Ken Duke won his first PGA Tour event at age 44. (USA Today Sports)
They're not booing at TPC River Highlands, where 44-year-old Ken Duke won his first-ever PGA Tour event. They're saying "Duuuuuuke." That is, when they're not saying "Bubba: You mad, bro?"
Post-major Tour stops are generally snoozers; the equivalent of a hangover that requires a nap on the couch while the Sunday final round plays on your TV at a barely audible level, so that Verne Lundquist's voice actually enters your subconscious and lulls you into blissful REM, purring phrases like "My gracious!" – which he did when Chris Stroud forced a playoff with a 72nd hole chip-in.
But the Travelers Championship in Connecticut kept you out of the Nap Zone. It was pyrotechnics and emotion. It was Ken Duke, the pride of Henderson State University in Arkansas, pumping his fist and hitting an absolute whopper of a game-winner for birdie, a sand wedge from 117 yards to inside a yard on the second playoff hole.
It was Stroud, removing his cap and whipping it over his head in the playoff, firing up a crowd that was into the proceedings.
And it was Bubba Watson, who hasn't won since last year's Masters, blowing his lead on the 70th hole with a triple bogey – and a triple whammy of invectives directed at his caddie, Ted Scott. CBS caught it all, and Watson came off looking like a heel. In the golf world, this counts as four-star gossip.
That's why it's good we had a feel-good ending. Duke is one of those guys who reminds you of the PGA Tour back in the 1970s and 1980s, when the words "Fitness Trailer" didn't exist, unless it meant showing one's drinking fitness when spending Saturday night knocking back beers in a trailer.
Duke isn't fit. He sweats a lot. He has played on Tours in Asia, Canada and South America. He doesn't have Rory McIlroy's Nike contract, or Rickie Fowler's flat-billed Puma cap. He's got a handsy, old-school swing and drives it straight as a string, No. 1 on Tour in driving accuracy. And yet he appeared destined to be one of those journeymen who play golf for a living, make some good dough and never win, never get famous.
But sometimes, things happen for guys like Ken Duke. An approach on the 10th hole is headed for big trouble – then hits a tree branch and plops five feet from the cup. Birdie. Or, a 45-foot, cross-country triple-break putt drops in the side door on the 13th hole. Birdie. Or, the leader dumps a ball in the water, gets mad at his caddie and leaves you an opening. And then, just when you think you've reached the mountaintop with a super solid par save on 18, able to make "4" after a poor, nervous drive for a one-shot lead, the kid Stroud chips in for birdie to force a playoff.
Ken Duke could be forgiven for wondering if it wasn't meant to be, that his automatic invite back to Augusta National (he played in the 2009 Masters) would remain out of reach. But then he fully committed to that sand wedge, had the right club and right yardage, and gave himself a kick-in birdie for victory.
He got a little choked up talking to David Feherty, but snapped right back into happy Duke mode by getting a bottle of Coca-Cola (no Diet Coke for an old-school guy like Duke) and shaking it up, flashing the CBS camera with the bottle and saying: "Yeaaaaahhhh … that's what I'm talking about!"
Just what he was talking about, we don't know. A frizzy, shaken-up Coke, to punctuate his first win? Cool by us, Ken. You made for a likeable winner, so keep talkin' about whatever you want.
SCORECARD OF THE WEEK
63-69-69-69 – 18-under 270, Ernie Els, winner, European Tour BMW International Open, Golfclub Munchen Eichenried, Munich, Germany.
Pretty hard not to enjoy Ernie Els, like Duke a fortysomething winner at age 43. The Big Easy not only got on the board with his first victory since Adam Scott gift-wrapped him the 2012 British Open (complete with greeting card, a cheese plate and iTunes gift card), he did so in true Ernie style.
By that, I mean he wore lederhosen at one point, and after his win spoke of the quality of Munich beer.
"I used to drink a lot of beer in this town. The beer here is so good," he said in his post-victory news conference, "you don't get those hangovers that you get with the other stuff."
A winner who shoots 63 to open a wire-to-wire job, and praises the local lagers as hangover-free nectar? That's a gracious guest.
And yes, lederhosen. To celebrate 25 years of the European Tour coming to Munich, players dressed in traditional German garb for a cow-milking contest party, while wives and girlfriends were encouraged to dress as comely fräuleins, too. The sight of Ernie in the 'hosen, big grin on his South African mug, on the stool crushing those udders en route to victory in the cow-milking contest, too, was one of the richer images of the year.
