Long before David Duval climbed to the sport’s top professional perch, the learning curve in his former vocation was long, complicated and required time in the developmental arenas of college and the lesser tours.
You know, more than a decade of prep time.
However, his new golf gig was akin to being told to dog paddle as he summarily was shoved into the deep end of the swimming pool. Or, more specifically, pushed into the English Channel or Irish Sea.
Duval, a former world No. 1, began a budding secondary career as a golf analyst in 2012 at ESPN, which included providing commentary in the network’s British Open online stream at ESPN3, where commercials and breaks are about as common as trees on a seaside links.
There were no training wheels applied, few baby steps, and no speech or communications courses in college from which to draw. There was barely time for bathroom breaks.
“To sit there and talk – the first year was just a hole or two – for 12 hours, it was kinda like, jump in and figure it out,” Duval said.
Six years later, he has become a centerpiece during the biggest broadcasts at Golf Channel and morphed into perhaps the network’s biggest star in terms of his playing pedigree. And while picking favorites is always a subjective exercise for viewers, a guy who once was considered aloof as a player has become a spinner of broadcast gold in the minds of many.
It turns out that he had plenty to say, after all.
The transition began when a former ESPN producer who was pals with Duval’s caddie, Ron “Bambi” Levin, asked if Duval might be interested in stepping behind a microphone. Levin, who probably deserves a caddie’s percentage for transacting the deal, relayed the offer. For those who had dealt with Duval over the years from a player/media perspective, the announcement that he would be making his broadcast debut at the 2012 U.S. Open on ESPN3 was met with great interest.
While there was little question that Duval was articulate and impressively bright, he also was withdrawn at times. To some, his dark sunglasses made him seem less approachable and guarded.
“I don’t know about reluctant, but skittish is fair,” said Duval, who plans to work 15 or 16 events this year at Golf Channel. “But I had reason to be, because of what I perceive to be some misquotes, misinterpretations, construing some things and intentions of words I didn’t have, things like that.
“If I had an interview with you and you said a few things, and then I changed the intent of it, you wouldn’t be real happy. It happened, on several occasions.”
Now there’s zero buffer, no delays, and precious little is left open to interpretation. Duval has taken to live TV analysis like few former star players in any sport. He is among those often mentioned as a potential replacement at NBC Sports for longtime color analyst Johnny Miller, whose contract expires later this year.
“They haven’t talked to me about it,” Duval said, laughing.
On the set at Golf Channel, Duval quickly distinguished himself, which isn’t easy when seated alongside two of the network’s top guns, former Tour winners Brandel Chamblee and Frank Nobilo. For all their considerable chops as analysts, they never approached Duval’s professional heights. Duval won 13 times on Tour, including the 2001 British Open, and climbed to No. 1 in the world. He holds a gravitas that few others at Golf Channel possess.
"The thing I think is intriguing about David is, one, that he's not afraid to throw his opinion out there, and secondly, that he does it so precisely,” said Bill Kratzert, a former Tour winner and analyst with 20-plus years of experience at ESPN, CBS and Golf Channel. “That's what I love about him, that it's not this rambling.
"He'll give you an opinion. It'll be quick, and whether you like it or not is up to you.”
In addition to an achievement-stuffed resume, Duval also has experienced both sides of stardom. For all of his success, he found himself at the back of the field plenty of times, too, when his career went south. It humbled him, to a degree, and has given him a broader perspective.
“That already has benefitted him as a broadcaster,” Kratzert said.
In the current media climate, on professional and social platforms, many pundits mine their millions with hot takes and ad-lib blurting. Yet when Duval talks, it’s frequently preceded by a slight pause as he parses the words in his head. That vocal waggle has become something of a bellwether for brilliance.
“I want my thoughts to be precise, concise, and I want to enunciate properly, so that the few words I have are heard and received,” he said.
The network’s “Live From” shows at major events have become a particular broadcast strength, with Duval, Nobilo and Chamblee hashing out the week’s talking points and sometimes butting heads. In fact, one of the memorable moments in network history came in late 2016 when, after disagreeing with Chamblee about a particularly debatable Ryder Cup assertion, Duval said, “Well, I know that you’re never wrong. I understand that.”
In a sport that is practically incestuous, with Kumbaya Kool-Aid being circulated by the networks at most events, it was an honest and entertaining exchange that proved Duval would not back down, even though he technically was the new dude on the dais.
“The advice I was given was, ‘Just be yourself,’ ” Duval said. “That’s what I’ve tried to be. I read somewhere a long time ago that a great writer makes his point, his expressions, with as few words as possible. That’s how I’ve tried to approach it. Not as quickly, but as concisely as possible, like a writer would.”
With his days as a tour regular effectively complete at age 46, Duval doesn’t tee it up very often, though he did play in December at the Father/Son Challenge in Orlando, where he removed his trademark wraparound sunglasses to reveal a raccoon-type sunburn around his eyes. He looked just like he did when he was at the apex of his playing powers, circa 2000-01.
“Who needs sunscreen?” Duval said.
As a broadcaster, his future is so bright that he will need those shades.