Jason Dufner ready for excitement ready for excitement
NORTH OLMSTED, Ohio -- Jason Dufner is bored.
That's a statement that's bound to make all pencil-pushing stuffed shirts who'd give up their first-born children to play golf professionally cry out all at once: "What's wrong with you??"
Well, let's get it straight. Dufner, who plays the Nationwide Tour, knows he has it good. He's single, has minimal responsibilities, lives rent-free with his caddie, and has raked in close to $400,000 in the past three years. But now, it's his fourth season on the Nationwide Tour, and how can you blame him for wanting a different scene?
"It's really important for me this year to qualify for the PGA Tour," the 26-year-old Dufner says. "I'm getting bored out here. It's not where I want to be. A lot of my friends like Hank Kuehne and Pat Perez are on the PGA Tour, and it's hard to see them have success there while you're stuck in traffic on a smaller tour."
If Dufner keeps playing like he is this season, he will be teeing it up with Tiger and the big boys next year. He currently sits 20th on the money list with $89,821, with his best finish being a tie for fourth place at the BMW Charity Pro-Am with a 71-68-67-68-274 total. Everyone in the top 20 on the Nationwide Tour money list automatically earns a PGA Tour card. But he's right on the bubble, and that's enough to make anyone carry Pepto-Bismol in their back pocket.
"I'm not really nervous," Dufner admits. "A lot of the year is left. All I care about is finishing in the top 20. If I have to do that with six top 10s, or 10 top 25s, I'll do it."
Dufner started the year by missing the cut four straight times, something that didn't surprise him after taking three months off.
"I didn't play any tournaments in the off-season," he says. "I was playing OK but not scoring well. I've been working harder on parts of my game that I need help on and trying to get in a routine every week."
Being on the bubble on the money list, you'd think that Dufner would be a nervous wreck, not wanting to take any tournament off in fear that someone would pass him up and drop him down the ladder. But his fingernails are intact thanks to the experience he's gained in his four years on tour.
"I need to be patient and see how the rest of the year plays out," he says. "You can't play all of the events because you have to be fresh and rested."
It seems his whole life Dufner has never been in a rush to do anything. Born in Cleveland, he lived in North Olmsted for 10 years and never touched a golf club. When he was 14 years old, his mother changed jobs and moved the family to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The company his mother worked for owned Weston Hills Country Club, home of the Honda Classic, so Dufner had unlimited playing privileges there.
After a stint as a volunteer at the tournament, Dufner had dreams of golf at the next level. "I watched the players play and really got into it," he says.
From then on, it was golf every day, sometimes 54 holes in one day. A self-taught golfer, Dufner started as an 18-handicapper but found that the game came easy to him and quickly whittled it down to scratch. "I just always seemed to be able to do what I wanted with a golf ball," he says.
He played for St. Thomas Aquinas High School his sophomore, junior and senior years, in the No. 1 slot the last two seasons. The summer after his senior year, he started playing in junior tournaments, but didn't play well enough to be a hot recruit for Auburn University. In fact, he was a walk-on and played No. 3 during the spring season of his freshman year. The last two years, he played either at no. 1 or 2, and was an Honorable Mention All-American in 1997. He also won three times in college and earned the rank of 13th and 15th all-time in lowest stroke average in a season at Auburn.
Dufner played the Golden Bear Tour in 2000, but busted onto the Nationwide Tour scene in 2001 by Monday qualifying into the Hershey Open, where he finished in a tie for 12th place. That year, he made the cut in 11 of 13 events and finished fifth in scoring average (69.85). Perhaps success came too soon for Dufner, who finished 77th on the money list in 2002 and only made the cut in 12 of 25 tournaments.
"The reason 2002 was so tough for me was because I did so well in 2001," Dufner says. "I put a lot of pressure on myself. There's less pressure when you're not on top. You're more relaxed, and your mind's quieter. You're not living up to anyone's expectations. You're just being as good as you can for that round or week or month. "
Dufner says he hasn't been to Cleveland in a couple years, but maybe a trip home is what he needs to unwind and improve his mental game. On one of his last visits, he fired a course-record 62 at Springvale Golf Club in North Olmsted.
He'd like to shoot a couple 62s on the home stretch this season on the Nationwide Tour and be playing cards during rain delays with Kuehne and Perez on the PGA Tour next season. "The next 10 or 11 events, I've had previous top 15s in each event, so I'm looking for a strong finish to the year."
What's in the bag?
Titleist 983K driver (9.5 loft), Ping 3- and 5-wood, Titleist 680 blades, Titleist 54- and 60-degree Vokey prototype wedges, Titleist Scotty Cameron Futura putter, Titleist Pro-V X balls.
July 29, 2003