The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

June 24, 2013

Duke's plight shows winning on PGA Tour is hard

By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle

ENID,Okla. — Week in and week out throughout the golf season we witness the parade of winners on the PGA Tour.

Many of the names are familiar, like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Graeme McDowell, Brant Snedeker, Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar, and some not so much, like Russell Henley, Harris English, John Merrick, Derek Ernest and Billy Horschel.

Guys like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson make it look easy. Tiger has won 78 times on the PGA Tour, while Phil has 41 career victories.

Woods has played nine events this season and has won four times. Prior to Sunday afternoon and the final round of the Travelers Championship, Ken Duke had played 187 career tour events without a victory, while Chris Stroud had teed it up in 184 PGA tournaments, likewise without a victory.

Not that Duke and Stroud are exactly on their way to the poor house. Duke won $1.5 million in 30 appearances in 2012, while Stroud took home $903,000 in 28 events last year.

Making a living on the PGA Tour is one thing, however, winning is quite another.

Winning a PGA Tour event puts a golfer at another level altogether, not to mention it also secures his tour card for the next two seasons and earns him an invitation to the next Masters as well as a ticket to the season-opening champions-only event on Maui.

Winning on the PGA Tour is hard. Everybody knows young guns like Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy. McIlroy, widely acknowledged to be golf’s “next big thing,” has six tour wins, while Fowler has one, and he had to beat McIlroy to get it.

Winning on the PGA Tour is hard. Not Nik Wallenda walking across an offshoot of the Grand Canyon on a wire hard (that was simply crazy), but hard, nonetheless.

It takes skill, perseverance, and a little luck, as well. On the 10th hole of Sunday’s round, Duke’s approach shot hit a tree to the left of the green. Within striking distance of the lead, he was suddenly staring at bogey, double bogey or worse. But lo and behold, the ball bounced not into a mess of deep serious, but onto the green, within five feet of the cup. He sank the birdie putt, holed a 17-footer on the next hole, then a 45-foot snake on the 13th.

Then the journeyman who had to overcome back surgery to correct severe scoliosis caught another break when Bubba Watson dumped his tee shot in the water short of the green on No. 16 and became angry with his caddy for talking him into hitting a nine iron instead of an eight. Bubba made triple bogey and wasn’t a factor the rest of the way.

Duke overcame a poor drive on No. 18 to save par and take a one-shot lead into the clubhouse, only to have Stroud chip in from behind the green on 18 to send the tournament to a playoff.

Duke overcame yet another poor drive on the first playoff hole, but drove it straight on the second. Then he hit the shot of his life, an approach to within three feet, and sank the birdie putt to win.

The victory earned him a check for just more than $1 million, but it did far more than that. For the first time it made him a winner.

You always hear about the players labeled “Best Player Never to Win a Major,” talented young guys who have yet to break through on the big stage.

But that list is far smaller than that of the guys who are grinding, week in and week out, making a living but not making enough putts to make them winners.

Sunday afternoon, Ken Duke got himself off that list, permanently.



Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.