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Duval has plenty of personality

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By HUBERT MIZELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 9, 2000


AUGUSTA, Ga. -- David Duval lacks the quick, cuddly charm of Fred Couples, Ernie Els or Arnold Palmer. His golf-course smile falls megawatts shy of Tiger Woods, Greg Norman or Phil Mickelson.

Still, in assessing today's birdie barons, it's a cold shank to characterize the Masters contender from Florida as dull, robotic, defiant, lukewarm or hard to like.

Double-D can be a fooler.

If, by meteorological fortune, I were marooned for a weekend, trapped by snowdrifts in some mountain chalet, me and a half-dozen contemporary PGA celebrities, knowing that talk surely would evolve into subjects beyond their sport, my choices might well be Jeff Sluman, Colin Montgomerie, Paul Azinger, Nick Price, Woods and Duval.

Surprised?

As interesting as it may be to debate graphite shafts with Hal Sutton or discuss shoulder turn with Bernhard Langer or assess Stimpmeter readings with Jim Furyk, don't you think it would get old to have golf-only tete-a-tetes for three days?

It would be good, trapped on a frozen mountainside, to be with people who have worldly curiosity, a strong awareness of current events, a deep clue about history, an appreciation for skills beyond their own arena, plus solid senses of humor.

Duval qualifies with ease.

His public demeanor may not suggest semesters spent in charm school. Not being superficial, that's a good thing. Listen to David's voice and there can be a hint of tin. So who's he supposed to be, James Earl Jones?

The deeper I plow into Duval the total human, the more I like this rawboned golfer from the Jacksonville seaside suburb of Ponte Vedra who is globally outranked only by Woods.

Double-D can become confused and perplexed by media scrutiny. It happens to many athletes as they play on an ever-expanding stage. Reporters find David's personality difficult to penetrate. He is quiet. Guarded. Less than glib in news conferences. A bit suspicious.

During a Saturday rain delay, Duval sat beside Norman in a lunch room. "I work hard," David said. "I'm pretty good at what I do. I think I'm respectful. I try to be courteous. I'm not a drinker or a smoker. You won't hear me using foul language. Aren't these things that can help make you an okay fellow?"

So, when Double-D hears some character analyst, media or otherwise, suggesting that his personal persona is the equivalent of a blocked punt, the 28-year-old can take on a look that says, "What do I have to do?"

Understandable.

My suggestion to Bobby Duval's kid, for whatever it's worth, was to work at avoiding reactions to barbs, even if unfair, unless they become ridiculously personal. Proceeding with good cheer through a flood of plaudits, much as Palmer and Jack Nicklaus and Norman have done for so long. Over an extended haul, it becomes a far less bothersome journey.

"Every week now, so much is being made of my so-called new fitness habits," Duval said "Sure, I've dropped a few pounds, getting into better shape, but I'm a professional athlete, so I'm supposed to be fit. What's the big deal?"

Part of the 2000 look of Double-D are mock turtlenecks, a shirt style that is a departure from golf's established attire. Duval obviously has a deal with Mossimo, the glorified tee's manufacturer. Also, there is the mysterious flair of his wrap-around sunglasses.

On him, the mocks look good. Dress codes at a majority of country clubs disallow such a collarless shirt. Including at Augusta National Club. But, as principals marched toward today's Masters finish, with Duval trying to run down a Fijian freight train named Vijay Singh, nobody had taken the shirt off Double-D's back.

"Tony Jacklin won the British Open in 1969 with a collar smaller than yours," CBS analyst David Feherty told Duval. "If anyone bothers you, tell them to go boil their heads."

There was a PGA Tour caucus on the Duval look. Policy board members, polled three weeks ago at Bay Hill in Orlando, refused to ban the short-necked Mossimos.

There is more to David than CBS cameras are showing. He's one of brighter golfers. Four years at Georgia Tech contributed. David reads lots of thick, hardback books from something other than the sports shelf at Barnes and Noble. He converses nicely on geography, politics and finance.

Frankly, among today's PGA Tour heroes, there are plenty of gents who consume no literature more challenging than Golfweek. I wonder how many would guess that Bolshoi is a ballet company, not a hockey player.

Double-D has a different look for a golfer. Not stereotypical PGA Tour. That's no sin. Even if Duval's blond hair can appear styled by a weed whacker. If I were Bobby, and David were my son, I would raise an approving thumb.

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