Publish date:

Eye Opener David Duval, a special player, got what could be a special season off to a spectacular start

In the end, he allowed himself only the faintest of grins, and
it betrayed none of the self-satisfaction you would expect from
someone who had just seen his dream realized. On Sunday
afternoon in Maui, as David Duval was coasting to his
nine-stroke victory at the Mercedes Championships, the week's
other big winner could be found slouched in front of a TV in a
corner of the press room, seemingly just another guy sporting a
bad Hawaiian shirt and a sunburn. Tim Finchem, the PGA Tour's
commissioner, has always been known for working behind the
scenes, and even in his finest hour he was content to hang out
far from the spotlight. As Duval rapped in one final birdie
putt, Finchem reached for a victory drink. It was bottled water,
not champagne, but the moment was intoxicating enough for
Finchem to momentarily lose his inhibitions. "This," he said
grandly, "is the start of a new era."

Call it the More Tour, because that's what the PGA Tour is all
about in 1999--more tournaments, more TV, more money, more hype
and, apparently, a lot more Duval. "He is the right player at
the right time," said Finchem. The NBA did not rise to
prominence on highlights of Steve Kerr's shooting
three-pointers, just as baseball's renaissance was not sparked
by Chuck Knoblauch's legging out bunt singles. To be a player in
the world of big-time sports you need star power and firepower,
and over the past 15 months Duval, 27, has supplied both. The
victory was his eighth in his last 27 starts, and even given
that frequency, it was a stunner. He bombed the 7,263-yard
Plantation Course at Kapalua into submission, hitting 55 of 60
fairways, and came within two strokes of the Tour's 72-hole
scoring record of 28 under par. Duval was so overwhelming that
by last Saturday evening Tiger Woods was pleading for a shot a
side. (Given that charity over the entire tournament, Woods, who
tied for fifth, still would have finished three strokes in

It was a prime-time performance, carried live across the country
four nights in a row, thanks to the Tour's new TV package, which,
among other things, increases ESPN's coverage by 45% in '99. In
this year of purse hyperinflation (from $94.1 million in '98 to
nearly $132 million), Duval's victory was worth $468,000. (He
also scored a stylish Mercedes convertible, which he thoughtfully
gave to his longtime girlfriend, Julie McArthur.) Considering
Duval is playing six of the eight events on the West Coast swing,
some wags are already predicting that he'll win $3 million this
season--by the U.S. Open. "He's going crazy out here," said Mark

"He's kicking everybody's butt," said Woods. "Including mine."

Fred Couples called Duval "our best player." According to Davis
Love III, "It's not even close."

Duval acts as if he's allergic to superlatives, yet even he
seemed to grasp the ramifications of his victory. Pressed on
whether he is ready to assume the burden of being golf's poster
boy in this most crucial of seasons, Duval said, "I'm not afraid
of it. I welcome the opportunity if it really is my turn. I
don't look at it as a burden; I look at it as my obligation."
Duval is also self-aware enough to know that no matter how much
he outplays Woods, his rival will remain a powerful marketing
tool. "Tiger will always help carry the banner because he has a
broader appeal than I do," says Duval. "I'm just a blond-haired,
blue-eyed stereotypical PGA Tour golfer."

Duval's bluntness is welcome, but he thinks this quality is part
of the reason people have misconceptions about him. When he came
onto the scene in 1995, following a record-setting career at
Georgia Tech and an apprenticeship on the Nike tour, he was
dismissed by some as just another goateed, snowboarding Gen X
rebel plastered with Tommy Hilfiger logos. Hiding behind his
mirrored sunglasses as if they were the tinted windows of a
limousine, he had a remote, icy presence that was amplified by
his studied lack of emotion on the course. Even Duval's
oft-noted Ayn Rand fixation worked against him; there are few
authors more canonical for intellectual poseurs. The rub has
been so hard to shake that last week one writer asked Duval,
"Just for the record, you are a nice guy, aren't you?"

