Jason Dufner: This Could Be It

Jason Dufner managed to cruise around the TPC Louisiana in 5-under 67 to get to 17-under and into a two-stroke lead after 54 holes of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

Dufner went from a player who played to make cuts before his T2 finish at last year’s PGA Championship to a player who knows that he can contend. He finished T3 in last year’s Zurich Classic, T6 in the Players Championship a week later and T8 in the Byron Nelson two weeks after that. Not bad. But in those eight weeks leading up to the PGA, he missed the cut at five other tournaments.

But he acquitted himself well in the playoffs getting all the way to the Tour Championship in Atlanta and finishing T13. Granted there were only 30 guys in the field, but that was after the other 260 players who made money on the PGA Tour in 2011 had been eliminated in one way or another.

He’s only missed one cut this year, the first one in Honolulu, and he’s had some nice rounds otherwise. But he’s gained a reputation as a player who doesn’t play well on the weekend. Well, that’s a bit of an overstatement. He doesn’t play well enough to win.

Which surprises a lot of people who understand what it takes to play the game. They look at Dufner and see his unflappable nature, that he’s 13th in Driving Accuracy, 32nd in Greens in Regulation and 8th in All-Around Ranking. It’s been his putting: it’s just been average.

But not this week. You miss way more of these than you make, but Saturday he rolled in two long bombs:

That was really nice.  I hit it to about two, three feet on the first hole.  So that got me going nice, and then made a couple long putts there on 4 and 5 that’s probably a huge key to today.

That was probably a good key and be nice to kind of start that way again, get you a little bit more comfortable, know that you’re going to have a chance to shoot a score under par and not be struggling or fighting it for the day.

You know, maybe for a couple bogies start the round or, you know, even par through some holes maybe I start doubting myself again.

“…doubting myself again.” You know, we watch these guys play week after week and year after year and they all look so….competent. How could they ever doubt themselves?

The lesson here is that even the best in the world waiver in their belief in themselves, just like the rest of us. A useful piece of information to remember when we’re filled with recrimination over our dysfunction when it happens to us. It’s nice to know that we’re not the only ones…and that the entire golfers’ food chain occasionally suffers from the affliction.

Last couple of Saturdays been good, both 67 for you.  The scoring average on Sunday is something like T-108 on Tour this year. What does today’s round mean for you?  Does it translate all into Sunday, do you think?

Yeah.  For me it means instead of two good rounds I’ve had three good rounds so maybe we can make it four, you know, starting tomorrow.

But he continues – and this is really good – to demonstrate why he has such an even-keel way of being when he’s in the heat of battle.

I don’t really think about all that type of stuff.  Obviously I know that I hadn’t played as well as I would like on the weekends, try to identify some of the reasons why and try to implement some of those tomorrow.  I could give you a better idea tomorrow after the round how that goes.  We’ll just go from there.

Yup. Target…visualizing the shot you want to hit at that target…and then holding it in your mind’s eye while you do. That’s golf, not all this other stuff…after you learn to shed all of this other stuff, of course. But the media persists in asking him questions about the other stuff.

Q.  Do you think you’ll still need to shoot another low round or do you think the conditions will toughen up enough where they will have to come get you?

It’s hard to say.  Just depends on what the wind is doing.  Obviously it’s going to dictate how low the scores are going to be.  Generally speaking on Sunday, the hole locations here are the toughest of the week for the most part.

I would assume if I could get to 20-under, I would feel pretty comfortable there.  It would take a pretty low round from somebody to catch me.  But I’m just trying to keep going, shooting low scores.

And this is how he shuts it all off and just plays golf:

Q.  There’s a lot on the table for you tomorrow especially with the wind.  How do you control your emotions and don’t get ahead of yourself thinking about that?

I think I do a pretty good job with that.  Obviously you’re going to have some thoughts about winning tournaments when you’re in a position like this, what your expectations might be, how you’re going to respond tomorrow when you step on that first tee but for me, usually when the day is over, I’m done with it.

The toughest part for me is that warm up session and leading into maybe the first hole or the first tee shot, you kind of get a little anxious and have some thoughts as to how the day is going to go.

So usually you get through that after a hole or two and get into the competition.

“…you get through that after a hole or two…” This, the reason to play as much competitive golf as you can. Because you don’t know that you’ll “get through that” until you’ve done it a couple of times.

Hopefully, Sunday will be Dufner’s day for his breakthrough because Lord knows he’s “done it a couple of times.”

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