Ken Duke’s First PGA Tour win came in Cromwell Sunday


60 years ago Bob Toski won the Insurance City Open, the second edition of the local PGA Tour stop.  Yesterday he won it again.  Sort of.  44 year old Ken Duke of Hope, Arkansas defeated 31 year old Texan Chris Stroud on the second hole of a playoff to claim the 62nd Travelers Championship and become the oldest first time winner on the PGA Tour since Ed Dougherty in 1995.  It took 20 years of bouncing around the Asian, Canadian, South American and Web.Com Tours for Duke to learn how to win on the PGA Tour.  “You have to be patient, you can’t make things happen out there”, Duke said after his two foot, nine inch birdie putt on the 18th hole, the second sudden death hole, gave him his first title, “You can’t win by pushing everything.  You just have to be patient.”  For Duke, the patience paid off when Stroud’s 25 foot attempt for a bird on 18, after Duke had put his second shot within three feet of the pin, curled just right of the hole.  “After (Stroud’s putt) went by I just told myself, ‘It’s my turn'”, said Duke, who then took his time on his three footer, lining it up from both sides of the hole and settling himself to claim his first win.  “Finally doing it, it’s awesome”, he said.  Ken Duke wasn’t alone out there.  He had a support crew, his wife’s aunt and uncle, who live locally, captaining last week’s version of “Team Duke”.  Wethersfield Country Club member Connie Watson put him up at her home and they had dinner together at the club a couple of nights, “Just to get away from the course, the fans, the players for a while”, said Duke.  “It’s good to stay in a home instead of a hotel.”  He spent much of his free time like any sports fan, watching the NHL and NBA finals.  Then there’s Bob Toski.  Duke never took any real golf lessons as a kid, “My mom and dad just did what they had to do, they had to work for a living, and I had to do what I had to do, practice at six o’clock in the morning before I went to school.”  In 2006 Ken went to Florida and met, as he calls him, “Mr. Toski”.  His life, his game, and his life on Tour began to turn around.  “He told me to come see him.  He made me swing the golf club so it seemed like it was easier.  No one ever told me the way to swing the club.”  It wasn’t just the finer points of playing the game that Toski instilled in Duke, “Sometimes I go down to his place and we just talk, we might not hit any balls.  The way he says things, it might all be the same, but it seems like it’s different everytime we talk.  That’s the knowlege of somebody like that.”  There is no mistaking the reverence with which Ken Duke views his mentor.  “The guys he’s played with, Hogan, Snead, Demerit, all of them.  He’s played with the best, he’s taught the best.  He’s amazing.  I wouldn’t be here now if I never met him.”  Duke admits there were times when he thought about quitting, but through it all, he says, “You gotta believe in yourself and everything you do.  Once you finally do it it might come easier the next time, and that’s kind of the way I feel.”  Going to the final round within striking distance, three strokes off the lead, Duke got a call from someone who believed in him and sensed he was ready.  “Bob Toski won his first tournament up here in 1953 in Wethersfield”, said Duke, “He called me this morning and said it’s your turn now.”  It only took Ken Duke 20 years to get his first win on the PGA Tour.  It took Bob Toski 60 years to get his second win at the local stop.  It was probably just as gratifying as the first.  With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.



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