SI Vault
Gary Smith
April 12, 1999
That's what DAVID DUVAL finally learned after a childhood tragedy led him to shut out the world and drive himself to become the best golfer in the game.
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April 12, 1999

No Man Is An Island

That's what DAVID DUVAL finally learned after a childhood tragedy led him to shut out the world and drive himself to become the best golfer in the game.

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Day gave way to night. David went home. He looked at his mother. She had taken her children to Catholic church every Sunday before losing her first son, but now her faith, like her husband, was gone. She was an open wound, a softhearted woman racked by sobs at any time of the day, still referring to Brent as if he were alive, sweeping her two children off to bed for the day at the first stomach cramp or cough—just groping, like Bobby, just doing whatever she could to survive. David would not be like Mom.

He looked at Brent's bedroom. Nothing in it had been altered since his death. It almost seemed to be waiting for him. It was afternoon at the Duvals', but mourning hadn't ever come and gone. The boy refused to see the therapist or the grave site after the first few visits, refused to speak of what had happened, to look at pictures of his brother. "Can I move into that bedroom?" he asked his mom.

He kept one thing on the wall: the poster of the black Lamborghini Countach, Brent's shining dream. At night he stared at it and made a vow: He'd own one by age 25.

Neighbors and friends noticed what was happening to the boy. His mother sensed it too, but it couldn't be spoken of. Before David fell asleep, she would come to his room and rub his temples, his neck, his shoulders, every night for years.

During summers David spent a few weeks with his grandparents Harry and Vickie Poole, who lived on a golf course at Fernandina Beach, a 45-minute drive northeast of Jacksonville. David loved Harry, the gentle man who had spent the most time with him while Diane and Bobby passed weeks in vigil at the hospital in Cleveland. One day, in David's 11th summer, the boy teed off on the last hole, about to beat his grandfather for the first time. He double-bogeyed and lost. His grandfather, startled, watched the stoic boy burst into tears. "You beat me today," David sobbed, "but you won't when I come back next summer. You'll never beat me again."


If life were fair, and people got what they deserved, then the boy was guilty. He deserved a dead brother and a sledge-hammered family because something was wrong with him, dreadfully, all the way down to his marrow.

No. That was unbearable. Life couldn't be fair. Six more bags of balls, Woodrow. There were no deserves. The boy stood beneath the merciless Florida sun, in his second shirt of the day, driving a third hour's worth of range balls into the August afternoon. He extended this thought, like taffy. If this...then that: That's how the boy's mind functioned, in cool and remorseless progression, a set of marble steps. If there were no justice in the universe, then you built up no points for pleasantries, small kindnesses and gestures. All that was wasted motion. If nothing was fair, then you got whatever you settled for—or whatever you took. "You can level your own playing field by realizing that life only becomes fair when you realize it's unfair," he would say years later.

Of course, it wasn't easy. To swallow such a hard, jagged premise, one would have to make oneself hard, sometimes even jagged. Six more bags, Woodrow.

Small talk? What for? Hang out? How come? The mall? What was the purpose? Chase girls? He had to get up early in the morning and go to the club. Party? "It's very damaging to goals," he would say later. "It's not an efficient use of time." Manners? Yes, absolutely efficient for a boy growing up among adults at a country club, for a nonmember to retain access to that placid, perfect place. Friends? He had four or five, a cadre he had known from before his brother's death and with whom he felt safe, boys who had little to do with golf. He barely had the time to see them anymore, let alone the need to add more friends. He was attending Episcopal High School, a private school with a collegelike campus, where none of those old friends went anyway, and his classmates had no clue what was incubating in their midst.

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