My first experience with Jason Dufner was a last year’s Ryder Cup. He was a man of few words. He epitomized the phrase “He lets his sticks do the talking.”
Dufner compiled a 3-1 record and was one of the bright spots for Team USA. My “Duf Man” recollection from that week at Medinah was when I found myself one on one with him in an elevator in the team hotel. We exchanged greetings and then he asked me, “Are you having fun?”
I replied, “Sure, how about you.”
Dufner’s response, “If this isn’t fun, I don’t know what is.”
Most Ryder Cuppers would not use the word fun to describe the experience. It would be more like stressful, pressure packed, brutal, nerve racking, etc. But, not Dufner and that probably best describes one of golf’s coolest customers.
It was apparent during last Friday’s second round that Dufner would be a factor in the 95th PGA Championship. He tied the lowest round ever shot in a major championship with a sizzling 63 and I had the pleasure of watching it as I walked with Steve Stricker, Hidecki Matsuyama and Dufner.
On the opening hole he drove it in the deep rough and muscled his second barely over the creek and was 30 yards short of the green in regulation. He pitched up to twenty feet and sank the putt for par. Not a likely start to a 63.
Dufner canned a wedge on the second hole for an eagle 2 and he was on his way. Stricker went to Dufner and high fived him. He embraced Dufner who seemed embarrassed by the attention. Safe to say the normally low key Stricker was giddy compared to Dufner who holed the shot. Duf showed little emotion as he strode to the green and pulled his ball out of the hole.
After two more birdies, he was four under par heading into the difficult seventh hole. Dufner fanned his drive to the right and found the creek. He took a penalty stroke and dropped, which left him a 195 yard shot with a tree in front. Dufner hit a low cut shot that wound up about 45-feet from the hole. He knocked in the putt and saved an unlikely par. It was then, I knew this round was going to be special.
Dufner had three chances on 16-17-18 to make a birdie and shoot golf’s first 62 in a major championship. His best chance came on the final hole, but he left his 20-footer short. Yes, short of all things with history looking him right in the eye.
On Wednesday of last week, Mac Fritz from Titleist left some autographed items in my locker for the Pay It Forward Johnson County silent auction. They included Oak Hill flags, several hats and other things signed by Stricker, Adam Scott and Webb Simpson. But, most notably there was a Dufner wedge. This is significant because a year ago Fritz gave me a McIlroy signed wedge and he went onto win the PGA Championship. History repeats itself and I can’t wait to see whose wedge Fritz sticks in my locker next year.
On Saturday morning, after Dufner’s historic 63, the PGA Officers sat in front of the Oak Hill clubhouse and assumed the “Dufnering” position. For those that don’t know, Dufner made this pose famous last winter and it has been emulated thousands of times since Sunday. “Dufnering” constitutes sitting on the ground, feet straight ahead, neck slightly bowed with an erect back and hands hugging your thighs. It’s the ultimate chilling out position.
During the photo shoot, Zach Johnson who was Dufner’s Ryder Cup partner from Medinah, walked by and tweeted a picture of the PGA’s version of “Dufnering”. The tweet went viral. It was another bit PGA irony. Looking back on last week there were all kinds of little signs that this was going to be Dufner’s week.
Around 7 p.m. on Sunday night I had the privilege to introduce and present Dufner with the Wanamaker Trophy on the 18th green. Two years ago he had a four shot lead with four holes to play at the Atlanta Athletic Club. It appeared that Dufner would be the 2011 PGA Champ. But, Keegan Bradley rallied and beat Dufner in a three-hole playoff.
Last Tuesday McIlroy asked Bradley to speak on his behalf at the Champions Dinner. Bradley mentioned that he had played his practice round with Dufner that day and Keegan was extended a dinner invitation by his playing partner.
Bradley grinned and said, “I told Jason that I already had dinner plans tonight.”
When Dufner walked off of the 18th green on his way to sign his scorecard Sunday, his buddy Bradley was standing there waiting to give him a congratulatory hug. The two embraced and I couldn’t help but think that those two will be dining together every Tuesday night of the PGA Championship for the rest of their lives.
Don’t be fooled by Dufner’s demeanor. He is smart, articulate and funny. He is a student of Ben Hogan. He prides himself in playing with Hogan-like characteristics. This War Eagle from Auburn conducts himself like his idol The Hawk.
During the Champions Toast in the Oak Hill clubhouse, Dufner reminded everyone that he had been picked by GolfWorld magazine to win a major this year. It was his modest way of saying that he had lofty personal goals for 2013. Dufner definitely delivered.