Jason Dufner learned from 2011 play-off loss

New US PGA champion admits it’s going to be a difficult task to follow Major win

Jason Dufner with the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the US PGA Championship. Photograph: Rob Carr/Getty Images

Jason Dufner with the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the US PGA Championship. Photograph: Rob Carr/Getty Images


Jason Dufner the man and Jason Dufner the golfer are encapsulated by how he handled the biggest disappointment of his career. That was in 2011, when he held a five-shot lead in the US PGA and eventually lost out in a play-off to Keegan Bradley. The upshot of that loss was that the two players became friends. Not just good friends. But great friends.

On Sunday, after Dufner found a measure of redemption for past failings and rolled in a winning putt that gave him his own Wanamaker Trophy, the first player to meet him as he came off the 18th green at Oak Hill Country Club was Bradley. “I saw Keegan as I finished up and we just kind of bro-hugged, which I don’t know how that goes over. He just said, ‘I’m proud of you’. And I just said, ‘thanks a lot, it means a lot for you to be here’.”

The interaction provided an insight into Dufner’s psyche. After all, here was a player who struggled through the early years of his professional career – playing mainly on the Nationwide Tour (now the web.com) with occasional forays onto the main tour – before finally finding his rightful place on the PGA Tour in 2009, a nine-year cycle.

Breakthrough Major win
Since then, he has evolved. His breakthrough Major win on Sunday saw him move up to number eight in the world rankings. Of how he learned from that play-off loss in 2011, Dufner remarked: “You always carry those scars with you . . . I’ve had leads in Majors and not pulled through. I always felt like that was going to make me a better player and more confident the next time that I had a chance.”

Dunfer was as true as his words on Sunday, as he calmly and methodically manoeuvred past 54-hole leader Jim Furyk and stayed the distance. On Friday, he had come up one stroke shy of an all-time low score in the Majors, his putt for a 62 staying short of the cup. “(Saturday) was tough. I came off an unbelievable round on Friday, record setting here at Oak Hill, tied the lowest score ever in a Major championship, and (Saturday) was a real struggle. I had some shaky moments. For some reason, when you shoot such a low score, it’s hard to back up.”

Stay in touch
What he did on Saturday was to stay in touch, just a shot behind Furyk going into Sunday’s final round. and, on Sunday, he delivered. The key to his win could be found in the greens-in-regulation category: Dufner hit 54 of 72 greens, a 75 per cent success rate that ranked third for the championship. In the final round, he hit 11 of 18 greens-in-regulation and only had 11 putts over the first nine holes.

“It’s going to be a difficult task (to follow on),” admitted Dufner. “You hear a lot of guys, about the demands of winning a Major championship and what that brings. But I’ll have to take it step-by-step and day-by-day and go with it. We’ll find out in the next couple of weeks, the next couple of months, how that’s going.”

Furyk failed to add to his only Major win which came at the 2003 US Open championship. He also led going into the final round of the 2012 US Open, only to let it slip. This time, though, there were no recriminations. No need to look inside himself.

“The best players are judged by how many Major championships they win. You get four pops a year . . . I was going to view (this) as an opportunity and, you know, there’s other times I really felt like the tournament slipped through my fingers and out of my grasp and I was definitely disappointed. (Here) I played my heart out. I’ve no regrets over it.”