Jason Dufner: On the discipline of lifestyle changes

Jason Dufner picked a great week to begin his 2015 domestic campaign. The Humana Challenge in La Quinta, California, has come to life again this week just as a slimmed down Dufner rolls out the results of his stark diet; he has never looked better. He also comes in as one of their Well Being Ambassadors.

Yeah, I’ve partnered up this week with Humana, to kind of help them out and share my story with what I’ve been doing for the last four or five months.  It goes well with their overall involvement with this event with health and well being.

He’s missed the event the last couple of years because he was playing in Maui and Honolulu, but some debilitating injuries caused him to be a little less hard on his body by pacing himself. Now he’s just trying to figure out where his game is. 

This event is great.  Playing in the Palm Springs area is awesome.  The weather is always fantastic for the most part.  The golf courses are pretty reasonable.  I think they give you a good gauge of where you’re at, what you need to work on. So if you’re not going to start in Hawaii I think this is great opportunity to start your season here and be a part of the Humana Challenge.

We have got a great field.  Seems like there’s more guys showing up this year and starting their season here than we have had in the past.  So I’m excited.

Now that he’s on the mend — he played four events in Asia in the Fall — he reveals just how dire things were and why he became so aggressive in beginning to take care of himself:

Not being able to play golf.  If I didn’t do it, I wasn’t going to be able to play golf.  So it was pretty simple for me.  Didn’t really have a choice.  I haven’t felt good for two or three years, to be honest with you.  Kind of came to a head last year.  I couldn’t play.  I missed the playoffs, missed the defense of my PGA Championship.  More than likely missed playing in the Ryder Cup because of it.

So, not really ready to give the game of golf up yet.  And I needed to make some change, so I did.

His new regimen is mostly about his diet. He was getting to the point where he had a noticeable paunch and weird stuff was happening with his body. The overall thrust is to turn him back into an athlete again:

I would say it’s about 80/20 diet.  The weight loss is from diet a hundred percent.  I’ve still got, I’ve got a workout plan that I do that helps me with the mobility and strength in my shoulder, in my Thoracic [middle] spine.  I’ve got some mobility and strength programs I do for my lower body and my legs.  I do some cardio.

Unbeknownst to him, all of the ill feelings he was experiencing was due to accumulated inflammation due to his poor diet.

So most of it is diet and the diet is based around getting inflammation out of my body.  A lot of the weight that I had — that I was carrying was inflammation.  Inflammation in — my symptoms being, inflammation in my shoulder and my joints.

It’s pretty much gluten free.  No sugar.  No processed foods.  Natural sugars.  You find that in fruits and stuff like that.  No alcohol.  No soda.  All those things that you like to eat I pretty much don’t eat anymore.

So we hear about how stringent this is going to be for life and we recoil in horror. How could he give all that good stuff up? Isn’t there any other alternative?

No, there’s not.  If you put those things in your body you’re generally ‑‑ I didn’t know, I didn’t know that I felt bad, because I became used to it.  Once I got off of that, I learned how good I felt.

Think it’s not stringent? Wait ’til you hear what he’s had to give up:

Fast food.  Processed food that we, that’s pretty regularly available.  Being what we do, we travel a lot, fast food quick food, easy food, is easy.  It’s easy.  You grab it, you go.  So, that’s probably the hardest thing.

I really like chocolate and peanut butter, for whatever reason.  That doesn’t, that isn’t consumed very often anymore.  I went clean 11 straight weeks.  I didn’t touch anything that wasn’t — I had a list of stuff that I can eat, can’t eat.  I didn’t touch anything that was on my red or yellow list.  I was just in my green list for 11 weeks. That sucked.  But I had to do it.

Now occasionally I’ll go and I shouldn’t really, if you get off it, you’re almost resetting, to be honest with you, from the people that I’ve talked to, so, I’ll have meals here and there like in California, In & Out Burger.  Got to have an In & Out burger.

There have been any number of overweight players who decided to go through a major weight loss program and some of them found that it disturbed the ages-old equilibrium in their bodies and they felt they couldn’t play as well. But Dufner isn’t worried about that; so far it’s been all good:

No, I haven’t felt anything but good with my golf game.  I’m not really in golf shape right now.  I haven’t played a lot of golf.  I went overseas for a month.  I played over there.  I came back, shut it down for eight weeks again and haven’t touched a club until Christmas.  So, I’ve been practicing a little bit, I’m a little bit limited on how many balls I can hit, how much I can play.

Tournament weeks I’m going to have find a good median between how much I practice, practice rounds and being able to compete.  Because the most important thing is competing on Thursday through Sunday.  So, I don’t really know where my game’s at.  That’s why I’m here playing this week.  That’s why I’m playing next week [in Phoenix].  That will give me a good assessment of where I’m at, what I can do, what I can’t do, what I need to get better at.

