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Enough sympathy for David Duval, the Mike Tyson of golf

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

A friend called a few weeks ago, asking if I wanted to go see the kickoff fight of Mike Tyson's exhibition tour in Youngstown, Ohio. No thanks, I said. No need to catch Tyson's act in person; I'd already caught David Duval's.

David Duval - PGA Tour former No. 1 - comeback
David Duval isn't looking so chiseled these days. Not that it has anything do with those awkward swings.
David Duval - PGA Tour former No. 1 - comebackDavid Duval - PGA Tour former No. 1 - comeback - sunglassesDavid Duval - PGA Tour former No. 1 - comeback - swing - Nike driverMike Tyson - comeback - Youngstown, Ohio

A ridiculous linkage, you say? Of course you do. David Duval is a golf knight nobly fighting to regain the form he inexplicably lost through no fault of his own. Mike Tyson is a common thug who made millions off his powerful fists and still managed to blow it in a torrent of ear biting, back-alley fighting and crazy spending.

That's the typical sports-fan take, anyway.

Look a little closer and you might be surprised at the similarity between golf's doted-on battler and boxing's ridiculed punk.

Both Duval and Tyson are hanging on long after becoming competitively irrelevant, wringing a few more paychecks out of the public's overblown memory of them in their primes.

There's one major difference. Tyson acknowledges that's exactly what he's doing. He admits he'd consider fighting a woman for money. He probably wouldn't rule out a horse. Tyson endlessly analyzes himself in public, baring his soul and whatever weird state it's in whether he's talking to a national TV pundit or a reporter from some podunk paper.

Duval makes like some tortured artist, playing for the love of the game even though the really big paydays are a thing of the past. He'd rather be home with his wonderful wife and kids, but something drives him to keep pushing through an aching back. Not that he wants to talk about it. He sounds like every character Kevin Costner's ever played in a movie.

Give me a break. Can we send this soap-opera king straight from the scorer's tent to the set of Laguna Beach?

Three stories dominated the 2006 PGA Tour: Tiger Woods' historic dominance following his dad's death, Phil Mickelson's brain fart on the 72nd hole at Winged Foot and Duval's "gutsy" play.

Golf Digest ran so many fawning Duval pieces you'd think he'd won a Purple Heart and saved three babies from being adopted by Madonna. One Q&A included photo evidence of Duval smiling, a shot of him feeding his baby and a heartwarming anecdote about his new stepkids text-messaging each other updates on his play.

This for a golfer who's missed more cuts than he's made (13 in 24 events), hasn't had a top-10 finish and ranks 172nd on the money list (with a mere $318,276). And people feel guilty about still paying attention to Tyson?

Both these guys are washed-up ghosts of sports greatness past. Yet while people boo Tyson with fury when his exhibition fight turns out to be exactly that, they cheer Duval with fervor. They write him heartwarming notes of encouragement even as he advances sideways down the fairway - and, usually, determinedly avoids acknowledging these same fans.

False front, false idol

Of course, it's easy to convince yourself David Duval is worth pulling for. He's the Steve Blass of golf, the great competitor inexplicably plunged from No. 1 to No. 172.

That's the story, anyway. And it should be a good one. There is nothing more fascinating in sports than a champion felled by secrets in his own mind that he cannot hope to understand, a champion who continues to struggle on.

I was once right there in lockstep with this thinking. I called Duval "the most compelling story" in golf on this very Web site.

Then I caught Duval playing in person. I started asked around, working on an article. And before long it became apparent that there's not much substance there. Not in the person, or in all the theories about his downturn.

I followed Duval at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, early in the season. The buzz was just starting to build about glimpses of a return to form. He'd played well the week before, hit the ball decently in Palm Springs.

And the guy could not have seemed more put out if he was stuck in the backseat of a taxi with a mule in his lap in Lincoln Tunnel traffic. He sometimes seemed to be glaring at his galleries through his trademark wraparound shades.

Duval led three reporters who wanted to talk to him on a race-walk to the parking lot, only answering questions he could easily dodge. As to illuminating the circumstances of his slide, "I don't know what you want me to say" turned out to be his go-to line.

