PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA | It’s 30 minutes before airtime and David Duval is getting ready for his close-up.
In what looks and feels like a large elevated metal box perched behind the tee on the famous par-3 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course, Duval and his Golf Channel colleagues Brandel Chamblee, Rich Lerner and Frank Nobilo are going about their business, prepping for another Live From show at the Players Championship.
Eighteen years ago, Duval won the Players Championship, a hometown star claiming one of the biggest trophies in the game, doing it in the same relentless, stone-faced style that made him the best player in the world while Tiger Woods was in his ascendance.
Duval, who grew up in the Jacksonville, Fla., area where his father, Bob, was a club pro, has walked alone from near the clubhouse to the Golf Channel set on the warm afternoon. His light blue dress shirt is largely untucked and he wears sneakers that television viewers never will see.
The set where Duval will sit with the others is framed in the back by an open-air view of the 17th hole, the warmth of an 88-degree afternoon coming inside where webs of cable, panels of lights and black equipment crates are crowded together like clothes in an overstuffed closet. The sound of mowers grooming the golf course below fills the makeshift studio while the stage manager, sound engineers and camera operators get ready.
While Nobilo and Chamblee nibble on chips pulled from a basket of snacks, Duval walks over to the makeup artist.
“Time to put my face on,” Duval, 45, says.
He doesn’t look much different than he did in his playing prime. His hair is still blondish brown and cut in a short, almost spiky style. He has a goatee and his metal-frame glasses give him a contemporary look. Duval looks like a guy you might find buried in a chair at a college coffee shop, reading something with more depth than the daily sports page.
When the stage manager calls out seven minutes until airtime, Duval settles into his seat on the far right of the set (as the viewers see it). Nobilo is beside him with Chamblee and Lerner on the other end the curved desk.
Nobilo glances at Duval and says to the stage manager, “Julie, he needs makeup. He hasn’t been made up yet.”
Duval smiles but doesn’t look up while offering Nobilo his middle finger.
A moment later, Chamblee and Nobilo are gently jabbing Duval about his choice of a light yellow necktie.
Three minutes before air, the subject has turned to Kevin Chappell’s golf swing. The three watch video of the recent Valero Texas Open champion and Chamblee says they should discuss Chappell’s action.
“It’ll be funny,” Chamblee says. “People don’t think David and I agree on anything but we agree on this.”
As Live From the Players Championship comes on air, a video clip includes Duval on the 17th hole on Sunday in 1999 when he won.
It shows Duval hitting a shot to the traditional Sunday pin, fitting his ball onto a sliver of land between the hole and the water, a place only the nerviest players can find with the trophy on the line. Duval wore all black that day, including the wraparound Oakleys that came to define him the way Tiger’s red Sunday shirts defined him.
Other than Woods, perhaps no modern player has so effectively wrapped himself inside his own cocoon as Duval did. It felt at times as if he played golf surrounded by an invisible fence.
The clip ends and the camera lens focuses on the four men at the desk. As it does, Duval leans in slightly.
The freshest, most insightful and unexpected new voice in golf broadcasting has something to say.
1999 Players Championship
To appreciate what makes Duval so good as a television analyst it’s necessary to remember how good he was during his comet ride to the top.
Duval didn’t stay at the top as long as Greg Norman or Woods but for a time he was the most menacing man on Tour. He won 13 times on Tour before his 30th birthday. He became the first player to shoot 59 on Sunday when he won the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in 1999. He won the Open Championship in 2001 and had a chance on four consecutive Masters Sundays to win the green jacket.
When Duval won the 1999 Players Championship, he bumped Tiger Woods out of the No. 1 world ranking, a spot Woods had held for 41 consecutive weeks. Woods took the No. 1 spot back after 14 weeks but Duval returned to No. 1 later that summer for one week.
1999 Players Championship
Duval played fearless, relentless, virtually mistake-free golf.
“He was a bad-ass golfer,” Chamblee says.
