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Dufner's temperament a good fit

MEDINAH, Ill. -- Jason Dufner's first memory of a Ryder Cup was the 1993 matches at the Belfry. Then a high school golfer in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Dufner had never watched a team competition on television. He had come to the game late after moving to Florida from Cleveland in his early teens when his mother's job moved to the area.

"I remember waking up in the morning, and I was like, I'm not really sure what this whole Ryder Cup thing is, but I'm going to check it out," Dufner said Tuesday at Medinah Country Club, site of the 39th Ryder Cup matches. "The team concept seemed pretty unique and neat to me, and you know, alternate shot was not something that I had ever seen on television, so that was kind of unique and different to me."

Dufner is one of four rookies on the U.S. Ryder Cup team that will face the Europeans beginning on Friday morning. At 35, he is also the oldest of the American first-timer crew, which also features Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker and Keegan Bradley. And probably with the exception of Snedeker, Dufner is the most easygoing of the bunch.

On the golf course with a wad of chewing tobacco always comfortably tucked inside his lower lip, the former Auburn star is the picture of equanimity. It's much easier to get a reaction out of him over the state of Auburn football than it is over a bad golf shot. When Dufner got into contention at the 2011 PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club, he told his now-wife Amanda not to be nervous because he wasn't. In two breakout wins this year on tour in New Orleans and the Byron Nelson, he never looked frazzled by the pressure.

On Tuesday, the first full day of practices for the U.S. and European teams, Dufner sounded a similar refrain on how he would feel come Friday morning on the first tee.

"I don't think nervous is probably the right word," said Dufner who finished 14th in the FedEx Cup playoffs. "Probably a little more anxious. I think a lot of guys, you're anxious to see how you're going to play, how the day is going to go. But usually once the round gets started, I kind of get settled in and feel pretty good.

"I think obviously the pressure and the environment of this event is going to be nothing that I've experienced. So I'm just looking forward to being out there and in that moment and seeing how I respond to it. I generally stay pretty even, not too up, not too down. It might be a good fit for me."

Since officially making the U.S. team as one of the top eight automatic qualifiers after last month's PGA Championship, Dufner has been in constant contact with captain Davis Love III about possible pairings.

"I think I'll be pretty good for the team in alternate shot format," said Dufner, who ranks fourth on tour in greens in regulation, 21st in driving accuracy and fourth in total driving. "I'm pretty consistent. I should be a good partner.

"The tough thing with alternate shot, though, is matching up playing styles and golf balls. I've played a lot with Zach Johnson, and we're pretty similar and we play the same golf ball. That would be a potential good pairing for me. But I think everybody on the team has played a Titleist at some point. But I used a TaylorMade ball when I was paired with Sean O'Hair last year at the Shark Shootout and I didn't notice that big of a difference. The biggest difference in the balls is around the greens with putting and chipping."

On Tuesday, Dufner was slated to play a practice round with Zach Johnson, Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar. Along with the rest of his teammates, Dufner will find chemistry with certain guys over the next few days of practice.

"I think captain Love has got a hard decision about sitting four guys each day because we've got so many guys playing well," Dufner said. "That's probably his toughest decision of the week is which four of these guys am I going to have to tell that they are not playing for this specific match."

None of this batch of American rookies wants to be in that foursome of players riding the pine at any point in the week. They are perhaps the most accomplished group of American first-timers in many years. Any one of them could by week's end be catapulted into a leadership role with some inspired golf.

Although Dufner had -- by his standards of 2012 -- a mediocre FedEx Cup playoffs, his self-styled journeyman bona fides could give him an edge over the other rookies. His lack of match-play experience and relatively advanced years to make his first team could be his greatest assets.

"I haven't been on a team or had a team concept feeling with golf since I played in college," Dufner said. "And probably when I played in college, I was probably a little bit too selfish and didn't realize how special that could be.

"So I'm really excited to just embrace the team concept, be a part of the team, help guys in any way that I can and just be part of a team."

Yet as Dufner takes on all of European golf, he also will try to unseat Kuchar as the team's best table tennis player over the next several days.

"Matt Kuchar is the best," Dufner admitted. "Write that to blow his head up some more."

For his part this week, Dufner could earn that kind of lofty praise for what should be some consistently solid golf in his matches. He keeps telling us he's not nervous. Come Friday, we'll know whether he was right.