The answer is an unequivocal yes. Duval is unfailingly polite,
which speaks to his Southern roots, as does his soft drawl. When
he steps on the course, Duval says, "my goal is to conduct
myself as a professional, a champion and a gentleman." Only
later does he say anything about playing decent golf. He's so
lacking in pretense that during interviews he often folds one
leg under the other, like a kindergartner during story time.
Last week he spoke enthusiastically about sneaking views from
the course of whales frolicking off the coast and surfers
getting tubed in Honolua Bay and of his retirement plans, which
are "to open a bookstore-coffee shop and go fishing."

The goatee has been retired, the sunglasses sufficiently
explained (Duval has astigmatism in one eye and is sensitive to
light), but "I think people would be surprised to know how fun
David is to hang out with," says Phil Mickelson, who teamed with
Duval in three matches at last month's Presidents Cup (all
losses, it must be said). "He's a pretty relaxed guy, whether
it's playing pool, watching football or playing golf." On the
way from his home in Jacksonville to the Mercedes, Duval stopped
off at Mickelson's place in Scottsdale, Ariz., and they attended
the Fiesta Bowl. On the morning of their flight to Maui, they
teed it up at Mickelson's home course, Grayhawk Golf Club. Not
surprisingly, Duval threw a little 29 at Mickelson on the back
nine to sweep all the bets. "Just let it be known I got it all
back at the gin table," says Mickelson.

In fact, he did better than that. At the Fiesta Bowl, Duval
backed Florida State, and as a result of that misclub has to
treat Mickelson to a week of skiing sometime in the future.
(Duval left Maui for Sun Valley, Idaho, for some snowboarding,
but only Julie was accompanying him on that trip.) "Phil's been
looking through the Robb Report," says Duval. "He found some
mansion at the base of Aspen Mountain that's like $7,000 a
night. It's going to be a short trip if we stay there."

Something tells us Duval will be able to swing the rent.
Consider: The Mercedes' $2.6 million purse was bigger than that
of all but six of last year's events--the four majors, the Players
Championship and the Tour Championship--and that largesse was for
a field of only 30, limited to last season's tournament winners.

The ravenous corporate climate that has brought in this kind of
money has left some casualties, including a silly season event
known as the Kapalua International. "It's a different
environment now," says Finchem. "Every stroke matters this
week." Duval, at least, seemed to think so. One shot out of the
lead after an opening 67, he basically won the tournament on
Friday with a 10-birdie, no-bogey 63 on the par-73 course. He
hit 15 of 15 fairways and all 18 greens, averaged more than 300
yards on his drives and used 28 putts. Duval put an exclamation
point on the round at the downhill, downwind, downgrain,
663-yard par-5 18th hole, which he reached in two from 322 yards
out. He was so far away from the green that before his second
shot he didn't bother to get the yardage. "It doesn't matter,"
he told his caddie. "It's a three-wood." After two-putting for
birdie, his lead was five shots, and it never dipped below four
on the weekend. Duval's domination was so complete that the only
thing left to debate was which part of his game is the strongest.

Love called Duval "the best iron player in the game." Fred Funk
called him "the best long straight driver." Brandel Chamblee said
Duval "makes more clutch putts than anybody else out here."

"His greatest asset," said O'Meara, who tied with Billy Mayfair
for second, "is his composure."

Even Finchem threw in his two cents worth. After extolling
Duval's play, he added, "He's very popular with young people.
That's extremely valuable from a marketing standpoint."

Yes, the Tour truly has entered a new era, in which a player's
game and Q rating are discussed in the same breath.


COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK Things are looking up Players like Woods transformed Kapalua from a silly season staple into a star-studded shootout. [Tiger Woods hitting shot before spectators]

COLOR CHART [Chart not available--line graph comparing prize money in PGA Tour, Senior tour, and LPGA form 1985 through 1999 (estimated)]

No Comparison

Prize money on all three U.S. pro tours is growing, but the rate
of increase is much faster on the PGA than on the Senior and LPGA
Purses (in millions) [1999 estimate]

Senior tour 131.7
PGA Tour 50.0
LPGA 36.2