Tuesday 24 April 2018

Paul Kimmage: Taking his chances with a hero at his side

Shane Lowry and David Duval have taken the right path by not allowing their sport to define them

Shane Lowry with his wife Wendy Honner and (left) David Duval
Shane Lowry with his wife Wendy Honner and (left) David Duval
Paul Kimmage

Paul Kimmage

'In 2009, almost from out of nowhere, he finished tied for second at the US Open at Bethpage Black. The oft-asked question that week was, "Where has David Duval been for nine years?" The answer was, in many ways, simple: he had been finding happiness. And once he found it, he didn't want anything, including golf, to take it away from him.' John Feinstein, 'One on One'

My first thought that morning when I saw David Duval was, 'Christ! He has found another woman!' It was the opening round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am at the Dunes course in Monterey and he was smiling at an attractive lady in the gallery wearing slim blue jeans. Then, as he walked off the green, there was a caress and a brief exchange and it was obvious he was smitten.

Who was this babe?

The Googelisor confirmed that Duval had met his wife, Susie Persichitte, in August 2003. The Googelisor confirmed that they'd got engaged three months later, and married the following year. The Googelisor confirmed that Susie had been married before, with three kids, and they had had two kids together. The Googelisor carried some images of Susie Persichitte and confirmed the shocking truth of what we were witnessing: David Duval was flirting with his wife!

His golf was pretty decent that morning. Playing with the young Irish professional, Paul Dunne, he drove the ball beautifully and hit some quality irons but his putting stank. On the par five sixth - his 15th - he stiffed an iron to two feet and missed for birdie. He had squandered chances all day but the surprise was what happened next.

A small wood-fired pizza stall had been set up for the golfers behind the next tee (the par three seventh) and as they waited for the green to clear, Duval ordered a slice and ambled across to the rope, smiling and shaking his head as he handed the pizza to his wife. He was 44-years-old and had captured almost every honour in the game but perhaps this was the ultimate achievement.

Golf did not define him.

Duval has always fascinated. He was the World No 1 in the summer of 1999 when he was invited to Waterville for a couple of days with Tiger Woods, Payne Stewart and Mark O'Meara to prepare for the British Open. A select group of reporters were offered a brief audience with Woods, and as much time as we wanted with O'Meara and Stewart but we never got close to Duval.

Shane Lowry kisses his new bride Wendy Honner after their marriage last week in New York
Shane Lowry kisses his new bride Wendy Honner after their marriage last week in New York

He'd shot a 59 that year and made the cover of Sports Illustrated wearing his trademark shades and blowing smoke off a blazing iron: David Duval was on fire. "At that point in my life," Duval told Feinstein in the autumn of 2010. "I was completely convinced I could be a better player than Tiger. I thought my game was good enough physically and good enough mentally that I could beat him under the gun.

"I wasn't thinking I would always beat him when we went head to head. But I thought I was good enough to compete with him on a regular basis." Then he smiled. "Turns out I was wrong."

The reality started to bite in the summer of 2000 when he finished 19 shots (tied-eighth) behind Woods at the US Open in Pebble Beach and 12 shots (tied-11th) behind Woods in the Open at St Andrews. A year later, he shot a 67 in the final round of the Open at Lytham and beat Woods by nine shots to take his first Major. He felt satisfied and complete, his lifetime goal had been achieved, but within weeks the thrill had vaporised. "When I won the Open Championship," he told Feinstein, "something definitely happened to me. It wasn't so much, 'Is that all there is?' I got plenty tangibly from winning. But none of it made me any more happy than I had been. I think I expected that it would, that I would feel some sense of fulfilment that would make me happier in my daily life."

It was only a game.

A year later, he spilt from the girlfriend he had been dating - and was expected to marry - since 1993. A year after that, struggling with injuries and 211th on the money list, he was playing at a tournament in Denver with the usual plans for dinner - room service - when a friend suggested they try a local diner instead.

Susan Persichitte was sitting at the bar with a friend. Seven months later they were married. They invested in property, took a "gigantic financial hit" during the crash and were forced to sell their home and move into a rented property. But they never lost perspective.

"This kind of thing can break us or hold us together," Duval told reporters in 2012. "We're more in love than ever. It's a hugely stressful time, especially when information is out there that's innacurate. She's been an angel. I think she's the greatest thing ever. She's my hero. I tell her every day."

Tiger Woods also married in 2004. He kept winning Majors and kept making millions and kept cheating on his wife but the hole inside of him just grew deeper. He has never found happiness. He hasn't a clue where to look. So who was the lucky one?

In February, as I watched and marvelled at Duval, Shane Lowry was playing in the group behind. Later, I caught a ride back to his hotel and offered him a proposal: "What if I handed you a sheet of paper and said, 'This is your career':

13 PGA Tour victories

One Major

15 weeks at World No 1

Two second-place finishes at the Masters

One second-place finish at the US Open

$18m in prize-money."

"Duval?" he asked.

"Yes," I replied.

"Yeah, a great career."

"Would you take it?" I asked. "Would you sign?"

He smiled and shook his head: "I'd prefer to take my chances."

On Tuesday, he took a chance and married the fabulous Wendy Honner, a nurse from Laois, at a private ceremony in New York. I can't see him blowing kisses to her from the tee in Monterey ten years from now; or dipping under the rope to touch her hair or bring her pizza.

That's not how they do things in Offaly.

But I know he's found a hero. And I think they'll do okay.

Sunday Indo Sport

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