I’ve always liked David Duval. I know people have said he’s aloof and distant. He’s described himself as “quiet and reserved.” That might have been his personality as a golfer and it worked for him.
Working for the Golf Channel, Duval is the best analyst on television. Not just the best golf analyst, the best analyst, period. John Smoltz is good on baseball. Eddie Olczyk is good on hockey. Troy Aikman is good on football. Duval is really good on golf.
Much like his heyday as a player, being No. 1 in the world and the only player who Tiger Woods admitted got his attention on the leaderboard, Duval is fearless as a broadcaster.
And that’s not easy to do.
As a player you can insulate yourself inside the ropes. You can be distant with fans and the media. You can wear Oakley wraparounds to help keep everybody out. And you can lose yourself in the game. (BTW, those glasses originally were used to cut down the pollen in his eyes when he wore hard contacts in college.)
If you want to be any good at television though, you have to be authentic, actually yourself, not acting like yourself.
We see it every day when we watch television. Some people have it, others don’t. Duval is fearless on TV in a way that’s rare: He’s prepared, has an opinion, and if you disagree with him, it’s OK. You’re not going to change his mind.
If you’re authentic on television, when you walk into a room full of people, only you know that all of those people in the room know the real you. And all of those people watching on TV know the real you. And without a certain level of confidence and preparedness, that can be terrifying. Duval never revealed that as a player. Now, he does it every time he appears on television.
While he still thinks of himself as a golfer and a player who can compete, Duval is a television analyst of the best kind.
“I think it’s the rare person who is 40 to 55 years old who doesn’t think of themselves as a golfer still. That’s how I view it,″ he said. “That’s how I go about it when I analyze something.”
Unlike with golf, he was good almost immediately on television. It took him two years to win his first tournament in college. It took him a while to get used to the week-to-week grind of professional golf. But once he did, he was dominant. We texted a few times when he started on the Golf Channel, exchanging some ideas and a few tips I had picked up over the years in front of the camera. But it was easy to see he was going to succeed.
“There is a difference in being critical and being mean. Critical is fine. Mean is not,” Duval told the Global Golf Post about being on television.
One thing Duval always seemed to have is perspective. Even at a young age he looked at things differently. Some of that came from the loss of his older brother Brent. That tragedy for the Duval family has been well-documented. But David has always seen things from a different angle.
As comfortable with Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” as he would be with a beer and a sports magazine in his playing days, Duval’s smarts go beyond golf. And that’s essential to be able to sit there and talk without a script (ad-lib is the TV term). A view from 30,000 feet as well as an intimate knowledge of the subject allows Duval to speak with authority. Not act like an authority, but be an authority.
“He’s good because he has good knowledge,” Nick Faldo a six-time major champion and now the lead analyst on CBS, has said about Duval. “Players who have really felt it, not just played it or walked the walk, the players who have really felt it – and he’s felt both the big climb to get to No. 1 and that story and that phenomenal run of wins and gets a major and then for whatever reason went on a different walk of life – he can add an awful lot of golf life experience to it.”
I first met David before he got to high school. His dad Bob was the pro at Plantation and invited me out to play with the two of them. Needless to say, even that young, David was an impressive player. Long, straight, great touch, it was clear he was going to be special.
He got to the top of the game and instead of enjoying it, he found it isolating.
“Some guy asked me about Bosnia,” he once said to me after a press conference. “Just because I’m ranked No. 1. They didn’t care what I thought when I was No. 2,” he said shaking his head.
Now 46 years old, he played in The Open Championship this week at Carnoustie as a past Champion Golfer of the Year. Once you win The Open, you can play there each year until you’re 60. He shot 80 in the first round on Thursday and withdrew.
I will admit David gave me the sporting thrill of a lifetime 10 years ago at the Masters.
“Who’s caddying for you in the Par 3 at Augusta,” I said to David one day at his house when he was near the top of his game.
“You are,” he answered with a laugh. And sure enough that year I was on the bag Wednesday of Masters week. (There’s a full accounting of that day on samsportsline.com)
We had two memorable exchanges that day; one was on the first tee.
“Two rules,” David said as he pulled a club from his bag. “Keep up and don’t lean on the putter.”
On the 8th tee David grabbed 9-iron out of the bag. “It’s wedge,” I said. “I don’t think so, the pin is all the way back,” he quickly responded. And promptly hit the ball in the water behind the green.
“I guess it was wedge,” he said with an easy laugh and a bow to the crowd. That gave everybody a glimpse of the David Duval we now see on golf broadcasts.
At some point Duval is going to move off the Golf Channel and into Johnny Miller’s chair as the lead analyst on NBC’s coverage of golf.
I’ve seen Duval first-hand play golf as the best player in the world. Now we all get to see him as the best analyst on television.