as a kid, a life later on that left him wondering where happiness could hide. He made reference to losing his older brother, Brent, when David was nine and Brent was 12.

Duval's bone marrow was donated to his older brother, who was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, only to have Brent reject it and die a few weeks later.

"I'm just trying to explain a story," Duval said Wednesday before the British Open. "So it feels like I kind of have had two lives, because I don't really remember him. I was nine years old. It kind of feels like I had a brother when I was a kid, but I don't really remember that part of my life."

Who can ever know how a personal tragedy like that affects a person? Especially at that age.

His parents -- father Bob was a club pro who wound up winning on the Champions Tour -- split up after Brent's death.

Duval threw himself into golf and climbed to the top.

When from the outside life looked so good, Duval said of that moment here in 2001: "I was kind of alone is how I felt, unfulfilled outside of golf, although I was having great success in golf. Very narrow-minded existence, will be certain to never live that way again."

He thought winning something like the Open would give him personal validation, but it didn't.

He hasn't won since.

Duval's fall was epic, a head-over-heels cartwheel started and prolonged by a long series of injuries. Bursitis in his shoulder. A back issue. Wrist problems. Vertigo.

By 2003, he was ranked 212th in the world.

He made one cut in 2005, four in 2007.

He shot 85 in the fourth round of the 2005 Bob Hope Desert Classic, including a 49 on the back nine.

"How did I shoot 49 on the back?" he told Golf Digest: "I two-putted the last hole from about 12 feet, or I would have shot 50."

He had shot an 18-hole score of 59 in the final round of the 1999 Hope, when he was No. 1 in the world.

He sank to 882nd in the world rankings as the decade wound down.

But, through all that, he knew one thing: he was good.

He believed he could still play.

"That stuff (injuries), you know what, frankly, it wrecks golf. It wrecks your golf game," Duval said. "The great thing about wonderful athletes, wonderful golfers and football players, whatever it may be, but also the big detriment, is that we're sometimes not smart enough to stop. Our egos think that we can just play and get through it and I continued to play and work through it and all it did was get worse and worse and wreck my golf game and wreck my confidence, and there you are.

"I think on two occasions I took extended time off but in hindsight the big mistake I made in my career was not stopping sometime in early 2002 and probably not playing again until '04. I should have taken at least a year, maybe more, off just made sure everything kind of got healed, protected my confidence, protected my golf game and moved on and just given away that year and a half, not give away eight years like I did."

You look at the results and maybe, as a fan, compare it to where Duval was the last time he was here. Maybe you feel sorry for a guy like that.

Don't.

His personal fulfillment, his happiness, didn't come in lifting a trophy, revered as it is, in front of a brown brick clubhouse.

After having his family blown apart, it came in finding a ready-made family with Susie Persichiette, whom he met at the International tournament in Colorado in 2003. They were married in March of the next year.

"My life in general has blown up exponentially in a wonderful way, with meeting my wife, having an instant family with stepchildren, having a couple kids of my own biologically ... So I'm an incredibly, incredibly wealthy man. I've got a wife that 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're a pain in the rear like everybody else's kids sometimes, but we have fun. They're high energy. They like to do stuff and we've just had a lot of fun over the last nine years of being together. I've been lucky."

Duval found out, too, with that part of his life finally content, there was still room in his heart for golf. He was on the range hitting balls in the rain Tuesday, dragging along his aches and pains -- this week he is battling tendinitis in his shoulders and elbows and bone bruises in his knees.

And he enjoyed it.

"Now I feel like I'm not hitting balls in the rain (Tuesday) just for myself. I'm doing this for my family, because I do believe in what I'm doing," he said. "The great thing is I'm enjoying the preparation. I've enjoyed hitting golf balls for a couple of hours this morning. At some point I lost some of the enjoyment of it and to have it back is a neat thing. I talked about it before, but there's a point at which I was just so unhappy with it and frustrated.

"I wanted to protect my love of the game and that was the only point at which, because I've been asked, that was the only point at which I thought about stopping playing competitively, because I wanted to play at home with my family and kids and enjoy it and I wasn't willing to wreck my love of the game for competitive golf."

Duval is back at the golf course where he won his only major and for a guy who has been through what he has been professionally, you would think he would look back on that day when he lifted a silver trophy in front of a brown brick clubhouse wistfully, longingly, enviously.

He does not.

"No, I'm an entirely different person. Back then it was all about me and all about golf, just like the majority of people that have marched through here this week. I mean, it revolves around them, everything. Their handlers, their trainers, their nutritionists, their managers. It's everything. And I've been fortunate in my life to be able to kind of branch out and understand there's some things that are a little more important than this," he said.

"It does not mean I don't love it, don't think I'm really good at it and don't think I'm going to be really great at it again and don't desire to be. But that goes to where I was asked about what's kind of gone on in the last however many years of my life. Life has opened up to me and I've seen life and I love it and enjoy it and embrace it.

"I'm pretty lucky to not be the same person I was 10 years ago, 11 years ago."

Different, but still believing he can hold the trophy again.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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