Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Coming Home

I’ve been on vacation for the past couple of weeks with my family. We spent some time in Ireland and Greece, seeing the countryside, looking at the Olympic sites in Athens and visiting Ikaria, the island where my father’s family is from. Leaving the country always gives people a different perspective upon returning. In fact, it used to be an American tradition to live outside of the States just to get a different view of the world. Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams all spent years abroad while remaining resolutely in favor of life in America.

Sports wise, my trip coincided with the first couple weeks of Euro 2004, the quadrennial match up of the top European soccer teams in a World Cup format. Anytime a team competes under the banner of it’s national flag there’s going to be a swell of support. But soccer, or as everybody else calls it, football, brings out a passion that can’t be found anywhere else. Both England and Greece were in the tournament, and both advanced out of pool play to the quarterfinals. When that happened, you’d have thought they declared a national holiday in Greece. They took to the streets and partied until dawn. (Not unlike they do on most days, but this time they at least seemed to have a reason!)

It’s very rare that we have a chance to all root for the same team, under the Stars and Stripes, perhaps the last time was the 1980 Olympic Hockey Team. So it was fun to watch the news coverage and read the reams and reams of newspaper coverage about a 90 minute game. Every shopkeeper, every clerk, every taxi driver, in fact, everybody was up for a conversation about their team in both England and Greece. I felt a tinge of jealousy when it came to their communal fan spirit. It’d be nice to have something like that here again. Anytime we have a big event, fans are split. Our national teams aren’t competitive in many of the “international’ sports, and soccer is still developing. I say that because our best athletes are not choosing soccer because there’s not enough money in it. What if our national team in the last World Cup had Michael Jordan at center midfield, Deion Sanders on one wing, Barry Sanders on the other, Cal Ripken as the stopper and Kevin Garnett in goal? Think they would have been any good? That’s what other countries have, their best athletes play on their national soccer team. Even with 280 million people in this country, when your best soccer players are not your best athletes, you’re going to get beat on the international stage.

I was able to just sit and listen on many occasions to people’s opinions about the United States. Everybody has an opinion, and it seems that they want to give it to you, well, ‘cause you’re “a Yank.” Just like with anything, some people love us, some people hate us. The one thread that ran through all of the people who wanted to tell me how bad America is was their lack of information. I was amazed at how ill-informed so many people were about everyday life in the States. The communication system abroad is not like ours. You can be in a remote spot, and have satellite television, but only get a couple of channels. Between that and the radio, your knowledge of anywhere outside your village is pretty narrow. So I sat politely many times, listening to what’s wrong with America, only to pose the question at the end, ‘Have you every been to the States?” I’d always get the same answer, “No, but.” And I’d stop them right there. “You should visit,” I’d say, “You’d find many things about America that you’d like.” And with that, the conversation usually turned to something else. But after I gave that answer a few times, I realized that in a small way, I was using that old line “Our diversity is our greatest strength.” And it’s an old line, because it’s true. If you were to come to America from say, Greece, you’d find it so vast and varied that you couldn’t help but find somewhere and some people you liked.

I know I’m not breaking any new ground here, but the view of our country from that distance is very different. Every other country has it’s own infighting, but not quite as out in the open as here. (Except for England where everything is plastered on the front of the tabloids.) My son got a bit frustrated with one of the people who were running down America and blurted out, “Look, I support my country and until yours is perfect, leave mine alone.” Pretty good for a 13-year old I thought. You may not support the war in Iraq, or you might not like what’s happening with Medicare, and there’s a lot of other things people don’t agree on here in the States, but I promise you, we’ve got the best thing going.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Duval’s Return

I spent a few hours over a couple of days with David Duval last week. I was glad to see him since he’s faded out of the picture over the last few months. Duval was married in March and moved to Denver with his new wife and their three children. Denver, you might ask? Not exactly the place to work on your game in the off season. But Duval isn’t worried too much about his game, or appears not too worried, and that’s OK.

Having known David for the better part of twenty years, (here’s where I drop into my “sage old grizzled veteran role”) I’ve watched his development as a player, and also as a person. From junior golfer at Timiquana and the Plantation, to collegiate star at Georgia Tech, to a hiccup joining the PGA Tour, to bonafide Tour star, David was singularly focused on a goal: see how good he could be. Not to become the best player in the world, but to see how good he could be. Turns out, that quest did lead him to a number one ranking and a major championship at The Open. But David is a smart guy, a very smart guy, and the win at the Open, while gratifying as a payoff for hard work, was not satisfying as an end all-be all achievement. And it affected his motivation. What other mountains were there to climb? Throw in an emotional breakup with his long time girlfriend and a variety of injuries that changed his swing, and all of the sudden, David couldn’t break an egg.

For so many athletes, they keep pounding away, trying to find the answers, only to become more and more frustrated. But most do that because that’s all they know. Duval is much different. Golf is just one of the things he knows and exploring the other parts of his life is as important to him as anything he could achieve in golf. Those couple of days I spent with David were enlghtening for me and for a lot of us who’ve known him for a long time (there I go again.) He’s as happy as I’ve ever seen him. He’s content, he’s centered. That arms length, aloofness he displayed in public has been replaced by a genuine warmth, complete with a straight look in the eye and a smile.

Duval’s travails in life have been well documented, and they shaped his personality. So it would make sense that two very positive things, marriage and kids, would also shape his personality. When I asked him the standard newlywed question “How’s married life treating you?” He grinned ear to ear and said, “Awesome!”

His step-children, two boys and a girl from 13 down to 8 years old, are attached to him as if he’s been around their whole lives. He talks to his kids with that combination of love, tenderness and authority that can’t be taught. I know he’s only been married for a couple of months, but he and his wife certainly seem like a match.

I didn’t ask him when he’d play again, but just about everybody else did. He didn’t really have an answer, except something vague about when he’s ready. Which is perfect. Money is not a problem, and even though his sponsors, (Nike, Oakley et al) are running a little thin on patience, Duval isn’t about to step back into professional golf until he’s ready. He looks healthy, more healthy than he has when he’s on a strict diet and exercise regime. He’s committed to the U.S. Open, but it’s doubtful he’ll play there. Even the (British) Open Championship might not get him back. David and his father, Senior PGA Tour player Bob Duval, are scheduled to play in Johnny Miller’s Father-Son Tournament in August and it could be until then before David returns to competition. Don’t be surprised if he returns to the Tour at the International, outside his current home, Denver, also in August. But don’t worry about David. He’s just fine. In fact, he’s better than that.