Commentary

Life-changing win for Dufner at PGA

Updated: August 12, 2013, 10:26 PM ET
By Farrell Evans

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- At the 72nd hole on Sunday, after Jason Dufner tapped in his PGA Championship-sealing putt, his Southern belle was there dressed in white to give him a big hug.

The couple wants to plant some of the acorns they took from Oak Hill on the 50 acres on which they are building a home in Auburn, Ala. In a few weeks, the golfer's beloved Auburn Tigers will start their 2013 football season at home against Washington State.

The Alabama Crimson Tide, his wife's alma mater, loom on the Tigers' schedule in late November.

This is Jason and Amanda Dufner's life. With their victory on Sunday at Oak Hill, the Dufners have planted roots in the world of major champions. Their life has changed forever.

[+] EnlargeJason Dufner and his wife Amanda
Andrew Redington/Getty ImagesJason Dufner, alongside wife Amanda, takes in the moment after a breakthrough win at the PGA Championship.

Majors do that for those who come by them with great skill, patience and precision.

Perhaps talk of majors is over now until next spring when the Masters comes onto the horizon. Or is the completion of the PGA just the beginning of fresh conversations about golf's grand slam in 2014?

Dufner had barely finished his final-round 68 on Sunday when questions arose about his future, his chances for more majors and feelings about belonging to the list of great players carved on the Wanamaker Trophy.

One major is nice, but two or more of them elevates a player to a different stratum.

The majors, who wins them and who televises them define the game. The news on Wednesday that Fox Sports had come to an agreement with the USGA for broadcast rights to the U.S. Open sent shock waves through the golf industry. Do we make too much of the majors? Sure, they are the breadwinners of the sport. The NFL has one Super Bowl; golf has four. The majors attract legions of people who pay attention to golf only these four times a year.

The buildup to these mega events often seems bigger than what actually happens on the golf course. Yet they almost never live up to their billing, because lately no one can be for certain that Tiger Woods is going to show up with his A-game.

You can't fix the endings. I've got majors fatigue. Not because I didn't enjoy Dufner's record-setting 63 on Friday, and the way he played on Sunday afternoon under the intense pressure of leading a tournament of this magnitude. The Masters, the U.S. Open and the Open Championship were a joy to watch. Mickelson's 66 in the final round at Muirfield will go down as one of the greatest finishes in major championship history.

But we often place an outsized value on what these events mean for the players and the game. We're all guilty of it.

Tiger has won five tournaments in 2013, but he left Oak Hill on Sunday a dejected man after failing to capture one of the four majors in the season.

Look at what the majors have done to Tiger's confidence. He owns 14 of them, but he hasn't won one in more than five years. At Oak Hill, he looked confounded and distressed by the setting. He's put so much pressure on himself this year to win these tournaments that he is incapable of playing at the same level that he's shown in his five regular tour wins.

Tiger views his entire career through the prism of the majors. Sam Snead's record of 82 wins is an afterthought for him compared to Jack Nicklaus' 18 majors. With 79 career wins, Tiger could break Snead's record in the FedEx Cup playoffs.

But to many, Tiger's 2013 season will go down as a failure because he didn't win a major, despite what is likely to be his 11th PGA Tour Player of the Year award.

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods
Andrew Redington/Getty ImagesAfter a 4-over finish at Oak Hill, Tiger Woods' major drought now sits at 18.

After winning the PGA last year at Kiawah by 8 shots, Rory McIlroy had the world in his hands. He was No. 1 in the world and a two-time major champion at the age of 23. That win carried him to a multimillion-dollar endorsement deal with Nike. He learned how to make money, but he lost his way on the golf course trying to be the major champion/celebrity.

At Oak Hill, the Northern Irishman got his first top-10 of the year in a major with a tie for eighth, but it was hardly solace for what has been an overall disappointing season.

On Saturday night, there were discussions about how a second major title would cement Jim Furyk's place in the World Golf Hall of Fame. With 16 wins and a U.S. Open title, Furyk is already worthy to be among that illustrious company. Dufner must know that majors can be a rewarding yet dangerous investment. These little life-changers are a syndicate that you can't escape.

Shaun Micheel, who won the 2003 PGA Championship, was in the field at Oak Hill, where he missed the cut. His career has become defined as much for his failures as a player since he won the tournament as for what he did to win at Oak Hill 10 years ago.

"Had you told me that when I hoisted that trophy on Sunday night and I went back to my hotel, if somebody had whispered in my ear that you're going to become a nonexempt player on the Tour and you're going to be a nonexempt player on the Web.com Tour, I would have told you you were crazy, or thought I was dead or retired," Micheel said last week.

By the weekend, Rich Beem, another former PGA champion who no longer plays golf full-time, was doing some TV work with Golf Channel. Padraig Harrington, the 2008 PGA champion, was signing autographs on Saturday at Oak Hill, also missing the cut the day before. Since taking both the PGA and Open Championship in 2008, he has struggled to live up to the expectations of a three-time major champion.

Stewart Cink, who had a fine career before ruining Tom Watson's march to victory in the 2009 Open Championship, has had only eight top-10s and no victories since that triumph at Turnberry. He, too, missed the cut at Oak Hill.

Phil Mickelson had his worst showing of the year in the majors with a tie for 72nd. But it's been a great year for him because of his win at Muirfield. Because of that win, the 43-year-old lefty says he feels closer now to a complete player. And he'll be sure of this completeness when he takes the U.S. Open. That's Mickelson's majors mindset, but he's already a complete player.

Dufner's life has been changed. So have those of Adam Scott and Justin Rose, who were also first-time major winners in 2013. They will face the scrutiny, new expectations and demands on their time that come with being a major champion. There will be more of everything for these players. On Sunday night, the 36-year-old Dufner said that he was "determined" to not let the PGA win change him.

"It's going to be a difficult task," he said. "But I'll have to take it step-by-step and day-by-day and go with it."

It would be a mistake for him to go on like nothing great has happened to him just to keep his level of focus and desire. It's a good promotion for his career. But he shouldn't let majors define him.

And perhaps we should do a better job of placing the big four in the perspective of the full season. They are not playoffs or one big, final game, but four separate and unique events that bring out the best in the world. This is how we should view these events, and not make them the very essence of the professional game.

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