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Keeping a Low Profile There's a reason David Duval has been reluctant to let anyone get too close

Feb. 09, 1998
Feb. 09, 1998

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Feb. 9, 1998

Nagano '98

Keeping a Low Profile There's a reason David Duval has been reluctant to let anyone get too close

David Duval has something Tiger Woods probably wishes he had: an
aura that unnerves people, that makes them back off. Woods needs
bodyguards to clear a path to precious privacy. The 26-year-old
Duval, with his buzz cut, reflective wraparound sunglasses,
prickly goatee, snuff-packed lower lip and imposing physique,
keeps autograph seekers at arm's length by the force field of
his attitude. Woods is magnetic. Ernie Els, Justin Leonard and
Phil Mickelson are red-cheeked and lovable. Duval, even though
he signs and poses for anyone who dares ask, is impenetrable.

This is an article from the Feb. 9, 1998 issue Original Layout

At Georgia Tech, Duval was a pudgy 220 pounds--40 more than his
current weight--yet his teammates called him Rock. The name
mostly described his game but also covered the granite mien and
gravelly grumbles reserved for strangers who had the temerity to
approach him. Last fall, when he ended the season with victories
in three straight starts--in the Michelob Championship, the
Disney and the Tour Championship--Duval even stonewalled
stardom. He maintained that he had no idea why, after three
years, seven second-place finishes and plenty of other
disappointing Sundays, he was suddenly the most proficient
closer in the game. Personal questions, as usual, were met with
controlling pauses and inconclusive answers. Duval is keenly
aware of how he is perceived, and not overly troubled by that.
"It's like there should be this asterisk by my name," he says.
"Down at the bottom of the page it would say, 'Difficult to get
to know. Easy to misunderstand.'"

The inaccessibility has deep roots. Considering the blows that
Duval absorbed growing up, it shouldn't come as a surprise that
he assumes a peekaboo stance when dealing with the outside
world. When Duval was nine, bone marrow was extracted from his
hips in an unsuccessful attempt to save the life of his
12-year-old brother, Brent, who had been stricken with aplastic
anemia, a blood disorder. The trauma of losing their first child
ravaged the marriage of Bob and Diane Duval, and David spent his
adolescence in a dysfunctional family. The devastating effect
that separation and a 1996 divorce had on his mother unsettled
Duval. His father's subsequent remarriage compounded the pain.
In the face of so much turmoil, Duval withdrew into himself.
Rock is also an island.

"What is, is," says Duval. Then he unexpectedly elaborates. "My
brother died, my parents divorced...blah, blah, blah. There's
nothing I can do about it. Maybe my mechanism has been not to
analyze it because it would only hinder me from going on. The
bottom line is, I don't believe you are given more than you can
handle. You have to find a way to cope. You can level your own
playing field by understanding that life only becomes fair when
you realize it's unfair. I don't wonder about or want to share
why I am the way I am. I'm not saying my way is right. It might
turn off a lot of people. But it's the way I found that suits me."

It is not the way of his father. A former teammate of Hubert
Green's at Florida State and then a club pro for 28 years, Bob
Duval was a rookie on the Senior tour last year and in his own
way as big a success as his son. Whereas David is wary and
private, Bob (Bobby to his friends) is talkative, friendly and
open. "I can party with the best of them," says Bob. David, on
the other hand, enjoys spending an evening engrossed in a book.
Two years ago he read 31 books while playing on the Tour. Last
year, he read nearly 20, including the voluminous Atlas Shrugged
by Ayn Rand. Naturally, David downplays any intellectual bent.
"I can work the buttons on a remote control pretty good, too,"
he says dismissively.

On the golf course Bob and David are also a study in contrasts.
Bob is dark-skinned and stout, Trevinoesque in his banter and
bouncy body language. David is pale and lean, an expressionless
figure whose very walk is spare in its lack of motion. "We're
opposites," says David. "My dad looks like there's no place in
the world he'd rather be. I always look like I'm ill."

Some of the differences between the Duvals' demeanors can be
attributed to perspective. At 51, Bob is having the time of his
life. Last season he overcame heavy odds to pull himself from
Monday-qualifier status to 28th ($555,601) on the money list,
guaranteeing a full exemption this year. He begins 1998 intent
on gaining his first win and savoring the hard-earned gravy
that's part of playing on the Senior tour. "I'm getting the
chance to do what I love," he said before placing 19th in last
week's Royal Caribbean Classic. "I want it to last as long as
possible."

