No doubt about it, Jason Dufner is on a roll. In fact, he’s the hottest golfer on the planet right now. He’s been riding this wave of exceptional golf that included winning two of the last three tournaments, the Zurich Classic in New Orleans and the HP Byron Nelson in Dallas.
Now he’s moved across town to Fort Worth and the Colonial Country Club where they are playing the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. And once again, he has the 36-hole lead going into Saturday. But other than the fact that his recent success — a product of years of hard work — has sort of just washed up upon him, his lead is no real surprise: in his last 34 rounds, he’s held the lead in 11 of them.
But it’s not just that. It’s that he’s playing the game at a higher level of consciousness. Everyone else is playing at sea level and he’s playing at 35,000 feet. Take, for example, his description of Friday’s round. Most players describe the round in terms of this hole or that hole, this shot or that shot. Not Dufner; he describes it with perspective, with a comprehensive overview:
Yes, the golf course played pretty tough again this morning. The winds were up again. Club selections were difficult. Gauging distances was a little bit difficult. I played again pretty solidly. I hit a good number of fairways. At times when I felt like I could be aggressive with good [yardages] or good wind, I selected to be aggressive and hit some good shots. A couple of times out there I just played safely and was able to rely on my putter a little bit and get some two putts and pars and just another solid round of golf.
Can you talk a little about the momentum you are feeling now?
Yes, I’ve been really really confident out there, playing some nice golf. Physically I feel great. I feel like I have a lot of control over my golf ball. I talked about it a little bit last week. I feel I can hit a lot of different shots, high, low. Cut balls, draw balls, just depending on what the wind is giving me and where the hole locations are. It’s a nice way to play golf.
When you feel like you have that control you can be a little more aggressive. The confidence and where my game is at physically has lead me to have a good bit of leads here over the last two and a half months or so.
One of the things that he confessed to last week was that he’s not a very good putter…at least that’s what he thinks. That would be a surprise to those of us who watched him drain that 25-footer on 18 to win in Dallas. But he’s been holding out on us. It turns out that he’s been hard at work behind the scenes. And in this comprehensive answer to a question about his putting, he got into the technical fairly substantively.
Why this is noteworthy is to make the point that he’s not putting like he’s swinging. He is absolutely not thinking about his swing while he’s playing. Re-read what he just said: he’s only thinking about targets and shot shapes. But in putting, note the laundry list of technical things he’s thinking about…and will soon move beyond, just as he has in his swing.
And in the second part of his answer, he acknowledges being a little bit better putter than he gives himself credit for and and that that is a function of being too hard on himself. That right there, that realization, that flowering of consciousness, is the sort of breakthrough that allows us to climb up out of the holes we dig for ourselves. If he’s this good now, imagine where his putting will be once he’s moved beyond the mechanics and has climbed out of the hole and up to 35,000 feet where the rest of his game is.
You’ve talked about your putting over the last few weeks being the biggest improvement. Can you talk about specifically what you feel you’ve improved on, things you and Chuck [Cook] worked on in the off season?
Yes, we worked on a good bit of things probably dating back to the British Open at St. Andrews, which was a year and a half, almost two years. Just identified some things that I need to get better mechanic-wise. I had a lot of down-hit on my golf ball. A lot of shaft lean [forward] at impact which would cause the ball to squirt left or right depending on what the face angle was doing. We worked hard on that, and I also worked hard on alignment. I’ve got a couple of different aids that I use in practice to help me learn what square is [where he’s aligned and the putter is aimed] and try to transfer that over to the golf course, that’s the hardest thing. You can hit a lot of practice putts. How do you transfer that on to a golf course? How do you transfer that from 25 feet when it breaks a foot and a half? Been working on that.
And just a little on the mental side on it. Just trying to be more confident with it and realize maybe I’m a little bit better putter than I give myself credit for. That could be a bit of an issue when I’m not putting well, I’m a little too hard on myself.
This next answer is pretty good even though the question is cumbersome. He delves into the concept of not “controlling” his game, but rather just playing from the comfort that he has with it. Just letting it go, letting it be, is the hallmark of good play because it is inherently free…and freedom is everything in golf. Come to think of it, freedom is everything in everything.
And in the second part of his answer, he talks about “being” confident. This is transformational because he has moved from the “doing” of golf into the “being” a good golfer. When you are being a golfer, you can play from 35,000 feet. And as he goes on to say, when you play from there, you don’t get “caught up” in everything going on around you.
You talked about playing the game physically, what it’s allowed you to do, you just mentioned mentality of putting, but talk about the mentality of the whole game right now. How do you have to control yourself, different mentality state, and a different line that you have to think about right now.
There is not really any controlling it so to speak of. I just feel really comfortable with my game. I’ve said it now for a couple of months when I step to the first tee I feel like I’m going to play a good round of golf. That’s a nice way to play golf. It’s a comfortable way to play golf. You don’t feel like you have to press too much when you’re out — when you make a bogey or two because you feel like you are playing good enough to make some birdies to offset those bogeys or mistakes.
So for me right now I’m just trying to be confident and think about the things I’ve been doing for almost a year now and realize that those are the things that are making me successful out here and not get too caught up in everything else that’s kind of going on around me.
The “Horrible Horseshoe” is three consecutive holes that are kind of like Amen Corner at Augusta. Colonial is the course that hosted Annika’s first and only foray onto the PGA Tour. And do you remember that one of the questions that ran rampant was how she was going to do at the Horseshoe? And no wonder; here’s the line up: a par 4, 483-yard dogleg left; a 247-yard par 3; and a par 4, 483-yard, dogleg right.
Dufner was 4-under for two days, primarily because he wasn’t sure which holes it was; he was just playing golf. And when you do that, as he says, “It doesn’t really matter what holes you are playing.”
Over the last two weeks you played really well particularly on the most difficult holes last week, down the closing stretch. At the Horseshoe this week, I think you are 4-under. Is there something about difficulty that you enjoy?
You know, I didn’t even realize that to be honest with you. I think it’s a product of just being in good control of my golf ball. Obviously when you have good control you are going to hit fairways which are going to give you more opportunities to make birdies. I’m not even sure what the Horseshoe is, what holes those are, on this golf course to be honest with you. I think it’s just a product of playing, playing well and having good control of my golf ball. It doesn’t really matter what holes you are playing. Obviously the field may be struggling with some of those holes. If I can gain an advantage on the field that’s a great advantage for the week.
And finally, someone asked him if he remembered his gallery size from last year and he said that he didn’t because he didn’t make the cut. And then, in a self-depricating, humorous way, he described the plight of journeymen Tour pros that nobody has ever heard of…and how his galleries have changed in a big way now. And even then, he gives the credit to Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar, his pairing for the first two days:
It’s always fun to play in front of big galleries. Three or four or five years ago I was playing in front of my girlfriend [now wife, Amanda] and a couple of friends and a couple of guys that got lost out there. It’s a lot better playing with players like Rickie and Matt and having galleries.
The more I find out about this guy, the more depth I discover in him, the more I like him. This is no flash in the pan.