They tried to hide the horse needle from the boy, of course. The doctor held it behind his thigh, like a pitcher concealing the grip on his slider. The boy lay on his stomach, his nose hard against the sheets. His father and a nurse laid their hands on his shoulders and arms.
This is an article from the April 12, 1999 issue
The needle, stainless steel and nearly three times as thick as pencil lead, entered just above the boy's hip. He clenched—he was better at that than most boys—as it dug through his flesh. Then it paused when it met his hipbone.
The doctor had to lean into it now and ratchet it, clockwise and counter, to penetrate the bone. The boy clenched harder. The doctor rocked the needle in every direction to break off the thread of marrow it had just sucked in. The boy's lips and teeth parted. The scream that came out, his father would never forget. He tightened his grip as the boy thrashed. It was this, or it was death.
There. It was out. It was over. It was not over. The other hip now. Again.
The doctor handed two vials of bone marrow to the lab technician. That was all that was needed for now, a sample to analyze before giving the go-ahead. Tomorrow, when the needle had to go back in four more times, it wouldn't hurt like this, promise. Don't worry, David, you'll get general anesthesia next time. You'll be out. You'll be numb. You'll never feel a thing.
The boy stepped out of the car and looked. Before him stood a stately building, crisp white with green shutters and with tall columns at the entrance. Nearby were manicured shrubs and beds of petunias and azaleas; the line where dirt met grass was so perfectly curved that it seemed to have been etched with a draftsman's compass. To the left was the sky-blue swimming pool. Over the boy's shoulder were the smooth, white-lined clay tennis courts. On his right were trees sleeved with Spanish moss and rolling green sweeps of the finest grass he had ever seen. A few men, wearing spotless shoes and polo shirts and neatly creased slacks, stood on the grass, observing a small white ball and trading quiet remarks that made them smile. Everyone, everything, seemed so peaceful, so clean, so perfect at Timuquana Country Club.
David Duval was nine years old, so short that the bag of cut-down golf clubs on his back nearly scraped the grass. His body was chunky, his skin freckled. On his nose sat bottle-thick eyeglasses with light-blue frames that mortified him so much that he had thrown tantrums and hidden in the school bathroom the first few weeks he had to wear them. He carried six green mesh bags of balls as he walked to the driving range. Watching how he carried himself, one wouldn't have known that he had really just begun to play, or that the bag was chafing a string of six puncture scars on his hips.
He chose an open space between the men, selected a club and poured out a bag of balls. He cocked back the club and began sending the balls, one by one, across that pleasant stretch of green. The men finished and moved away. The boy departed only to collect six more bags from the caddie barn, 150 more balls, and return, again and again. "David," Woodrow Burton, who worked in the caddie barn, begged, "you better leave some of them balls for the members."
The boy, saying nothing, opened his palms for the balls. Soon those calluses would be hard. Soon those hands wouldn't feel a thing.
Home from school. Out the door. On his bike, pumping down Algonquin Avenue on Jacksonville's west side. No pausing for homework, for telling Mom about his day, for filling his empty stomach, for even a whiff of despair. David would grab a soda and a frankfurter at the white brick concession stand overlooking the 18th green at Timuquana, then grab his clubs. His father, the club pro, would pick up the tab for 35 or 40 hot dogs a month. All this was routine now for the 11-year-old boy, routine installed two years earlier when the old one was smashed. Every afternoon after school, every weekend and summer day, morning until dark, until his dad was ready to go home—and his dad, well, he wasn't exactly going home anymore. He would drop David off and pull away.
That was so much easier than walking into the house, as David did, and not looking at the big framed picture of Brent that his mother refused to put away. Brent smiling, radiating health—that bucket of tadpoles and fishing pole must've been just outside the frame. A sweet-natured boy, the one to whose bed their little sister, Deirdre, always ran when she had nightmares, the one who always had mud on his pants and a snake or a turtle or a beetle in his palms and said, "Isn't this creature beautiful?" Darker-featured, like Dad; outgoing, like Dad. Already showing promise in Dad's sport in the father-and-son tournaments the two played at Timuquana as the pale and quiet middle child, David, stood by his mother, Diane, and his little blonde sister, ingesting it all through the prism of those thick glasses.
Bottle of iron pills, that's all 12-year-old Brent needed, Diane figured when he began asking out of town-league basketball games early. Looked a little pale, and then ungodly pale when the hematologist told Diane and Bobby, right in front of Brent, that his bone marrow, out of nowhere, had stopped producing white blood cells, that he had a disease called aplastic anemia, and three choices: Do nothing and die within three months, and not a pretty death; experiment with drugs about which virtually nothing was known; or attempt a bone-marrow transplant at one of five hospitals in the country that would perform it—perhaps, with a good match from a sibling, a 50-50 shot. Option three? One small warning: Before the transplant could be attempted, Brent would have to undergo weeks of chemotherapy and total-body radiation treatments. All of his bone-marrow cells would have to be slaughtered for the new marrow to have a chance.
