He idolizes Ben Hogan. His swing is fairly flat, like Hogan. His on-course demeanor is stoic and unflappable, like Hogan. He yipped in a couple of short putts, like Hogan. He uses tobacco on the course, (Copenhagen Wintergreen) like Hogan (Chesterfield cigarettes). And his ballstriking was absolutely pure, like Hogan.
After his course-record-breaking 63 on Friday, Jason Dufner said he was honored to be in the company of “Mr. Hogan and Mr. [Curtis] Strange.” These gentlemen, along with Webb Simpson were the previous holders of the competitive course record at Oak Hill. Now that, and the Wanamaker Trophy belong to Jason Dufner. I don’t know this for sure, but I’d wager that the first name, after his own, that Jason Dufner found on the Wanamaker Trophy Sunday evening was Ben Hogan’s from 1946 and ’48.
There is no doubt that Hogan himself would have been impressed with the display of golf put on by Jason Dufner during the final round of the PGA Championship. In fact, Dufner’s ballstriking was so pure that most of his tee shots found the center-cut line of Oak Hill’s narrow fairways. Furthermore, although this cannot be verified with shotlink because the PGA doesn’t use it, Dufner led the field in proximity to the hole. As a matter of fact, no less than three of his approach shots, on holes 5, 8 and 16 landed inside of 2 feet from the hole.
THAT is Hogan-esque.
Like Hogan, Dufner also struggled in his early years as a professional. Bouncing between the various minor-league tours before gaining his Tour card in 2007, Dufner fell to conditional status in 2008 and earned his full playing privileges in 2009 for good. His first win on the PGA Tour came in 2012 in New Orleans defeating Ernie Els, of all people, in a playoff. Sunday, he captured his first major at age 36. Hogan was 34 when he won his first major, the 1946 PGA.
This isn’t to say that Dufner will or should have even half the career of Ben Hogan, but there is no question that The Hawk would have seen great beauty in Dufner’s play this week at Oak Hill.
His heart-wrenching near-miss two years ago at Atlanta Athletic Club was surely one of the cruelest ways to make one’s debut on the grandest stage in golf. Standing on the par-3 15th tee in the final round with a five shot lead and water all along the right side, Dufner blocked a 5-wood into the lake. Although he recovered to salvage a bogey, the momentum was gone and he lost to Keegan Bradley in a playoff. One can only imagine what Dufner was thinking when he came to Oak Hill’s par-3 15th with water all along the right side, AND a hole location just four yards from the pond’s edge. This diabolical spot was chosen by golf fans through a website promotion by the PGA of America.
The unflappability of Dufner shined through, though. A six-iron to the left side of the green, pin-high removed any doubt that he still might be haunted by that miss in Atlanta.
Dufner’s closing 68 bested playing partner Jim Furyk, the 54-hole leader, by three and gave Dufner a comfortable two-shot win. He was tied with Furyk for much of the early going until that spectacular approach at 8 gave him the lead for good.
Speaking after the round, Dufner said he was determined that he would not beat himself Sunday. His play was undeniable evidence of that.
After he tapped in for bogey on the 18th he was greeted by wife Amanda. A few steps later fellow Tour pro Keegan Bradley stepped out and embraced Dufner with a smile big enough for both men. It was Bradley who defeated Dufner two years ago in this event. In his recent interview on Feherty, Bradley discussed the relationship between he and Dufner. Bradley mentioned that the playoff in Atlanta led to a friendship between the two. One need only to look at the Twitter feeds of both for proof of that. Remember that it was Keegan Bradley who took “Dufnering” to the number one trend on Twitter in April after this photo of Dufner hunched against a wall in a classroom surfaced.
Now we can all expect to see Dufner (and perhaps Bradley) Dufnering next to the Wanamaker Trophy, or at least we can hope.
As for the rest of the contenders, there was not much of a challenge to Dufner outside of Jim Furyk. He made a costly bogey at the ninth after Dufner’s birdie on eight. From there Furyk seemed stuck in neutral. He did not make any catastrophic mistakes, like the snap-hook on the 70th hole at last year’s US Open. It was more an issue of not being able to get any momentum going, and perhaps having a game plan that was too conservative. Clearly there were rounds in the 60s to be had. Ten of the top 18 finishers broke 70, including Dufner. Furyk did say after the third round that he believed he, as the 54-hole leader, would not have to shoot lower than anyone else. I agreed with his sentiment, but he did not or could not make an adjustment on the course to match Dufner.
Henrik Stenson seemed as though he might be in the mix for the long haul after a well-struck 3-wood found the green on the par-5 4th and he holed his eagle putt to get one back of then-leader Furyk. He would play the remainder of the round in one-over-par for a solo third place finish. Jonas Blixt and Adam Scott found similar results, simply unable to capiltalize on any momentum.
The hottest players of the day, at least early on, were Jason Day and Scott Piercy, 67 and 65 respectively. Both flirted with 63 on the back nine, but closing bogeys sealed their fate. For Day especially, this is his third top eight major finish this year. He is talented enough to win, but must learn to close events, and that starts with adding to his lone PGA Tour win, the 2010 Byron Nelson.
It also seemed that the slumping Rory McIlroy might be able to put a charge together and post a number in front of the last group. He was done in by a disastrous triple bogey on the 5th hole. His approach rolled back into the water, due in part to a borderline unfair setup of the green all week by the PGA of America. McIlroy never rose up again, but did post his top 10 major finish of 2013 and give the golf world hope, and a bit of relief, that perhaps his struggles are behind him.
But without question Jason Dufner is the story of the 95th PGA Championship. He went out and won this championship, no one collapsed and handed it to him. The course was not at all unfair or too quirky to put any sort of stain on the victory. Dufner has now established himself as one of the premier American players on Tour. He is sure to be a fixture on Ryder Cups and Presidents Cup teams for the foreseeable future because of his ballstriking. His play in the majors in 2013 also shows that he has the stuff to win another one, especially on US Open and PGA-style golf courses.
We are all Dufnering tonight.