Dufner eyes fresh start in 2016
With distractions behind him, he expects to play early and often
January 13, 2016
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
- “The Ryder Cup is pretty important to me," Jason Dufner said. (Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
HONOLULU -- Jason Dufner was on the Ryder Cup team in 2012, going 3-1 that week at Medinah. The U.S. lost, however, surrendering a four-point lead in what matched the biggest final-day collapse in the event’s history.
Four year’s later, he is eager to avenge the defeat. First, he has to make the team.
“The Ryder Cup is pretty important to me,” the 38-year-old said. “This might be one of the last times I have a chance to make the team.
“I feel like I’m still good enough to win tournaments."
He’ll begin that quest in earnest at this week’s Sony Open in Hawaii. It’s the first of what Dufner says will be 24 or 25 tournaments he’ll play before the FedExCup Playoffs, skipping only the Farmers Insurance Open on the West Coast swing.
“I don’t have anything else to do,” he said.
That’s because he is finally healthy, physically and mentally.
Two years ago, Dufner battled a neck injury that cut short his season. Then in March of last year, he went through a difficult divorce that was splashed all over the Internet.
The latter was a distraction, and media reports left him disillusioned. He refused to speak to the press the rest of the season before finally opening up to PGATOUR.COM in December.
“I’ve had some distractions that have taken time away from what I want to do to be successful,” he said. “That’s part of life, so now I’m trying to just roll with it and get back to working and playing.
“I’m excited for this season.”
Jason Dufner's roller coaster putt rolls in for eagle at the Memorial
Not that long ago, Dufner was the one providing the excitement.
In 2011, he nearly won the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club before blowing a five-shot lead down the stretch and losing to Keegan Bradley in a playoff.
The loss didn’t keep him down.
The following year, he climbed to ninth in the world on the strength of two wins and three-runner-up finishes.
In 2013, he finally got his major, too, shooting 68 in the final round at Oak Hill to win the PGA Championship.
Dufner became one of the most popular players in the game. He was an everyman, Dufnering became a thing and he had a fetching bride who was becoming something of a social media sensation.
Soon, though, things would unravel, inside the ropes and outside them.
After playing much of 2014 with two bulging disks in his neck, the injury forced Dufner to withdraw from the PGA Championship at Valhalla after just 10 holes. He didn’t play again that season, including in the Ryder Cup.
The following spring, he and wife Amanda split up. Though physically healthy, Dufner was admittedly distracted by the divorce and recorded just two top 10s in 21 starts.
With a new year, however, comes a fresh start.
Dufner is healthy and happy. He says he sometimes practices as much as 6 or 7 hours a day, noting that he needs to improve most on his putting. Last season he ranked 177th in strokes gained-putting.
He has also gotten into “House of Cards” and “Narcos” and continues to be a bit of a bookworm. Mostly Dufner likes autobiographies -- last summer he read one on Abraham Lincoln.
“I like to read about people that have been successful because those types of traits carry over no matter what you do,” he said. “Just trying to understand why people are successful at what they do and their thought processes. That’s one of the biggest things out here, is controlling when things go good, when they go bad.”
Dufner has had plenty of bad the last two years, but he’s focused on the positive and possibilities of what’s ahead.
“A lot of people put stock in results, but I try to get away from results,” he said. “I’ve been good physically for a while, now I’m just trying to get my mind clear. I’m a lot better (mentally). My focus is better, my commitment is better.
“I still feel like still I have a good 4 or 5 good years out here. My window is shrinking, so I need to take advantage of these next few years.”