The sibling? That was David. It was his bone marrow, not Deirdre's, that was a 90% match with Brent's. He was his brother's only chance to live.
My God. The transplant worked. Brent, left pale, gaunt and bald by the disease and weeks of chemotherapy, began to regain color and strength. The Duvals rejoiced, made plans for Brent to return home from the hospital in Cleveland. To celebrate they got permission to take him out for dinner with his favorite nurse, Molly Murphy.
At dinner Brent vomited. Just nerves probably, from being out in public again, doctors reassured his parents. David went back home to Jacksonville. Swiftly came the diarrhea, the teeth-clacking fever and the truth: Brent had graft-versus-host disease. David's bone marrow was attacking his brother's body; bacterial infection was hopping like a grease fire; organ after organ was shutting down.
One last time, it was decided, David should see his brother before he died. Escorted by Diane's father, Harry Poole, David flew back to Cleveland. He froze at the door of the ICU. That sunken bundle of bloodless flesh and bones connected to a tangle of tubes, inside that strange plastic bubble . . . that was the big brother he had flown kites with, played catch with, the one who had pulled David out of the St. Johns River just a few years before when he tumbled off the dock and thought sure he would drown?
Golf was the perfect sport for David. It confirmed the logic of his experience: Rely on no one, be affected by no one.x
"That's not my brother!" David screamed. He turned and raced down the corridor, past nurses and orderlies, around corners and down stairs and through doors, out into the air, onto the street, over curbs and between cars and across intersections. He heard his name called from behind, heard footsteps pounding closer, but he just kept running, gulping and running, three blocks, four blocks; the moment he stopped, it would all be true.
Then the nine-year-old boy felt himself wrapped in his father's arms, sobbing and gasping for air. David didn't say it then. It came a few weeks later, in the silence of their dumbstruck home. "I killed him!" he cried. "I killed him!"
The boy loved to golf alone in fog. No one could see him. He could see no one. It was as if the sky were colluding with him, lowering a gray curtain between him and the world. Somehow, when he could not see the consequence, the place where the ball landed, it made the instant when his hands cocked and let fly even purer. Just harmony, David and his swing.
Now and then David's father materialized on a cart, on his way to give a club member a lesson. Bobby had been good enough to play on the PGA Tour, but he had forsaken that dream for something that no longer existed, the stability of his family. He watched the boy from a little distance. Good shot, bungled shot—you couldn't tell the difference by David's face. You couldn't tell that he'd recently discovered that he lived in a world in which, at any moment, something too tiny to see could invade your body and destroy it, and no one, not the smartest adults on earth, could stop it. The boy was blank. He looked numb.
"Good shoulder turn, David."
The boy looked over at his father. Bobby was the most handsome, friendly, glad-handing club pro that a Timuquanan at the 19th hole could ever hope to smoke a cigar and drink three Scotches with—but nowhere to be found at home, having left a year after Brent's death. It was all too confusing for David to understand. He loved sharing the language of golf with Dad. But David would not be like Dad.
"How was my hip transfer?" the boy asked.
The father had taught his son the fundamentals, but he believed in letting a novice find the swing that was natural to his body, not imposing the instructor's. The father was relieved that his boy had found somewhere to turn, the safest, most soothing place in the world. The father was a little intimidated by this son.
"Looked fine," replied Bobby. Then his cart vanished into the mist.
Mist gave way to rain. The boy didn't go home. He went into the pro shop, where a cup had been built into the floor. He took the putter that was for sale and hit balls into the hole until that was no longer a challenge. Then he banked them off the golf-shirt display, off the wall, into the cup, so many times that he could gauge, from every angle, the effect of the grain of carpet and the subtlest slope of the floor. He would alter the placement of an item or two, perfect the new ricochet, then wait to sucker some innocent club member into a bet.
Day gave way to night. David went home. He looked at his mother. She had taken her children to Catholic church every Sunday before losing her first son, but now her faith, like her husband, was gone. She was an open wound, a softhearted woman racked by sobs at any time of the day, still referring to Brent as if he were alive, sweeping her two children off to bed for the day at the first stomach cramp or cough—just groping, like Bobby, just doing whatever she could to survive. David would not be like Mom.
He looked at Brent's bedroom. Nothing in it had been altered since his death. It almost seemed to be waiting for him. It was afternoon at the Duvals', but mourning hadn't ever come and gone. The boy refused to see the therapist or the grave site after the first few visits, refused to speak of what had happened, to look at pictures of his brother. "Can I move into that bedroom?" he asked his mom.
