Dufner turns around season, avenges 2011 defeat with victory at Oak Hill
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Jason Dufner and his wife Amanda spent Saturday night watching "Ridiculousness," MTV's viral video comedy show, with his agent and his caddie in the home they rented last week near Oak Hill Country Club.
Does that sound like a guy who was nervous? Does that sound like a guy who had demons to demolish after that meltdown two years ago over the final four holes of the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club?
Hardly. What was ridiculous on Sunday, as in ridiculously good, was the way Dufner kept giving himself birdie opportunities in a round of 68 that gave him a two-stroke victory over Jim Furyk, his first major championship and possession of the Wanamaker Trophy for the 12 next months and pushed him from 62nd to 14th in the latest FedExCup standings.
Keegan Bradley, the man who beat Dufner in a playoff in Atlanta two years ago, was on his way to the airport when it became apparent that Dufner was going to win. So he turned around and headed back to Oak Hill -- running a red light in the process -- to congratulate the man who has become such a good friend.
"I'm proud of you," Bradley said as he wrapped Dufner in what the champion called a bro-hug. "It means a lot for you to be here," Dufner countered.
A five-shot lead had evaporated on the back nine that Sunday in Atlanta, starting when Dufner found the water on the 15th hole. Bradley made a couple of well-timed birdies down the stretch and then beat Dufner in the PGA's three-hole aggregate playoff.
But he had put that in the past, and the present turned out to be so much better.
"I was probably over what happened in Atlanta, 95 percent of it, by the time we got back home at Auburn," Dufner said in all candor. "You always carry those scars with you, he always jabbed at me a little bit about having one of these in his house, and thanks for giving it to him and all that stuff. And now I've got one, too.
"It's pretty neat to come back and win a PGA to be honest with you."
Amanda Dufner actually thinks what happened in Atlanta turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
"Everyone thinks it was such a bad thing," Dufner's bride of 14 months said. "But I remember he made the comment at the time that it's not like it was (his) funeral. And if it had not happened, I don't think he would have won this this time.
"He got a lot of recognition, he moved up in points, he made a lot of money and he made some new friends (in Atlanta that day). It's all a learning process. It was another stepping stone."
Amanda says she knows when her husband is nervous but on Sunday, she knew he wasn't. "I had a good feeling about today," she said. "I could tell he was very, very confident." Dufner certainly looked it, too, when he stiffed three approach shots for kick-in birdies, including the one at the fifth hole that gave him the lead he would not relinquish.
Furyk was disappointed, of course. The 2003 U.S. Open champ had started the day leading by one. He appeared as confident as he'd been all year, and he certainly didn't play poorly on Sunday. Dufner, who had matched the major championship scoring record of 63 on Friday, just wouldn't be denied.
"I also have a lot of respect for the way Jason played and how well he struck the ball," Furyk said. "He seemed to be in the middle of most fairways. He seemed to be on the green with a chance for birdie on almost all the greens, and heck, if he got hot with the putter today, who knows what he would have shot.
"I have a lot of respect for him and the way he played today. I don't know if it makes anything easy or less easy, but I don't look at it as I lost the golf tournament. I look at it as I got beat by somebody that played better today."
As her husband sat beside the Wanamaker Trophy his idol Ben Hogan won twice and fielded questions from the media on Sunday evening, Amanda sat on the front row and scrolled through the messages on her smart phone. She estimated there were 800 text messages -- and more than one talked about how Auburn fans were celebrating by his victory by rolling Toomer's Corner, the hub of the campus, just like they do after the Tigers win a football game.
"I have a feeling a lot of people will be waiting for us at the house, too," Amanda said with a smile.
The couple are currently in the process of building a new home on a 50-acre tract of land near Auburn. It's just being framed in so the interior decorating will have to wait but Dufner and his wife made some landscaping strides this week -- taking back a ziploc bag full of acorns they hope will one day grow into the kind of trees that populated Toomer's Corner before an Alabama fan poisoned them.
"We got a sapling actually the other day from the general manager here at Oak Hill," Dufner said with a smile. "So at least that one will take root. I will have some trees out there, and it will be a neat experience, first major championship at Oak Hill and hopefully have some of their oak trees out there."
The victory had "Dufnering" trending on Twitter again, too. Several months ago, Dufner was captured sitting sprawled on the floor, slumped against the wall as he visited a classroom in a youth center in Dallas where he was defending his HP Byron Nelson Championship title. Other players -- even athletes from other sports -- started to tweet photos of themselves in similar poses, saying they were 'Dufnering.'
On Sunday, World Golf Hall of Famer Gary Player took up the cause when he tweeted: Congratulations @JasonDufner on your impressive 1st Major victory in the @PGAChampionship. I guess I need to start "dufnering" now champ...
Brandel Chamblee added on the Golf Channel, “We use the words Hogan-esque. Maybe it is going to be ‘Dufnering’ from now on with his iron play.”
Prior to last week, Dufner said, the photos that went viral were a bright spot in a year where he had been struggling on the golf course. His fan base increased and his name recognition soared.
On Sunday, though, Dufner's golf game was trending again, too.
"To win here at Oak Hill Country Club, PGA Championship, it's great," Dufner said. "You know, puts me in a great position for the Playoffs coming up in a couple weeks. Puts me in a great position for The Presidents Cup. I'm pretty sure Freddie saw today, so hopefully I'll be on that team.
"So, you know, a lot of frustration with my golf this year, but to win a major, that always makes it better."