With a capital B and a capital A.
“What a tremendous player. He wasn’t scared of anybody,” says Ben Crenshaw, captain of the 1999 U.S. Ryder Cup team that included Duval.
When Duval was in college at Georgia Tech, where he was a four-time All-American, he led the PGA Tour’s 1992 BellSouth Classic by two strokes after 54 holes. He didn’t win but Duval had offered a glimpse of the future.
Five years later, Chamblee played with Duval in the same event at TPC Sugarloaf when Duval took a two-stroke lead into the final round but finished tied for second.
“The eighth hole is a 240-yard par-3. It was cold. It was dead into the wind. It was a back-in-my-stance 3-wood trying to drive it low, run it up on the left side of the green. He hit a 2-iron a couple feet away. My jaw dropped,” Chamblee says.
“I was asked to come into the media center on Sunday and I was asked by members of the media, ‘Why is David not good enough to get it done?’ That’s where everything was going (at the time). I was like ‘He’s going to win and win a lot. He’s going to win 20 tournaments.’ Tiger hadn’t come along yet. There was nobody in the game of golf I had played with – and I’d played with Norman – who hit it as long and straight and was so fluent in every part of the game as David.
“When he started winning, it didn’t surprise me. He proved that theory that once you start winning, if you have that kind of talent, there’s nothing holding you back.”
Duval came with an attitude. There could be a psychological thesis on what made Duval the way he was – cocky, headstrong, self-reliant, challenging, intimidating and insular come to mind – because he came from a different place.
It’s a familiar story in the tale of David Duval, how he blamed himself when his 12-year-old brother, Brent, died from aplastic anemia, a deadly disease doctors attempted to fight with a bone marrow transplant from David. There was false hope when Brent appeared to be recovering only to die just five months after the disease was discovered.
The death ruptured the Duval family. Eventually, his parents, Bob and Diane, divorced. David immersed himself in golf, a place he could go and tune out the world. He learned the game from his father, who had his own success on the Champions Tour while David was in his prime.
Duval was good enough to win the 1989 U.S. Junior Amateur, two years before Woods would run off three victories in a row in the national championship of American junior golf.
At Georgia Tech, it took Duval two years to win a college tournament, then he became a dominant player. It was the same way getting started on the PGA Tour, where he had seven second-place finishes from 1995 to 1997 before his first victory. When he finally won the 1997 Michelob Championship at Kingsmill, it was the first of three consecutive victories.
Once Duval finds his comfortable place, the game – and now television – seems to come to him.
It didn’t take Puggy Blackmon, Duval’s coach at Georgia Tech, long to understand he was dealing with a strong-willed person.
“He challenged everything,” Blackmon says. “What I said to him had better be pretty damn good. You have to prove it’s factual and accurate. He made me grow as a coach, which I enjoyed.
“Midway through his junior year, he asked me, ‘Do you think I can make it on Tour?’ I said, ‘You have everything to be an incredible player.’ He was always wanting to know why.”
When Duval finally won, he kept winning, picking up 13 victories in four years. He did it with a game built on strength, reliability and fortitude.
“I could drive it up a gnat’s ass at 300 yards. It just bled off to the right a touch. It went pretty much straight. I’d hit it left two or three times a year and that was it. It’s a nice feeling, let me tell you,” Duval says.
He smiles at the memory of the baby fade he ripped off the 18th tee at Firestone in the final round of the 1998 NEC World Series of Golf, starting the drive just inside the left tree line then watching his ball fall gently to the right, leaving him just a sand wedge in for the third of four victories that year.
“That’s a nice tool to have,” Duval says with a small grin.
“And I was a great, great putter from 6 feet and in.”
With caddie Mitch Knox in 2002
Mitch Knox caddied for Duval in the glory days.
“The guy was a great ballstriker but he also understood how to play golf,” Knox says. “He could correlate chipping a 7-iron 120 yards into the wind and making it go 120 yards. He had a great feel for the game.”