David, because of his talent and drive, is more ambitious. His
run at the end of last season and solid start this year--he's
sixth on the money list--show that he has the power, accuracy
and feel to be one of the top players in the game. "In terms of
being long and straight, Duval's the best driver of the ball out
here," says Mark Calcavecchia. "From where he's hitting his
second shots, every golf course is easy, and his short game is
as good as his long game."

"I've always felt David's strongest asset as a golfer is his
mind," says his father. "He's bright, a hell of a lot brighter
than I am. I used to get on him for not spending enough time
studying, but he always brought home A's and B's. It turns out
he only has to read something once and he's got it. I'm sure he
could've gotten straight A's if he'd tried."

When it comes to analyzing personal issues, though, that mind is
blocked, intentionally or otherwise. Asked if the family crisis
is what made him different from his father, he quickly squelches
the discussion. "I don't char-acterize things like that," he
says. "I try to be a doer, not a talker. People tend to talk too
much." Questions, especially in bunches, make him
uncomfortable--perhaps because he learned so early that
sometimes there are no answers.

David doesn't remember very much about Brent. "Just little
scenes, like flying a kite together or him sticking up for me in
a group, or playing pool with him in the hospital," he says. "I
think about him more in October, when his birthday comes up."
David doesn't remember undergoing the operation that extracted
the marrow. Within two weeks of the procedure, Brent suffered a
graft-versus-host reaction that proved fatal.

"David had a lot of problems right after that," says his father.
"He was just a kid, he loved Brent, and he really believed that
it was his fault that it didn't work. He became more of a loner.
He never lets people see his emotions, happy or sad. We have
never really talked about Brent's death. It's always been tough
for him to open up, and especially tough for him to trust."

Told of his father's recollection that he suffered from guilt,
David says, "It's hard to look back and say either way." Asked
whether the experience had made it difficult for him to trust,
he says, "I can't really answer that. It would be less than
honest." His face impassive but his discomfort obvious, Duval
closes the conversation. "I really don't remember what it's like
to have a brother," he says. "It's like I've had two separate
lives."

The second one has been immersed in golf. "After Brent died,
David became more sensitive and very focused, especially on
golf," says his father. "The game lends itself to loners, and
David is a loner, let's face it."

Bob Duval, himself the son of a teaching pro in Schenectady,
N.Y., knew his younger boy had athletic ability but never pushed
golf on him. After Brent's death, David started spending summer
days and after-school hours at Timuquana Country Club in
Jacksonville, where his father was the pro. "David didn't waste
time," Bob says. "He was putting or on the range or playing with
players who were better than him. He was hungry to learn. I
could see he had the game inside of him."

David especially loved to play alone. "My fondest memories in
golf are being about 14 or 15 and teeing off at Timuquana by
myself on a real foggy morning," he says. "You couldn't see the
ball land, you couldn't see more than 150 yards, but I couldn't
wait to play on those days. There were no outside influences,
and I was completely into what I was doing."

Julie McArthur, Duval's girlfriend for the last five years,
believes golf continues to be his therapy and escape. "David's
moment of peace is when he hits the course," says McArthur, a
31-year-old former pharmacist who lives with Duval in Neptune
Beach, Fla. "All he knew was he needed to get away from
something, and the best way was to go hit balls for hours. It's
still perfect for him, between the ropes, away from everything.
Golf is perfect protection, a salvation. It's almost no wonder
he got great at it."

When Duval was a teenager, his father encouraged him to play
friendly matches for money. Bob covered David's losses and took
half his winnings. Because competitiveness is one trait the
Duvals do share, they would go hammer and tong against each
other on the course. "The first time he beat me, he was 14,"
says Bob. "We'd play like two golfers--it's always been like
that. He didn't ask much and I didn't tell him much, but he knew
I was there."

That approach proved particularly wise in regard to David's
swing. The boy gripped the club with his hands turned in a
pronounced clockwise direction, much "stronger" than what is
considered orthodox. On the downswing, his head swiveled
markedly toward the target before impact, supposedly a violation
of golf's hoariest fundamental. But when Bob saw the naturalness
with which his son kept hitting purely struck shots, he made a
decision. "I didn't mess with it," he says. "My thinking was
that his game, his swing, his grip--that was the way his body
was built. I wanted David to discover the way that was best for
him."

David believes his father's mission was accomplished. "The
biggest and best contribution my dad made was to let me learn on
my own and figure out who I am and how I play," he says. "It
taught me to be self-reliant, which I think is important to
being a good player."

