Jason Dufner: Knowing Where The Hole Is

Jason Dufner is one of the good guys out on Tour. Like all the players, he’s a searcher, but he also has a great attitude about it. He looks so nonplussed when he plays, even a little like Sleepy if Snow White’s dwarf took human form. That’s because he is nonplussed. He has one playing face: completely passive and non-expressive save for an occasional slightly raised eyebrow.

That’s pretty much because he is so deep inside the process. There was no better example of that than when he got into a playoff at last year’s PGA Championship with rookie, Keegan Bradley. He lost the four-hole playoff, but he looked to be in charge of himself right down to the last hole.

Afterward, he won my heart when the world was trying to get him to convey just what a crushing loss this had been for him; would he ever recover? But he wasn’t having any of it. “I don’t feel bad at all. I finished second in a major and that’s not such a bad thing,” in so many words.

He has a habit of coming out of the blocks fast: a 64 in Phoenix and 66s at Doral, Tampa and now here in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at the Bay Hill Club in Orlando. His problem is that he hasn’t been able to finish one of these tournaments off, playing right around par on the weekend. So he’s looking at that, and particularly his putting.

And his work on it became the subject of his interview after today’s first round. This is interesting because you rarely get a Tour pro giving up these kind of details on what they’re working on.

How comfortable are you now? This is the third time you’ve either been in the lead or within one shot here in Florida alone?

Yeah, definitely. Played a lot of good golf throughout my career in South Florida. So I feel very comfortable down here. Obviously I’m playing some really nice golf. I’ve held the lead at Doral; held the lead last week through two rounds.

This week, started off great. So I’m really happy with where my game is. Just looking to close a little bit better on the weekend and try to close one of these tournaments out and try to get a win [which would be his first].

What’s the key?

Probably a little confidence with the putter. I don’t quite seem to be as confident as I would like putting on the weekend. That seems to be the weakest part of my game. Last week, I hit it probably well enough to win on the weekend. Just couldn’t hole the putts that you need, and that’s what guys do that are winning out here. They are holing those 5- to 15-footers on a pretty consistent basis on the weekends.

Just been working hard on my putting and my green reading and alignment, and learning to trust my stroke. It’s been a big adjustment putting for me. I’ve changed a good bit with my putting but probably just need to trust it a little bit more and believe it a little bit more.

Can you explain to us what changes or modifications you’ve made?

His answer here is fascinating because it demonstrates two things:

  1. The biggest thing in putting is knowing where the hole is. Knowing, as in knowing it in your very being. You can have all the great technique in the world, but if you can’t reflexively aim your putter square to your intended line, your body will instinctively manipulate your stroke to compensate for that, and
  2. Making a change in golf is not a one-dimensional affair. So often, you make one change and it can have the unintended consequence of changing two other things, as Dufner describes here.

Yeah, for me, I found out that I was – my tendency was to aim a good bit to the right on all putts.

So once you kind of break that down and understand what square is and where you’re aligned, then you almost have to rework your stroke, because when I aimed right, I had to have a lot of hook, because we are so target orientated trying to hit it back to the target.

Now, aiming straight, or aiming where I wanted to be, but now I’ve got all this hook which can really be bad. So it was kind of a twofold thing. I had to get better at aiming and then I had to learn how to stroke it better, because of the tendencies that I developed because of bad aim. I’ve been working on that since Palm Springs, which was the beginning of the year. Getting more comfortable with it, and I think it’s a big key.

I think some of the better putters out here are probably better aimers on a consistent basis. But it’s kind of been a two-fold thing, like I said, just because I was aiming well, I still had tendencies from poor aim.

How did you find out that you were aiming to the right all these years?

You know, I just really took an honest assessment of my putting after Sony [the first tournament of the year in Hawaii]. You know, you get on these monitors and stuff, and your stroke looks great, your numbers come back at the same lab, or if you go to Scotty Cameron, and I thought about it and I thought, well, I must be aiming pretty good there. Because they set you up pretty square and you can figure out where square is; but how do you transfer that over to the golf course?

I had my caddie start looking at where I was aiming, and I had my coach look at where I was aiming in practice, and one real common tendency is I was aiming right.

So it’s hard when you’re over the putt, you feel like you’re aiming at a spot. You need help; I’ve got a great team with my caddie, Kevin, and Chuck Cook helping me. That’s one thing we really singled out. It’s been better. Especially Thursday, Friday, I’ve been doing really good.

I think just the confidence thing and the mental thing and getting over it and trusting that the stroke is better and the aim is better.

How long has he been lining you up?

To be honest with you, Kevin has been lining me up since Palm Springs. I missed that par putt on 9 and I told him, no more lining up until further notice, and actually putted better on the back. Maybe that’s part of the trust; I’ve got to trust myself.

Sometimes you feel like you’re aimed one way and he tells you to inch it a little bit to the left, which is a recurring theme with me. Then you get a little wishy-washy and uncomfortable. I was kind of like, I’ve had enough; I’m going to trust the practice I’ve been putting in working on my aim and just go with it. Actually I think I had maybe five one-putts on the back nine.

Any thoughts on that, still a couple of players that rely on [their caddies]?

His answer here is valuable because he points to how rhythmical putting is and how important it is to stop all the fine tuning and just trust yourself.

Whatever works. Everybody’s different. It’s worked sometimes out here for me with him helping me aiming. But you know, I just change it up a little bit; if it’s not working that great, and just like I said, maybe it gives me a little bit more self-belief and a little bit less to think about.

You know, a lot of times when he says you’re good, then I hit a good putt. But if he tells me to fidget it one way or another, it throws you out of your rhythm and I just went back to trusting my practice and go with it.

Ever figure out if he lied to you?

I’m sure he has done that in the past, too. (Laughter) It’s hard, it’s so – I don’t know how to word it.

But caddie advice is a difficult thing I think. He doesn’t know what shot I’m trying to hit or how far things are playing; if you ride the wind, it’s going to play one distance; if you can work it [against the wind], it’s going to be another. And with putting, if you hit different speeds, you’re going to have different lines.

You know, that’s kind of an iffy thing there, and I use it in the beginning just to get a baseline for it. Back nine, I was just tired of missing. I missed some short ones on the front nine and just decided I was going to trust myself a little bit more.

If you can’t tell by now, I really like Jason Dufner and I’d really like to see all of his hard work rewarded with a win real soon.

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