He kept one thing on the wall: the poster of the black Lamborghini Countach, Brent's shining dream. At night he stared at it and made a vow: He'd own one by age 25.
Neighbors and friends noticed what was happening to the boy. His mother sensed it too, but it couldn't be spoken of. Before David fell asleep, she would come to his room and rub his temples, his neck, his shoulders, every night for years.
During summers David spent a few weeks with his grandparents Harry and Vickie Poole, who lived on a golf course at Fernandina Beach, a 45-minute drive northeast of Jacksonville. David loved Harry, the gentle man who had spent the most time with him while Diane and Bobby passed weeks in vigil at the hospital in Cleveland. One day, in David's 11th summer, the boy teed off on the last hole, about to beat his grandfather for the first time. He double-bogeyed and lost. His grandfather, startled, watched the stoic boy burst into tears. "You beat me today," David sobbed, "but you won't when I come back next summer. You'll never beat me again."
If life were fair, and people got what they deserved, then the boy was guilty. He deserved a dead brother and a sledgehammered family because something was wrong with him, dreadfully, all the way down to his marrow.
No. That was unbearable. Life couldn't be fair. Six more bags of balls, Woodrow. There were no deserves. The boy stood beneath the merciless Florida sun, in his second shirt of the day, driving a third hour's worth of range balls into the August afternoon. He extended this thought, like taffy. If this . . . then that: That's how the boy's mind functioned, in cool and remorseless progression, a set of marble steps. If there were no justice in the universe, then you built up no points for pleasantries, small kindnesses and gestures. All that was wasted motion. If nothing was fair, then you got whatever you settled for—or whatever you took. "You can level your own playing field by realizing that life only becomes fair when you realize it's unfair," he would say years later.
Of course, it wasn't easy. To swallow such a hard, jagged premise, one would have to make oneself hard, sometimes even jagged. Six more bags, Woodrow.
Small talk? What for? Hang out? How come? The mall? What was the purpose? Chase girls? He had to get up early in the morning and go to the club. Party? "It's very damaging to goals," he would say later. "It's not an efficient use of time." Manners? Yes, absolutely efficient for a boy growing up among adults at a country club, for a nonmember to retain access to that placid, perfect place. Friends? He had four or five, a cadre he had known from before his brother's death and with whom he felt safe, boys who had little to do with golf. He barely had the time to see them anymore, let alone the need to add more friends. He was attending Episcopal High School, a private school with a collegelike campus, where none of those old friends went anyway, and his classmates had no clue what was incubating in their midst.
If life were fair, if people got what they deserved, then David was guilty. Something was dreadfully wrong with him.x
In the summer of his 13th year, the power came. In a matter of months, it seemed, his 170-yard drive had found an extra city block, and suddenly the boy was standing at the open car trunks of 40-year-old members who had won club, city and state championships, collecting bets—there was nearly a grand in the wad in his cigar box at home. "Dammit, Pro," the men started telling his father, "we'd rather have you out there than that little s--- son of yours." The Air Force Academy team stopped by Timuquana on a Southern swing; someone suggested a driving contest. The college boys ripped. Then 6'4", 250-pound Steve (Sasquatch) Young, supposedly Timuquana's biggest belter, ripped. David stepped up last and outripped them all by 40 yards.
Golf was the perfect sport for David. It all hinged on him. No one else could affect his performance—not an overpowering pitcher or acrobatic defender, not a distracted teammate or timekeeper or referee. It confirmed the logic of his experience, of his organs and tissue: Rely on no one, be affected by no one . . . except me. He would place himself inside a cavern with one pinprick of light high above, one way out: the PGA Tour.
"Are you sure you don't want to go to your school's football game tomorrow, David?" his father would ask. Bobby was back home now, giving the marriage another chance. "David, you don't want to go to your prom?"
David would look up from his bed, from behind one of the books he had taken up for company. Would going to the game or the prom inch him closer to the pinprick of light? "No, Dad."
"Why not, David?"
"Don't want to." An attitude was crystallizing, a philosophy, a hard, shiny integrity that sneered at compromise. At 15, David watched his father soothing a club member who was complaining about a dysfunctional cart. "Tell him," David told his dad when the whiner walked out, "to kiss your ass."
The night his high school classmates were out celebrating graduation, David was on a flight to Texas for a tournament. He hadn't won any of the big ones yet, but that summer, his last in the juniors, he took four of the most prestigious events, including the U.S. Junior Amateur. "To really improve," he would say one day, "you need to rise and fall alone, and each time learn why. That can be very lonely, but I'm not afraid of aloneness. I've done it. It's not so bad."
The boy packed his clothes, his clubs and his black Lamborghini poster. It was time to leave home and go to a new place, filled with strangers who might . . . well, he couldn't even guess. It would be safer to remain alone, of course. The safest place of all would be alone at the top.