David proved to be a prodigy, winning the 1989 U.S. Junior. At
18 he made the cut in the '90 U.S. Open, and two years later,
between his junior and senior years at Georgia Tech, had a
two-shot lead after 54 holes at the BellSouth Classic before
fading with a 79 in the final round. When he finished his senior
season, in 1993, Duval had joined Gary Hallberg and Phil
Mickelson as the only players in NCAA history to be named
first-team All-America four times. He stumbled in his first
attempt at Q school but played well enough on the Nike tour in
1994 to qualify for the PGA Tour in '95.

Duval was impressive in setting what was then a record for
earnings by a rookie, $881,436, placing him 11th on the money
list. His three times as runner-up seemed to bode well, but in
'96 Duval again failed to win despite two more seconds and three
thirds. His most disappointing finish came in May at Atlanta,
where he held a two-stroke lead after three rounds but collapsed
with a 76. Throughout his first two years on the Tour, Duval was
struggling to come to grips with his parents' separation. "David
wasn't at peace," says McArthur. "He hadn't addressed some
personal issues. My opinion was that he wasn't going to win
until he resolved those things."

"All our relationships were tested after Brent died, but
especially the relationship between myself and Diane," says Bob.
"A lot I don't remember because I've selectively blocked it out.
Neither my wife nor I was doing so well. I was drinking more
than I should have. I wasn't happy in the relationship. There
were serious problems."

The Duvals attempted a reconciliation, but finally, in the
summer of 1996, divorced. Soon after, Bob began a new
relationship and eventually remarried. Diane sank into
depression, and because David remained close to her, his
relationship with his father deteriorated. "He told me, 'I don't
like what you're doing,'" Bob says. "I said, 'There are some
things you don't understand. This is life.' It was rocky between
us for a while. David put his head in the sand, but we finally
had some talks. He started listening and seeing it through my
eyes. He saw I was happier and better off."

As he came to terms with his father and Bob's new wife, Shari,
David became a stronger person and player. He encouraged his
father, who was a force in club pro events around Jacksonville,
to try the Senior tour. "When he told me that he believed in my
game, especially after what we had been through, it did a lot
for my confidence," says Bob. David's confidence was on the
rise, too. A controversial captain's pick for the 1996
Presidents Cup because he had seemed to melt in the heat of
contention, Duval proved to be one of the best golfers on the
U.S. team with a 4-0 record. About the same time, unhappy with
carrying too much weight on his six-foot frame and impressed by
the exercise regimens of other top players, Duval began a
program that became more intense the more progress he made. "I
found out I like the feeling of really pushing myself," he says.
"You have to conquer obstacles in life, and working on your body
is something where you can see results. It makes me feel better.
Maybe because it's a form of gaining control. The other thing
was that it's clear that the way Tiger plays is the way the game
is going. Essentially, I was being a competitor."

There was one more lingering problem. His mother's depression
had been gnawing at Duval for several months, but he hadn't
addressed it. "David has this ability to make himself numb, to
pretend problems don't exist," says McArthur. "He'll say
something isn't affecting him because he can overcome it. I told
him, 'Obviously it's affecting you. If it wasn't affecting you,
you wouldn't have to overcome it.'"

Finally, last August, David sat down with his mother and opened
up. "When I talked to my mom to try to resolve some of her
difficulties, it had a good effect on both of us," he says.
"She's made great strides. In the end it helped me mature."

According to McArthur, the talks also helped him win. "It
absolutely made the difference," she says. "He was a stronger
player mentally down the stretch. It wasn't a big difference,
but it was all David needed."

"David has a good handle on life right now," his father says.
"He has faced some things, on and off the course. He's probably
made some decisions that no one will ever know about. Like, 'All
right, my mom's O.K. My dad's O.K. Hey, I'm O.K.'"

That would rank as an asterisk-erasing moment. "Julie said
something that made me laugh at myself," David says. "I asked
her, 'Do you think I'm a good person?' She shot me this look and
said, 'Yes. But I know you.'" Golf's impenetrable star told the
story as if that might actually be a good thing.

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK [David Duval]COLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND CAREER CHANGE Bob Duval, a longtime club pro, took a shot at the Senior tour at David's urging.COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK FATHER KNOWS BEST Playing golf helped Bob (standing) and David weather a family crisis. [Bob Duval and David Duval]
"My brother died, my parents divorced...blah, blah, blah.
There's nothing I can do about it."
"It was rocky between us," Bob says. "David put his head in the
sand, but we finally had some talks."
"My dad looks like there's no place in the world he'd rather
be," David says. "I always look like I'm ill."