Dufner Wins Memorial

Stoic Jason Dufner recovered from a disastrous five-over par 77 on Saturday to win the Memorial yesterday by three strokes with a 68 for a total of 275. Dufner had set the 36-hole tournament record on the first two days with a pair of 65s, 14 under par. So, to do that, shootJasonDufner a whopping 77 on Saturday, and still win the tournament on Sunday was quite a remarkable achievement.

This tournament is hosted by Jack Nicklaus at his Muirfield Village golf layout in Dublin, a suburb of Jack’s boyhood hometown–Columbus, Ohio. Dufner is also an Ohioan. It was Jason’s fifth win on the PGA Tour.

I used to play in this tournament my last years on the regular PGA Tour. It’s a really good golf course. Since it’s a house that Jack built, what else would you expect? Well, not exactly. In my day, we used to play tournaments on a few other golf courses that Jack Nicklaus designed. There were a few disgruntled pros–I won’t name names here, and they include illustrious stars who may have been jealous–who thought otherwise.

In professional golf, when you play such great golf as Jason Dufner did those first two rounds, and then collapse so badly, it is so difficult to regain your composure the final round and make a comeback. But then win? That’s almost unheard of. Nick Faldo, a six-time major winner, was one of the player commentators on TV along with Jack Nicklaus. They pointed out that the last time anyone won a PGA Tour tournament by shooting a 77 on the third round was Nick Faldo himself in the 1989 Masters.

Even after the soft-spoken Jason Dufner finished his third round 77, he was clinging to the right mental attitude. When asked in a televised media interview about his play that day, he said “the tournament isn’t over” or words to that effect. He was still thinking he might be able to get back on track on Sunday and snare the victory.

But it was far from certain even though he won by three strokes. Daniel Summerhays was leading by three strokes starting the last round yesterday. He had played in 82 PGA Tour tournaments and still was searching for his first win. I used to play often with Daniel’s dad on the Senior/Champions Tour. Bruce Summerhays is a really good guy and was a terrific golfer who never competed consistently on the regular PGA Tour. He had been a club pro and head golf coach for guys at Stanford University. I don’t recall now, but Daniel may have caddied for Bruce on the old guys Tour.

Anyway, on Sunday Daniel got off to a terrible start with three successive bogeys to quickly lose his lead. He finished with a very disappointing 78 for 10th place. Two rainstorm delays may have contributed to his demise. He has a solid swing that can’t go very wrong. Commentators said he putting stats aren’t so good. Dufner’s may be worse. I think putting has held Jason Dufner back from being one of the top pros on Tour.

On Sunday, Dufner shot par going out, which didn’t gain him any traction. He was paired with crowd favorite Ricki Fowler. The two are close friends. In the back nine, Ricki took the lead. But Jason went four under par on the back nine. He went with a driver on the very narrow par-four 17th hole while most pros selected a three wood. Jason striped it right down the middle and quite long even though he’s not a long hitter. It stuffed his wedge shot for nearly a gimme to take a two-shot lead with one hole to go.

It looked like Dufner then decided to protect his two-stroke lead by hitting a three metalwood on the 18th tee. His teeshot settled in some gnarly right rough behind a tree. Fowler then did what Dufner had done on 17, hitting a very long drive up the middle. So, if Jason bogeys and Fowler birdies, they tie the 72-hole regulation play to go into a playoff. Dufner then wedged out into the fairway to about 100 yards from the flagstick. Fowler had only a nine-iron or wedge to the green. But he pulled his shot left, landing in greenside rough with a rather difficult little pitch shot. Jason then played safe to the middle of the green with his wedge shot. Then he drained a thirty foot putt to save par and claim victory. We finally saw Jason Dufner crack a smile. That is Hoganesque.

Jason Dufner has one of my favorite golf swings on the PGA Tour. He is what is called an “ala Hogan player.” That means his golf swing resembles that of the legendary Ben Hogan–the greatest striker of the golf ball ever, bar none. Dufner “slings” the club head at the ball, like throwing a stone with the ancient slingshot. He has a fairly flat swing with a very tight right elbow on his backswing; he swings the club in plane very well; he keeps his spine stable (no dippy head) while also having a significant weight shift; and he has great rhythm. All five of these traits were characteristic of Ben Hogan’s swing. Dufner also finishes his swing in an extremely relaxed manner in which the driver club shaft actually rests across his upper back, or it appears to.

Since Ben Hogan was such a great ball striker, people, even Tour pros, often asked him for a swing lesson. Eventually, the pros quit asking. Why? Ben Hogan could be pretty sarcastic, sometimes with subtle humor mixed in. One time I asked Hogan if he tried to keep his right elbow close to his side in his backswing, since that’s what everybody thought. He answered, “No, keep it down.”

Ben Hogan was a man of few words. Remember that American brokerage firm E. F. Hutton? Hogan was like their ubiquitous add on TV during the 1970s and 80s with their byline, “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.”

One year I played with Ben Hogan the first two rounds in the Houston Open. Years later, I was watching him practice at his home course, at Shady Oaks in Fort Worth, Texas. I also was practicing there. I asked Mr. Hogan some swing questions. Even pros who were his friends didn’t do that for fear of getting treated sarcastically. I knew that, but I didn’t care.

Apparently, I hit it off with Ben because he then gave me a swing tip. I’ve blogged about this before. He said something about my finish. He was the only person who ever told me that. I won’t get into the details since it’s too complex for most of my readers here. I came to believe that that swing fault Hogan pointed out was the cause of my neck pain that led to surgery. I wasn’t swinging to a relaxed position on my finish like Jason Dufner does. If I would have done that, no tellin’ how good I could have been!!!

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