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Monday qualifier MJ Daffue keeps dream in sight

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Monday qualifier MJ Daffue keeps dream in sight

Second-round 69 has him contending at Sanderson Farms Championship

    Written by Cameron Morfit @CMorfitPGATOUR

    MJ Daffue sinks birdie putt at Sanderson Farms

    JACKSON, Miss. – Life is full of contradictions.

    Take MJ Daffue, the 31-year-old who shot a second-round 69 (10 under par total) for the lead halfway through Friday’s second round at the Sanderson Farms Championship. His last name, pronounced Duffy, looks nothing like it sounds, making him the Brett Favre of golf.

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    Also, while most pros hope to play four good rounds to have a good week, Daffue, who has Monday-qualified nine times in his last 14 tries (including here) on the PGA TOUR and Korn Ferry Tour combined, keeps having to play five.

    “You’ve got to make birdies and get through,” Daffue said. “I guess every round to me, I just take it as a Monday qualifier.”

    He made five birdies and two bogeys at the sun-splashed Country Club of Jackson and was leading after the morning wave. He is bidding to become the first Monday-qualifier to win on the PGA TOUR since Corey Conners at the 2019 Valero Texas Open.

    He’s trying to “stick to the process.”

    That’s a cliché, of course, but it’s really Daffue’s only choice. He’s 861st in the Official World Golf Ranking. This is his fifth TOUR start. His career best: a T22 at the Workday Charity Open at Muirfield Village, where he faded with a final-round 73. His wife, Kamie, a speech pathologist who works with the deaf, is back in Houston with their 6-week-old boy Oliver. Yep, Daffue and Rory McIlroy became new dads at just about the same time. And nope, you couldn’t find two guys further apart on golf’s pecking order.

    So, yeah, a win? It would be completely crazy. Life-changing. And he can’t think about it.

    If you haven’t heard of Daffue, join the club, but it’s most likely because of something that happened off the golf course, not on it.

    Before what can only be described now as a freak accident, Daffue was a promising junior golfer in South Africa who at 11 played with Retief Goosen and mixed it up with TOUR winners like Dylan Frittelli. He came to America and was a two-time Southland Conference Golfer of the Year at Lamar. He also met Kamie, a native Texan, got married, and turned pro in 2012. All was well.

    With Daffue’s family so far away, her family became his family, so when her mother, Jill Badeaux, was hit by a car and killed while walking away from the dentist’s office in 2013, he was devastated. He drove home from a Hooters Tour event in South Carolina to comfort his wife, but wasn’t sure how to process the grief himself. Having grown up in a military family, he says, he only knew to keep a stiff upper lip.

    “I didn’t really know how to deal with it,” he said, “so I just kind of put it to the side.”

    Alas, bottling it up didn’t work; soon he was living and dying with every shot, too wound up to let his talent shine on the course. The results showed; while peers like Frittelli were establishing footholds on TOUR, Daffue’s path may as well have been lined with banana peels. Today, having had time to think about it, especially as he and Kamie were forced to put down their corgi during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic, Daffue realizes he hadn’t allowed himself to properly grieve.

    “I just had to talk to people,” he said. “I’m a very outgoing guy. I don’t really wear my emotions on my sleeve, but I just had to sit down and look at everything on the whole. The point where it started to change was golf was everything to me, and the pastor at our church told me, ‘If you’re nothing without golf, you’re not going to be anything with golf.’

    “That’s just how it works,” Daffue added. “So I had to really see where I need to find my happiness. It’s in friends, and serving people, and helping people where I can, being friendly, trying to make someone’s day, something like that.”

    He says he considers himself a better person, and a better golfer, than before. This weekend would be a really good time to show that to the world. He’s playing with a local caddie, Austin Rose, who played for Mississippi State and is a member at Country Club of Jackson. They were introduced by Dusty Smith, who was an assistant coach at Lamar and is now the head men’s golf coach at Mississippi State.

    Daffue currently is in the field for next week's Shriners Hospitals for Children Open thanks to a sponsor's exemption. If he continues his strong play, Daffue could save the exemption and qualify with a top-10 finish or a win in Jackson.

    All the pieces are coming together for MJ Daffue. He just can’t think about it. Not yet.

    Cameron Morfit began covering the PGA TOUR with Sports Illustrated in 1997, and after a long stretch at Golf Magazine and joined PGATOUR.COM as a Staff Writer in 2016. Follow Cameron Morfit on Twitter.

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