Precisely what it takes to be a tournament winner is one of the
biggest mysteries in golf, which is why we've been so fascinated
with David Duval. The 25-year-old Duval has unmistakable talent,
blending power and touch with a knack for affixing his name to
leader boards. Yet in his first 92 Tour events Duval never won.
Seven second-place finishes in his three seasons on Tour only
undermined Duval, costing him a seat on the starship that has
propelled the game's elite twentysomethings--Ernie Els, Justin
Leonard, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods--into a singular orbit.
Duval was instead known as the most gifted player left off the
U.S. Ryder Cup team. Despite all that game and a 4-0 record in
last year's Presidents Cup, the four-time All-America at Georgia
Tech had become the wunderkind who didn't have the head, the
heart, the backbone or the stomach (you pick the body part) to
In less than a fortnight, though, Duval has come up with
whatever was missing. Two weeks ago he broke through at the
Michelob Championship, and by defeating Dan Forsman in a playoff
at the Walt Disney World/Oldsmobile Golf Classic on Sunday in
Orlando, Duval is suddenly a two-time winner. The player who
couldn't seem to handle the heat is now the first one on Tour to
win consecutive tournaments in sudden death.
Naturally, mystery buffs want to know why. Surely Duval had
undergone an epiphany, a visitation, some aha! that turned him
from patsy to predator. Not really. To the best of his
knowledge, Duval says, he has played pretty much the same game,
although he has gotten a few more breaks and someone else hasn't
passed him with a hot final round. "I used to know I could do
it, but I still always tried to do it," he says. "People want to
hear something more dramatic, but that's all there is."
We told you it's a mystery. What isn't is that Duval, not
Leonard, Mickelson or Woods, is now the hottest U.S. golfer and
the favorite to win the $720,000 first prize at the
season-ending Tour Championship next week in Houston. If Duval
does win, he will have turned a year in which he was languishing
as a footnote into a nearly $2 million success story.
Such a scenario shouldn't come as a surprise. As the close
finishes and late fades mounted, the line on Duval was that once
he finally prevailed, the victories would come in bunches. In
the last few months, however, as Woods, Els and Leonard won
majors and Mickelson gained his 12th Tour title, that
presumption was being questioned. Rather than kicking into
overdrive to join the pacesetters, Duval got stuck in second. He
seemed primed last February when a third-round 62 at Pebble
Beach, which included a record 28 on the front nine, gave him a
three-stroke lead going into Sunday, but a closing 71 left him a
stroke behind winner Mark O'Meara and tied with Woods. Five
weeks later Duval led at Doral after 54 holes, only to finish
fourth. That was followed by a long stretch of mediocre play,
punctuated by a closing 72 in Atlanta, where he came in second
yet again. "At Atlanta, I started doubting myself," he admits.
Still, Duval, who was seventh on the Ryder Cup points list at
midseason, seemed to be a lock to qualify for the team. Then, in
another swoon, he failed to earn a point in the 10 tournaments
ending with the PGA and drifted all the way to 16th. Even though
he went the extra mile and auditioned for Tom Kite during a
sparsely attended U.S. reconnaissance mission to Valderrama in
July, Kite didn't make Duval one of his two captain's picks,
opting instead for Fred Couples, who was 17th on the list, and
Lee Janzen (15th). The reason given was that Duval had no Ryder
Cup experience. The truth is that he was passed over because he
hadn't won. Rather than being considered a champion in the
making, Duval was perceived as someone who couldn't get the job
Such a setback might have damaged the confidence of a less
self-possessed player, but Duval stayed the course. He knew part
of his problem stemmed from the dramatic changes in his physique
brought on by the fitness regimen he had begun before the 1996
season. From a high of 226 pounds, the 6-foot Duval (his 29-inch
inseam earned him the nickname Penguin at Georgia Tech) leveled
off at a lithe 180, his waistline shrinking from size 38 to 32.
Duval's real goal has been to become stronger, which he has
achieved through a weightlifting program that's Herculean for a
golfer. Though he says he has never maxed out, Duval can do five
sets of bench presses with 175 pounds and sometimes works with
75-pound dumbbells. (Coincidently or not, Woods adheres to a
similar workout.) The short-term downside, however, was that
Duval lost some of the touch that is crucial to scoring. "I got
hammer hands for a while," he says, "and a lot of people
wondered if lifting wasn't a dumb move."
Duval also kept reminding himself that at every level of
competition--beginning with youth golf, which culminated with
his victory in the '89 U.S. Junior--he has never been a quick
study. After turning pro in 1993, Duval failed at the Q school
and had to play on the Nike tour, where in his first year he
didn't earn enough money to graduate to the PGA Tour. That
steeled him for whatever might happen later on. "David knows
from experience that he does his best when things are familiar,"
says his girlfriend of four years, Julie McArthur. "Routine and
comfort help him focus."
Although the biggest influence on Duval's game has been his
father, Bob, who's completing a successful rookie season on the
Senior tour, his best counsel has come from sports psychologist
Bob Rotella. With Duval, Rotella has preached patience. "I've
tried to remind him that the more times he has come close, the
closer he is to winning," Rotella says. "Each occasion was a
time to believe more, not less. And that when it happened, he
would look back and say, 'Is that all it was?'"
Rotella was right. In a tournament whose pro-am format over the
first three days can test the patience of pros worn out at the
end of a long season, Duval coolly opened with a 65, and by the
time he closed with a 70 on a blustery final day, he had made 27
birdies to finish 18 under par.
On Sunday he survived a three-putt from 12 feet on the 9th hole
that dropped him three strokes behind Forsman. He made an
impossibly fast 40-footer for birdie at the 11th and three more
birdies to take a one-stroke lead to the 72nd, which he bogeyed.
If Duval feared he was reverting to an old pattern, he still had
an advantage over Forsman. An amiable 39-year-old who hasn't won
since 1992, Forsman admitted that he was extremely nervous. In
the playoff he thought about victory when Duval skinned a bunker
shot 15 feet past the pin. All Forsman had was a 35-foot chip
from the fringe. "I thought, Yeah, the table's set," he said.
But when he addressed his ball, "my hands were shaking." Forsman
stubbed the shot and then ran his putt six feet by the hole.
After Duval made his for the win, Forsman conceded that he was
relieved. "The way things were going, I would've missed that
one, too," he said.
Forsman's red eyes betrayed how desperately he wanted to win, in
particular to erase the memory of the '93 Masters. Only one
stroke back on Sunday, Forsman dunked his tee shot on the 12th
hole into Rae's Creek and made quadruple-bogey 7. "I want to
bury that goddam Masters," he said with uncharacteristic
ferocity, "but winning--getting it done--is so difficult. I want
to know what makes other guys do it."
Unfortunately, that's still a mystery, even for David Duval, who
should know better than anyone.