Open 2012: Enough about the golf
It was a freak show 11 years in the making as David Duval faced the press back at Royal Lytham.
Yet David Duval is no freak. Deep thinking, complicated, honest, articulate, possibly highly strung, yes. But freak? No. And he doesn't want pity. Doesn't think he needs it.
The American, lest you need reminding, won the Open Championship at Lytham in 2001.
The slump that followed is legendary. From world number one twice in 1999, via the Claret Jug, to a world ranking past 1,000. A perfect example of the ephemeral and tenuous nature of confidence and thus ability.
Duval was the very image of a sporting machine, set to go head-to-head with Tiger Woods over two glorious careers. An impressive physical specimen, he remained ice cool behind the permanent visor of dark sunglasses. There was little hint of the man behind the mask. Until, that is, he gave a gracious and eloquent winner's speech at Lytham, taking many by surprise.
By then, though, things were already starting to slip.
Plenty of theories have abounded over the years as to the exact nature of Duval's decline. Some point to his older brother Brent rejecting his bone marrow donation and passing away when David was nine.
David Duval is back at Royal Lytham for the first time since winning The Open in 2001. Photo: Getty
Duval, back at Lytham for the first time, dismisses the idea, on the surface at least, and explains he doesn't really remember the life he shared with his brother. "I have a sister, and it's the two of us. That's the kind of life I think of," he says .
Instead, the portly, fidgety 40-year-old reeled off what he called a "laundry list" of injuries.
"I've had tendonitis in both shoulders; I've got it in my elbows; I have bone bruises in my knees right now; I have a back problem that's well documented; had tendonitis in my wrist; I've had vertigo. Is that it?" he said, the panda eyes betraying the sunglasses still clamped to the back of his head.
"That stuff, you know what, frankly, it wrecks golf. It wrecks your golf game."
The back was already an issue before the 2001 Open, but he has in the past described his victory as not quite living up to expectations.
"I fully understood the magnitude of the accomplishment, the height of the mountain, if you will," he said this time. "For me, having had several opportunities to win a major championship before Lytham and having had those not work out and having in those events probably struck the golf ball a fair amount better than I did here, at least feeling better about it, it just all didn't gel. It just didn't quite match up is what I was more than anything trying to convey.
"I certainly expressed that it was a bit of an existential moment."
Shortly afterwards, he split with his girlfriend of eight years and a year later met his now wife, with whom he has two children and three stepchildren. His game, though, continued to go south, barring the odd flicker of recognition from the old days with a second place in the 2009 US Open.
That second place lifted him from 882nd in the world to 142 but Duval is now back up to 775 and playing on exemptions after failing to come through Qualifying School last year.
"Over the last 11 years golf wise, I've had a few good events. It's well documented. I don't necessarily need to, unless you want to, go into it. I've had plenty of injuries and problems, haven't played well. I have an arm brace right now, I've got bone bruises in my knee right now, so I'm still hurting. I don't feel the greatest. I'm playing quite well.
"But enough about the golf.
"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 of kids of my own biologically. I've got my oldest boy here. It's kind of funny, I think I'm incredibly blessed in life.
"I'm an incredibly, incredibly wealthy man. I've got a wife that loves me. I love her. 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. I've been lucky."
Not everyone would call him lucky, but that line "enough about the golf" is the key to David Duval.
Invited to rewind and explain, he asked the questioner what he was doing from 3:30pm to 5:30pm on Tuesday.
"Writing an article, maybe?" he inquired, politely. "I was working, too. I was on the range hitting balls, soaked. When I say enough about the golf, it's more, I mean, let's talk about the things that have really happened that are wonderful and important.
"No, I've worked my tail off. Unfortunately for me I've had multiple nagging little injuries.
"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 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 given away eight years like I did."
If the answer wasn't already sitting in front of us, Duval was asked whether he had changed since 2001.
"No, I'm an entirely different person," he said. "Back then it was all about me and all about golf, just like the majority of people that have marched through here [the media room] 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 branch out and understand there's some things that are a little more important than this.
"I'm not one to even imagine the microscope under which Tiger has to live.
"We all have problems. We all make choices, but when all your choices are scrutinised and written about, it's not a comfortable existence. It's not one I want.
"It does not mean I don't love it [golf], 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 life has opened up to me and I love it and enjoy it and embrace it."
So, David, can you win this week? "Absolutely. I feel good about what I'm doing."