Jason Dufner will stay the course
JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- On the Sunday night after winning the PGA Championship, Jason Dufner flew home on a private plane to Auburn, Ala., from Rochester, N.Y.
He could have gone straight to New York City, where he was doing media for the next couple of days, but he wanted to immediately share his victory with neighbors and friends.
With the kitchen closed at one of his favorite watering holes, Dufner and friends got Taco Bell and filled the Wanamaker Trophy with burritos and tacos.
In 2011, the 36-year-old Cleveland native had stopped for some Krystal's cheeseburgers on the drive back to Alabama from the Atlanta Athletic Club, where he lost the PGA in a playoff to Keegan Bradley.
Any Auburn chef would have been glad to reopen his or her kitchen to keep the newest major champion from eating fast food on this special night, but Dufner wouldn't have it that way. He's just an average, hard-working guy who just happens to be one of the best golfers in the world.
Dufner brings that same unspoiled, laid-back approach to The Barclays, the first leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs, which begin Thursday at Liberty National, a 7,353-yard par-71 Tom Kite and Bob Cupp design that last hosted this event in 2009.
"I know that winning a major can make your year, but I'm focused on trying to get back to Atlanta [for the Tour Championship]," Dufner said. "It will be three years in a row for me, four of the last five.
"Just trying to be competitive out here. Winning a major has made me a little hungrier to be competitive and win more events, more majors, be part of the Ryder Cup team, part of the Presidents Cup team."
Dufner is rightfully focused on what's next rather than getting swept up in the praise and self-congratulation that can come with a career-changing event like winning a major championship.
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In the world of golf, appearance fees to play in events around the world, new equipment and apparel deals and more interest from the media are dangled in front of new major winners like candy.
Yet few players on tour are better capable than Dufner of withstanding some of the negatives from these advances.
For starters, he leads a simple life in Auburn, away from notorious enclaves for tour players like Jupiter, Fla., Orlando, Fla., and Scottsdale, Ariz. Nobody bothers him in Auburn.
"My wife hasn't treated me any differently, and people around me are still treating me the same," said Dufner, who with his wife recently got a new puppy. "So it's pretty easy when you've got good people around you."
Most players like to say they won't change, but winning often forces a player to take on a new stride and determination to be the very best. You eat better and work out more. You speak in more scripted tones to the media. Old friends get lost behind new layers of important people in the golf and corporate cognoscenti. You place more pressure on yourself to do well in majors.
Dufner won't fall prey to these vices. An economics major at Auburn, he has a keen analytical mind and a deft grasp on the realities of life on tour and where he fits into everything.
"You can get down out here with how you play and can be some low times out here, and then you start looking at other guys and what they have done in their careers and you start realizing, there's low points for everybody," he said. "I call it 1 percent or 2 percent of sunshine and the rest of the time it's raining out here. You play 100 events and maybe you win one; you've lost 99 times."
Those kinds of numbers would be discouraging in baseball, Dufner said, but not in golf.
"If you look at the history of golf, if you have a 2 percent win percentage, you're pretty much a Hall of Famer," he said. "Pretty much the average guy is about 1 percent of the events he plays, he wins."
Dufner is 15th in the FedEx Cup points standings. So he's almost assured of making it into the 30-man field at the Tour Championship in late September.
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Last year, he was widely criticized for opting not to play The Barclays, due to a desire to be fresh heading into the Ryder Cup. He plans to enter all four playoff events in 2013.
From a ball-striking vantage point, he will be tough to beat over the next month, considering the momentum that he's carrying from the PGA Championship win. Only an inconsistent putter could hold him back.
"Putting has been tough for me this year," Dufner admitted. "Last year was good. Maybe the PGA win will give me a lot of confidence going forward with it and free me up a little bit."