Kendrick Brinson / Luceo
Imagine that the season's second-leading money winner is playing the U.S. Open. Now imagine that he's also third in the FedEx Cup race. Now imagine that at the U.S. Open, at the Olympic Club, he ties for fourth. Got it? Now guess how many interview requests that player fielded that week. Ten? Twenty? Too many to count? In fact, Jason Dufner says, he drew exactly zero. Zippo. Zilch. Dufner knows he's a new arrival at the elite level, and he gets that his laconic demeanor won't soon make him a pitchman for Red Bull. And, sure, he lives off the beaten path in Auburn, Ala., where he and his new bride, Amanda, are building a home on 50 acres near the Auburn University campus where Dufner walked on to the golf team. But still -- nada? After losing playoffs in 2011 in Phoenix and at the PGA Championship, Dufner registered two early wins in 2012, securing at age 35 his first berth in the Ryder Cup. It's been a big year, which is nice, given that his endorsement deals expire at the end of it. On a steamy afternoon at AU Golf Club, Dufner discussed getting the cold shoulder at Olympic, how Vijay Singh inspired him, and why the Duf might not be on Tour for long.
Are you really as laid back as you appear?
I don't let too many things bother me. I do a good job of keeping ahead of things. When I get flustered or not confident is when surprises happen.
You've said you're very anti-clutter.
Yeah, I'm a no-go on clutter. I like to be organized at home. Everything has its place -- my travel bag has to be on this side of the chair at all times, everything on the desk has to be in the same place.
How much do you suppose your calm aura will help you in your first Ryder Cup?
I may be overwhelmed at points, but once I get on the course, I'm hoping my experiences carry over. I've played in pretty much every big tournament you can play in, except for the Ryder Cup.
Have any veterans told you what to expect?
Nope, I haven't had any conversations with anybody. I think it would be hard to get that across; it's something you probably have to experience. It'll be neat for me because it's been a while since I've been on any type of team. And when I was on a team in college I was probably too immature and didn't know how special it was. Amanda's excited about it because she's been told that not only is it a bonding experience for the players but a lot of the wives also become closer. The formal ceremonies and dinners -- that's not really our cup of tea, but I've heard there's a good deal of that going on.
You've said that you're fascinated by excellence, and the fine line that separates who makes it and who doesn't. What's been the difference for you?
Just being really consistent in how I practice, how I prepare, every week. I always want to feel like I'm working on the things I've worked on with Chuck [Cook, Dufner's instructor]. Sometimes I might work for a couple hours, sometimes I might only work for 30 minutes. Like one goal might be keeping my left arm tight to my body as I come through on my downswing. If I feel like after 30 minutes that was really good, and that was my goal for the day, then I'm done for the day.
Why the breakout in 2011 and '12?
It's been gradual. I looked at a lot of different areas, not just the golf, but also mentally, physically, all different areas, and I tried to make all those parts equal a great whole. I've made sure that fundamentally I am sound, and know where the ball is going. Once I started having good results and good finishes, I gained confidence. Since I won, I always feel like I'm going to play well.
Do you feel you should have won more?
There's a lot of luck that goes into winning on Tour. I played better at the U.S. Open, where I finished fourth, than in New Orleans, where I won.
You spoke with Lee Trevino before this year's U.S. Open at the Olympic Club.
Yeah, Chuck Cook has a lot of connections in the Dallas area, and one of his good friends in Dallas is Mr. Trevino. I got to sit down and pick his brain a little bit. He said you need to work on shaping shots both ways, and that you don't get flat lies at Olympic, so I hit tons of balls off uneven lies on the range at Auburn.
You don't look like a gym rat. Would you be at a disadvantage if you faced a more svelte player like Dustin Johnson late in a hot tournament?
That's hard to measure. I think I'm in pretty good golf shape; I feel really good through 72 holes no matter what elements we're playing in. After about three weeks is when I start to get a little fatigued from playing tournament-level golf, so I try to make my schedule with that in mind.
Any plans to quit the fried mozzarella sticks?
No, unfortunately I really like eating, and a lot of the foods that I like involve not-healthy choices.
What's your birthday meal?
I like heavy Italian food, so if I could get some stuffed shells with some ricotta and cheese -- I'm a big dairy guy -- that would be a big treat. Fried chicken is always good. I'm a pretty big cheeseburger guy -- I always like to find new variations on cheeseburgers. I try to keep a balance. I've gone through spells where I eat pretty well, but I have spells where I don't think about the consequences.
What about your tobacco habit? Are you still a Copenhagen man?
Yeah. I don't drink alcohol hardly at all, though, so that's not part of my life, really. And I try to get in the gym four or five times a week.
You've said that being an underdog fuels you, but with two wins, aren't you now a favorite?
You can use different things that happen to you, or what people say or don't say, to motivate you. It's just little things, like being first on the money list and first on the [FedEx Cup] points list, and not getting any interview requests at the U.S. Open. That's motivating material right there. You know, that made me feel like an underdog; I didn't feel like I was getting any respect that week.
Not one interview?
Not even on Sunday, when I finished fourth, two shots out of the lead. I was playing with [amateur] Beau Hossler.
So the quietest fourth-place finish ever. Perhaps that's what Auburn alum Bo Jackson means when he says you need to smile more.
Probably. You know, sell it a bit. I don't feel like I'm media unfriendly, but I am who I am. It might be boring to you, it might not be this grand story I can tell, but I'm not going to come up with a bunch of B.S. for everyone. I'm really close to Amanda, I work really hard at golf -- I don't have this extravagant story. I didn't work in a chemical plant and fight orangutans like Boo Weekley, or these [other] people that the media gravitates toward. I don't have a superstar draw like Tiger Woods.