Mike Clark, a returning veteran on Georgia Tech's golf team, had taken David to a frat party during his recruiting visit. That was his first mistake. Then came his second. "We've got four really good golfers coming back," Clark said. "All we need is a good Number 5, and we've got a helluva team."
"If I come here, I won't be Number 5," David said. "I plan to be Number 1." He enrolled at Tech and shocked his new teammates once more: He wanted his picture on the cover of the media guide his freshman year. Maybe if he and that swing of his were on it, no one would dream how miserable the unfamiliar made him, how close he was to leaving school and turning back.
For autumn of that first year, 1989, the team had been tossed a plum: the Shiseido Cup in Japan. Only the lowest five scorers over six rounds of qualifying would make the trip; the rest of the squad would remain home. David felt out of control in this new world, couldn't focus. David didn't qualify to go to Japan.
Japanese organizers blanched when they learned that the U.S. Junior champion wasn't coming. They requested that an exception be made, that David be permitted to compete as an individual.
Now it was his teammates' turn to blanch. What about the Tech golfer who had finished sixth in the team's qualifying rounds, ahead of David, and had to stay home? There weren't enough blankets on the flight to Tokyo to counter the chill.
On the final hole of the Shiseido Cup, Phil Mickelson sank a 15-foot breaking putt to beat David. Georgia Tech's seventh-place qualifier had failed to do the cruelest thing to his new teammates that he possibly could, but only by one stroke.
Pity the poor coach. No, don't pity the poor coach. Puggy Blackmon was the smart, strong-willed man who directed Georgia Tech's golf team and was a Christian to the bone. He knew well Matthew 18:12-14, the parable of the shepherd who left his flock to bring back the solitary lamb. Puggy began walking, ignoring the flock's warnings: No, Coach, that's the wolf!
In David's first ACC tournament, he placed second, and his team tied for fifth. Teammate Tripp Isenhour walked right up to him. "David," he gushed, "you played great, that was awesome."
"Yeah," David replied, voice flat as a desert horizon. "If I'd had teammates worth a s---, we'd have won the damn tournament."
His teammates' mouths fell open. They couldn't hear the echoes of the boy's scream and footsteps down that hospital corridor. If only they had known the full story then, they would say years later, maybe things would've been different.
What they saw was a new sort of human creature, one whose self-esteem lacked a seemingly critical component: what others felt about him. Their approval meant nothing to him. They were rendered immaterial.
He was so fixed on where he was going, he didn't feel the air thicken when teammates or opponents offered each other the customary "Good luck, guys, hit it good" on the 1st tee, and David just muttered, "Yeah." He didn't notice the looks his teammates traded when he snapped "Hell, no" at a deli worker who had asked if he'd like mayonnaise or at a cheery waitress asking if everything was fine.
Only his old friends from Jacksonville—Pat Lanahan and Kevin Cook and Michael Craven, who knew his past, basked in his loyalty and benefited from his thoughtful advice—could roll their eyes and say, "David, the English muffin is supposed to be burned, the bacon's supposed to be undercooked. This is a $3 breakfast at a greasy spoon, for crying out loud!"
David had no sense of the camaraderie and support he was missing, no idea that if he didn't stop adding to the wall that had protected him through childhood, it could entomb him. Everything from before seemed so distant, as if it had happened to someone else. He couldn't even have told anyone what it was that he was closing off.
In David's second ACC tournament, in 1991, Georgia Tech led entering the final round, with David tied for the individual lead. He bolted to a five-stroke advantage, then rain stopped play and everyone waited in the clubhouse. Finally the announcement came: The final round was washed out, the scores stood as they had at the beginning of the day. Georgia Tech was the champ, David the individual co-champ. His teammates slapped fives and crowed, "We did it! We got a ring!" David's fist slammed into a table. His mouth spat an obscenity. At least one teammate wanted to slug him.
A year earlier, at age 18, he'd stood on the 1st tee at the U.S. Open with his caddie, Puggy, at his side. Intimidated? The boy birdied three of the first five holes and was still on the leader board on the final day. Two years later, in his junior year at Tech, he zipped over from school to play the big boys again in the BellSouth Classic in Atlanta and amazed everyone by taking the third-round lead. He turned to his father on the driving range before that final round and spoke three words: "I belong here." Then he shot a 79 and vanished.
He still wasn't ready for the Tour, because he couldn't dominate it. He needed to endure this halfway house, improve in a way he couldn't quite place his finger on. "College was just another stop on my journey," he would say years later. "I wasn't there for college. Everything I did was preparing for the next level. I was majoring in golf."