Duval had what the best of the best have – a feeling they’re practically bulletproof on the course.
“You feel kind of invincible at times,” Duval says.
Blackmon described him this way: “David had the lower body of Nicklaus, the upper body of Norman and the mind of Hogan.”
Then there was the Duval persona. It was real, an aura that emanated from Duval that he didn’t intentionally cultivate but one that grew around him. He didn’t fight it.
It started with the glasses, dark wraparounds that hid his eyes. He could see out but the world couldn’t see in. This was before Tour players routinely wore shades on the course.
Duval rarely smiled at work. He’d settle in over a shot, fire his right shoulder toward the target, watch the ball then walk to the next shot. The glasses added a layer of separation.
Blackmon, his Georgia Tech coach, found the glasses prior to the NCAA Championship in Duval’s senior year. Duval wore hard contact lenses and had issues with one eye. Spring pollen was so bad that Duval had trouble seeing well enough to feel comfortable on the course.
“I went online and saw Oakley was making these for skiing. I got two pair,” Blackmon says. “I wore a pair and David wore a pair. I knew people were going to be like, ‘Who do you think you are?’ to David. I spent the tournament telling people why he wears them.”
The glasses became as much a part of Duval’s equipment as his wedges and putter.
The way Duval carried himself, silent and secure, wasn’t lost on the guys he was battling.
“Did it become something as years progressed and my level of play and stature increased? It didn’t hurt,” Duval says. “You feel like you’re protected. It certainly didn’t hurt.
“I just played and walked around. I knew I was quiet and reserved and didn’t react to things but that’s how I best performed. Not too high, not too low. There was no conscious effort to project an image on the course.
“As I practiced and played and improved, I felt like I’m going to go out there and prepare myself and walk around the golf course in a way that best fits me because if I play good golf, I’m going to be very hard to beat. In essence, I let the sticks do the talking.”
Duval’s sticks roared for him. Once in awhile, Duval would flash what he was holding inside. He did it when he holed the eagle putt for 59 in Palm Springs, fist-pumping his way into the record book, and he did it again at the 1999 Ryder Cup when he turned into a Yankee Doodle Dandy during the Americans’ brilliant Sunday comeback.
1999 U.S. Ryder Cup team: (L to R) Justin Leonard, (kneeling), Steve Pate, Payne Stewart, Phil Mickelson, Jeff Maggert, Captain Ben Crenshaw, David Duval, Tiger Woods, (back row) Tom Lehman, Jim Furyk, Davis Love III, Hal Sutton and Mark O’Meara
Duval's scorecard from the 1999 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic
Otherwise, Duval seemed almost impenetrable. He was easier to admire than to love. Maybe he didn’t want the love or maybe he didn’t need it. Duval wanted respect and he knew how to get it.
He once said he would have liked to have befriended Ben Hogan, another golf course stoic.
“When he was grinding, trying to beat people and get to world No. 1 he almost felt like he had to be separated or distant, not make any friends because he was trying to beat everybody,” Davis Love III says. “It’s hard to be Nick Price, super nice and friends with everybody, and compete against them. Not many people can do it.
“Off the golf course Greg Norman or Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus were easier to get along with but on the golf course or walking through the locker room on the way to play, you didn’t even want to get near them because they were so focused and had their head down.”
That was Duval.
2008 Open Championship
“David will be who he is. He will not change that for anybody,” Blackmon says.
The people who got close to him knew there was another side to Duval. He was loyal, smart and funny. He might choose a book instead of a beer many nights but Duval had a depth that reached beyond driving-range gossip.
“We always got along really well,” Tiger Woods said via e-mail. “We talked about a lot of things, not just golf. In a subtle way, he’s pretty funny, too.”
At the 2000 Open Championship at St. Andrews, Woods and Duval found themselves together on the practice tee late one afternoon. The top two players in the world, like two kings in Game of Thrones fighting for the same land, were doing their final prep work side by side.
