In an era in which the typical Tour pro has six-pack abs and a swing that was assembled in a lab, Jason Dufner is a refreshing throwback. The Duf's belly often obscures his occasional concession to the times—a white belt—and his homemade swing was forged largely by studying photos of his old-school hero, Ben Hogan. Sauntering down the fairway, a fat pinch of wintergreen Copenhagen tucked under his lower lip, Dufner radiates a calm that is in stark contrast to his uptight colleagues, who are doing the mental gymnastics prescribed by their sports psychologists. So Dufner's two-stroke victory on Sunday at the PGA Championship, at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., was not just a personal triumph. It was a victory for the everyman. Adam Scott may look like a Greek god and Justin Rose may carry himself like the king of England, but the Duf proved a down-home country boy can win a major championship, too, even if he has Alfred E. Neuman's haircut.
This is an article from the Aug. 19, 2013 issue
It's fun to kid Dufner because he gets the joke; his self-deprecation reached new heights in the wake of the Dufnering craze that swept the Internet in the spring after he was snapped slumping on the floor during an appearance at an elementary school in Dallas. But underestimate Dufner at your own peril. Some players are sneaky-long. He is sneaky-smart. The holder of an economics degree from Auburn, he is an analytical thinker and meticulous preparer, forever searching for an edge. He has consumed biographies of everyone from Arnold Palmer to Abraham Lincoln, trying to understand, in his words, "how successful people are wired." Instead of mindlessly bashing range balls in the sun, he spends a lot of time replaying rounds in his head, changing the outcomes of certain shots using visualization techniques cribbed from a book about Russian weightlifters.
Dufner, 36, is ruthless about identifying and then correcting his weaknesses. Improving his putting was a point of emphasis for this year, and during the second round of the PGA he simply couldn't miss en route to a 63 that broke the course record held by Hogan, among others. Dufner's chipping was once suspect, but for the week he led the field in scrambling, getting up-and-down 13 of the 18 times he missed a green. The key to this victory, though, was typically precise ball striking. His waggle is more fun to watch than most other players' actual swings, and when he finally pulls the trigger, the simple, rhythmic action is of a piece with his uncluttered outlook. Three times on Sunday, Dufner hit an approach shot that left him with a kick-in birdie, and locked in a back-nine dogfight with gritty Jim Furyk, he didn't miss a fairway until the 18th hole.
As easy as Dufner can make the game look, he's not completely immune to hardship. He had struggled this season trying to live up to the heightened expectations that followed his breakthrough 2012, during which he won the first two tournaments of his career. Things began to turn around two weeks ago during a practice round at the Bridgestone Invitational. Dufner and Dustin Johnson took on Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley in a match with an ornate series of bets. "He played his best golf of the year," says Dufner's agent, Ben Walter. "That gave him a massive shot of confidence."
How good a day was it?
"He won a Ziploc full of cash," says Dufner's wife, Amanda.
The PGA victory was worth $1.45 million and earned Dufner priceless respect from his peers. Bradley, who beat the Duf in a playoff at the 2011 PGA and is a frequent Twitter foil, was headed to the airport on Sunday but returned to Oak Hill so he could dole out a hearty hug when Dufner walked off the 18th green. Bradley loves their practice-round games because they are a chance to crack Dufner's placid facade. "He's a brutal [trash] talker," says Bradley. "He never shuts up. People who think he's quiet have no idea. There's a ton of personality in there, but once a tournament starts, he doesn't really let it out."
Dufner noted on Sunday evening how cool it is to have his name on the same trophy as Bradley and Hogan, who won the PGA in 1946 and '48. Dufner is now part of living history, and at next year's PGA he will host a dinner for a glittering array of past champions. Hopefully none of them will be on a diet: The Duf's favorite meal is fried mozzarella, a dozen chicken wings and three Cokes.