Although there were no cracks apparent in his granite mask as he
walked to the 17th tee in the final round of the Players
Championship on Sunday, David Duval was nervous--more nervous,
in fact, than he'd been while leading last year's Masters at the
same point. He had plenty of reasons to be.
This is an article from the April 5, 1999 issue
Duval was trying to join his dad, Bob, as the first father-son
combination to win a PGA Tour and Senior PGA tour event on the
same day. Yet the three-shot lead David had built through 13
holes had dwindled to one. He had hit only six of the first 16
greens in regulation and had made five bogeys on a course that
for two days had challenged players with its nastiest possible
combination of hairy rough, rock-hard greens and gusty winds.
Finally, at the famous par-3 17th at the TPC at Sawgrass, he was
staring at an island green for a shot that under final-round
pressure is the scariest in tournament golf. A few minutes
earlier Duval had heard the groans as the tee shot of his
closest pursuer, Scott Gump, trickled over the railroad ties and
into the water behind the green, leading to a double bogey.
Earlier another challenger, Payne Stewart, had dunked two balls
and taken a quintuple-bogey eight, falling from third place to
Some 350 miles away in Milton, Fla., 52-year-old Bob Duval,
gripping the trophy he had just received for winning the Emerald
Coast Classic, turned away from a clubhouse television and
stepped outside to sign autographs. "I don't want to watch this,"
he said of the Players telecast. "I know what that hole can do."
But 27-year-old David Duval knows what he can do, and nerves
stopped being a problem for him 17 months ago when he won the
Michelob at Kingsmill to start a rampage of 10 Tour victories in
33 starts. "I think you just learn to know what [nerves] feel
like and accept them and kind of overcome them and move on," he
would explain later. So on the hole he had seen terrorize the
world's best players since he was 10 years old, Duval pulled up
the memory of what he calls the best clutch shot he has ever
seen: the final-round tee shot on 17 that Nick Price struck en
route to the '93 Players title. Then Duval pulled out a pitching
wedge and with no hesitation made his typical controlled but
As the ball soared over the watery expanse, there was something
in the authority with which it had been struck that ended the
suspense. True all the way, it carried its intended 140 yards,
landed softly 15 feet short and left of the pin, and trickled
down a slope until it stopped six feet below the hole.
Even for someone who had fired a final-round 59 to win the Bob
Hope in January--as near a perfect round as golf has ever
seen--this was the perfect shot on the perfect hole at the
perfect time. A champion's shot. Duval made the birdie putt to
take a two-stroke lead over Gump, and 15 minutes later he
realized a bonanza that few golfers have ever reaped: Duval
couldn't decide what pleased him more, winning near his hometown
of Jacksonville (in Duval County, no less), or making father-son
With his third victory of the year, Duval joins Jack Nicklaus
and Tom Watson as the only players in the past 30 years to win
at least three Tour events in three consecutive seasons, and his
$900,000 first-place check boosted his season earnings to
$2,148,300, only $442,731 less than his record total of last
year. Duval also moved up to No. 1 in the World Ranking, ending
Tiger Woods's 41-week tenure and setting up the most anticipated
Masters showdown since Arnie and Jack were putting green jackets
on each other.
The Players victory meant so much, in fact, that it almost broke
the emotionless facade Duval has been building since childhood.
When he pulled off the forbidding wraparound sunglasses and
hoisted the trophy before a raucous crowd on the 18th green, his
eyes were shiny. "Lots of hard work, lots of dreaming, lots of
patience," he said with a slight catch in his throat. But he
collected himself, and the moment passed.
Across the Florida panhandle, Bob was bawling. After being told
that his son's ball was dry on 17, he returned to his seat in
front of the television and watched David's victory march up 18.