“David and I were the only ones left on the range when it was getting dark,” Woods said in the e-mail. “The fans that remained were egging us on to put on an exhibition, or maybe hit some trick shots. We did, and it was a lot of fun. There’s me and David, grinding at a major, at the home of golf, having a blast and entertaining people, too. We didn’t change what we do or who we are just because it was a major.”
Privately, Woods has told people that of all his rivals, Duval’s name on the leaderboard was the one that got his attention the quickest.
“I thought he was going to be a tough guy to beat,” Woods wrote.
With Tiger Woods at the 2000 Open Championship
In July 2001, Duval finally won a major championship, winning by three strokes ahead of Niclas Fasth at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club, shooting 65-67 on the weekend. He locked up the victory with a 6-iron approach shot from a scruffy lie on the 15th hole, a thing of beauty in how Duval made a dangerous, difficult shot look so simple under such extreme pressure.
Holding the Claret Jug, Duval spoke from the heart in his acceptance speech near the 18th green.
“My first trip over here I played in the Scottish Open in ’95 the week before the St. Andrews event,” he said. “I hit a shot on the 12th hole out of the gorse. It was nothing spectacular. I was 170 yards away maybe and I got it out near the green, maybe 40 feet from the hole.
“Somebody said, ‘Well played, what a wonderful golf shot.’ Back home I’m not sure it would have been quite as appreciated. That just made me feel really good about the golf fans in this country.”
2001 Open Championship
Winning the Open was the crowning achievement in Duval’s golf career. By 9 p.m. that evening, Duval and Knox were on a plane crossing the Atlantic, headed for a tee time in the Canadian Skins Game the next morning. They sipped from the Claret Jug, not knowing it was as high as they would ever fly.
Days later, Duval began to wonder what it all meant. All the work, all the hours, all the highs and lows. Somehow, some way, he expected the view from the summit to be different.
“It’s a bit of what I call an existential moment,” Duval says now.
Blackmon remembers being at Duval’s Florida home when he was the No. 1 player in the world.
“I was in Ponte Vedra with him and he said, ‘I’m not happy,’ ” Blackmon remembers.
“I open the door and look at all the cars… four sports cars, a house with a dock. That doesn’t make you happy?
“He figured out quicker than most that it’s not about possessions.”
What was it about?
“I think it was within a month or two of winning the Open. It wasn’t a letdown or anything. It was all the times I played well and not finished it off or got beat or outplayed. Of all the tournaments I won around the world in professional golf, I still maintain that the Open is the worst I played.
“Don’t take that as I played poorly. But of all the wins, I feel that was the worst I played in all the tournaments I won. After you chase it down and could have won four straight Masters and had a chance at a U.S. Open or two, it’s like, how does this happen? This doesn’t make sense. This doesn’t compute.”
Four months later, Duval won the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan.
It would be 15 years before he would lift another trophy.
2013 Open Championship
‘Critical Is Fine’
In the second week of November 2013, Golf Channel executive producer Molly Solomon drove to Sea Island, Ga., to do one thing.
Talk David Duval into giving television work a try.
“When you think about the smartest thinkers in the game, he’s right up there,” Solomon recalls thinking to herself. “Add in his résumé and you wonder what he would be like on TV.
“We sat and talked. He kept asking, ‘Do you think I’d be good? Do you think I’d be good?’
“I said, ‘Yeah, you should give it a try.’ ”
His game, built around a largely homemade swing, dulled. Injuries mounted like bogeys. His back. His neck. His wrist. Twelve different injuries by his count. Something always needed fixing.
Duval had missed the cut that week at the McGladrey Classic. Weekends off had become a way of life for Duval. In a 115-tournament stretch from 2003 through 2009, Duval missed 76 cuts and withdrew five times. He was a ghost.