His maturity as a player, his capacity to analyze all the variables before a shot and then let fly, was extraordinary. But then his preparation for the U.S. Open was little different from his preparation for the Furman Intercollegiate. Tests rescheduled and laundry dry-cleaned a week in advance, clubs spotless, grips brand-new, clothes neatly folded and packed the day before—sweaters in the dead of summer, rain gear in his golf bag on a cloudless day, just in case, one never knew—book in his lap and a seat staked in the van 10 minutes before departure while everyone else on the team scrambled around like, well, like college kids. When they clambered aboard and began talking about how ugly an opponent's swing was, he just shook his head. "I never look at anyone's swing," he said.
Rock, his teammates called him to his face. Reliable, sturdy, unemotional—he kind of liked that. Behind his back, they called him the Penguin. It made no sense, the extra weight he carried; David had streamlined himself in every other way, made himself an arrow flying toward its target. Unless those pounds had a purpose that no one, not even he, was aware of: as one more warranty that no one would get too close. David dated rarely. A golfer on the Texas women's team whom he had met on the trip to Japan was a sort of girlfriend, but they conducted their relationship mostly by telephone and letters, David's often rewritten twice to make sure that every word and punctuation mark was correct, that not a single scratch-out survived.
Oh, yes: One other thing didn't quite fit. David was a first-team All-America his freshman year . . . but never won a tournament. Odd for a player with such astonishing poise and talent, how often he finished second or third, how long it took—his ninth tournament of his sophomore year—for the first victory to come.
At an event at Doral, in Miami, during David's sophomore year, Puggy did the unthinkable. He demoted David to No. 2 on the team. "You gotta be f---ing kidding me!" David exploded in front of the team. He went on seething and swearing, making the new No. 1, Tom Shaw, feel as if his elevation were preposterous. David's intention wasn't to shatter Shaw. Through the wall, he couldn't even see that happening. Shaw shot a 77. David shot a 67. Joy—as David would discover when he whooped and jumped after sinking a hole in one at a tournament a few years later, then three-putted the next hole from eight feet—was unmanageable on a golf course. But anger he knew how to use like a club.
David was No. 1 at Tech again. The tension on the team was growing unbearable. Puggy called in sports psychologist Bob Rotella and held an encounter session, no holds barred, in the team lounge. The sheep ganged up on David. He was shocked. "Why is this coming out now?" he asked. "Why didn't you have the courage to be honest with me before? At least you knew where I stood."
Puggy gave up trying to knit a team and settled for the next best thing: two teams. Two rental cars sometimes. There went four Georgia Tech golfers in one car to eat Mexican. There went David and Puggy in the other to eat American. Roommate assignments? Puggy and David. Practices? David might show up at the same time and country club as the others—might not. "It was the only way," Puggy says, "to keep them from killing each other."
Ahhh, Puggy's taking care of the Cadillac again, the others grumbled. They didn't know what was occurring in that other car, at that other restaurant. Yes, Puggy was reassuring the boy who could show no vulnerability to anyone else, affirming his greatness. He was also going hammer-and-mace with the boy; they were two old and powerful forces wearing the garments of golfer and coach.
You need spirituality, David. You need people. You can't keep alienating them. You're going to fall one day, and then you'll realize. There's a dimension you can't see, where all humans merge, and singular paths dissolve. Everything happens for a reason. There's a design, a loving design that we can't always understand. In so many words, that was Puggy's hammer—the mallet of Jesus.
A design, Coach? If there's a design, what designer filled my brother's marrow with poison? A man's got himself and his quest; he mustn't try to step on toes, but if avoiding toes means detours and delays, he's failed himself. Greatness, the very reaching for it, justifies the singular path. That was David's mace, so hard and sharp inside him that he could never quite put it in those words—the mace of Roark.
Yes, Howard Roark, the fictional architect in The Fountainhead, the 695-page novel by Ayn Rand that David would soon discover in a New York City bookstore, and in which he would finally see himself. Roark was the flame that burned inside him, the fire the world kept trying to extinguish: the premise that a man's integrity could grow only from following his own truth and ego, serving his own purpose and passion. Roark's was a noble and healthy selfishness that accepted the hatred of all the sheep who called it arrogance. "The basic need of the creator is independence," Roark declares. "The reasoning mind cannot work under any form of compulsion. It cannot be curbed, sacrificed or subordinated to any consideration whatsoever. It demands total independence in function and in motive. To a creator, all relations with men are secondary."
David would read passages like that and feel his life justified, his heart sing. After he finished the book, he purchased it on tape and drank it with his ears. God, it was almost eerie; architecture was the path David would have pursued at Georgia Tech if it hadn't left so little time for golf. Somehow, because Roark existed, if only as a concept, David wasn't quite so alone. He smiled when his friend Kevin Cook read the book and called him the Howard Roark of golf.