Maybe that's because Duval knows it's all a bunch of bunk. He frankly looks like he's put on weight. Could he have just gotten fat off success, both literally and figuratively? It's as valid a theory as any of the psychological mumbo jumbo. Maybe David Duval, the Tour's swinging sympathy card, has simply lost his desire and dedication.

The more you talk to Duval and others about it, the more you hear the nonsense, the more he looks like Benoit Benjamin with a Nike driver.

The media reticence certainly comes off as an act. Duval's willingness to talk seems to rise in proportion to his interlocutor's circulation or ratings. He blew off the local stations in Palm Springs, but not the Golf Channel.

The real test of Duval's love for the game will come when his huge endorsement contracts run out. He's still had millions of reasons to play the last few years.

In the meantime, it's high time to drop the sympathy for David Duval. Save it for someone who deserves it. Like Terrell Owens.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • David Duval is washed up

    mdahlqu wrote on: Nov 15, 2006

    Old DD looked like he was going to make a comeback this year but it just did not happen. He must have lost the hunger to win. Look at Tiger...he want's to bash everyone's brains in in everything he does competitively (including video games).
    DD is going to need some of what Tiger has running through his veins, if he ever wants to return to winning form!


  • Duval article.

    Stuart wrote on: Nov 11, 2006

    Chris Baldwin,
    I do hope that you take the time to read the replies to your article in the same as I and others have read, or should I say endured your piece.
    To beleive a parallel exists between Duval and Tyson is incredulous and I can't fathom why your editor would allow this pitiful excuse for journalism to see the light of day. You could not wish to find two athletes who differ in personal history, integrity and motives. So you see some correlation between a man who constatntly courts trouble, who is accused of rape, violence, squandering vast sums of money and having his face tattooed with Duval? Let's see, because David is struggling and because he's put a little weight back on, he's fair game for what is baseless prejudice on your behalf? If you had said Daly and not Duval then I could possibly understand your point, but this?
    Duval has shown us how to win gracefully (British Open speech?) and now shows kids how to conduct themselves when the chips are down, not an altogther heneous trait? Oh yes, shame on Duval for being a doting family man, maybe he should pop into vegas, blow a few bucks and find a prostitute?
    Chris, your article, if you're serious, is pathetic. I could go on, but I won't unless you'd like to offer some assemblence of an argument?


  • David Duval

    Ivory Rubin wrote on: Nov 10, 2006

    The man has earned the right to "hang on" as long as he feels is necessary. He has done nothing to disgrace his profession or himself. You, on the other hand, disgrace yourself and enhances the image of your profession being the sleaziest...right behind politicians and lawyers.
    Get over yourself.


  • duval article

    sander boss wrote on: Nov 8, 2006

    anyone who has played golf knows how fine is the line between success and mediocrity. duval is battling hard, to recover what was once natural, easy, and which he acknowledges he took for granted. now dude writes article that gives no perspective, only personal attack. obviously has no clue to essence of the battle. West Coast Bureau Chief? of what? wow.


  • article on David Duval.

    Mario Garbin wrote on: Nov 7, 2006

    As the saying goes..."better a has been than a never was". Perhaps you should change your name to Chris Baldlose. A win(ner) you aint.


  • DD

    pat wrote on: Nov 7, 2006

    Thanks for the great article chris. Nice picture by the way.
    You do know that you write for Travelgolf.com right? Just becuase you played mini-golf last night does not mean you know what life is like on tour. Take you double digit handicap to you local muni and try to break 90.


  • David Duval

    Dave wrote on: Nov 7, 2006

    Wow, did Duval bang your girlfriend? I can't understand the bitter tone of this article. Sure he is washed up, but why do you care if other people root for him or if he is really dedicated to his comeback? Let the guy approach it his own way and ignore him unless he does something truly worthy of writing about. This article comes across as petty and vindictive.


    • RE: David Duval

      Jordan wrote on: Nov 7, 2006

      Is this web site for real? Who are these unknown writers? Has anyone ever heard of Chris Baldinger, Wolf Blitzer and Tim McDougal? This is fun, kind of like an April Fool's edition newspaper you put out in junior high.


      • RE: RE: David Duval

        tim wrote on: Nov 10, 2006

        Funny you should mention junior high...


        • RE: RE: RE: David Duval

          mario wrote on: Nov 12, 2011

          ...and your last win on the tour was??


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