Dorman: Success hasn't spoiled Dufner's winning personality

August 29, 2012
Larry Dorman, PGATOUR.COM

NORTON, Mass. -- The arc of Jason Dufner's career on the PGA TOUR, which had been trending nicely upward since 2009, shot through the stratosphere like a Delta IV rocket back in the spring when he had the hottest month of any golfer in the world this year.

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In case you missed it, Dufner's run began in April with his win at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans -- his first after 163 TOUR starts. He then won the HP Byron Nelson Championship three weeks later and finished second at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial the week after that.

Suddenly, the same understated, unpretentious guy, who was known to the public mainly for his class performance after losing his four-stroke lead over the final three holes at the 2011 PGA Championship, showed why many of his colleagues regarded him as one of the TOUR's best ball-strikers. In that three-tournament stretch, the 35-year-old Dufner won more than $3 million, nearly as much as he had won the entire year of 2011, his best on TOUR.

Not that he's counting his winnings while sitting at the table, or basking in the garish spotlight that often accompanies winning. As one who had plenty of experience losing before finally breaking through, Dufner is focused on what got him where he is and how he can keep heading in the right direction.

"It just gave me a lot of confidence going forward that the things that I've been working on have been correct and have been kind of pushing me in the direction of winning out here and being competitive out here," he said. "It gave me a sense of feeling when I stepped to the tee for that first round that I have a chance to win the golf tournaments, that I'm not guessing about maybe how I'm going to play or what might go on."

That's the good news for Dufner. Just as good is that he has made a smooth transition from an affable non-winner on the TOUR to an equally affable winner. He hasn't picked up a trace of pretense with the big checks or any affectations along the way to becoming a member of the Ryder Cup team for the first time, and one of the favorites at this week's Deutsche Bank Championship -- with a great shot at being one of the top five FedExCup point-earners at the season-ending TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola after next week's BMW Championship.

That, of course, would put him in a position to pick up the $10 million bonus for winning the FedExCup. Has any of that crossed his mind?

"Not really," he said, with the half-smile he wears most of the time, on course and off. "Not too concerned about it. Just gonna go out and play and let the numbers speak for themselves. The whole FedExCup's been set up so it's a good opportunity for guys who can get into that top 30 and kind of compete for that top prize.

FedExCup standings
The PGA TOUR enters the second week of the FedExCup Playoffs at the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston. The field will then be cut to the top 70 players in the standings for next week's BMW Championship. Here are the top five players this week:
1 Nick Watney
2 Brandt Snedeker
3 Tiger Woods
4 Rory McIlroy
5 Zach Johnson

"I think a lot of us are just focused on winning each week, doing the best we can each week and then the culmination of it adds up to whatever it might be for each player."

It's pretty much all good for Jason Dufner right now. Fresh off a break at home after skipping The Barclays last week, he said he is rested and ready to go in the Playoffs and doesn't regret taking the time off, despite slipping from No. 2 to No. 6 in the points.

"If I would have played last week, I would have had to play eight of nine weeks through the Ryder Cup, which is a lot of golf," he said. "I felt like the way the schedule kind of the end of the Playoffs and rolling into the Ryder Cup."

During the break, he spent time with his wife of five months, Amanda, attending to some details on the new home they are building. He also got to visit football practice at Auburn, and as a devoted fan is hoping the Tigers fare better than their No. 25 pre-season ranking in the USA Today Coaches Poll. He even found two days to keep his game sharp.

His laconic manner, the long curls spilling from beneath his flat-brimmed cap, the waggles in his swing that evoke images of old-time players from a bygone era, all combine to put Dufner in a category of his own. His TOUR bio lists Ben Hogan -- who never had a hair out of place -- as his idol. And the two share two important things in common.

Hogan was one of the great ball-strikers in the history of the game, something to which Dufner can aspire. In addition, Dufner is not at all fond of putting, a facet of the game Hogan came to dread so much that he often said the game would be better if the putting part were to be eliminated.

Dufner expressed his views on putting this year while finishing second in the shadow of the Hogan statue at Colonial Country Club, and they weren't quite as radical as Ben's.

"It's not my favorite part of the game, which probably leads to a reason why it's not the strongest part of my game," Dufner said. "I need to find better ways to make that a bit less of a weakness or maybe even turn it into a strength."

If all the work he's done getting this far is any indicator, Dufner will find a way. And, really, how bad a putter can he be? He ran in a 25-footer on the 72nd hole at Byron Nelson, avoiding a playoff and clinching his first win. When one considers that as recently as five years ago Dufner played in 32 TOUR events to earn $574,000, and then compares that to three events last spring, the picture comes into focus.

This would be why Dufner doesn't take himself too seriously. He recently re-tweeted a video of Peter Jacobsen mimicking his swing, his walk and his setup. He jokes with his Twitter followers on @JasonDufner, was swinging left-handed next to Vijay Singh on the range -- "Just a time waster," he said -- and continually downplays his achievements. In a non-speaking role, he debuted in an amusing commercial for Comcast Business Class, capitalizing on his reputation as a fast player.

"The thing I didn't expect," he said about results of all the success, "is when we go to bigger cities, for example, Providence, where I'm staying this week, I had a couple people recognize me at dinner."

It's been an adjustment for Dufner, who lives in Auburn, Ala., with his wife. He might have to make a few more if things continue to go his way. But you get the feeling he won't be changing his personality much. He's already shown that.