It happened quickly – at least it looked and felt that way. His game, built around a largely homemade swing, dulled. Injuries mounted like bogeys. His back. His neck. His wrist. Twelve different injuries by his count. Something always needed fixing.
He went from being the player everyone wanted to see to being almost invisible. He came and went from tournaments like a phantom. For a time, he became a workout fiend and his body, always more round than chiseled, changed. He was thinner, more athletic-looking, but his scores were too high.
Eventually the weight came back but the brilliance rarely did. Out of nowhere, Duval nearly won the 2009 U.S. Open at brutal Bethpage Black. He finished second to Lucas Glover, just his second top-20 finish in five years, the other coming at the 2006 U.S. Open. It felt like a lightning strike on a sunny day.
Despite his struggles, Duval never lost his love for the game or his belief in himself.
“I never got to hate it,” he said before the 2012 Open Championship. “If I hated it, I would have stopped doing it.”
He still believes he can win on the PGA Tour but Duval spends most tournament weeks talking about other players, evaluating them the way others evaluated him. He could probably play more but prefers not to write asking for exemptions.
“David is smart and he’s been there,” Woods says. “He knows what a player is trying to do and he knows it’s not easy.”
After Solomon approached Duval, he was intrigued. He had done a little television work for ESPN but it was toe-in-the-water stuff. This was a big door swinging open.
“I think it’s the rare person who is 40 to 55 years old who doesn’t think of themselves as a golfer still,” Duval says. “Brandel has been doing it 10 or 12 years. But your overall mentality is you’re a golfer. That’s how I view it. That’s how I go about it when I analyze something.
“That’s how I think. I still think I can play out here. I still think I can win golf tournaments. I plan on playing a few more events this year.
“But when you have a love of the game like so many people do, not just the players, you want to be involved.”
Almost immediately, Duval made an impact on television. Golf Channel executives quickly moved him into the Live From shows at major championships, in-depth pre- and post-round shows that provide viewers educated insight from former players who are now television professionals.
Duval succeeded for a handful of reasons: He came prepared; he came with a rare playing résumé; and, he was comfortable speaking his mind with what a colleague calls “blunt honesty.”
So much about television is created. Duval is real.
As a player, he never played scared. He never spoke scared. In interview rooms, Duval was never afraid to say what was on his mind. It’s no different now. There just happens to be a television camera pointed at him.
“I went into it thinking and trying to be me,” Duval says. “What is the best thing I could offer someone who wants to hear me talk about golf and that’s my experience. My thoughts on it. Why I thought that way. Why I think about a shot this way. That’s all I tried to do really.”
Duval has the glasses and the haircut and a way with words. He talks about hitters more than ballstrikers.
Duval projects a cool, almost hipster vibe. Chamblee looks like a model with his thick head of hair and perfectly tailored clothes. Nobilo has the accent, the beard and the bearing. Lerner is a perfect host, polished and cool managing the television traffic.
Duval has the glasses and the haircut and a way with words. He talks about hitters more than ballstrikers. Solomon and her crew love how Duval says hitters. It’s different but it gets the point across.
He has picked up the rhythms of television, understanding when to speak, how long to speak and what to say, even when there’s another voice in his ear and a crew at work in front of him.
“It’s amazing to watch the way he thinks,” Blackmon says.
To many, Duval has been a revelation, like a flower opening. Who knew Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie, two of the toughest personalities in the game, would excel in the analyst’s chair?
“He’s good because he has good knowledge,” Faldo says. “Players who have really felt it, not just played it or walked the walk, the players who have really felt it – and he’s felt both the big climb to get to No. 1 and that story and that phenomenal run of wins and gets a major and then for whatever reason went on a different walk of life – he can add an awful lot of golf life experience to it.”
When Faldo was starting, announcer Mike Tirico gave him simple advice.
“If you have good stories, tell them,” Faldo says. “If you think it’s good, tell it. (Duval has) lived more than just the obvious path of what you think a pro’s life is.”
