It was late in the afternoon Wednesday night and all was quiet at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska.
Tiger Woods had already made his appearance.
Phil Mickelson finished his round and was off the course.
There, on the driving range, was a little-known golfer from Palm City, Fla, preparing for the 91st PGA Championship.
Ken Duke was at the end of the range, with little fanfare.
Only hours before, Woods had made a brief appearance. People pushed to the front of the railing, trying to see the world’s No. 1 player, if only for a minute. Parents lifted children onto their shoulders, trying to let them have a glimpse of Woods. Fans stuck cameras blindly into the air, hoping to get a shot of the golfer.
By the time Duke rolled onto the range, only a few fans spotted the stands. On his way from the range to the putting green, Duke stopped and signed autographs for the kids. Many probably didn’t know who he was.
But that didn’t seem to matter to Duke. He signed hats, programs and flags. He even autographed his golf glove and had his caddie give it to a young fan as a keepsake.
As he finished his routine on the putting green, he retired for the night, preparing to make a strong charge in his first round.
However, only a day before, he had a chance to catch up with his past.
Playing in Minnesota for only the second time since his 1994 Labor Day Class victory at the Worthington Country Club, Duke had a chance to catch up with his caddie from that day 15 years ago.
At the time, Josh Krommendyk was 15 years old. Duke was 25. By random chance, Duke picked the young Krommendyk out of the crowd to carry his bags for that day.
“It was pretty weird,” Krommendyk said. “I didn’t even know the guy. I was like 13 or 14 years old, and I was getting ready to walk along and watch the final four like I did every year. All the sudden I hear, ‘Hey kid, do you want to caddie for me.’ I looked up, and it was one of the guys on the final four, and it ends up being Ken Duke.”
Duke shot a magical round that day. Firing a 64, the young golfer from Arkansas shot the course record at the time.
“I think I ended up making a double bogey on the ninth hole. I hit across the road into the parking lot,” Duke said in a previous interview with the Daily Globe. “I ended up shooting a really low score on the back nine. I think I shot a 29 on the back nine, so that was pretty impressive.”
Fast forward 15 years.
Through a mutual friend, Krommendyk contacted Duke, and the two ended up spending time together two days before Duke teed off in a major golf tournament.
“A couple of buddies were friends of Woody’s and we’ve been swapping e-mails and then got phone numbers and all that kind of stuff,” Duke said.
From there, Krommendyk caught up with Duke on the range early in the week.
“He told me he was going to hit balls early in the morning on Tuesday and we said we would be up there,” Krommendyk said. “We took off Monday night and met him out on the range Tuesday morning. He came right over to us, shook our hands and asked us how we were doing. He introduced us to his caddie, Wally, who is an outstanding guy as well. They very much made us feel apart of the PGA Championship itself to be connected in a way that just about everybody else out there wasn’t.”
After following his practice round, Krommendyk and his friends had an opportunity to eat lunch with Duke. But then, it was time to part ways for the time being.
But Krommendyk would find Duke again. This time, it was Thursday, during the first round of the PGA Championship.
Duke teed off on the back side, and by the time he made the turn, he was one under par.
After bogeys at Nos. 1 and 4, Duke missed a good birdie chance on No. 5. He then birdied No. 7 to move to even with two holes left to play.
“I felt like about the time we got to 5, and we have 6, 7, 8, and 9 all the way in downwind, so hopefully I could get some good shots,” Duke said. “I hit some good putts that just didn’t go. It’s tough, but it’s not that tough. But you still have to be patient and give yourself as many chances as you can.”
On the ninth, Duke was in the sand on his drive. After a wayward shot to the green, Duke had to take relief from the grandstand and finished with a bogey.
Still, he had an opportunity to go low.
“You can’t play what if out here,” Duke said. “I played good enough to shoot two or three shots better.”
He had 29 putts on the day and hit 10 greens in regulation.
“I hit some good putts, they just didn’t go,” Duke said. “It’s always bad when you bogey the last. But we’ll go out early in the morning and hopefully we can get something going in the morning.”
Unfortunately for Duke, the second round didn’t give him what he was looking for.
He had six bogeys and one birdie in a second-round 77 to move to six over for the tournament. The cut was at four over, meaning Duke’s tournament was finished.
“Unfortunately, the only downfall of our experience is that we weren’t able to watch him on the weekend,” Krommendyk said. “In all seriousness, we were playing it out in our head how he was going to get matched up against Tiger on Saturday and Sunday. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen this year, but maybe next time.”
Duke didn’t make the cut and didn’t get a chance to play with Woods. However, Duke did leave a lasting impression on everyone who watched him last week.
After following Duke around Thursday and Friday, I had a chance to talk with him after his first round.
We talked about his round, Krommendyk and Worthington. Duke estimated there were 30 or 40 people for Worthington at the tournament. They all seemed to be rooting for Duke.
He was sincere and genuine about everything, talking fondly about his two trips to the Labor Day Classic.
“One thing that is without question is this past week he definitely gained a ton of fans,” Krommendyk said. “Other than the people in Worthington, the other people that he interacted with in the crowd as we were walking along watching him, there are a lot of people that could have sensed his sincerity.”
Following Friday’s round, Duke was eliminated and he knew it. But riding by on a golf cart with his wife, he still waved and said ‘hi’ as he passed by.
“That just shows how awesome of a guy he is,” Krommendyk said.