Ken Duke entered the Travelers Championship ranked 144th in the world.
I wish I could say that I saw this coming. Ken Duke's 2013 past performance chart read like this: 18 tournaments, one top 10 finish and 10 missed cuts. I would be surprised if anyone outside the Duke family made Ken one of their fantasy golf picks this week. I don't play, but they do have fantasy golf.
Sunday, Ken did something the veteran Spurs couldn't do in Game 6 of the NBA Finals: he made a championship shot at the most critical time.
It became clear in the final holes that young Chris Stroud wasn't going to crumble when the tourney was on the line. Stroud chipped in from 51 feet on 18 to force a playoff and then hit a pressure par putt to force a second playoff hole.
The 44-year-old went "Larry Bird" on the second playoff hole. With Stroud positioned about 15 yards in front of him, Ken delivered golf's equivalent of a haymaker. He almost knocked it in the hole. His ball ended up two and a half feet from the hole. There was no fist pumping from Ken's opponent on his way to the green. Stroud knew it was over. He ran out of miracles. Stroud missed a 25 foot birdie putt.
All Ken had to do was tap in for his first PGA Tour win. There were people all over the world rooting for Ken. We are talking about a guy who also spent time on the Canadian tour, the mini tours, Asian Tour and the South American Tour. Most of Sunday, Ken Duke was trending on Twitter.
The Karate Kid had Mr. Miaggi. Ken Duke has Bob Toski.
Ken Duke will tell you that Mr. Toski has done more than change his swing, he's changed his life.
Seven years ago, Ken seeking clarity in his game went to see Mr. Toski. He may have gone there expecting a tune-up, he ended up with a swing overhaul. Up to that point in his career, Ken always relied on a draw, hitting the ball right to left. Toski's first suggestion: "Why don't you try to hit a cut instead to a draw." Ken has been hitting a cut ever since.
Guess where Ken spent last week? Working with Bob Toski in South Florida. Here's what Ken had to say about his coach after shooting a round of 65 on Saturday:
"How can you not [play well] after working with Bob? The guy is a legend. He always tells me something different. That's the beauty of what he does."
This summer, Ken will return to Arkansas to be inducted into the Arkansas Golf Hall of Fame. This is a big deal for a guy who crafted his game and gained confidence playing at Arkadelphia High School and Henderson St. University. Coach Toski has already made plans to be there for Ken's big night.
Ken lives in Florida, but still looks right at home when he returns to the state to host his charity tourneys. All you have to do is meet him and you'll be a fan. Regardless of how his season is going, we get the same Duke every year.
On days like this, you think about the journey and the biggest obstacle that stood between Ken and a tour win.
Growing up, Ken played golf and baseball, and by his early teens, his spine was forming a "C" shape and starting to push into his lungs, which required surgery.
On February 25, 1985, Ken had a 16 inch metal rod put in his back during surgery at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock. He wore a back brace 23 hours a day for four months.
Ken still has a metal rod in his back.
Add it all up, and Sunday's win is one of the real "feel good" stories of 2013.
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