When Bob Toski retired from the PGA Tour at age 30 to raise a family and become a teaching pro, his brother, Jack, asked him, “How many of the pros helped you get ahead?” Toski can recount the times when one of his brethren picked up a check or loaned him money when he was broke.
“My brother said, ‘Why don’t you give something back to the game by not charging the pros for lessons.’ So that’s what I’ve done,” says the 87-year-old Toski, the Tour’s leading money winner ($65,819) in 1954.
Count 2013 Travelers champion Ken Duke as one of the beneficiaries of Toski’s goodwill.
“He never lets me pay him a dime,” says Duke, who has earned more than $8 million since Toski became his instructor in 2006.
But in 2009, when Duke qualified for his first Masters, Toski thought of something he’d let Duke do to repay him for his tutelage. Toski’s request? “Take me to Augusta.”
So Duke arranged for a private plane to take him and Toski to Augusta as guests of member Danny Yates. (Yates to Toski: “What do you think, Bob?” Toski to Yates: “Well, the trees have gotten a lot taller.”)
It doesn’t take much to get Toski launching into the story of how he hadn’t stepped foot on Augusta’s hallowed fairways since he competed there in 1954.
“I had just won the Azalea (Open) and Gene Sarazen quoted me as a dark horse to win the Masters,” Toski says. “I shoot 80 the first round and go into the locker room and Jimmy Demaret says, ‘What did you shoot, Bob?’ I told him and he said, ‘Where did you make all your birdies?’ I said. ‘I didn’t make any birdies.’ He was laughing so hard.”
Fifty-five years later, Toski was back and after striping his opening tee shot, he took off in a sprint up the first fairway.
“I was pumped,” Toski says.
Later, Toski supplied one of Duke’s favorite memories from the day. As they walked down No. 10, Toski stopped and looked to the sky. Says Duke, “He started talking to Demaret, Hogan, and Snead. He said, ‘Boys, look where I am today.’ ”
What could top that? How about when Toski turned to Duke on the par-5, 15th hole, and said, “What do you think? I’ve got 240. Should I go for it or not?”
Duke, who tied for 35th in 2009, can’t wait to make his first trip back to the Masters after winning last June.
“I had 16 lip-outs in 2009,” Duke recalls. “The golf course sets up good for me. I can’t reach a lot of the trouble. I don’t try to because I can’t.”
Duke, who was diagnosed with scoliosis while in seventh grade and had a 16-inch rod attached to his spine, will also be honored at Augusta on the eve of the tournament with the Ben Hogan Award from the Golf Writers Association of America. Toski plans to be at the dinner to honor his student and by Duke’s side all week.
“I just want to be there with him to see him play. I’ve never seen him play 72 holes in person,” Toski says.
That’s not all. Toski says he has a game plan for Duke at Augusta.
Says Toski: “We’re not going up there to finish third or fourth.”