Oh, yes, Puggy sensed how complicated a task he had undertaken. Asking the boy to change his stance toward life was like asking him to change his stance over the ball: Would those 280-yarders still scream off his driver if he opened up more, if he bent, if he reached out, if he felt? Would his two-irons still land and lie down one caress from the cup? No, David couldn't risk it; somehow the two stances seemed inextricably entwined. As if to verify his thesis, his two grandfathers died within three days during his sophomore year; he carried the coffin of Harry Poole to the freshly shoveled hole and looked inside. Where was the togetherness down there?
Yet the boy couldn't resist the magnetic pull of Puggy, his wife, Gail, and their three children. There was a wholeness to that family of five that kept drawing David to their dinner table, to their family room to roll on the floor with the kids, to their backyard to play catch. David let Puggy see something that few others could see: "That little soft spot," as Puggy would put it, "on the underbelly of that hard shell. You'd see it and start to give your heart to him, and then he could stick his hand in your chest and jerk your heart right out."
The shepherd kept coming back for David, leading him slowly toward the human flock. As a senior David won four tournaments and his fourth straight berth as a first-team All-America and came within a stroke of winning both the NCAA individual and team championships. He was getting along with teammates a little better, beginning to believe that Puggy might be, well, a tiny bit right.
Then the day after the NCAA tournament, a story appeared in The Courier-Journal of Louisville. A reporter took three events he had witnessed during the final round—David telling an opponent on the fairway to move his golf bag out of David's sight line, David spitting out apple chunks, David urinating in a stand of trees 40 yards off the fairway rather than waiting in line at a bathroom—and delivered them to the public in the harshest light. A Florida newspaper picked up the story, eyebrows shot up, and athletic director Homer Rice asked David for an explanation.
The shepherd groaned, his work undone. Thunderstruck, David tucked the article inside the cover of his day planner and began a ritual. Each year when the calendar ran out, he would transfer the article to the fold inside the next year's calendar cover. A reminder to refortify his guard.
It's true, there was no one in the passenger seat of David's green Nissan Pathfinder on June 13, 1994. But let's imagine we were. It may be instructive.
Odd that it's Cleveland we're in, that it's here that David's world is disintegrating again. Having been the surest bet to go straight from Q school to the PGA in 1993, after leaving Tech two quarters shy of a degree in management, he failed to make the cut and was cast into the minor leagues, the Nike tour. He had failed by $2,875 to break into the top 10 money winners on the '93 Nike tour and was punished with another year there to chew on the husk of his dream. Now the '94 Nike season is half finished, and he's dropped to 22nd place in earnings, losing contact with the top 10 he must crack, staring down the barrel of yet another year in the bushes. For god's sake, he doesn't belong here. For god's sake, he has just shot a 75 and 78 in Cleveland and missed another cut.
His parents' marriage is ending. Brent's death was an acid that finally ate away the last of what once brought them together. Diane is drinking, falling apart. Bobby is unable to stand and face their trouble. It's ugly, and David's caught in the middle, bouncing from city to city across the country, feeling helpless. Just when it's time for him to become a man, the last wisps of his fog-shrouded past are vanishing, but suddenly, for the first time, he can't see his future.
He can barely sleep. His mind keeps churning at night with checklists for the next day, details, minutiae. He is consumed by his own impatience. He can't cry. He's numb. He has lost his Roarkness, the ability to find joy on the reef, the desire to pick up a golf club and do the one thing that saved him, all those years ago, from falling, falling. . . .
He swallows. He has thought about turning down Euclid Avenue, then Adelbert Road. That's where Rainbow Babies & Childrens Hospital is. That's where a padlocked trunk of memories waits. But he has staked his life on the premise that pain is to be locked away, turned into achievement and character. He doesn't make that turn. He turns onto the interstate and heads toward his temporary home in Atlanta, 12 hours of flat, gray concrete away.
Nothing happens on this car ride. That's not who David is. It's just important for you to sit here, to know the smell of flatness and the silence of grayness.
Six more weeks, this lasts. A fifth-place finish, a 14th, then another missed cut. Puggy. He has to see Puggy. The one who said he'd fall one day. Puggy looks at David's eyes, sees what almost no one else in the world can see: This is bad. Puggy opens his mouth, and the old song comes out, more fervent than ever, for now he knows David is listening. The world's not about you, David. Bring people along for the ride. At the end of it, relationships will be all you'll think about, not golf, not winning. For four hours Puggy talks. As they walk across the Georgia Tech campus, Rice, the athletic director, approaches. He greets Puggy, then turns and introduces himself to David.
David is dumbfounded. A first-team All-America four straight years . . . and the athletic director for all four of those years doesn't recognize him? Dammit, he'll have nothing to do with Georgia Tech, he'll pulverize another piece of his past, and doesn't this prove, once more and for all, the folly of looking anywhere except yourself for support, and that David is right and Puggy is wrong and. . . .
