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Duval goes back to school

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Iain Carter | 21:56 UK time, Monday, 21 November 2011

The United States were successfully defending the Presidents Cup in Australia, and at tournaments around the golfing world, plenty of yen, rand and Malaysian ringgit were being won, but there was also a healthy dose of dignity and self-respect being earned in southern California at the weekend.

Attention was inevitably aimed in the direction of Tiger Woods, as the former world number one claimed the winning point for the US at Royal Melbourne. Elsewhere, Garth Mulroy was triumphing at Leopard Creek in South Africa and the highly promising Dutchman Joost Luiten claimed a timely maiden win in Malaysia.

But Woods was not the only former world number one in action at the weekend. Under the radar, at the Bear Creek Golf Club in Murrieta, David Duval was demonstrating humility and talent in equal measure as he began his quest to retain his PGA Tour card.

For a man with career earnings of nearly $19m (£12m), responsibilities to five children and a deep love of family life it would be easy to skip the tortuous process of trying to earn playing privileges.

This is especially true of a player with a glorious history that - however remote it now seems - will still earn him plenty of tournament invitations.

It is easy to tell that Duval knows how to do the right thing. Despite having once stood at the top of the golfing world, reeling off victories with the regularity of Woods in his pomp, the 40-year-old knows that a visit to Q-school is not beneath him.

This is someone who racked up 11 wins in 34 tournaments between 1997 and 1999, including eagling the closing hole for a 59 to win the 1999 Bob Hope event. Twelve years on, with medical and earnings exemptions expired, instead of Bob you can stick the world little in front of Hope.

David Duval's only victory in a major was the Open Championship in 2001. Photo: Getty

At Bear Creek it was merely the second stage of qualifying school, where players are scrambling for the right to play the second-tier Nationwide calendar next season. There are still another 108 holes to be negotiated at PGA West at the end of this month before Duval can be sure of a place alongside the 2012 elite.

Such career uncertainty is what happens when you finish 152nd on the money list with only one top-10 finish all season. Duval's share of ninth place at the Northern Trust Open was back in February and there has been very little to cheer since then.

Sadly this has long since been the norm for a player whose crowning moment came at Royal Lytham when he won his only major, the 2001 Open Championship. Little did he know then that he had already embarked on an inexorable slide.

With hindsight, Duval traces his dramatic decline to a back injury suffered the previous year. Since then he has suffered neck and wrist problems, debilitating vertigo and depression. He split from his long-time fiance and soon after met his wife Susie and her three children in Denver where he now lives.

Seen in his pomp as an emotionless golfing machine shielded by trademark dark glasses, Duval is a sensitive, emotional figure who retains a strong love for the game, despite being almost continuously tortured by it for more than a decade.

And that is why he continues to battle away. Having fallen $11,289 (a little over £7,000) short of being able to go straight to final Q-school, Duval nursed his sore back through the chilly California winds to earn the right to make that stage with a second-placed finish at Bear Creek.

"It's a difficult week, a trying week," admitted Duval, who finished tied second at the US Open as recently as 2009. "It's people's livelihoods, the dreams they are trying to pursue. I know I'm going to be able to play next season regardless and it is still stressful for me."

This is surely evidence of sheer professionalism and an attitude that is the polar opposite of someone like John Daly, who relies upon sponsor invitations to carry on his career and then abuses them by walking off the course.

Two-time major champion Daly doesn't get it like Duval does. "I've had some awful days where it takes a lot of mental will to go play golf," Duval admitted in a Men's Journal magazine interview last year.

"I shot 62 at Pebble Beach once. Six or seven years later, I shot 85. What did I do after that? I teed it up the next day."

And that's the attitude that took the man who missed 15 cuts in 24 tournaments this year to this lowly Californian qualifier.

"I feel great, that's why I came," he smiled after tying for second place to advance to the Q-school finals.

"I'll count on the charity [of sponsor invitations] if I have to, but I would prefer to play my way on. I wanted to make the effort - I disagree with not trying."

Duval's efforts were duly rewarded and it would take a hard heart not to wish him well for the remaining six rounds of qualifying school. Regardless of whether he makes it through, he will not lack for support when and wherever he plays next season.

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