Duval and Atlanta

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I feel like Im part of the game now, David Duval said simply, reflecting on his triumph at Royal Lytham and St. Annes.
 
Having waited for the rival to Tiger to emerge, fans in the aftermath of the Open Championship may have wanted to hear some fiery oration from Duval to stir our inner Lombardi about a desire to be No. 1.
 
Its not a concern, he said plainly. Ive always said that as long as I do the best that I can do, then thats OK. Number 1 comes with great play and Ive been there. But its not some place Im trying to get to.
 
Focused on the process and not the destination. Adherent to a plan for long-term golfing success that was in evidence even when Duval was a freshman at Georgia Tech.
 
He had the mind of a 25-year-old when he first came, remembers his college coach, Puggy Blackmon. He was so far advanced mentally.
 
Emotionally, though, David took time to shake the residue from his parents painful divorce, a result, in part, of the death of Davids older brother. When David was nine, he was the bone marrow donor for his 12-year-old brother Brent, who would eventually lose his battle with aplastic anemia. At Tech, he was not one of the guys. Golf was the perfect solitary exercise.
 
Some eight years after Georgia Tech, Duval is seemingly more at peace than ever. Does he thirst for a victory at the PGA Championship any more intensely because it was once his collegiate home? Here again, Duval is typically candid rather than predictably hyped, politely dismissing the more romantic theme that has the conquering hero returning to Atlanta.
 
Id like to say yes, he said when asked if it meant more. But the answer is no. I couldnt want it any more just because its in Atlanta. Its the PGA and I want to win it no matter where its played.
 
As a collegian, Duval offered a harbinger of what would come years later. He lead the 1992 BellSouth Classic by two strokes after 54 holes before closing in 79 to finish 13th. Seven years later, Duval won that tournament, the last victory in an astonishing 11-win romp over a less than two-year period which carried Duval to No. 1 in the world.

Because Duval experienced a torrent of success in such a compressed period, people may have assumed it had always come easily. But in reality hes been more of a steady ladder climber, a grinder unlike more recent, blast-onto-the-scene types like Tiger, David Gossett and Charles Howell, all of whom left school early and successfully. Davids put in his time. After four years at Tech, he endured 31 events on the Buy.Com Tour, then seven second-place finishes on the PGA Tour before he shifted to Formula One mode, and then 26 major championship appearances where he pushed but couldnt prevail.
 
Until Lytham. The breakthrough held great meaning for those in Duvals inner circle.
 
For me, the best way I can relate it, mused Blackmon, still his coach today, is that it was like waiting for the birth of your first child. Youve got so much anticipation and you want it to go smoothly and when it finally happens, its such a relief. Davids worked so hard.
 

If they ever made a movie about Duval, Sean Penn would be a good choice to play the lead. Beyond the facial similarity, neithers easy to read, with an edgy quality which keeps you slightly off balance and with a hint, not necessarily by design, of unapproachable aloofness. Duval unwittingly oozes movie star mystery. Of course, under the scrutiny which accompanies modern athletic fame, a person might naturally put up a wall.
 
Tigers wall, it could be argued, is Jordanesque friendly, painted with his smiling face that skillfully sells cars and credit cards to all of America.
 
Duval is not nearly as orchestrated.
 
I like Davids approach, offers Billy Andrade. Hes going to tell you honestly what he thinks. And if you dont like him, he doesnt really care.
 
If speaking honestly qualifies as somehow hard to get a handle on, Duvals quite comfortable with who he is. And there really is no great mystery. Raised in Jacksonville, he likes to fish. He likes to snowboard. Hes reputedly well-read, having consumed 31 books in his rookie season alone. A Golf World article four years ago reported his favorite novel as Ayn Rands The Fountainhead, the story of an unconventional young architect. David Duval also possesses an immense talent for hitting golf shots like few people in the world.
 
And if people were thirsting for some humanity from Duval, he gave it to them in a warm display at Lytham after he had shot 65-67 on the weekend and after television had signed off.
 
If people were hungry for validation of what they believed his talent to be, he gave that to them as well.
 
But he did it simply because thats who HE is, not because thats who WE want him to be.
 
David Duval turns 30 this November. Hell marry before years end. His plan, rooted in the process hes now proven will work, is fully realizing itself. Along the way, hes discovered in dealing with the loss of a brother that lifes not always fair.
 
Hes discovered that this game is not a matter of life or death. I think I realized, he told the press after his British Open victory, that this is just a silly old game.
 
Hes discovered that if No. 1's not a place he yearns to be, Tiger is a player he CAN beat.
 
I think hes proven day in and day out hes the best player, Duval said. But then, without hesitating, he added, But I can beat Tiger.
 
Ultimately, Duvals now discovered his place in the sport. And he seems to really appreciate where that is.
 
I dont know where Ill go down in history, he said. But I know Im part of the history now. My names on that Claret Jug and thats something that wont change.
 
If Duval should win in Atlanta this week - and theres no reason he shouldnt contend on a golf course well-suited to the big hitters - then the game is really on. Duval will have won two straight majors, and Tiger will finally have somebody he can see in his rearview mirror.