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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They tried to hide the horse needle from the boy, of course. The doctor held it behind his thigh, like a pitcher concealing the grip on his slider. The boy lay on his stomach, his nose hard against the sheets. His father and a nurse laid their hands on his shoulders and arms.

The needle, stainless steel and nearly three times as thick as pencil lead, entered just above the boy's hip. He clenched—he was better at that than most boys—as it dug through his flesh. Then it paused when it met his hipbone.

The doctor had to lean into it now and ratchet it, clockwise and counter, to penetrate the bone. The boy clenched harder. The doctor rocked the needle in every direction to break off the thread of marrow it had just sucked in. The boy's lips and teeth parted. The scream that came out, his father would never forget. He tightened his grip as the boy thrashed. It was this, or it was death.

There. It was out. It was over. It was not over. The other hip now. Again.

The doctor handed two vials of bone marrow to the lab technician. That was all that was needed for now, a sample to analyze before giving the go-ahead. Tomorrow, when the needle had to go back in four more times, it wouldn't hurt like this, promise. Don't worry, David, you'll get general anesthesia next time. You'll be out. You'll be numb. You'll never feel a thing.


The boy stepped out of the car and looked. Before him stood a stately building, crisp white with green shutters and with tall columns at the entrance. Nearby were manicured shrubs and beds of petunias and azaleas; the line where dirt met grass was so perfectly curved that it seemed to have been etched with a draftsman's compass. To the left was the sky-blue swimming pool. Over the boy's shoulder were the smooth, white-lined clay tennis courts. On his right were trees sleeved with Spanish moss and rolling green sweeps of the finest grass he had ever seen. A few men, wearing spotless shoes and polo shirts and neatly creased slacks, stood on the grass, observing a small white ball and trading quiet remarks that made them smile. Everyone, everything, seemed so peaceful, so clean, so perfect at Timuquana Country Club.

David Duval was nine years old, so short that the bag of cut-down golf clubs on his back nearly scraped the grass. His body was chunky, his skin freckled. On his nose sat bottle-thick eyeglasses with light-blue frames that mortified him so much that he had thrown tantrums and hidden in the school bathroom the first few weeks he had to wear them. He carried six green mesh bags of balls as he walked to the driving range. Watching how he carried himself, one wouldn't have known that he had really just begun to play, or that the bag was chafing a string of six puncture scars on his hips.

He chose an open space between the men, selected a club and poured out a bag of balls. He cocked back the club and began sending the balls, one by one, across that pleasant stretch of green. The men finished and moved away. The boy departed only to collect six more bags from the caddie barn, 150 more balls, and return, again and again. "David," Woodrow Burton, who worked in the caddie barn, begged, "you better leave some of them balls for the members."

The boy, saying nothing, opened his palms for the balls. Soon those calluses would be hard. Soon those hands wouldn't feel a thing.

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