PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS INSIDER
Ken Duke reflects on breakthrough PGA TOUR win, overcoming scoliosis as a kid
June 25, 2020
By Bob McClellan, PGATOUR.COM
- June 25, 2020
- Ken Duke won for the first time at the 2013 Travelers Championship at 44 years old. (Getty Images)
Ken Duke, 51, has fond memories of the Travelers Championship, the event being played this week on the PGA TOUR.
Duke, an Arkansas native, posted the only win of his PGA TOUR career at the TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Connecticut, this week seven years ago. He bested Chris Stroud in a playoff with a birdie on the second extra hole.
“You never know when it’s your turn, but that year and that tournament it just happened to work out,” Duke said this week. “It was really a thrill to win and something I’ll never forget.”
The victory netted Duke just over $1 million; he was so impressed with the charitable efforts of the tournament he promptly donated $25,000.
That’s just the kind of guy Duke is – affable, genial, laid back, giving. His own charity event in Florida, the Ken Duke and Friends Celebrity Pro-Am, is entering its fifth year. It raises money for Folds of Honor as well as select local charities, and Duke is hoping to have another banner year with it.
Duke is eager to resume his sophomore season on PGA TOUR Champions after it was halted by the coronavirus pandemic. He posted top 10s in each of his last two starts before COVID-19 halted play – a T9 at the Cologuard Classic and a T10 at the Hoag Classic.
“I’ve been playing a lot at my home course. I’m a member at The Floridian in Martin County, and we were open the whole time,” Duke said. “We closed two weeks ago for the summer. This course has always done that.
“I played a couple of minor tournaments on a tour here. Been playing with friends a lot. It’s pretty nice.”
Duke hit the PGA TOUR Champions with only a bit of status from the career money list. He knew it was important to establish himself and ensure he could play a full schedule in 2020, if such a thing had come to pass.Career money gets you into some events, but sometimes it doesn’t,” Duke said. “It was very important for me to play my best and create status for myself, because in this professional golf career if you don’t have status it’s a very difficult road. We all strive to keep status and keep competitive.
“Career money gets you into some events, but sometimes it doesn’t,” Duke said. “It was very important for me to play my best and create status for myself, because in this professional golf career if you don’t have status it’s a very difficult road. We all strive to keep status and keep competitive.”
Duke made 21 starts and had four top-10s, including a runner-up finish at the Sanford International. He had the 36-hole lead and needed only par on the last to make a playoff with Rocco Mediate, but a double bogey left him in a tie for second.
Still, he was one of only three rookies to qualify for the Charles Schwab Cup Championship. And by virtue of his 28th place finish in the final Schwab Cup standings, he has full status for the ’20 season.
“These guys are so good,” Duke said. “It doesn’t matter if they’re 50 or 60, they’re still really competitive. If you don’t have any injuries or ailments you can play. You may not win every year, but you can still be competitive.
“That’s kind of where I am. I’ve been pretty healthy through my career and just keep my game simple and try not to do as much as I can do. If I can keep doing that I can play out there a long time.”
He has been healthy in his latter years, but that wasn’t the case in his youth. A growth spurt aggravated his scoliosis, and his spine had curved so badly by the time he was in high school that he had surgery. A 16-inch rod was inserted in his back in February 1985.
Duke counts himself among the lucky. His body never rejected the rod. He said he has met plenty of kids who have had multiple surgeries because their bodies rejected foreign objects being inserted. He came back to star on his high school team and at Division II Henderson State in his native Arkansas.
Now all that remains for Duke is to win on PGA TOUR Champions. He won the Order of Merit on the Canadian Tour, and he was the leading money-winner on what is now the Korn Ferry Tour.
“It would be a plateau for me (to win on the Champions Tour),” Duke said. “This is the next step in my book. I’m not playing much on the PGA TOUR at all. I’m focused on this tour and hopefully I can knock that win down.”