St. Pauli Girl," and when I viewed the size of the stein from which Johnson was quaffing, and the head-turning Gretzky as his favorite fräulein, it suddenly made a lot more sense why Johnson has been chilling well away from the winner's circle since his Maui victory to open the year.By the way, American Dustin Johnson was at the event, and tweeted out a picture of his lovely lady, Paulina Gretzky, in the traditional gear. He captioned it, "The Original
A keen statistician would note that Johnson's bid to win in Munich was undone by a Saturday 73, the day after he tweeted out the Paulina-as-fräulein photo. Young love. What are you gonna do, golf fans?
Back to Els. He says he will take the next three weeks off, skipping the Scottish Open, to rest up for a return to Muirfield, where he won the British Open in 2002. He did say he may attend a party in Monte Carlo to honor a friend, but said he only had a day or two of partying in him, "not three weeks." Laughs all around. Ernie is playing winning golf, and the golf world is better for it.
BROADCAST MOMENT OF THE WEEK
"Hey, you hit it, bud." – David Feherty, CBS, to Bubba Watson after Bubba Watson undressed his caddie for a bad yardage on the 16th hole.
Look at Feherty, man of the people. He was not only sticking up for Watson's caddie, Ted Scott, but also saying what all of us were thinking: Hey, bud. You hit the golf ball over the green, not the caddie.
Watson has admitted in the past that he has let his emotions run too hot, and taken things out on his caddie. But he said an intervention of sorts from his wife and caddie years ago cured that, made him a better player and is partially why he broke through at the Travelers Championship for his first win in 2010, the first of four wins, including last year's Masters.
It was a three-part drama Watson laid on Scott. First, there was the tee shot into the water, where cameras caught him saying, "That club," to Scott, disgustedly. Second, was the shot from the drop zone that flew the green, and cameras caught Watson saying: "So you're telling me that's the right yardage?" – dripping with sarcasm.
This is where Feherty stepped in and offered that thought.
Finally, Watson missed his putt for double bogey, and was seen to say, "There's no reason for you to even show up," to his caddie, chewing off the words.
Had there been a bus that drove by on a nearby road, Watson may have suggested a caddie-toss underneath.
It was bad form by the lefty, and he'll have to wear this one for a day or two, until we get distracted by more pictures of Ernie Els in lederhosen, or Paulina Gretzky as a St. Pauli Girl.
MULLIGAN OF THE WEEK
In fact, let's stay on this point for our Mully o' the Week.
Watson was at the 16th tee with a one-shot lead, and all he had to do was par out for victory, in all likelihood. But that tee ball into the water sunk him, and then his three outbursts at Scott sunk his reputation on social media, where armchair etiquette officials like yours truly gave him the old tsk-tsk.
I'm not even talking about giving Watson a mulligan on the tee shot. In fact, I'm happy Ken Duke won, so I don't care about the tee ball into the water. What I do think deserves a mulligan, however, is Watson's reaction.
What we need to do is go back out to that 16th tee, let Bubba dump that ball into the drink and then have him say loud enough for the cameras to hear: "I picked the wrong club … that's on me." Right? So let's go back out there and … give that man a post-shot reaction mulligan!
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
If Tiger Woods throws a golf tournament, and Tiger Woods doesn't play in it, did the tournament happen? These are deep philosophical questions and pertinent ones since Tiger is throwing a golf tournament – this week's AT&T National at Congressional – and Tiger isn't playing, to rest an elbow strain he suffered at the Players Championship (where he won) and aggravated at Merion's U.S. Open (where he didn't win).
Justin Rose and Adam Scott will play, however, so at least there will be someone who can win a major in Tiger's tournament. Hey, now! I kid. Sort of.
This is also one of those rare weeks where the women's game trumps the men's. I love the U.S. Women's Open, and the ladies' national championship takes place at Sebonack in Southampton, N.Y.
In the last eight years, Cristie Kerr (2007) and Paula Creamer (2010) are the only Americans to win America's national championship. Given that the Fourth of July is around the corner, maybe it'll be a lucky week for the red, white and blue. Or, the tournament can be like any other women's tournament these days and be won by Inbee Park, who wins 'em all. Either way, a fun week. The only thing more fun would be hanging with Ken Duke and Ernie Els, although we can keep Duke out of the lederhosen, for everyone's sake.
Related coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
• Bubba Watson rips caddie after triple bogey
• Ken Duke clinches first PGA Tour win with playoff birdie
• Bubba Watson comes up short on No. 16
- Sports & Recreation
- Bubba Watson
- Ken Duke
- Ernie Els
- Chris Stroud