Yeah, Jason Day won the Players’ Championship. Big deal. He and the rest of the golf media talked this year’s Players’ up as the thing that might put him over the hump to be in the Golf Hall of Fame, as if he is never going to win again. Day has won 7 of his last 17 starts, and I may not have the best grade in my statistics class, but that’s a pretty good percentage. He is going to win many more times in his career and probably several times again this year. In the end, this tournament will be merely a footnote in a long line of Jason Day successes.
The real story this week is the potbellied middle-aged man who tied for third and was tied for second after the third round: Ken Duke. Duke is a long time journeyman within professional golf, but that’s only part of the story. As a seventh grader, Duke was diagnosed with scoliosis and had major curvature in his back. Just months after having corrective surgery that brought his spine back within normal range, Duke won medalist honors in his school’s district tournament while wearing a back brace.
He played division two college golf, then turned professional in 1994. In his over 20-year career, Duke has just a handful of wins to his name, his only on the PGA Tour coming at the 2013 Travelers Championship. Despite his winding road of a pro career and his current ranking at 495 in the world (subject to change significantly after this week), Duke has amassed over $10 Million worth of prize money in his career.
This year was just another exercise in Ken Duke overcoming adversity. After a freak fall last September, he needed surgery to put a plate in his broken wrist. Coming off that injury, Duke’s play this PGA Tour season has been anything but impressive. He missed five cuts in nine starts. Despite all of that, he came into this year’s Players’ Championship guns ablazin’ and carded a 65 on moving day, eight strokes lower than Jason Day’s third round score. Duke credited his scoring to the dry conditions on the course that many other players complained about, saying that is helped him make up for his comparative lack of distance against the rest of the field.
At 47, Ken Duke is old enough to be the father of many of the Tour’s young guns, but he keeps chugging along, playing golf for a living and incrementally raking in the bank as he bounces between professional tours. Oh, and also he gives back significantly to organizations like the Scoliosis Research Society to help others with his same condition overcome the difficulties that he’s defeated and then some. Ken Duke is an adversity-overcoming perseverance machine. Ken Duke is a classy guy who looks out for others even long after he made it in life. Ken Duke is what golf is all about.