Jason Dufner: Rhythmical Emotional Plateau

I have been extolling Jason Dufner’s way of being in competition since his playoff loss at the 2011 PGA Championship to Keegan Bradley.

Even in defeat, his swing was on, his demeanor was nonplussed and his lack of regret over not winning was refreshing. Finally a Tour player who didn’t flagellate himself in losing. Later he said in so many words, “Hey, I’m playing well and I finished second in a major. I don’t have a lot to disappointed about.”

Jeff Rude, writing today at Golfweek.com, “Hate To Be Rude: Dufner has is figured out,” seems to have become a fan too. He writes a really nice piece on the transformation of Dufner. But the following passage really stood out for me:

That Dufner won Sunday with such putting problems tells how precise his shot-making was. The numbers concur. He ranked first in greens in regulation and second in driving accuracy at the Nelson.

“He’s always looked that good,” said 2006 U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy. “On top of that, he seems to have the perfect demeanor.”

Zach Johnson, the 2010 Colonial winner, agreed. Johnson said he has never seen a more laid-back Tour player in competition.

“He doesn’t look like he’s trying to grind,” Johnson said. “He’s just always in rhythm with the way he walks, talks and swings.”

At the 36-hole point in New Orleans, I had taken to affectionately referring to him as, “My favorite slacker-dude, stoic, Jason Dufner.” His facial expression rarely changes except for an involuntary raised eyebrow once in a rare while.

I have been paying attention to Dufner since I first came across him at last year’s Phoenix Open, the one that was delayed into a Monday finish because of the freezing weather. Did I say Phoenix? Well, it was February, but it was clearly uncharacteristic. This year, I couldn’t get enough sun screen on and I wore shorts all week long.

Anyway, this is what I wrote about him back then:

Meanwhile, [winner, Mark] Wilson was trundling along playing par golf that turned out to be enough. Dark horse, Jason Dufner, birdied 16 and 17 to get himself into a two-hole playoff with Wilson, but Wilson grabbed the win with a 9-foot birdie.

In [his] interview later, Dufner was sanguine about getting so close but losing to a good birdie putt. He saw it as all part of the long process of getting better.

Well, after his win in New Orleans and last week in Dallas, Dufner’s long process appears to be over…except for his putting. Rude again:

At this point, the putting would seem to need the most work. He ranks 122nd on Tour in putting (strokes gained), clearly his least favorite part of the game.

“I think a lot of the issues with my putting probably stem more from my attitude toward putting, to be honest,” Dufner said. “I’m not crazy about being on a putting green. I don’t like practicing it. I don’t like it in tournaments.”…

…So Dufner knows it’s time to fix the outlook.

“That’s probably 50 percent of my problem with it,” he said. “So I need to assess my attitude towards putting, and I think that would probably go a long way into helping me putt better.”

If consciousness in oneself is the ability to discern what’s occurring within at any given moment, then it seems that one of the reasons that Dufner has become so successful is that he has become adept at doing just that. Any such journey begins with realizing what’s happening…it’s the only way the path gets illuminated. I thought his putting has always been pretty stellar, but apparently only on a spotty basis. Now it seems he’ll be mastering that as well.

As Zach Johnson said, “He’s just always in rhythm with the way he walks, talks and swings.” That may sound like a trivial thing, but if a player can top out on that sort of rhythmical emotional plateau, it creates the opportunity for the introspection he seems to be deeply engaged in.

And once you’re there, you notice all sorts of things about yourself that are unrelated to golf…but interrelated to your golf. Because how you do anything is how you do everything.

Jason Dufner to win the U.S. Open? I wouldn’t be surprised.

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