Is it me, or is David Duval turning into Charlie Croker, the
protagonist in one of his favorite books, Tom Wolfe's A Man in
Full? Duval, like his fictional counterpart, is a onetime
Georgia Tech star, and like Croker he is facing a personal and
professional crisis in the shadows of Atlanta. Duval hasn't won
a tournament in more than a year--since the '99 BellSouth
Classic outside Atlanta--and a few weeks ago he traveled down
the road to Augusta and blew the Masters for the third straight
year. More jarring than Duval's performance was his comportment.
Two days before the tournament, he capped months of outspoken
obsessing about the Masters by saying, "This is my tournament to
win or lose," a shocking breach of conduct for the most reserved
of players. The brashness of Duval's prediction is reminiscent
of Croker's preening arrogance in the face of financial ruin.
That is only the beginning of their similarities. Like Croker, a
rural Georgian out of place in the fake, flashy world of
Atlanta's high society, Duval, in his six years on Tour, has
rarely seemed comfortable. The introverted Duval often speaks
with a bluntness that's off-putting in this sound-bite-driven
world. Duval claims to want the burdens of being a top player,
but he has yet to prove he can handle them. Hoping to blend in,
Croker took on a trophy wife and an overdecorated mansion in
Buckhead. Duval has opted for trying to project a kinder,
gentler image. He underwent a session of IMG-sponsored media
training and appeared in a series of television commercials that
gave him a chance to put his dry wit on display. But Duval's new
high-gloss sheen cracked in the glare of the spotlight at the
Masters, and he reverted to his mediaphobic ways.
Following his second-round 65 at Augusta, Duval turned prickly
when asked a benign question about his relations with the press.
"I'm sorry I don't give you a highlight reel all the time," he
said, when in fact he had just played what would turn out to be
the low round of the tournament by two strokes. "I've always
believed when people ask me a question, they want an answer, not
a story. I'm sorry to disappoint you. Maybe we'll try again
On Sunday, Duval was asked about the five-iron shot he hit into
the creek at 13, which was not unlike the four-iron he dumped
into the pond at 11 during the final round of the '99 Masters,
which, in turn, stirred memories of '98, when he was leading the
tournament by three strokes with three holes to play before a
three-putt at the 16th hole opened the door for Mark O'Meara.
This time Duval was churlish and sullen in the face of
relentless prodding, and as he squirmed, it was hard not to
think of poor Charlie Croker being raked over the coals by the
bankers to whom he owed millions.
As part of his preparation for this Masters, Duval remade his
physique to the point where he brings to mind the powerfully
built Croker, the "Sixty-Minute Man," a former two-way gridiron
star so enamored of his muscles that he struts around like a
peacock in full feather. Physical armor, however, can't hide the
insecurities, doubts and fears that lurk within. Despite his
accomplishments, is it possible that Duval is really a loser at
heart? He endured nearly three winless years at the outset of
his Tour career, replete with numerous final-round horror shows.
The burst of 11 victories in 18 months that followed was an
awesome unleashing of pent-up will and frustration, but Duval
now looks less like that player than the overwhelmed youngster
of so many lost Sundays.
At the end of A Man in Full, Croker finds peace with the
guidance of an escaped con spouting philosophy from an ancient
text. Duval has turned to an equally unlikely source: sports
psychologist Bob Rotella. Duval has always been a lone wolf,
scornful of outsiders, especially the shrinks and swing doctors
who have befuddled so many players. For Duval to lean heavily on
Rotella is either an expansion in his thinking or, more likely,
a measure of his desperation.
Duval has read enough books to know that not every story has a
tidy ending. Once upon a time the most impervious player in
golf, Duval seems, more than ever, a man unfulfilled.
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK
The 11 wins in 18 months was awesome, but Duval now looks less
like that player than the overwhelmed youngster of so many lost