In April 2005, Puggy Blackmon had a surprise telephone ring. The caller was David Duval, from whom Blackmon hadn’t heard in quite awhile.
“Can you come over to Augusta and meet me?” Duval asked.
Blackmon had been Duval’s coach at Georgia Tech and had worked with him at times since, but not recently. Instead, Duval had taken his golfing cares and woes to a number of “witch doctors,” as some of us are inclined to label those professionals whose specialty is “remodeling” Tour players — fairly or unfairly. Duval hadn’t made a cut in a major championship in three years and, for the most part, had disappeared from the game.
In other words, he had hit rock bottom. The Masters was coming up. He was running low on exemption and was turning to the coach he trusted most of all, although they hadn’t talked for the longest time.
“I was surprised,” Blackmon said. “You could have knocked me over with a feather,” and there he stood under the big tree at Augusta National waiting for their reunion. So teacher and pupil would be together again.
“He was mad at the world. I never went to Augusta to change his attitude off the course; I went to change his attitude on the course,” Blackmon said.
William D. (Puggy) Blackmon III is now director of golf at South Carolina, but on the side, Duval has become a major project. Blackmon is there for every major, and this past winter he was on the road with him throughout the California swing.
“If he keeps on doing what he’s doing, he’ll be back on top of his game to stay,” Blackmon said, and pointed to a critical point in the final round of the U.S. Open at Bethpage.
Duval found his ball impossibly wedged beneath the grass in a bunker on a par-3 hole. Triple bogey.
“The old Duval would have said ‘screw it,’ but he is a totally different person, worked his way through it, and he told me before he caught the plane back to Colorado, ‘There was never any doubt, I was going to win that tournament,’ ” Blackmon said.
Instead, he settled into a tie for second behind Lucas Glover, whose winning shocked the golfing world.
“If he keeps on doing what he’s doing, he’ll be back on top of his game,” Blackmon said. “The swing is back. I could tell at Memphis that he was more comfortable over the ball. He missed the cut in the St. Jude, but that gave him time to get to Bethpage and get in some practice.”
Making the field at Bethpage wasn’t a given. This is his last straw on the Tour. He’s playing on an exemption as one of the 50 all-time leading money-winners. He had to play a 36-hole qualifier to make the Open field. But what Blackmon sees in Duval is a new and appealing disposition. He knows how to smile again.
“He told me once, ‘I wondered several times why you didn’t kick me off the team at Georgia Tech,’ ” Blackmon said. “With his new family, being a parent and having their support has revived the old Duval. People are going to be refreshed by the new/old Duval.”
Blackmon has told Duval, “I’ll not go to my grave until you win the Masters. Now he is back in at Augusta again, but I’m not quite ready to go yet. I’ve got a hunch that Mr. [Tiger] Woods is in for some competition again.”
So there you have it, the new and improved David Duval, back in the game again.