At this point, he went into what little detail he knew so far. With symptoms like his, sometimes medical diagnoses becomes more art than science:

I don’t really have a good answer for you, to be honest.  If you’re familiar with how medical diagnosis go, they don’t have a lot of great answers for you.  Unless you need surgery.  And I don’t need surgery.  I’m not in that category.  I had a lot of inflammation in my body.  I had a lot of muscle soreness, muscle tightness, inflammation in my joints.  They think I had a thoracic outlet syndrome, where sometimes it’s caused by your first rib, sometimes it’s caused by muscle compression where it compresses on the nerves that come out of your neck and go into your arm.  They think the muscles got so tight that they compressed on those nerves.  That’s why I started having the dead arm.

I’ve had a lot of instability and issues in my shoulder with tendonitis, some arthritic conditions in my shoulder which I’m going to have to deal with continually.  And I can manage those, but once my arm went dead, I couldn’t really play golf.

So I got a lot of rest, I got on a good treatment program to strengthen my shoulder, to get more mobility in that area.  And that’s kind of where I’m at.  There’s been a lot of, ‘Oh, it could be your neck, could be your shoulder, could be this, that.’  So I’m trying to treat all of it and be smart about it.

Given where he started in his re-hab, that he could play at all was the biggest thing, but he also managed to have some decent finishes (10th in the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai). But what he had to do to be able to play was a delicate balancing act:

Yeah, I felt pretty good all four weeks.  I was a little bit, it flared up a little bit for me the first week I played.  But once I started going, I felt good.  I hadn’t practiced, to be honest with you, much, maybe 10 days, where I was I don’t think I hit more than 50 balls before the event.  During the event, I think I played 27 holes before I went over there.  So, I was happy that I played well, but sometimes when you get away from the game you don’t have high expectations and you just kind of play and you’re happy to be out there playing.  I was definitely happy to be playing again and happy to have some good results.  So that was nice.

It would be bad enough trying to do all of this at home, but try working it out in a strange city each week where you can’t just rummage around in your own kitchen:

That’s the biggest challenge.  Obviously, traveling makes it tough, but I need to come up with a system and that’s part of the thing I’m working on this weekend.  I’m going to need to be prepared.  To carry food on with me, and I need to find a Whole Foods each week.

I need to make better choices when we do eat out.  There’s always something on a menu, other than fast food places, that you can find that’s pretty clean.  I’m finding a lot of restaurants will make accommodations for you, if you tell them X, Y, Z is how I would like it prepared, they will do it for you.  So I think I’ll be eating a lot of chicken and vegetables on the road.

I think it’s becoming more popular, you’re seeing more and more restaurants do this stuff.  Even something like Chipotle is pretty clean as far as what they’re doing.

We all know what it’s like jumping into the abyss of a new diet and slowly capitulating to the world as it used to be. But it Dufner’s case, his condition was so deteriorated (without him really realizing it at first) that he had to follow the new plan. The first days were brutal:

The first couple days when you go gluten free and take all that out, you feel terrible.  I felt bad for five, six days.  Those were probably the most challenging.  But to be honest with you, I didn’t really have a choice.

I think one of the great attributes that top players in the world have, top people in what they do in the world, is they make a decision about what they’re going to do and they do it.  I think that’s a great attribute amongst successful people, especially in athletics.

If you don’t have a choice, if your decisions are between not playing and playing, I’m always going to choose playing.  So, if you have that mindset, most people’s livelihood and what they do for a living don’t depend on eating this cheese burger or piece of pizza or making these changes that make it tough.  But in my case it kind of does.  So, it wasn’t that difficult.

The first five days sucked.  I felt terrible, I laid in bed for five days, literally.  Headaches and not feeling good.  But trying to get all that toxin out of you.

The mad scientist that put all of this together is actually a young personal trainer in Atlanta who does something called Triumph Training and had worked with a friend of Dufner’s:

I talked to a pretty specialized guy in Atlanta, his name is Andrew Johnston. A friend of mine had had some chronic back issues and I got with Andrew in Atlanta and Andrew’s kind of a holistic guy, he does the whole thing, diet, PT, working out, he does the holistic approach to your health.

I kind of specified that I was interested in what he had to offer as far as eating better and the diet.  My friend Lane Savoy had great results with him changing his diet.  With his back he had some really chronic back issues, so I gave it a go and feeling pretty good about it.

And this is what breakfast turns into at times:

This morning for breakfast I had protein shake with water.  I had three scrambled eggs.  I had some ground buffalo meat with some avocado.  And some white rice.

As with most sea changes like this, results can come slowly. So commitment is paramount; what do you want your life to look like and what are you committed to doing about it? For now it even means curtailing this persona of his that got created on Twitter.

I don’t want to do too much too soon.  I haven’t had any pain for the most part since I’ve been back since Christmas.  I had a couple days where it gets inflamed and feels a little sticky, but I got a great group of people that are helping me with that and I need to get my golf muscles stronger.  I don’t have many reps. I can’t just go out there and hit 300 balls and play 18 holes and expect to feel good the next day. I’m not at that point.

I won’t even get to focus on what I do on my life off the course, I need to be more focused on what I’m doing on the course and what I need to do to be successful.

Being committed to the achievement of something is much more powerful than just wanting it. It’s easy to change your mind about a want, but it’s another whole magnitude of deliberation to decide to abandon a commitment. That doesn’t come as easily.

For now, Dufner appears to completely understand that. I hope he makes it. We need a guy in the game who is a master of implacability.

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