In a story by Jim Sumner of theACC.com, legendary Georgia Tech golf coach Puggy Blackmon told a story about Duval's first ACC golf tournament, which was held at Northgreen Country Club in Rocky Mount, N.C.
Duval finished second in the ACC Tournament as a freshman in 1990, one stroke behind Duke’s Jason Widener, while Tech finished fifth in the team competition, eight strokes off the lead. Tech’s Trip Isenhour, approached Duval to congratulate him on his individual play. Duval snapped at Isenhour, “I didn’t win and the team didn’t win and if my teammates had played worth a damn and given me some help, we would have won.”
That fire and drive - plus a bunch of talent - helped Tech win the team conference title for the next three years, and Duval took the individual titles in 1991 and 1993. I was a young reporter for the Rocky Mount Telegram - back then, called the Evening Telegram - when Duval was playing in his final conference tournament. Returning to Northgreen Country Club for that 1993 event, Duval then had future PGA Tour star Stewart Cink on his Tech team.
I wasn't as obsessed with golf back then as I am now. And I guess I didn't appreciate spending time following those two future greats on the course. Looking back now, I remember Duval as a bit standoffish. He signed a few autographs, but he didn't talk a lot to the media or the fans. At least, that's my recollection.
By the time 1999 rolled around, Duval was at the top of the golf world. He was No. 1 in the world golf rankings, and his eagle on No. 18 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic was good enough for a 59 for the final round and a one-shot victory. Two years later, he won the Open Championship and was the Masters runner-up.
But then, his well-publicized spiral began. In 2003, he took an extended break from the game. Injuries and a lack of confidence have plagued him as he's made numerous comeback attempts since then.
Now, after second-place finishes in both last summer's U.S. Open and this past weekend's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, his return to form seems closer than it has been in a long while. Stan Awtrey wrote a piece about Duval for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Web site this week, and one his quotes shows a maturity that probably wasn't there in 1990.
“I’m feeling very comfortable and very confident in what I’m doing,” Duval said. “And, you know, in a kind of strange way, it makes me proud. I feel like I kind of have given the folks who have given me starts this year good firepower for why they did it. That makes me feel good, too.”Duval never was a fan favorite when he was winning all the time, but his struggles during the past decade have made him a little more endearing, in my eyes, at least. I always watched for his name on the leaderboard because of my brush with him at Northgreen so many years ago, although I never really cared whether he won or not back then. But now, I watch for his name because I want him to win.
If he keeps playing like he has been lately, it won't be much longer.
Photo credit: PGA Tour