What I'll Remember About 2013: Duke wins for first time in 187th start

Duke wins the Travelers Championship

Ken Duke birdies the second hole of a playoff with Chris Stroud to claim his first win on the PGA TOUR.
November 26, 2013
By Larry Dorman, PGATOUR.COM

PGATOUR.COM asked its staffers and writers what they will remember about the 2013 season. For the archived list of essays and a complete review of the season, click here.

Major victories by emerging stars, a superstar and a crowd pleaser with major upside – as well as five wins by the sport’s resurgent megastar – dominated golf’s 2013 headlines. But the worthy winner of the Travelers Championship should not be forgotten.


Here’s to Ken Duke, the pro from Hope, Ark., whose childhood scoliosis could have ended his career before it began. Instead, he fought back. And on his 187th try, at the age of 44, some 30 years after surgeons implanted a metal rod to straighten his severely twisted spine, Duke won for the first time on the PGA TOUR.

Mirroring his life in microcosm, Duke started two strokes back. He still trailed when his approach at No. 10 looked lost into the deep woods left. Came an audible “thwack” from a treetop, and the ball appeared 4 feet from the hole.

In a beginning rather than another end, Duke birdied the hole, pointed to the heavens, made three more birdies, saved par at the 18th and, one stroke clear at 12 under, waited in the clubhouse. It seemed he had won. But Chris Stroud birdied the 18th on a 50-foot pitch and, appropriately, a playoff ensued.

It might have shaken Duke in bygone days. But, recalling what his teacher, the legendary 87-year-old Bob Toski, had told him earlier in the day, he birdied the second playoff hole and promptly credited the man who had predicted the outcome.

“I owe a lot to Bob Toski,” he said. “He won his first tournament up here in '53 at Wethersfield. He called me this morning and said, ‘It’s your time, too.’”

Toski also told Duke, in his colorful way, not to bother teeing it up if he wasn’t ready to shoot a low score. Duke, who responded with a 66, showed his appreciation again months later by bringing the Travelers Championship trophy to St. Andrews Country Club in Boca Raton, Fla., where Toski still gives lessons.

“He deserved it,” said an appreciative Toski. “That's a milestone in my life as a teacher and his as a player.”