Being an analyst requires insight and opinions. Duval has both. Johnny Miller was criticized for years for being too blunt and critical but he changed the way golf is broadcast.
Duval, who occasionally would ask reporters interviewing him if they had actually watched him on the course that day before answering their questions, isn’t afraid to make his point.
“There is a difference in being critical and being mean. Critical is fine. Mean is not,” Duval says.
“When I am critical, I try to explain why. I don’t just say something and leave it hanging out there. I try to explain why. Sometimes you can’t. Especially an awful shot. I’ve hit a lot of those.”
On Tuesday night of Ryder Cup week last September, another Live From show was rolling along when the subject of team leadership came up. While Nobilo sat between them, Chamblee and Duval fell into a televised debate that was emotional, riveting and, perhaps, a hair over the line.
Duval, who years earlier had been critical of the Ryder Cup and became a leader in a successful movement to give proceeds to players to donate to charities of their choosing, was resolute in his belief that team losses can’t be attributed to individual players. The debate stemmed from Chamblee’s comments that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson had been disappointing Ryder Cup performers.
Duval: “You can’t assign the (team) losses to certain players.”
Chamblee: “Oh, yeah you can.”
Duval: “Oh, without question you cannot.”
Chamblee: “Well I think you can.”
Duval: “You can assign a losing record to Phil Mickelson or Tiger Woods?”
Chamblee: “The leadership of every team determines whether or not teams win. Does the leadership fill that role?”
Duval: “We talk about it all the time that it comes down to making putts and executing golf shots. I’m not exactly sure what leadership role – if it’s Jordan Spieth in today’s game or Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson 10 years ago – has to do with a match that they’re not participating in. I’m not sure how that leadership is going to affect that outcome. You have to execute out there.”
Chamblee: “A team takes on the personality of its leadership, and if there is apathetic leadership there will be an apathetic performance. Every single player that was at the caliber of Tiger and Phil, going back as far as you want to go, has a winning record in the Ryder Cup and correspondingly their teams won… the two that did not play up to their world rank are Tiger and Phil.”
Duval: “Well having actually been out there and done it, there’s more to it than just what the stats say.”
Chamblee: “You think that actually having to be out there to do it, determines whether or not you can pass judgment on it or not? I wasn’t at the Boston Tea Party but I can tell you all about it.”
Duval: “OK, well I know you’re never wrong. I understand that.”
Nobilo sat between and listened, turning his head to one side then the other like he was following a tennis match.
Inside the U.S. Ryder Cup team room, the players and coaches stopped to watch and listen.
“In a way I wish it hadn’t happened, frankly, because we are trying to work together and be a team. This is where one thought was not the other thought and no one was backing down.
“That was entirely organic. It just happened,” Duval says.
“As I reflect on it, I still stand by everything I said. If there’s one little thing I wish I hadn’t said it was that you’re never wrong. It might have felt a little personal. It did feel personal to him.
“At the same time I felt like I was being attacked personally because I was a part of some of those teams and I was a leader on some of those teams. I had no intention of hurting. I kind of wish I could take that back. But he was saying what he had to say and I was, too.”
Chamblee is a brilliant analyst because he is both prepared and provocative. He understands the give and take in what he, Nobilo and Duval do. Sometimes it’s a gentle tug one way. Other times, it’s yanking the conversation in another direction.
For a man who prides himself on the thoroughness of his preparation, Chamblee never saw the debate coming.
“I didn’t expect David to take as strong a line that night on TV because I had previously talked to him about that subject and I didn’t sense any animosity,” Chamblee says. “That week David was, I don’t think it’s any secret, he and Davis Love have the same manager and he was staying in the same hotel as the Ryder Cup team. He was also there going inside the locker room. He had very much an attachment to that Ryder Cup team, not only as a friend but as an inspiration.
