SAN MARTIN, Calif. (AP) — For all the attention on Phil Mickelson and his money games to get young players prepared for big moments, Jason Dufner had his own tutor when he was just starting out on the PGA Tour. He went about it quietly, and it was a learning experience.
Dufner secured his PGA Tour card for the first time in 2003 through the Nationwide Tour money list. He was at the TPC Sawgrass preparing for his rookie season when he saw Vijay Singh on the back of the practice range.
“I just went up to him. I said, `Hey, my name is Jason Dufner, I'm going to be playing the tour next year, and if I could play some practice rounds with you, that would be great. And if not, I understand,''' Dufner said last week at the Presidents Cup. “I was there for four or five days, pretty much practicing the same schedule he was,'' Dufner added. “So maybe he took notice and respected that I was working and trying to get better.''
They played plenty of practice rounds in 2004, and it turned into a banner year for the Fijian. Singh won nine times and $10.9 million.
“Every event that he won, except for the PGA, I played a practice round with him that year,'' Dufner said. “So I got a lot of valuable experience. A little lighter on the wallet from all of that – I took my lumps. But I'd like to think that some of the things he shared with me and some of the knowledge he gave me helped me to where I am now.''
Dufner didn't fare so well as a rookie, returning to the minor leagues for two years before he went back to the PGA Tour for good. Now he is a three-time winner, a major champion and has a 6-2 record in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup.
Dufner recalls beating Singh out of some money just one time during that 2004 season. He shot a 63 at the old 84 Lumber Classic. Singh shot 64.
“I had nine birdies, no bogeys. He had eight birdies, no bogeys,'' Dufner said. “He was playing pretty good on Tuesdays that year, too.''