Sadly, great golfers are rarely cool. Arnold Palmer was cool, but Tom Watson was not. Unfortunately, neither was Jack Nicklaus, even after he grew his hair out. Nick Faldo wasn’t cool. Corey Pavin? Bernhard Langer? Please. Now, Seve Ballesteros, he was basically Miles Davis with a great short game. Fred Couples is eternally cool, even with gray hair, but now that he’s playing with the seniors, the PGA Tour has had a vacuum of cool. Tiger Woods, whose college nickname was Urkel, is not cool. For all his virtues, neither is Phil Mickelson. Ernie Els was cool until he started using a belly putter. Rickie Fowler tries hard to be cool, which in and of itself is a disqualifying factor to actually being cool.
Last August, there was a rare sighting of coolness on Tour when Jason Dufner sauntered onto the big stage of the PGA Championship. He had a waggle that was more fun to watch than every other guy’s actual swing, and he wore the smirk of a dude who had some experience firing spitballs from the back of the classroom. In a playoff at that PGA, Dufner was locked in a duel with Keegan Bradley, who radiated the energy of a teacher’s pet frantically waving his arms in the front of the classroom. Bradley won, but Dufner emerged with a more important title: He was indisputably the coolest guy on Tour.
Dufner, a 35-year-old by way of Auburn University, has remained a consistent contender, but his tremendous ballstriking has been undone by shaky putting. Let’s face it, it’s hard to look cool blowing up on the weekend.
As he made his 164th Tour start last week in New Orleans, Dufner was even more relaxed than usual, if such a thing is possible. He loves the town, and all the planning was pretty much done for his wedding, which, felicitously, is this Saturday to Amanda Boyd. She happens to be a knockout, which adds a little something to Dufner’s coolness.
Sitting on a two-stroke lead after 54 holes, Dufner was peppered with questions about his inability to close the deal. Steve McQueen never looked cooler than Dufner did as he swatted away the inconvenient queries.
Nothing really changed on Sunday when he found himself in a dogfight with Els. On the 14th hole the Duff drained a nine-footer for par. He followed with the putt of his life on the 16th hole, a 44-footer to save par after he had driven into a pond. It was such a big moment that he almost emoted. The finish was less than artful, but Dufner coolly dispatched Els with a birdie on the second playoff hole.
“I don’t know how long he can keep that wall up, but he’s doing a good job so far,” said Els, who moved to 40th in the World Ranking, most likely locking up his spot in next month’s U.S. Open. “Kind of reminds me of myself back in the day. He has a wonderful swing, and I think he’ll win quite a few times—if he keeps that shield up. You know, that’s a pretty good defense mechanism he’s got there.”