NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. – David Duval walked into dinner with an old friend in Greensboro, N.C., a couple of weeks ago during the Wyndham Championship. When he departed, he was an assistant captain on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. One truly never knows what life holds in store.
Duval, 46, the 2001 British Open champion, spends his days as a television analyst on Golf Channel these days, having given in to the harsh realization that golf is a difficult game to play for a living. He last participated in a Ryder Cup in 2002, in England. It was his second – Duval had played a big role on Sunday in the U.S. comeback victory at The Country Club in Brookline in 1999 – and the former World No. 1 figured, understandably, there would be more Ryder Cups in his future.
But his body and game started breaking down, and there weren’t more Ryder Cups. Until that dinner in Greensboro nearly 16 years later.
With Tiger Woods shifting from a vice-captain’s role to playing in the 42nd Ryder Cup (Sept. 28-30), it left U.S. captain Jim Furyk with an opening. He figured he had just the guy – his old Ryder Cup teammate and former Florida neighbor.
So he asked Duval to be part of the team. Duval instantly accepted.
“I was shocked, I guess is the thing,” Duval said. “I really didn't expect that … certainly, it’s something I would have wanted to do, and am glad to be doing, but I just felt like it was something that was too far down the road, if you will.”
By chance, Duval played a small role in the home team’s winning story two years ago in Hazeltine, outside Minneapolis. He and Brandel Chamblee had a dustup on the Golf Channel set during those ’16 matches, with Chamblee questioning the leadership of the U.S. team.
Duval shot back, “Having actually been out there and done it, there’s more to it than what the stats say.”
The U.S. players had watched the fiery scene unfold in their team room at their hotel. Duval was staying there, too. When then-Captain Davis Love III ran into him in the lobby, he asked Duval if he’d stop in and address the team. He did. Afterward, Love said the team had a request.
“They wanted him to hang around every night,” Love said. “That was one of those things, you couldn’t have scripted it, and it worked out perfect.”
Woods served as an assistant captain to Love two years ago and was joking the other day that the role can cover everything from offering advice to running down towels and sandwiches. Duval, one of five assistants on this team – Love, Steve Stricker, Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar are the others – doesn’t quite know what his duties will entail.
Listening to Bryson DeChambeau speak on Tuesday evening about the honor of being a rookie on this year’s team, something connected with Duval.
“In some fashions,” he said, “I’m a rookie as well, I guess.”
There were reasons for Furyk to carve out a role for Duval. Already he and a few assistants had been leaning on Duval’s knowledge of today’s players; in his role as an analyst these days, Duval watches a ton of golf. Furyk said he likes the fact that Duval doesn’t “sugar-coat” anything. And with Woods going onto the team, Duval is one more veteran who has a solid and longstanding relationship with Woods. There is built-in and time-tested trust there
In his new role on television, Duval sees the game and its participants through a different lens, and that, Furyk hopes, brings some extra value to the team.
“I think as much as anything I know these players as well as Jim does, or Davis, or Zach, or anybody who is out there playing,” Duval said. “I am talking about them, reporting on them. I see the things they do and I know their mannerisms and their demeanors. I think I can be beneficial in the setup of the pairings … I think that that's part of what Jim was wanting.”
One idea the U.S. has emphasized since losing in Scotland in 2014 is to build more continuity into what the team does every two years instead of starting each time from scratch. That has meant bringing in assistants to potentially hone them to one day be the captain. Furyk was an assistant to Love two years ago, for instance, and both men were assistants to Steve Stricker on last year’s U.S. Presidents Cup team.
Could this be a part of a bigger future role for David Duval?
Duval smiled, and then paused for a moment.
“I couldn't answer that question,” he said. "I'm not thinking past France."
Duval is excited. Besides, becoming an assistant captain wasn’t the only good thing to happen at his dinner in Greensboro. A golf fan sitting at a table nearby picked up the tab.