Duke's banner '94 pays dividends

March 01, 1995|By Kevin Eck | Kevin Eck,Contributing Writer

Norm Duke is finding out that being the 1994 Professional Bowlers Association Player of the Year entails more than just getting his likeness on the cover of this year's PBA media guide.

Because of his status, Duke is obligated to attend various PBA functions. Moreover, he has become the player everyone wants to talk to.

Yesterday, for example, Duke -- who is in town to compete in the Greater Baltimore Open -- sandwiched his practice session at Country Club Lanes between interviews and photo shoots with the national and local media.

It's become the routine for Duke in every town on the PBA tour.

"The responsibilities, commitments and obligations are incredible, even more so than I anticipated," said Duke, 30.

That's not to say that he isn't enjoying the attention.

"I'm just starting to realize and enjoy some of the benefits from a season such as 1994," said Duke, who recently added an ESPY award to his collection. "As it was happening, my popularity grew and grew, but right now, it's more than ever."

In 1994, Duke reached a level of consistency that few bowlers have attained.

He led the tour in titles with five and finished second twice.

Duke also was first in earnings with $273,753 -- the third-highest single-year sum -- and average (222.83).

Additionally, he set six PBA scoring records during the True Value Open last February.

Before 1994, Duke had finished among the top 10 in annual earnings twice (1991 and 1993) in his 13-year career.

To what does Duke attribute last year's success?

"There's no one thing I can put my finger on," said Duke, who became the youngest player to win a title at age 18 in 1983. "There's no secrets or no tricks. Everything just fell in place.

"It's a product of 13 years on the road and learning what it takes to compete with the best day in and day out. I've always had the ability to play with the best, but not as consistently as 1994."

Duke's accomplishments last year are even more impressive considering that he missed the entire summer session after undergoing surgery on his right foot to repair a ruptured nerve.

He returned for the fall tour, when he won the Rochester Open and placed second in the Great Lakes Classic.

"It was difficult to watch the players go out and make their living and me being on the couch," said Duke, who is from Edmond, Okla. "But it gave me a chance to re-establish some of my goals. The highlight of my year was being able to come off an injury and still get back to the winner's circle."

Despite his success in the fall, Duke said he is feeling the effects of the injury.

"To this day, I'm not as strong physically as I was before the surgery," he said. "But as far as my physical bowling game, I feel that I'm sharp enough to win tournaments right now."

Winning tournaments, however, is something that Duke has yet to do this year. He has failed to reach the stepladder finals in the six 1995 events in which he has competed.

By this time last year, Duke had won two titles and finished second once.

"Because I'm coming off the 1994 season, it seems like there's no way in the world I'm going to be happy or satisfied -- I'm not," he said. "Traditionally, Players of the Year have down years the year afterward, and that's one thing I do not want to be a part of."

But is there any way Duke could possibly top last year's performance?

"It's certainly possible to top it," he said. "The whole thing is to just go out there and do your job as good as you can. And in the end, they pay somebody, and if it happens to be me getting the fat check, well then I've done my job well."

GREATER BALTIMORE OPEN

Where: Country Club Lanes, Pulaski Highway, Rosedale

When: Today, 9 a.m.-10 p.m.; Tomorrow, 9 a.m.-3:15 p.m. (field is cut to 24 for match play); 6:15 p.m.-9:30 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. (eight games of match play); 6:45 p.m.-9:30 p.m. (eight games of match play; field is cut to five bowlers for stepladder finals); Saturday, 3 p.m.-4:30 p.m. (stepladder finals).

TV: Saturday, 3 p.m., chs. 2, 7

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