We Can Learn a Lot From Any of Them

My favorite slacker-dude, stoic, Jason Dufner, is in the lead again at another PGA Tour event, this time at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. He’s the guy whose facial expression rarely changes save for an occasional raised eyebrow. Playing at the TPC Louisiana, he managed to shoot a pretty nifty 7-under 65 to get to 11-under for two days and a one-shot lead.

But my concern is that nobody cares.

Every time I write about Tiger or Rory, my site trends higher with a big rise in visitors. When I write about Jason Dufner the needle doesn’t move much from the norm. But I love guys like Jason Dufner who haven’t won yet, are deep in the process of figuring out how to get better and are thoughtful and articulate enough to share their thoughts in interviews. This is going on in the background in almost every one of the players.

And just to establish the base mission of this blog, its purpose is not to write posts filled with adulation and starry eyes about 65s. It’s to write about master golfers, both male and female, operating at the very edge of what’s possible in the game of golf. My bias is far less about shots that were hit than the ideas on mastery that made them possible. And my purpose is to highlight lessons they learned, wisdom they stumbled across, to help players lower on the food chain with their games.

The lessons are less about swing mechanics and more about what led to the awareness that led to their discovery…and then enabled the mechanics to be freely and confidently executed.

The same lessons the elite pros use to win are the same lessons a 20-handicap can use to finally break through and shoot in the 80s on a regular basis.

But I fear that nobody sees value in what these “off-brand” masters have to say. So I got curious. Just how good is the breadth of the PGA Tour?

I decided that the best measure would be to look at the Scoring Average stats. Rory McIlroy leads all comers with a 68.97, call it 69. Tiger is second at 69.03 and Justin Rose is third at 69.31.

You have to go all the way to No. 15, John Senden to get into the 70s. He’s at 70.01. Many people probably never heard of Senden, but I interviewed him after his “Sweet Sixteen” loss at the Match Play Championship in Tucson where he talked very matter-of-factly about learning to play with freedom. Terrific stuff.

But here’s the kicker: you have to go all the way to No. T83, Stephen Ames and Kris Blanks, to get to 71. They are both at 71.00. And then all the way to No. 160 to get to Ted Potter Jr., at 72.01.

So the top 14 are in the 69s…the next 68 are in the 70s…and the next 77 are in the 71s. A grand total of 159 players are within two strokes of each other. So even though it’s a long list, it’s tightly compacted; 159 of the best players in the world, the very pinnacle of achievement in the game. (For a quirky sense of proportion, I just read that the USGA has accepted 9,006 players who will attempt to qualify for this year’s U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.)

Which means that any one of these 159 guys could have his breakthrough tournament(s) like Jason Dufner is having now. Webb Simpson was this quick-tempo, Wake Forest college kid who kept banging on the door…and now we know him as No.2 on the 2011 Money List, making $6.3 million. Because I wrote about each of his tournament glimmers, I know that he had a lot of good things to say along the way.

And logically, this more accepting attitude towards the breadth of the Tour extends to the players on the LPGA Tour as well. Their stroke averages are not as low and not as compacted (e.g., Yani Tseng and Ai Miyazato are the only two in the 69s and only 21 are below the ubiquitous par 72), but they are elite players in their own right, and as I have said before, any of them could wax almost any amateur golfer.

Here’s what Dufner was thinking about on the way to the top Friday as he tried to figure out how to rope his first win:

It’s been a difficult weekend for me the last month and a half or so. I haven’t quite played as well as I would have liked but I know that my game is still pretty good.

Obviously there’s a lot of different things that go into winning besides hitting the golf ball. So I’ve been trying to think about what I can do better mentally, what I can do better emotionally out there and learn some – learn from some things that I maybe struggled with here the last five, six weekends playing out here.

Hopefully, maybe, this will be the week. I’ve had a lot of really nice finishes here on this golf course and feel pretty comfortable playing this golf course.

He doesn’t know the answers just yet, but he’s at least in the question which is half the battle.

And Russell Knox is rookie on Tour this year who shot a blistering, course-record 64 to climb into T2, one stroke behind Dufner. And he had a lighthearted thought which became more serious the more you thought about it:

Q.  Do you think the nerves will be there tomorrow?

Absolutely.  I love being nervous.  I mean one of my good friends, Mike Dunphy, always says to me, “You have to feel comfortable feeling uncomfortable.”  That’s just the way it’s going to be.

That may be true for him now, but I can’t say that I agree with him totally because over time, I believe that the transcendent journey from operating out of the egoic mind to operating from the calm, clear mind of spiritual essence is possible and something to keep striving for.

So that’s what two obscure players had to share Friday about what they know or what they think they know.

And it’s valuable, even if their names aren’t Rory or Tiger.

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