He looks so unassuming, Jason Dufner does. There’s all of this commotion about “Dufnering,” his semi-comatose, seated pose, arms close to his sides, that makes him look like he’s in some sort of restraints and drugged. It got started with a photo of Dufner propped against an elementary class schoolroom wall with the kids at a moment his attention to the earnest young teacher had waned.
Keegan Bradley tweeted the photo to make fun of his practical joke adversary and friend and, in no time at all, it went viral and the Twitter hashtag, #dufnering, became a verb. Tweets with photos from other Tour pros and madcap golfers from around the world flooded the Internet. One of the most unusual was an airman or soldier dufnering on the rear ramp of a C-130 that had been lowered in flight. That one perfectly captured the essence of dufnering; dangerous commotion all around and still the subject continues dufnering.
And then there was the matter of that 2011 PGA Championship playoff loss to Bradley. Yeah, he got himself in the playoff, they would say, but he wasn’t tough enough, wasn’t “ready for prime time.” And with his slacker-dude persona, there was the suggestion that he just didn’t have the killer attitude required to win something that big.
The fact of the matter is that he played extremely well in that championship in order to get in that playoff, the line between winning and a playoff loser a very fine line. He spoke the truth when he said in so many words, “Hey, I played well and came in second in a major and that’s not such a bad thing.” But some heard it as being insufficiently motivated to take on winning something so grand. Indifferent slacker-dude.
With this week at Oak Hill Golf Club in Rochester, New York, all of that went away. It began with his course record 63 that also happened to tie the record for lowest round in a major. The only problem was, what do you do for an encore? When he succumbed to the pressure of backing that round up on Saturday, it looked like another flash-in-the-pan performance. But he didn’t see it that way:
Yeah, you know, [Saturday] was tough. I came off an unbelievable round on Friday, record‑setting round here at Oak Hill, tied the lowest score ever in a major championship, and yesterday was a real struggle for me. I had some shaky moments. For some reason when you shoot such a low score, it’s hard to back that up.
But my goal yesterday was to stay in touch with whatever the lead might have been; if I was in the lead or if I was close to the lead, I felt like if I could get to Sunday, I would be really confident going into Sunday.
His 1-over, 71 kept him close to the lead, one behind Jim Furyk. Mission accomplished. And that set him up for a great round on Sunday, great because he got it to 4-under by the 16th hole with no bogeys. And…he was calm and in control of his emotions:
You know, I felt really good today. The first tee is fine. The first green is tough for me sometimes, especially in this major championship. But I felt really calm. After I [hit] that, I had about a 3‑footer or so on the 1st hole for par and made that. I was really settled in and determined to play well today and give myself a chance.
Hit a great drive on 17 that made me relax a little bit. But I felt good after I made that putt on the 1st hole, I would say I was pretty flatlined for most of the day.
In other words, he felt how he always looks. And because of that, he put on a freewheeling exhibition of ball-striking that won’t soon be forgotten:
Yeah, you know, for me to be competitive on this type of golf course, I felt like I had to have a great week ball-striking and I was able to do it. I hit a lot of fairways. If I did miss the fairways, I wasn’t in the thick, thick stuff, so I could manage to get it up by the greens. When I did hit the fairways, I hit a ton of greens, and that was the difference for me.
My scrambling was pretty good today. I see I only didn’t get one ball up‑and‑down. That was on the last. But I felt like if I wanted to compete this week, I really had to put one of my best weeks ball-striking so far this year.
On Friday, he holed his approach shot on the par-4 2nd hole to get his round of 63 kick started. And that made the highlight reels for the next three days. But on Sunday, the number of short irons he stuffed inside of two feet would make it’s own highlight reel if viewers understood that they all happened in one round. And that freed him up some more:
I tried to stay patient early on. I tried to be aggressive. I went for the par-5 4th hole. I was thinking about laying up short of that. I ended up hitting 3‑wood and made birdie there.
The 5th hole was a pretty tough pin there and I went right at it and stuffed it. A little bit of a combination of both; I knew that I had to stay patient, but I felt like I was hitting it pretty good and I hit a lot of shots close there early in the round which made it easy for me, not too much pressure on the putter today.
Yesterday I had a pretty makeable putt on 4 and missed, and today I made it. Gave me a little bit of confidence. Yesterday I was trying to hit 3-wood off the 5th tee for some reason and today I was determined I was going to hit driver and be confident with it. I hit a great drive down there and had a perfect number for a pitching wedge and stuffed it. A tale of two days; yesterday, 1‑over, and today, 2‑under.
And perhaps that all got started because he finally was in the major championship milieu enough that he knew it was a very special circumstance, but he was finally okay with it:
You always have that feeling [that it’s a special tournament]. The crowds are bigger, the courses are tougher; you know where you’re at. You know what’s going on. You try to act like it’s not that big a deal, but it is a pretty big deal.
I’ve played in enough of them. I know what to expect now. I know what to expect from the fan base. I know what to expect from the golf course setup, and I know what to expect from how the guys are going to react to the pressure and how I’m going to react to the pressure.
I was just confident that I was going to put my best foot forward and just really hang in there and try to win this thing at the end.
And that was a pretty big deal for him. The emotions still fresh, when he waded into the answer to his first question in the media center, there was an ever so subtle catch in his voice, an emotional affirmation of all that this was, all that he had accomplished this day:
So it was a tough test for me. The golf course was tough, but you know, like you said, my name will always be on this trophy, and nobody can take that away from me, so it’s a great accomplishment for me and I’m really excited about it.
And for Jason Dufner to express excitement is almost as big a deal as his wonderful victory.