By Dave Kaplan
There are wild rides and then there is what Jason Dufner had to endure at the Memorial over the weekend to earn his fifth career PGA Tour title.
The 40-year-old got off to a blistering start last week with back-to-back 65s on Thursday and Friday, setting a new Memorial tournament record for the lowest 36-hole score at 14-under par. Dufner led by five strokes heading into Saturday’s round due, in large part, to his dominance on the par 5s and to this incredible eagle hole-out in his second round on the 18th hole:
It appeared as if Duff Man was going to run away with the tournament until things took a drastic turn early on Saturday afternoon. The Cleveland native began his third round with a par and then promptly made four straight bogeys to lose his lead in what truly seemed like the blink of an eye. Dufner bounced back with two birdies to close out his opening nine, but then gave them both right back with a double bogey on the 11th. He finished the day with a score of 77 — 12 shots worse than his previous day’s total and four shots back of leader Daniel Summerhays.
Dufner didn’t strike the ball that badly on Saturday. However, he did roll the ball quite poorly, missing five putts inside of 10 feet and finishing the day dead last in strokes gained with the putter.
Nonetheless, the alumnus of Auburn University stayed positive after the round.
“I’m still in this tournament, a couple shots back,” Dufner said in a press conference after his round. “Today was pretty pathetic on all accounts so I’ll have to play better tomorrow.”
And, by golly, did he ever — although it took him another nine holes to truly regain his form!
After offsetting three birdies with three bogeys for an even score on the front nine, Dufner rediscovered his mojo and made four birdies down the stretch to retake the lead and seal his first win on the PGA Tour since January 2016. Duff triumphed over a leaderboard of established names, including Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas, Matt Kuchar and Bubba Watson, but it didn’t come easily. To earn the victory, the 2013 Wannamaker Trophy winner also had to battle through two separate hour-plus weather delays over his final nine holes, the second of which occurred after his tee shot on the 72nd hole.
The delays, however, proved to be no bother for Dufner, who scrambled for a par with this lengthy putt when play resumed shortly after 8 PM:
Dufner, who has long had a reputation for keeping a cool head out on the golf course, spoke after the round about the importance of moving on from his previous day’s woes and how that freed him up to play well on Sunday.
“Yesterday was important for me to not leave the golf course mad and disappointed and pissed off, so I went to the range,” he said. “I hit balls for about 25, 30 minutes. I wasn’t really working on anything in particular, but I was just hitting balls. I needed to blow some steam off. I was disappointed; I was pissed off. I went and putted a little bit and after I let that moment go — I could go on from it.”
There is a lot of wisdom in that statement and I truly believe that we all, as amateurs, can learn a great deal from the way the veteran responded to his bad day.
Dufner has played well at the Memorial in the past. In 2015, he opened with scores of 66-67 at Muirfield Village and, last year, posted a 68 in his first round there. However, the portly professional has never been able to carry his strong play into the weekend at the Golden Bear’s tournament. This year looked to be no different as he stumbled once again on Moving Day, only this time he righted the ship to finally change his narrative.
Although the Ohioan’s victory came on the heels of a missed cut at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational two weeks ago in Texas, Dufner has actually been playing sneaky-good golf all season long. Dufner has had 10 Top 25s in 15 starts this year, including finishes of T-14 or better at The Honda Classic, The Valspar Championship, The Shell Houston Open, The RBC Heritage, The Zurich Classic, The Byron Nelson, and most recently, the Memorial. With that type of weekly consistency, it really shouldn’t be a surprise that Dufner now sits 13th overall in the FedEx Cup standings, having jumped more than 40 spots from his position last week after his victory over the weekend.
Dufner’s win marks the fourth victory in the last five tournaments on the PGA Tour by a player 30 years of age or older (Brian Harman, Billy Horschel, Kevin Kisner). Although it is admittedly a rather small sample size, you have to wonder what is becoming of the ‘young gun’ club — with the exception of Jon Rahm — whose presence and success were so prevalent earlier in the season?
Dave Kaplan is a Toronto-based freelance writer and golf fanatic who is sneaky long off the tee. He’s on a crusade to inject a youthful perspective into golf media, especially the broadcast booth. Follow him on Twitter @davykap