“So David on our set was speaking almost as a member of the Ryder Cup team, none of which I knew at the time and it caught me off guard. I hadn’t anticipated it. Normally you get a sense if there’s going to be animosity with the position you’re going to take. I felt like I was pointing at the pyramids and saying, ‘Look, there’s the pyramids.’ I didn’t expect any sort of disagreement to my point of view.
“As I reflect on it, I still stand by everything I said. If there’s one little thing I wish I hadn’t said it was that you’re never wrong. It might have felt a little personal. It did feel personal to him.”
“I have all the respect in the world for David. We kissed and made up. I think he understands where I was coming from and he understands I don’t make frivolous points on TV just for shock value. I came to that conclusion through a lot of work and thought and evidence. He just happens to differ with me which is fair enough.”
After the show, Duval returned to the hotel and stopped by the American team room, where he received a standing ovation.
“Having David stick up for us was fantastic,” Zach Johnson said. “He walked in and we went crazy.”
How did it make Duval feel, being cheered in the privacy of the team room by a team he was not officially a part of?
“Incredibly uncomfortable,” he says.
“That was just not what you do. There was no end goal. I was just defending my thoughts and the teams I’ve been on, Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups, you pour your heart and soul into it. The players, the players’ wives, the caddies, the captains, the co-captains.
Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s not from lack of work, lack of preparation, lack of trying. That’s all. I had no intention of being a part of it. I didn’t want to be.”
With son Brayden in 2009
‘Full-On Family Affair’
Fourteen years ago, Duval was playing in the International at Castle Pines Golf Club just outside Denver. Golf and life had become a routine. Go to the course. Go to the gym. Go to dinner. Go to bed.
At the International, Duval was staying on site at Castle Pines so he was literally living at the course. Duval was hanging out with sports psychologist Dr. Gio Valiante, who made a decision. It was time to change “the patterns of life,” Duval recalls.
The two of them were going out to dinner in Denver. That meant finding a good place to eat and making the 45-minute drive downtown. Duval wavered.
“That locker room at Castle Pines was looking awfully inviting,” he says. “But Gio talked me into it. I figured why not?”
They found themselves at the Cherry Creek Grill, one of Denver’s most popular restaurants. The place was packed. It was nearly a two-hour wait for dinner. The bar was slammed. People were waiting outside. Duval and Valiante went in anyway.
They found a spot near the bar. Soon, Duval noticed Susie Persichitte with some friends. Valiante took it from there.
“Gio can talk to a tree and you wouldn’t be surprised if the tree talked back,” Duval says.
Pretty soon, Duval and Persichitte were talking. She had almost not come to the Cherry Creek Grill. She had spent a portion of her afternoon shuttling two of her children to different places.
Rather than meet her friends, she began driving home. Then she did a U-turn and went back to Cherry Creek Grill, deciding to take advantage of the 30-minute window she had before picking up her children again.
That’s how close they came to never meeting. If either had passed on the restaurant that night, they never would have had Aug. 19, 2003.
That was the day Duval flew back to Denver to have his first official date with the woman he would marry seven months later.
“We knew after the first date we were going to be together. We’ve been inseparable ever since,” Duval says.
They celebrate Aug. 19 each year now like an anniversary.
In a 2012 interview at the Open Championship, Duval said this about Susie:
“Maybe it’s not cool to say, but I think she hung the moon.”
Duval's wife, Susie, and former coach Puggy Blackmon
When Duval and Persichitte married, she brought three children – Deano, Nick and Shalene – to their new family. Soon after, they had two children of their own, Brayden (they call him Brady) and Sienna.
At home in Cherry Hills Village in Denver, Duval helps make school lunches for Brady and Sienna, runs errands, goes grocery shopping and lives as normal a life as possible for someone balancing the professional schedule he does.
When Bob Duval called his son recently, he said David was outside gardening. Some days, Duval and Brady throw a bag of clubs on their shoulder and go walk a few holes together. His daughter, Sienna, plays the piano.
“He’s probably the happiest he’s ever been in his golf career,” Bob Duval says.
