As good as it gets – David Duval has a good swing

Guy Yocom

David Duval’s swing contains a quirk or two, but you can’t knock the results

The high-speed photos of David Duval hitting his driver that you see on the following pages were taken three days after he shot a final-round 59 to win the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. They show Duval at the very peak of his ability and explain his incredible power (he carries his 6.5-degree driver 265 yards, on average), uncanny accuracy and distance control (the longest birdie or eagle putt he made in his 59 was 10 feet) and terrific versatility (in early February he led in five PGA Tour statistical categories). To the untrained eye, Duval’s swing is a mesmerizing focal point and the primary reason he is one of the favorites to win the 1999 Masters.

Members of the Golf Digest Pro Panel and David’s father, Senior PGA Tour player Bob Duval, provide technical analysis of his unique method and explain how you can incorporate com-ponents of his swing into your game.

To a man, however, the panel members believe David’s full swing is but a supporting element of a much larger picture. They all point to the constellation of other important skills David has mastered since arriving on the PGA Tour in 1995. In many ways he is not the same golfer or even the same person he was when we first saw him in 1992, when as a brash junior at Georgia Tech he took a two-stroke lead into the final round of the BellSouth Classic, only to collapse and finish out of the top 10.

First, his technique: Aside from the usual bit of fine-tuning all golfers conduct on an ongoing basis, it has changed very little the last eight years. He’s always had that strong left-hand grip, a feature more in vogue today than ever before.

“David’s clubface is amazingly square through impact,” says David Leadbetter. “His clubface is closed at the top, the face pointing a bit toward the sky, which along with the strong grip would be a recipe for hooking for some players. But David works the club `under’ on the downswing, a bit like Lee Trevino, and that move can make a player incredibly accurate, especially with the irons.”

“I give his rhythm the greatest amount of credit,” says Hank Haney, Mark O’Meara’s coach. “You can develop a swing around great mechanics or great rhythm, and in David’s case his rhythm is his strongest suit. It helps him atone for days when his mechanics are off.”

Randy Smith, who coaches Justin Leonard, sees something along the same lines: “His rhythm is complemented by a softness in his arms that I love to see in a player. During the swing his arms look like ropes. They straighten beautifully, very naturally, on the downswing. His great impact position just seems to fall into place. He doesn’t force anything.”

Then there is the oddity of Duval’s head rising up through impact. “Isn’t it something that the two best players on the men’s and women’s tours — I’m also referring to Annika Sorenstam — don’t look at the ball at impact?” says Haney. “Teachers tell their students to keep their heads down, but you have to wonder how important that advice is, especially if you mean it literally.”

Duval’s short game and putting haven’t gone through any amazing transformation, either. His wedge play, chipping and putting have improved, but more through practice, experience and simple evolution than by mechanical revelation. “David is a beautiful wedge player,” says Puggy Blackmon, Duval’s college coach and a close friend. “He has a flat trajectory to his shots that allows him to control spin very well. And his imagination is underrated.”

So Duval’s mechanics are impressive. But his sensational breakthrough is more the result of an almost complete retooling of his emotional and physical makeup. By transforming his body, retraining his mind, altering his emotional outlook and revamping his strategic approach to playing, Duval allowed his powerful and accurate long game to bear fruit. It is a case of internal improvements producing external results.

It all began at that fateful BellSouth tournament in 1992. “David was out of shape in those days,” says Blackmon. “At Atlanta and many times after that, he ran out of gas on Sundays. He always was strong and flexible, but his conditioning wasn’t good. In college he couldn’t stay on the Versa Climber [an exercise machine] for five minutes. Something definitely had to give.”

“I’ll never forget the ’96 PGA Championship at Valhalla,” says Dr. Bob Rotella, who has counseled Duval since his college days. “It was 100 degrees there and David came to me and said, `Doc, I don’t think I want to play golf in August ever again. The heat is killing me. I feel like I’m dying out there.’ I told David he had a choice: He could try to play well early in the year and then take July and August off, or he could get in shape.”

So Duval began working out, blending aerobic and strength training exercises. He lost weight and increased his endurance. But it wasn’t easy. Says Chuck Cook: “David went at it hard. But he began developing what we call `dumb’ muscles — big, strong muscles, but not fast muscles, the kind you want for golf. He ran into problems for a while. Eventually he cut back on weight training during tournament weeks. That’s when it started blending better into his game.”

“No doubt about it, he got discouraged for a while,” says Rotella. “One time he came to me with serious doubts about what he was doing. `I’m thinking of changing my grip and stopping the workouts,’ he said. I told him, `David, that is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard in my life. If you change your grip or stop working out just because someone suggested it to you, I’ll kick your butt.’ My message to David was for him to stick with what he was doing, and the day would come when he would start winning. And when that happened people would start doing it his way.”

Duval kept the strong left-hand grip and kept working out. Then in the fall of 1997 it all began to pay off. He dominated the last part of the PGA Tour schedule and kept going, turning in that sensational year in 1998.

“David goes for 45 minutes on that Versa Climber now,” says Blackmon. “I can’t tell you how his conditioning spread into the rest of his game. He is more flexible than when he was in college — his swing is tighter, yet he takes the club back farther. And his stamina is so much better.”

The conditioning helped Duval swing the club better and made him more durable. That, in turn, in-creased his concentration and mental toughness. He also disposed of his fiery, cocky demeanor. He intensified his spirituality and became more patient and introspective. The wraparound shades that hide his eyes, the reluctance to smile, his mild comportment, the shirttail hanging out — all seem a determined effort to let his clubs do the talking. His air-punching display when he shot 59 wasn’t much as celebrations go, but for Duval it seemed almost out of character.

“The saying goes that it’s not who gets there the quickest, but who stays there the longest,” says Blackmon. “David played in Phil Mickelson’s shadow all through college and has been in Tiger Woods’ shadow the last couple of years. Now it’s his turn, and he knows it. I expect he’ll be like a monkey with a machine gun for the next few years. If you wonder what the future of golf is, you’re looking at it in David.”

COPYRIGHT 1999 New York Times Company Magazine Group, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

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