CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Nineteen years as a pro and 187 events on the PGA Tour, not to mention a tough childhood battling a tough spine disease, steeled Ken Duke for the shot of his life last weekend.
He was in the second hole of a playoff against Chris Stroud in the Travelers Championship in Connecticut, and launched an approach shot to within 21/2 feet of the par-4 18th hole. He tapped in for birdie after Stroud missed a much longer putt.
At age 44, Duke - who'll be teeing it up next week at the Greenbrier Classic - is one of the oldest, most-traveled first-time winners in Tour history. Conversing with him, you sense the steadiness that allowed him to land the perfect shot under pressure after all those years.
"It took a little extra time because the wind was gusting," Duke said. "I just wanted to make sure a gust didn't get me because I missed one earlier in the week, on Friday on a hole that's sort of like that. Just wanted to calm my nerves and just say, 'It's your turn to do it,' and just back it in.
"[I'm] just excited, relieved, finally ended up winning, that's the main thing."
A graduate of Henderson State in Arkadelphia, Ark., Duke turned pro in 1994 and made the then-Nationwide Tour for the 1995 season. That didn't go so well, as he missed the cut in 16 of 21 events.
The coming years were a whirlwind of multiple tours - Asian, South American, Canadian, any number of mini-tours. He said his last thought about bailing on the sport was about 2001, a lost year in his media guide section.
He found his way in 2006, when he led the Nationwide Tour's money list. He made the Tour Championship in 2008, the top-30 level that earned him berths in four majors and then some for the coming year.
But he flamed out in 2009 and, without a tournament-victory exemption, he went back to the Nationwide for 2010. In 2011, his No. 7 finish there won him a trip back to the big tour.
Duke was solid in 2012, making 22 of 30 cuts with six top-10 finishes, including a tie for seventh in the Greenbrier Classic. He confirmed his plans to return next week in an interview from the AT&T National in Bethesda, Md., where he shot an even-par 71 in the first round Thursday.