After battling injury and ill health in 2014, a slimmer, fitter Jason Dufner heads to Whistling Straits seeking to reclaim the Wanamaker Trophy.
You won the 2013 PGA Championship at Oak Hill by two shots over Jim Furyk, but a neck injury kept you from defending your title last year. Are you excited about heading to Whistling Straits?
Last year was tough. I wanted to defend my title, but I was hurt, and when you're hurt, you have to do things to get back out here. I needed to make some changes.
Those changes were big. You dropped 25 pounds—and got a buzz cut. Why did you decide to slim down?
I had no choice. I hadn't felt good physically for two, three years. Last year I missed the [FedEx Cup] playoffs, the PGA Championship, and the Ryder Cup. I wasn't ready to give up golf yet, so I made some changes after [withdrawing from] the PGA. It was drastic, but I had to do it.
What are the specifics of the Dufner Diet?
It's all about eating clean, meaning no carbs, no gluten, no sugar, no alcohol, no soda. Basically, no junk. I eat clean proteins and better fats, more natural foods. It took some adjusting.
That doesn't sound like much fun.
It sucked. The first five days on the diet [late in 2014], I literally couldn't get out of bed—I had headaches, with all of the toxins leaving my system. But I feel a lot better. I have better energy levels, and I can practice more because I don't have as much inflammation.
How have your altered eating habits affected your golf game?
I've gotten some strength back for more swing speed. It's hard to be competitive out here if you're injured and feel terrible. Most people's livelihood doesn't depend on whether or not they eat cheeseburgers or pizza, but for me it kind of does. I had to do it. I'm getting older—I'm 38 now—and I have an arthritic, degenerative issue with my neck, so I have to do what I can to feel as good as I can.
So you eat absolutely zero junk?
Well, I have a few indiscretions every now and again—In-N-Out Burger—but I'm pretty clean.
So does that mean you're shirtless at the beach these days?
Nah, I don't go to the beach. You can't make any money at the beach.
Where do you find the motivation to work so hard?
In winning and being competitive. Golf isn't much fun unless you're playing good. It's a tough game. I'm not doing it for fun. I'm doing it to win, to beat these guys. Winning means the hard work I put in was worth it.
So golf isn't a game to you?
No. I don't look at golf as something that's fun. It's my job, my passion, my profession, and something that I take very seriously.
You have three Tour wins, including one major. It sounds like you have a sense of urgency regarding your career. What's your vision? How good can Jason Dufner be at his best?
I don't know. I don't think in terms of how many majors and how many wins. I just love competing. The competitive part of the game—coming down the stretch on Sunday with a chance to win—is what I enjoy. Being in the mix is where I want to be. That's when I feel most comfortable.
You don't seem like the kind of player who stops to admire the nature, the beautiful trees.
[Laughs] Yeah, I don't really care about trees, unless I'm behind one.
You've had a pretty quiet 2015 so far, apart from an ace at the Memorial. What's holding you back from winning?
Putting's always been my struggle, so I've committed to trying to improve on the greens [using the AimPoint system]. It's the weak part of my game. If I improve and get to where I can be pretty good at putting, I can be successful out here.
We associate you with Auburn, where you played in college, but you were born in Cleveland. How excited are you that LeBron James is back in Ohio?
It was an exciting year. I'm a huge Cavs fan. There wasn't much to root for the last couple years. Now there is. LeBron just knows how to win.
JASON DUFNER’S THREE THINGS I KNOW FOR SURE
THE RULE OF THREE IS KEY
On Tour, a lot of the guys who are great champions have three important things in common: They're extremely talented, they're extremely tough mentally, and they work extremely hard. Put those three things together and you have good results.
IT'S NOT LIKE RIDING A BIKE
I'd tell the average 18-handicapper to practice more and play less. Golf isn't a game where you can just show up and be good based on talent. It's not like riding a bike. It's a very challenging game. There's no substitute for getting good instruction in all aspects of the game, and practicing a lot, if you want to get good. That's the only way. Sure, just show up and play if you're only about fun. But if you want to get better, you have to work your butt off.
PATIENCE WILL REWARD YOU
To succeed in golf and life, you need to work on acceptance and patience. There's a fine line between good shots and bad shots, and patience teaches you to accept the bad swings. Life in general is the same way.