The game of golf has exposed Jzeke Dukes, a kid from Sunnyside, to so much he thought he would never see.
But golf and the nuances that often come inside the game haven’t always been easy for Dukes. The 23-year-old is gearing up for his senior season at Maryville College, which is the fourth college he has played for in the last six years.
Dukes, a product of Lamar High School, began his collegiate journey as a freshman at Prairie View, before a year stop at Blinn Junior College, followed by three years at Greensboro College. And now he has landed with the Division III Maryville Scots for his final year of college eligibility.
He had hoped to be headed home to finish out his collegiate career at Texas Southern, but that fell through, so he ended up in Tennessee.
“It’s been good, but it’s been a rollercoaster just with everything,” said Dukes, who made the all-conference and all-tournament first teams at Greensboro this past spring. “All of the politics in collegiate sports and with your coaches and your schools, it’s a good and a bad. But it’s most definitely worth it on my journey.
“It’s teaching me a lot. It’s teaching me to stay humble, it’s teaching me to be able to persevere through hard times and understand that the only person that can stop me, is me and God. So just letting me know there are no obstacles in front of you unless you place them there. Life is already complicated without adding complications.”
It’s not like Dukes needed a college whirlwind to teach him about obstacles. He learned about obstacles early when at 11 months, he grabbed hold of some hot curling irons that left three of his fingers fused together with only his thumb and pinky finger mobile on his right hand.
But with his right hand left basically useless, his father, Jerry Dukes, put a golf club in his left hand at the age of 5. Suddenly, Jzeke had found something he loved and could excel at despite his injured hand.
It was an obstacle Jzeke and his family turned into a blessing that exposed him to things he never knew and helped him get an education.
“I’ve been blessed with the opportunity of having this burn, going through the downfalls I went through in life to come out on top,” said Jzeke, who was featured in a Defender article on the First Tee program in August 2013 when he went by Jerrion. “I come from south Houston. It’s not the best part of town. When people ask what side of town I’m from, I say Pearland because nobody knows where Sunnyside is.”
He has started off strong with the Scots with two Top 10 finishes in his four tournaments this fall season, finishing second in the Lane Group Las Vegas International and tied for third at the West Pines Collegiate. During this fall stretch, he has finished seven rounds of par or better out of nine overall rounds as he gets set for the spring season and a hopeful run to the NCAA National Championships.
Jzeke is also looking forward to turning pro next year after finishing up his senior year at Maryville, but his focus right now is on the unique opportunity he has to play in the inaugural Southwest Showcase Cedar Crest Golf Course in Dallas Nov. 13-15. The Showcase will feature the nation’s top Black collegiate men’s and women’s golfers.
The 54-hole event with 21 men and 21 women golfers will be carried live on national television via The Golf Channel.
Jzeke was invited after the CEO of the event watched him play during the PGA Works Collegiate Championships, a tournament for minority student-athletes.
“It puts a smile on my face to actually see that I got invited by the CEO to play in this tournament and I never noticed he was watching me for the last three rounds at PGA Works,” Jzeke said. “It’s mind-blowing to know who is watching you or who is actually tuning into you. It’s not just about playing good golf, it’s about the demeanor that I have, it’s about the body language that I portray. Of course, these guys are not going to want just anybody playing in their tournament. It’s the best of the best.”
It’s an opportunity Jzeke is taking very seriously because he knows he is often overlooked as a Black student-athlete competing at the Division III level.
“Very excited because I actually have the opportunity to play against true competition,” he said. “I got stuck in Division III golf. I’m a Division I golfer stuck in Division III golf.”
Jzeke clearly has a strong sense of self and belief in himself. It’s how he has been able to overcome many of the obstacles he has faced in life and in golf.
“There were a lot of times when people told me, I will never make it and I wouldn’t get as far as I am now,” he said. “It just shows that as long you are dedicated into the craft that you choose, you are able to do anything.
“Golf has guided me down the path of absolutely everything. It’s gotten me out of the hood, it’s gotten me to a better place, it’s let me travel the world. I can say, my life wouldn’t be the same without golf. Truly, if I wasn’t playing golf, I don’t know what I’d be doing in this world.”