Tears rolled down Bob's face and his body shook, partly because
the Emerald Coast victory was his first in the big time after 30
years as a club professional and also because he and his son had
formed a special bond in the wake of what Bob called "a double
whammy." When David was nine, his older brother, Brent, died from
a blood disorder. In 1996 David's parents were divorced. The
relationship between father and son endured the turmoil, and Bob
has even benefited from a role reversal--David became a father
figure of sorts. All of that made for a profound moment on
The Duvals had played several practice rounds at the TPC Stadium
Course the week before the Players, with David putting the wood
to Bob in $10-a-hole matches, and later inserting the needle:
"He didn't want to lose more than that." But in the course of
the whippings, David bolstered Bob's confidence with praise and
a demonstration of what David's peers are beginning to consider
a playing demeanor as stone cold as that of Ben Hogan's.
(Incidentally, Hogan was the last player before Duval to notch
his first three Tour victories in consecutive appearances.)
"Whether David plays good or bad, he stays pretty level," says
Bob. "I'm more hyper. David has taught me how to stay patient.
He basically told me nobody ever shot anybody on a golf course
for making a bogey."
The advice and encouragement continued by phone after the two
began their respective events. Last Friday, when Bob opened with
a 61 and David shot a second-round 69, David quipped, "You
clipped me by eight, but you're still two strokes short [of the
59]." The son turned serious when his father took a three-stroke
lead into the final round. "I told him, 'You're going to think
about winning,'" David recalls. "That's fine, don't waste energy
trying to block it out. Embrace it. Think about what it would
mean, but also say to yourself, 'O.K., I need to do this, this
and this to make it happen.' I could tell he was listening."
After three-putting two of the first three holes on Sunday, Bob
steadied himself and went on to shoot a 71, good enough for a
two-shot victory. David was playing the 14th hole when he
learned that his father had won, but his first thought was,
Great, but how does that help me? After the round, when asked if
he fed off his father's good play, David answered, "It probably
sounds bad, but no." Asked if his postvictory conversation with
his father would be emotional, he drily replied, "I don't know.
Emotion pours out of me so easily."
But it was no accident that someone tough-minded prevailed over
the Stadium Course last week. In response to player input that
favored more demanding conditions, the course became a composite
of Masters-quick greens, U.S. Open-style six-inch rough and, in
the third round, British Open-like winds. As the greens dried
out during the course of the tournament, a player's every
weakness was magnified, and scores soared. Last Saturday, 14 of
the 79 players who made the cut shot 80 or higher. Bruce
Lietzke, who followed rounds of 71 and 68 with an 80, thought
Tour officials had gone too far. "I hit 14 browns in regulation,
so I didn't play that badly," he deadpanned. "But they made the
best players in the world look like knuckleheads."
Except for one player, of course. "It might sound stupid, but I
have always found the rough isn't so bad in the middle of the
fairways," said Duval, who followed a pair of 69s with 74 and 73
on the weekend to finish three under, the highest winning total
in the 18 years the event has been played at the Stadium Course.
"I wanted the greens to stay the way they were, because I knew
they would reward quality shots and smart thinking. I feel like
I am good at both."
Duval gets no argument, but grit had a lot to do with his
victory as well. After losing his lead to final-round playing
partner Skip Kendall on the 2nd hole, Duval dug deep and decided
"it was time to play golf." On the par-5 9th he hit a gambling
third shot through trees and landed in a greenside bunker. Duval
considers his sand play the weakest part of his game, but just
when he needed it, he nipped the ball beautifully and watched it
roll into the hole for a birdie and a one-stroke lead that he
would never relinquish.
"That shot woke me up and told me I had been right in my
[aggressive] thinking," said Duval. By converting each of his
last six 54-hole leads into victories, Duval is clearly not only
a frighteningly complete player, but also one who, after failing
to win the first five times he led going into the final round,
has evolved into a deadly closer. That's why he has supplanted
Woods as the Masters favorite.
Woods invites the challenge. "I'm very close," he said, after
shooting a pair of 75s on the weekend to finish tied for 10th.
"I'll be ready for the Masters."
David already is, all the more so because Bob will be with him at
Augusta National. The old man might pick up a few more tips, but
he also can remind his teacher of all the valuable lessons the
two have learned together.