So how in god's name does Puggy get David to the College Golf Fellowship, a Christian conference, a few days later, instead of that Nike tournament in South Dakota that David has to play in to start digging out of the hole? How does David emerge from that week of brotherhood, surrounded by three dozen people at meals and at discussions of love and letting go, with a firecracker string of top five finishes to finish eighth in earnings and gain entrance into the PGA?
He appeared before the world in 1995, wearing a shirt buttoned to the throat, a hat tugged low over his forehead and sunglasses that curved all the way back to meet his temples, frustrating even the onlooker who edged to one side to look into his eyes. Then came a goatee. The gallery didn't see people like this at country clubs. It parted instinctively, made a path for him. This is no come-to-Jesus tale. Everything with David was subterranean and slow.
Few mustered the courage to approach him and learn that the dark wraparound glasses were there to protect his sensitive eyes from the pollen, dust and glare that made them water and itch. Or learn of the delightful irony that it was Puggy, cringing over David's affliction during his senior year, who had handed him his first pair of wraparounds, and he had donned a second pair himself. Those who did approach David with questions were warned: I remember almost nothing about my past.
But why? Why did this man have to keep the hat and shades on when he walked off the 18th green? Why, everyone wondered, did he give the camera and the galleries almost nothing? A pant leg riffling in the wind, a small tightening of the lips around a chaw of tobacco, a blowing of the nose—those were the only bulletins from the front that a Duval correspondent could report. And a swing shorn of wasted motion, a clean and simple and ruthlessly efficient act. In his first three PGA events, he finished 14th, sixth and second—37 under par in his first 12 rounds, and everyone, intimidated by him or not, agreed: Look out.
Anesthesia had brought David to the ledge of greatness, to that circle of a few dozen men who were threats to win on the PGA Tour. What if that numbness, as Puggy insisted, was preventing him from taking the final step? What if it kept him pinned right there, on the ledge, the prize beneath his eyes to see and smell but never to touch? Then the media would begin asking about failure, about choking, rather than about his $881,436 in earnings, a rookie record, 11th best on the Tour in 1995, or about his 10th-place finish the following year. Then, because he couldn't permit anyone else to dictate how he felt, David would grow short with reporters, insisting that the near misses didn't disturb him. Then, of course, that overmuscular mind, the one that often still kept him awake half the night, the one that had blanked out so much anguish, would fall prey to his sport's most savage calculus—the 253.2 minutes of inaction that occurred around the 1.8 minutes of meaningful motion in an average PGA round—and squeeze the one free and natural interval of David's existence, the 1.5 seconds of his swing. Then it would be clear once more what a powerful tide David Duval was walking against.
That's just what happened for two years, 10 months and 11 days, through five frittered final-day leads, through seven runner-up and four third-place finishes that earned David nicknames such as Sultan of Second and headlines such as BRIDESMAID AGAIN. At least, that's what everyone saw. But quietly, behind the wall, sometimes without David even knowing it, something was stirring. Finally, after a year of silence and stewing over his parents' divorce and the new woman in his father's life, David was talking to Bobby again, clearing the air by caddying in his dad's debut on the Senior tour in 1996. Finally he was beginning to face his mother's problems, nudging her into an alcohol rehabilitation center, beginning to talk a little about pieces of the past that he had simply fogged out.
Finally he was widening his circle of friends, making new ones who were decades older than he and wouldn't be as likely to look for something from him. He'd be a student, pick their minds.
Finally he was building a long-term relationship with a woman, a pharmacist from Atlanta named Julie McArthur, five years his elder and full of intuition. Scared the hell out of him, commitment did. Just making dinner plans with friends, David would leave himself a loophole. Finally, when Julie began traveling with him, David had someone besides Puggy and Rotella, the sports psychologist from his college days who still intersected with him once a month on the road, chorusing the message: Widen the path, don't narrow it. Someone who let him brood behind his wall for a while, but only for a while, someone who could tease him. Someone who saw the moments when all that buried softness burst free—over lost dogs on the roadside whose owners he had to track down, over collection jars for children with life-threatening diseases, into which he was suddenly emptying his wallet of $100 bills—and who loved him for it.
Finally, too, with a change of diet and a grueling exercise regimen, David was shedding those 40 pounds, gaining muscle and flexibility that created an even longer swing and more stamina for a Sunday's last nine. One by one he was eliminating all the obstacles he had strewn in his own path, the ones that his narrowed eyes had never seen. Until just one remained.
No one except Julie and Puggy and Rotella, during that long wait on the ledge, glimpsed all the panting and clenching—"Like delivering a 20-pound baby," Puggy described David's straining for that first win. When it came, on the first sudden-death playoff hole of the Michelob Classic on Oct. 12, 1997, it felt remarkably like Puggy had said it would. David let go, got out of his own way, and there it was, a PGA victory.