Last December, Duval and his stepson Nick Karavites teamed to win the PNC Father-Son Challenge in Orlando, shooting a best-ball 62 in the final round to beat three teams by a stroke. It was the first tournament win for Duval since the Dunlop Phoenix 15 years – and what felt like a lifetime – ago.
When Duval first met his stepson, Nick was a 9-year old golf fan who couldn’t believe this bigger-than-life figure had just walked into his world. The youngster peppered Duval with golf questions and a bond began.
Duval had played the event twice with Deano, and it was his second time playing with Nick. Deano caddied for Duval this time and Brady looped for his stepbrother. Susie and Sienna were there watching.
“It was me and all my boys, a full-on family affair,” Duval says.
Each time he has played the events with one of his sons, Duval has marveled at how well they’ve played inside the ropes with cameras on them and galleries watching them. He’s proud of what they’ve done. He’s even happier about what they have together.
“I don’t know how to compare it to other wins and performances I’ve had,” Duval says. “But it was as cool a thing to do as anything I’ve done in golf.”
“I’m grateful for every day,” Duval says. “I don’t know if I ever felt I’d be fortunate enough to find Susie and to have a family like this.”
There is still a balancing act in Duval’s world. He still wants to play tournament golf but he doesn’t get many starts. The PGA Tour Champions life is still five years away.
Then there’s the television aspect. It keeps him busy flying to Orlando for shows or off to tournament sites multiple weeks each year. Solomon says Golf Channel will work with Duval regarding his schedule while he figures out where his professional future lies.
Can he still succeed as a golfer? The Official World Golf Ranking lists more than 1,800 players ahead of Duval now.
“When he’s talking to good players, he will say, ‘Make sure you protect your confidence.’ He lost his,” Blackmon says.
Along the way, however, Duval found himself. He found his family. He found a happiness he’d never had.
“I’m grateful for every day,” Duval says. “I don’t know if I ever felt I’d be fortunate enough to find Susie and to have a family like this.
“I thought it would be almost too much to ask. I’ve been given a lot of blessings that allowed me to play some good golf. I wish I hadn’t gotten hurt but to tell a man he could have all that and now to have the family I have, I am doubly blessed.”
Along the way, Duval found a second career and an appreciation for where he has been, where he is and where he’s going.
“People are seeing for the first time the other side of David,” Blackmon says. “He reminded me of E.T. There was that little red glow in David we saw signs of. We knew it was there.”
On the set at the Players Championship, Duval looks into the camera.
PHOTO CREDITS: Open Championship 2015 (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images); 2017 Players Championship with Dan Hicks (Cy Cyr/PGA Tour); 1999 Players Championship (Jamie Squire, Allsport/Getty Images); 1999 Players Championship (Craig Jones, Allsport/Getty Images); 1999 Masters (Timothy A. Clary, AFP/Getty Images); with caddie (Andy Lyons, Getty Images); 1999 Ryder Cup (Craig Jones, Allsport/Getty Images); 1999 Ryder Cup team and with Tiger Woods and Mark O’Mear (Timothy A. Clary, AFP/Getty Images); score card (Harry How, Allsport/Getty Images); during 2008 Open Championship (Getty Images); 2000 Open Championship bunker shot and with Tiger Woods (Adrian Dennis, AFP/Getty Images); with claret jug 2001 (Stephen Munday, AllSport/Getty Images); 2013 Open Championship (Matthew Lewis, Getty Images); 2009 U.S. Open (Timothy A. Clary, AFP/Getty Images); 2017 Players Championship (Cy Cyr, PGA Tour); 2017 Golf Central Live From (Image courtesy of Golf Channel); with son Brayden (Chris McGrath, Getty Images); Susie Duval and Puggy Blackmon (Sam Greenwood, Getty Images); with daughter Sienna (Augusta National, Getty Images); 2015 PGA Championship (Image courtesy of Golf Channel)
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