By Wes Gilbertson, Calgary Sun. Photo credit: Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia
Ken Duke had just drained the decisive putt, had just capped a dramatic victory at the 2023 Shaw Charity Classic presented by Rogers with an emphatic fist-pump and a celebratory scream.
With the crowd still in a frenzy after watching that tiebreaking birdie fall into the cup on the 18th green, Duke locked eyes with an elderly gentleman watching from about 30 yards away.
At 83, Ken Oliphant isn’t able to hike from hole to hole. He had been posted up in this spot — with a clear view across the water — for two-plus hours, seated on his rolling walker.
This was worth the drive down from his home in Lacombe, a couple of hours north of Calgary, and then worth the wait.
“I was sure he could do it,” Oliphant beamed. “He’s good at those five- or six-footers. So I had no doubt, really.”
Oliphant, then, was sure about the outcome before the rest of us.
There was no shortage of excitement during Sunday’s final round of the Shaw Charity Classic at Canyon Meadows, where several players — Jerry Kelly! Colin Montgomerie! KJ Choi! Thongchai Jaidee! — seemed to rocket up the leaderboard. Some for longer than others.
Duke, who teed off in solo second, two shots off Tim Petrovic’s pace, was never far behind but never pulled ahead, either. That is, until he stuffed his approach shot on the Par-5 finishing hole and swished that five-footer for birdie, avoiding a playoff with Petrovic and Jaidee.
“I’ve always dreamed about this,” said the Florida-based Duke, who completed three laps of this tree-lined layout at 14-under 196. “This is where I started my professional career, up here in Canada, and I always thought that I’d win up here.
“Here we are finally doing it.”
It was during his seven-year stint on the Canadian Tour from 1996-2002 that Duke met the Oliphants. During tournaments at nearby Wolf Creek, they’d open their home to several of those dream-chasing up-and-comers.
Duke stayed there four times, even invited the Oliphants to his wedding. Now 54, he still keeps in touch.
Lorraine Oliphant is more mobile these days than her husband of 48 years, so she didn’t miss a shot. She followed Duke around the course for all three rounds, thrilled to witness his first victory on the PGA Tour Champions circuit.
As the final group played No. 18 on Sunday, Lorraine managed to find a spot behind the green. After Petrovic plopped his approach on the left side of the putting surface, leaving little chance at a birdie, she watched Duke launch a delicate wedge across the water from 105 yards out.
“That’s exactly the number I had at Hartford in 2013, when I won in a playoff against Chris Stroud,” Duke said afterward, reminiscing about his lone triumph on the PGA Tour. “A great memory of that win, and obviously I hit a good shot here, as well.”
He sure did.
“It landed right by the pin and then, of course, it rolled back,” Lorraine whispered, apologizing that she’d lost her voice while rooting for this old friend. “And we were like, ‘Stop! Stop! Stop!’ When it did, we said, ‘OK, he’s putting uphill. That’s good.’ We were pretty sure he could make it, and he did. It was wonderful.”
That first-pump on the 18th green was so ferocious that Duke, who signed for a 4-under 66 in Sunday’s final round, would admit later that he didn’t actually see his winning putt fall.
Ken Oliphant did.
Same for Lorraine, who described Duke as “just the most down-to-earth, humble fellow” and stressed “he doesn’t think he’s better than anyone here today.”
This couple from Lacombe couldn’t have been more proud.
“They’ve watched my career, ever since I was up here in 1996,” Duke said. “It meant a lot to have them here. That’s what it is all about, to have family and friends always pulling for you. That’s the people you meet on this journey. You know, you meet people that always support you, and you just can’t thank ’em enough.”
CHIP SHOTS: Sunday’s round of the day came courtesy of Jaidee, who mixed nine birdies, eight pars and one bogey en route to an 8-under 62 … Petrovic and Jaidee shared runner-up status, while Billy Andrade, Darren Clarke and Scott Dunlap tied for fourth at 11-under … Alan McLean of London, Ont., was the top Canadian on the leaderboard for the second straight year, checking in at 3-under 207 … Stephen Ames, who lived in Calgary for 20-plus years, pledged to donate $500 for each of his birdies this week to First Tee of Alberta. Although he’ll be disappointed to finish with only nine circles on his scorecard for 54 holes, that’s still a $4,500 bonus for a charity that provides accessible and inclusive programming for youth who might not otherwise have opportunities to enjoy the game of golf … Good news for local golf fans — there’s another crew of birdie-seeking sharpshooters arriving in Calgary next month. The PGA Tour Canada’s season-ending Fortinet Cup Championship is set for Sept. 7-10 at Country Hills.
(This story was originally published in the Calgary Sun and has been shared here with permission).