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As of Saturday afternoon, the hottest player in the golfing world was Jason Dufner. His hot play was almost ironic, as he is a player with arguably the coolest temperament in the world. Over these past 4 weeks, he was Tiger in 2000. He was Byron Nelson in 1945. He was the most dominant player on Tour. This dominance coming from a tobacco chewing, slightly stubby, flip haired Auburn Tiger who resembles more of a chinless George Jetson than a Ben Hogan. Speaking of Hogan, it is Hogan who Dufner strives to emulate. Maybe the most appropriate season comparison would be Hogan’s 1953 (minus the 3 majors). Duffy has read every Hogan book he could get his hands on and modeled his golf swing directly after the Hawk himself. During Sunday’s telecast, CBS did a Swing Vision of Hogan’s swing side by side to Dufner’s– the similarities were almost eerie (see below for video). His hands at address, tucked right elbow on his down swing and efficient wide-to-narrow-to-wide golf swing, are all nearly identical to Hogan. If he is trying to swing the club like Hogan, he is doing a pretty good job. Now for Dufner though, his biggest challenge will be the management of his expectations. That alone will define the rest of this season and the rest of his career.
Sunday’s loss should have been almost coming. Before his win at the Zurich Classic of New Orelans, Dufner was slowing morphing himself into one of the best players on Tour without a victory. His 5-stroke lead at the PGA lost to Keegan Bradley, playoff loss to Mark Wilson at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and litter of top tens were becoming almost sad to watch. But, then he broke through at the Zurich. Then two weeks later won again at the Byron Nelson. Then at the Colonial, he found him playing fabulous golf again. His desire to be like Hogan makes sense for his great play at Hogan’s Alley. But, he said Saturday he was running off fumes of his great play, and it is no surprise that the luck ran dry on Sunday. He ran into a guy who is playing similarly hot in Johnson and couldn’t keep his rounds in the 60s streak going as he slipped to a final round 74. He appeared so close for so long and now he is there. Then, when he got there, he has been there for almost a month. How he didn’t pass out of exhaustion in the fairway on the back nine Sunday is an anomaly to me. His month was extraordinary.
Honestly, with Tiger struggling, Phil aging (although I still believe he has years of dominance on Tour left) and Rory and Luke playing overseas, Jason Dufner could literally be part of what golf needs. We have our stylish youngster in Rickie. We have our vanilla bland in Steve Stricker. We have our long ball Southern gumdrop in Bubba Watson. The Tour needs the every man – the John Daly with a golfers demeanor. Dufner is likable. Cameras catch him throwing in dips. He stays calm and cool, even when he’s making birdies. The most he gives us is a tip of the cap after his birdies. It’s refreshing to see on Tour and these past few weeks, Jason Dufner has earned a new fan in myself (and a new Twitter follower).
His rise to fame can be concerning. He could see a huge decline in his golf game over these next few weeks off of well-deserved rest. It will be the management of his expectations that will help curtail a potential slip. If he looks to come out and dominate, make tons of birdies and win weekly, I think he will see trouble. It wasn’t that mindset that helped to get where he is today. It was a slow plodding, methodical and efficient approach that got him into the winner’s circle. For Dufner, if his expectations remain intact and he still views himself as Jason, he will be able to play this type of golf for many years to come.
Already looking forward to seeing you play for Team USA on this year’s Ryder Cup team, Jason.