Wait . . . twins! Another victory, the next week, at the Walt Disney World/Oldsmobile Classic. Triplets! A third win, in the very next event he entered, the Tour Championship.
He began actually spending leisure time with other players. He began walking away from the sport for a week or two, not touching a club—how many pros could bear that?—and heading to Idaho. There he stood on powdered mountains with a snowboard beneath his arm and stared; stood waist-deep in gin-clear mountain streams with a fly rod in his hand and looked. He caught fish, but they had to go right back in the water. When he practiced he would fish a pond on the TPC course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., near his house in Jacksonville Beach, for two hours, lay the rod down and pick up a club, hit chip shots for 20 minutes, exchange the club for the rod again, find another pond to sit beside for a couple of hours more, then maybe do a little putting. What he needed to practice was remembering what he already knew, deep down, as well as anyone on the Tour: that golf's a game, not life and death.
Now came the next hurdle, the part he had never inspected carefully when he lay in bed as a boy staring at Brent's Lamborghini poster: celebrity. It walloped him when he learned that the autographed hat he had sent to a dying 30-year-old man in Atlanta meant so much to him that the man was buried with it. "Think of the impact I can have," he would say. "If I'd known it meant that much, I'd have flown there and visited him before he died. I have a responsibility."
When the Vardon Trophy presentation was made, no one saw the tears behind the wraparound sunglasses. But they were there.x
To the relief of his agent, Charley Moore, he began removing his sunglasses as he walked off the course, sometimes even handing them to children, and looking cameras and reporters in the eye. It was so much easier now that they were asking him if he was the best golfer in the world instead of why he couldn't win. He gave their questions thoughtful, deliberate replies sprinkled with the deadpan wit his close friends relished, with words no other golfer used, plucked from the pocket dictionary he carried on the road. It was refreshing, writers found, to speak to a man who had read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, who cherished all 20 volumes, all 21,730 pages, of his Oxford English Dictionary, who could picture himself just walking away from golf one day, never playing on the Senior tour, and ending up in a bookstore-cafe that he would own, or a backwoods bait-and-tackle shop.
Who could know for sure what would happen if success deserted him? He still could be crustacean. He still could starch a fan who pressed too close, still could answer an afternoon phone call with a voice so dead that callers would ask, "Did I wake you up?" He still could sit to eat at a country club restaurant table right next to Julie's and make good on her prediction to her dining partner that he wouldn't notice her. His heart still leaned toward Roark's truth, but his logic couldn't deny Puggy's truth, and slowly he was coming to see that a rich life integrated both of them. Because that was David, honest to god, spelling out YMCA with his arms on the stage last year at Fuzzy Zoeller's party near Louisville, getting heaved into the pool and ending up, still soaked, in a bar where he stayed almost till dawn. That was David buying a Lucite crucifix for Puggy and one for himself.
Funny, when he finally could buy the Lamborghini, he didn't. Maybe he will one day, perhaps if he wins the Masters this week, or maybe he won't. Somehow it doesn't matter so much anymore.
Just when Tiger Woods was supposed to put a choke hold on the Tour, there was David in 1998, leading in victories, with four, wrapping up the Vardon Trophy as the golfer with the lowest scoring average and the title of the Tour's leading money winner. When the presentations were made, no one saw the tears behind the wraparound sunglasses. But they were there.
He stood on the tee box of the 18th hole at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic on a Sunday not three months ago. Suddenly history was offering itself to him. If he could eagle this hole, he would become the third PGA golfer ever to shoot a 59, the first to do it in the crucible of a final round. The gallery fell silent.
There was a flash of graphite and cast titanium, a 320-yard drive singing down the fairway. A flash of stainless steel, another approach shot falling like a pearl on crushed velvet, six feet from the hole. He studied the putt. If he nailed it, he would most likely win the tournament after starting the day seven strokes back, continuing the hottest tear the Tour had seen in years—at week's end he had won four of the eight Tour events he had entered in 1999, including the last two, and 11 of his last 34 starts—and everyone would acknowledge it: He's the best golfer in the world, the likeliest to dominate the next decade. If he nailed it, his name and his face and his story would leave the realm of the country club and become the property of cabdrivers and diner waitresses and toll-booth cashiers. His insides shook, yet that seemed to be just fine. He stepped over the ball and pulled back his putter, and before the ball was even in the hole he pumped his fist once, twice, and then he was slapping five with his caddie, but that wasn't enough, so he just kept flinging that fist into the sky, sending tingles through the people who cared about him and had waited so long to see something like this pour out of him—and then the emotions zigzagged, and he couldn't find them.
He lay awake in bed all that night, unable to sleep, trying to feel what he felt. Finally he got there. "Humbled," he said. "I just felt humbled."