By Jim Workman
Assistant Managing Editor
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS —
Ken Duke has a secret weapon for his first appearance at The Greenbrier Classic.
He brought his mentor and instructor, Bob Toski, along with him.
Shooting a 66, 68 and 65 in the first three rounds, Duke is in the hunt to contend at 11-under, two shots behind leader Webb Simpson and one stroke short of second-place Troy Kelly as The Greenbrier Classic concludes with its final round today.
The tournament will be televised by CBS from 3 to 6 p.m.
Toski, a former pro himself with five PGA career wins and the Tour money leader in 1954, played The Old White — even if it was about 60 years ago.
“He played with Sam Snead for a long time,” said Duke. “It’s special to bring him back here, just to kind of see the history.”
Duke has drawn from Toski’s expertise for six years.
“It’s been great, since 2006,” Duke explained. “I’ve changed my golf swing to try to be more consistent. It’s making me believe that I can swing it the way that he’s teaching me to do it, and having fun doing it.
“It’s great here, I’m enjoying it.”
Duke’s best finish this season is a T5 in the Transitions Championship.
“Since I’ve been with him, he went from the Nationwide Tour back to the big Tour,” Toski said. “He made about $4 (million) or $5 million, lost his card and he won his last tournament at Nationwide to get back on Tour again.
“He’s now in a comfort zone that he’s never had before. He’s not afraid to play with these kids and I think he feels he’s playing good enough to win.
“I think if he shoots 64 or better (today), he’ll win the tournament.
“Even if he doesn’t win, he’s playing so well. I’m enjoying the fact that he’s getting the most out of his game. He shot a 65 (Saturday) and he’s not played well in the third round this year. That tells me something.”
Toski recalled his days on Tour, and his previous trip to White Sulphur Springs.
“I played with Sam Snead, (Ben) Hogan, (Byron) Nelson — you name it, Gary Player, Arnold Palmer, I played with all of them,” Toski said.
“I was invited to play here in 1953 for the first time. To be invited to play at The Greenbrier, it was like playing at The White House. I remember having my picture taken down near the pro shop, and I was standing in between Sam Snead and Ben Hogan. They were waiting for me to come in and take the picture. They said get in the middle — and I’m bewildered. I didn’t know whether to smile, choke or laugh. They were two of the greatest players in the world and it was my first Greenbrier tournament.
“I didn’t play that well, because I was in awe. It was a selected group of players invited. It was special for me. I was about to get married and I asked the people that ran the tournament if my fiancée could come up. They said, ‘Yes, but you’re going to sleep in that wing and she’s going to sleep in the other wing over there.’
“Great memories here. The excitement. The change in the heartbeat when I got here, driving through the entrance and looking at the surroundings was very nostalgic. Money can’t buy that.”
Last year, Tom Watson didn’t make the cut in his first Greenbrier Classic. This year, Watson, The Greenbrier pro emeritus, shot an even 70 on Thursday, 2-under 68 on Friday to make the cut and wrapped up the third round with a 1-over 71.
Four bogeys and just three birdies Saturday showed up on Watson’s scorecard. He sits at 1-under.
“I didn’t get to play on the weekend last year, and I hope I can go out (today) and shoot a better score than I did (Saturday),” he said. “I finished with a birdie and maybe I can just keep it rolling.”
With 39 PGA wins, including eight majors, Watson, 62, is one of the veterans of the tournament.
And he’s certainly the most decorated golfer left in the field, especially with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson failing to make it to the weekend.
“The game has changed to a different degree than when I first started,” Watson explained. “The courses are longer, the amenities are better and greater. They’re in better shape, golf courses are in better shape, the equipment makes the ball go longer and it’s a different game.
“It still kind of amazes me where the players are laying up short of a 314-yard bunker with a 3-wood, you know, or maybe a hybrid to lay up there. I'm still hitting driver. That’s how I look at it because it’s the distances, at my age, at 62, I mean, I still hit the ball nearly as far as I did when I was a kid, not quite as far with the longer clubs, but with the driver I hit the ball about as far as I hit it. The irons, I don’t.”
Off the course, changes are just as dramatic, Watson shared.
“It’s so much better organized than when I was out here,” he said. “These tournaments are so organized, they know what they’re doing, and before they didn’t really have a whole lot to do. We had to get there ourselves; there was no courtesy cars. We had to bring our own practice balls, hit our own practice balls.
“One thing that the tournaments did many times, they would help you with the hotel fees. They would get a pretty good rate on the hotels. My first year, I paid over $10 a night for a hotel. That was a lot of money.”
It’s a good thing Watson made a connection at The Greenbrier resort.
Justin Thomas is making only his second start in a PGA TOUR event, and he’s doing well as an amateur.
But that status could soon be changing.
He enters today’s final round at The Greenbrier Classic following a 4-under 66 Saturday.
Thomas, who finished a successful freshman season at the University of Alabama, was the winner of the Haskins Award, given to the nation’s top collegiate golfer.
On The Old White TPC, Thomas has turned in a 67-71-66 (6-under) through the first three rounds.
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