Ken Duke on getting back to Augusta, and why he wouldn't trade places with Tiger

Ken Duke on getting back to Augusta, and why he wouldn’t trade places with Tiger

Ken Duke captured his first PGA Tour victory at the 2013 Travelers Championship.
Fred Beckham/AP

You played in Asia, Canada, the mini-tours and nearly 200 PGA Tour events before finally winning the 2013 Travelers Championship. When did you realize that the tournament was yours?
You don't ever think that. I was [one shot] ahead in the clubhouse, and the last group still had to play, so I was just waiting to see — I've lost six or seven tournaments where I was in the lead and someone made a big putt or beat me in sudden death. [Chris Stroud chipped in for birdie on No. 18 to force a playoff.]

This time you won the playoff, over Chris Stroud, but you had to make a 3-footer to do it. Was that the longest putt of your life?
You can say that, but when you're in the zone and you're ready and confident, it's a lot like riding a bike. I just said, "It's my turn to win. Let's knock it in." And I did. A lot of things happened that week. You never know when you're going to win. You've got to expect the worst, so you can never get too ahead of yourself out there or take anything for granted.

That victory punched your ticket back to the Masters, which you've played in only once. Does Augusta set up well for you?
I played really well there in 2009. I think I shot even-par for the four days, and I had something like 16 lip-outs. Obviously, it's all about the putting. Those greens are so difficult and so fast that you get a lot of lip-outs. You don't take it low there — you have to pick your spots and be patient, and that's the way I play. But Augusta is something — once you get a taste of it, you want to get back every year.

You started playing well on Tour in the mid 2000s, after you began working with swing-guru Bob Toski. Do you credit him with your success?
No question. I never really had lessons; I was taught by my dad. I met Bob and arranged a lesson, which is usually about an hour. It lasted four hours, and I didn't even hit many balls. It was more talking and showing — Bob knew Hogan and Snead and Demaret. And he likes to show you how to do things. That's the beauty of the knowledge he has — he tells you how and shows you how to hit it. And that morning [before the final round at the Travelers] he called and said, "It's your time."

You had scoliosis as a child and have a metal rod fused to your spine. How does your condition affect your swing?
It hurts, because I'm restricted in my backswing, and in a lot of things I do. I've hired a trainer to help me get more rotation and flexibility. Last year, Nick Faldo came up to me at The Greenbrier. I was in contention there and he said he owed me an apology. I said, "Why?" He said, "I keep critiquing your swing, wanting you to get the club back farther, and I didn't realize you had back surgery and have a rod in your back." He didn't even know!

You're a low-profile guy. Are you ever recognized at, say, Starbucks?
I'm not a Starbucks person, but if someone who follows golf is sitting beside me in an airport, he might say something. Around town where I live [in Stuart, Fla.], people say, "What a great year, what a great win," which is pretty cool. My youngest daughter is eight, and when we're out she jokes, "Daddy, you should have worn your hat because no one can recognize you."

Would you trade your semi-anonymity for Tiger's money?
[Laughs.] I don't know. I can go out to dinner without getting harassed, and I can play golf without any TV on me, and he can't. It would be great to have the money, but money isn't everything. Having a simple family life and doing family stuff matters a lot more than having a bunch of money.

You and Bill Clinton share a hometown [Hope, Ark.]. Any good Bill stories?
My grandparents and his parents knew each other. I had the chance to play golf with him when he was the governor. Playing golf with him, I thought he was just another guy, but then a few years later he became the President. That's a big deal.

You now have a two-year PGA Tour exemption. Has that changed your career outlook?
I always used to place a lot of importance on my play earlier in the year, to make some money to get into the top 125 [in Tour earnings]. But now I can play tournaments that I think fit my game, instead of just playing to hope that I make a check. I've never been able to do that. It's been a pretty long road for me — 20 years now. Finally getting a PGA Tour win? That's pretty special.