'Fortunate to be here': Joe Durant takes home improbable Ally Challenge win
Grand Blanc — It’s been about six weeks since Joe Durant teed it up in a tournament, and quite frankly, he was wondering if it might be the last.
The four-time winner during his days on the PGA Tour had three victories under his belt on the Champions Tour, but hadn’t finished first since 2018. And after shooting 72-78—150 to miss the cut at the U.S. Senior Open in Omaha, Nebraska, back in early July, Durant was about done.
“Honestly, after the Senior U.S. Open in Omaha about a month-and-a-half ago I was about ready to quit, quite honestly,” Durant said. “I was so frustrated with my game, my putting was horrendous and I was questioning why I was even playing golf, to be honest with you.
“I kind of dug deep and made a few changes in my putting, which was a tremendous benefit this week and I’m so fortunate to here and be able to still play golf again.”
He did more than just play golf. Durant played it better than anyone over three days at Warwick Hills, shooting a final-round 4-under 68 to finish at 17-under and win the fourth Ally Challenge, holding off Hall of Famer Bernhard Langer, who came in at 16-under after a final-round 70.
Steven Alker was two shots back at 15-under while Steve Flesch, who shot 64 on Sunday, finished at 14-under along with K.J. Choi and Doug Barron. Vijay Singh, who had a double-eagle 2 on the par-5 16th, ended the tournament at 13-under.
“I’m really relieved,” Durant said. “It's been a while since I've (won). To go out today and beat the best player on our Tour head-to-head with a couple other guys. Doug Barron played great, too. K.J. had a nice round. Just to prove to yourself that you can still do it means the world to me because I had a lot of self-doubt coming into this week.”
Considering that self-doubt dominated Durant’s thoughts just a few weeks ago, it’s almost remarkable he was able to put things together over the three days at Warwick Hills.
But a self-imposed break did wonders.
“I just had to get away from it,” Durant said. “I was just really frustrated. Sometimes you've got to step back and kind of think about why you're playing in the first place. Are you playing for other people, are you playing for yourself, to enjoy the game?
"I really kind of lost my love for the game. I love the guys out here, but lost that joy of playing and I kind of made a decision I was going to come back out and just enjoy the playing experience.”
Durant enjoyed it so much he played most of the back nine with a two-shot lead as Langer missed chance after chance to put pressure on Durant. His birdie on No. 16 was the only one Langer carded on the back side, as he failed to capture the magic that led to a first-round 64, on his 64th birthday Friday, followed by a 66 on Saturday.
“The wind was up, the course played longer with all the rain we had last night, the pins were tough and I just didn't make a lot of putts today,” Langer said. “That's why I shot 70, but it was still a good score. Played with Joe Durant, the winner, and he was pretty flawless until the 18th. I mean, he played the first 17 holes incredibly well. If he had putted any better, he would have been 20 under par or more.”
About that 18th hole. That’s when things at least got a little bit interesting.
Holding a two-shot advantage, Durant pushed his tee shot right into the ninth fairway, and was forced to lay up on his approach. A poorly hit third shot left Durant on the fringe of the green, some 20 feet from the hole. Meanwhile, Langer’s approach was in the bunker and he blasted out to a few feet.
Durant hardly put his fourth shot close, running it a few feet past the hole. But he put his putt coming back in the center of the hole for a bogey 5 and the one-shot win.
“He’s not going to go away,” Durant said of Langer. “He’s never gonna give you anything, so you just have to go play your game and give yourself an opportunity and try not to make mistakes like I did on 18.
“I was so nervous, I chunked that (approach), but fortunately I got the two-putt.”
He got the two-putt, got the win, and with some renewed confidence, there’s no telling what’s next for Durant.
“It certainly gives you a shot in the arm,” Durant said. “Makes you feel like, ‘OK, I can still shoot some numbers.’”