By John Strege
It isn't easy to win a golf tournament, even with an overlocking grip on the trophy. Ask Bubba Grump, aka Watson. Or better yet, ask Ken Duke.
Duke is 44 now, a journeyman on the back side of a career that has taken a half a lifetime to unfold, much of it with a rod in his back to help straighten a curvature more acute than a Bubba Watson drive. He turned pro in 1994, joined the PGA Tour in 2004, re-joined it in 2007, and arrived at the Hartford, Conn., suburb of Cromwell for the 187th start of a winless career.
And on Sunday, when his day had finally arrived, the celebration seconds from beginning, he was asked to win the Travelers Championship a second time, then a third time, before he was awarded the trophy.
Duke understands better than most how hard it is to win on the PGA Tour, but even he might have underestimated the degree of difficulty in doing so. He was in the scorer's tent, a one-stroke lead in his pocket, the elusive first victory imminent, when Chris Stroud improbably holed a downhill chip for birdie to stifle the dream and send the tournament to a playoff.
Somehow, Duke regrouped and made a par on the first playoff hole, leaving Stroud staring down a six-footer to tie and prolong the agony. Stroud again holed out under pressure, sending the pair back to the 18th hole for a second go at the playoff.
This time, Duke hit a sand wedge stiff, leaving him 18 inches from victory, not as close as he had been to it from the scorer's tent several minutes earlier, but close enough that this time it wasn't going to be taken from him.
Duke would not have been the popular favorite on Sunday, but he had to have been a sentimental favorite, given his plight and diminishing opportunities to secure a victory on the PGA Tour. The popular favorite had to have been Watson, whose first PGA Tour victory came in the same tournament in 2010. Who doesn't like Bubba, his unorthodox swing and his own unlikely story? And through 15 holes on Sunday, it was his tournament to win, yet he lost it on the 16th tee, his tee shot splashing down short of the green, setting in motion what would become a triple-bogey.
He mis-clubbed, he said afterward, but he had done so a couple of times on the back nine, his creative genius negated by the gusting wind. He was happy neither with himself or, it appeared, with his caddie Teddy Scott, and his anger apparently spilled over to a post-round interview. "Watson blew up at a reporter after a 1-on-1 and stormed off," reporter Neill Ostrout of Connecticut's Journal-Inquirer newspaper wrote on Twitter.
Frustration is the hallmark of this often demoralizing game, as it was for Ken Duke, the journeyman for whom the journey took 19 years before he finally arrived at the destination.