Heres a recipe we havent seen before: one Nike GV jet, four cities in 48 hours, three PGA TOUR stars - Tiger Woods, David Duval and Jason Gore - a number of key Nike Golf executives, five print journalists, one television reporter (me) and the launch of two new Nike drivers. Mix thoroughly. The result? Nikes Whistle Stop Tour (WST); a media junket extravaganza that, even by Nike standards, is unprecedented.
The assignment given to me by The Golf Channel ' create a reporters first person video journal of the trip. Roll tape as much as possible. When in doubt shoot first, beg for forgiveness later. And, oh yeah, interview Woods, Duval and Gore. This was going to be fun.
The interview with Tiger in Los Angeles went off without a hitch. Tiger went his way and we, the Nike WST participants, went our way. The way was east; with David Duval comfortably onboard Nikes GV we jetted towards Phoenix, Arizona and the TPC Scottsdale. While our lovely stewardess Allison put out a tasty lunch of fresh sandwiches, salad, fruit and beverages I took the opportunity to chat with the worlds former No. 1.
Casey: So, David, no matter what it looks like, no matter what it sounds like, if the ball goes straighter and longer thats a good thing?
Duval: That is all good. That is good. And I think the progression of all clubs over the years ' drivers, irons, fairway woods and more recently hybrids ' the science is coming in to play more and more. The demand or insistence that golf clubs must be traditional looking is gone, I thinkthats out the window now. Just like the days of the wound golf ballthose days are over. I think when you can innovate like Nike has with the Sumo and Sumo people are going to be very open to using this new gear.
Casey: We probably see the most radical shape geometries being employed in drivers, right?
Duval: I would certainly agree with that. I think people are open to just about anything that is going to help them hit the ball longer and straighter; and TOUR professionals, for the most part, are no exception to that. I think with irons people might be a little more apt to stick to what they know ' what they are used to ' but with drivers, I really think the gloves are off at this point. You know for me, when it comes to irons, I dont really need help getting the ball up because I am generating a fair amount of club head speed. So even if the rough is up or I dont have a great lie I am still going to be able to catch it solid. But with amateurs, I can completely understand why hybrids and game improvement irons are so attractive. I think for average players ' and were even seeing a lot of it on the professionals TOURS the last few years ' hybrids are a great addition to just about any golf bag.
Casey: Looking at your own game for a moment, are you a numbers guy ' launch monitor, spin rates, launch conditions ' or are you more of a feel player? If the ball flies the way you want it to thats your barometer?
Duval: I am most definitely not a guy who is fixated on the numbers. I think I check the numbers from time to time to make sure I am not way off the mark in terms of how my equipment is set up for me. But I get my feedback mainly from seeing how the ball is flying and if it is going where I want it to go. I also really just feel it through my swing and through my hands and body. But, you know, if I want to compare a couple of clubs side-by-side I will get on the launch monitor and see what the numbers say. But, you know, having hit enough golf balls over the years I have a fairly good idea of what it should look like in the air and how it should react when it lands to be performing well.
Casey: My sources in Nikes Tour Department tell me you still prefer a little bit of a lower launch angle off your driver than the launch monitor indicates is optimal. Hard to teach an old dog new tricks?
Duval: (laughs) You could certainly say that. The one thing I have been reluctant to do is get my launch angle up to where the people at Nike want me to. I like to see the ball come off the driver a little lower than what the launch monitor numbers say is optimal and even though its hard to argue with science its also hard to break my instincts of what I want the ball to fly like. Theyve worked on me the last few years and Ive allowed the launch angle to come up a little bit but I cant quite let them get me all the way up to the 12 degrees they are looking for.
Casey: In the last ten years Nike has gone from having no position in the golf industry to being considered a leader in golf and youve certainly been a big part of their success. Has it been interesting for you see this growth happen?
Duval: Oh, its been very interesting. Youre not just dealing with a golf brand youre dealing with one of the biggest brands in the world of any industryof any business. And Ive been involved early enough ' the last five, six, seven years ' to feel like I was in on the ground floor. And certainly as a guy who makes my living playing golf I place a lot of faith in the people at Nike Golf. The people that design and build the balls and clubs, I think they know how important what they do is because they are basically placing their vision of technology in my hands and telling me this is the best stuff out there and you can go out and win with it. The route that they are trying to take in golf technologywell, I dont see anybody around Nike following other companies, I see Nike leading what other companies do. And so I am excited to see what Nike Golf has done over the last ten years and I think its going to be exciting to see where they go in the future.
Casey: David, you are oh so closeI mean right there on the cusp of where you want to be again. Can you taste it?
Duval: I really think I can. You know, part of me was sad to see the 06 season come to an end because I was getting close. But at the same time I dont think I was really getting anything out of my golf either. I mean, virtually every day I teed it up I more or less posted the highest score I could post even though I was actually hitting the ball very well. But at the end of the year I was playing so, so well that that was exciting. And with those thoughts in mind I was quite happy to see 06 behind me, get rested and get in a good frame of mind and come out well in the 07 season.
Casey: Are you ever surprised or taken aback when you realize just how many millions and millions of people ' people you have never met and who most likely have never met you ' root for you to win again?
Duval: Its nice, isnt it? And yes, I really have felt that. And Ive certainly been asked why I think that is. And, you know, the only thing I can think of is that people saw me at the top and they have certainly seen me at the bottom and through it all I have always said what I thought was the truth ' what was really on my mind ' and I think people enjoy hearing from their athletes what they really thinkwhats really in their heartsand not that kind of safe, stock answer you get so often. So maybe thats why people are still pulling for me to do well. And also, people just like an underdog and they like comebacks. So I hope I can make them cheer again.
We arrived at TPC Scottsdale right on schedule and David Duval did in fact receive a very warm round of cheers from people who had come out to watch him hit the new Sumo and Sumo drivers.
Golf fans, let me do my best to try and explain what its like to stand ten feet away from David Duval when he lets driver rip on a wide open driving range. The ground shakes, trees bend and small children run for cover. The explosion of force as club head impacts golf ball sounds like heavy artillery fire. Jaws drop and eyeballs pop wide open. The ball goes, and goes, and goes and then goes some more. Duvals swingseemingly effortless and in perfect balanceis as comfortable as slipping in to an old pair of loafers. How he does it I can not begin to tell you. I can tell you watching David Duval hit driver is a sight to behold.
We were all sorry to say goodbye to David but quite pleased to be joined by another of Nikes big bombers, Jason Gore. Jason would fly with us the next morning to New York City and the financial district where he would put on an exhibition of his own. But, not before dinner on this lovely Scottsdale night. You think Jason Gore can play golf, you should see him eat!