Episode 17 - Jason Dufner

Steve Elkington goes down to Auburn, Alabama joined by his friend and PGA Tour professional Jason Dufner on this edition of the Secret Golf.

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NARRATOR: On this episode of "The Rural Golfer," Elk heads into The Heart of Dixie to see why 10 million visitors have graced an infamous trail.

-They literally come from all 50 states to have an experience that they go home and say, hey I want to go again.

-Life down here in the south is easy living.

NARRATOR: And takes a drive down memory lane with Jason Dufner.

-We're at Ja-- Jason Dufner street-- lane-- circle-- what is it?



-Jason's kind of got a an old school feel about him. He dresses that way, he swings the club that way, and he waggles that way.

JASON DUFNER: For me what was comfortable-- because I played a lot of baseball growing up, so I'd-- you know-- be waiting for the pitcher--

THEME SONG: One, two, three, fore. [INAUDIBLE] Big Show [INAUDIBLE] map. Where we're going next we just can't say. Grab your clubs, let's hit some balls. Were making friends and playing golf. The rural golfer's coming your way.

-"The Rural Golfer" has come down to see the great Jason Dufner in his home environment here at the Aubern University, where he's decided to live. Right?

JASON DUFNER: That's right. Yeah. Been here since basically '95.

-Where are we, anyway? I'm kind of geographically handicapped here at the moment.

JASON DUFNER: We are about 90 miles southwest of Atlanta. About 30 miles across the Alabama border.

-We're on the driving range here at Grand National, which next year is going to host a PGA tour event. But this exact spot, right here, is where you practiced when you were in college.

JASON DUFNER: Yeah, definitely. Uh-- It's part of the reason why I came to Auburn-- is when I saw the facility, it was something that I hadn't really ever seen. And the facility was just unbelievable.

NARRATOR: Grand National is but a fraction of what makes Alabama so popular with the golf in the world. After all, it's one of just 26 courses at 11 sites around the state which comprise the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.

ANNOUNCER: On the tee, amateur David Bronner.

MAN: All right.

NARRATOR: The Trail the brainchild of Dr. David Bronner, CEO of the retirement systems of Alabama, who created the unique concept to diversify the assets of the state pension fund, increase tourism and business opportunities for his adopted home state.

-Started out with $500 million. Today we've got about $35 billion. We have a little over 300,000 members. And we've tried to take a small percentage of our money and invest it in the state of Alabama.

-Dr. Bronner really wanted to bring something to Alabama bigger than just-- you know-- a pension fund. So we took the money from the state retirement pension fund, and he built The Trail. And what it did was, it just started snowballing and snowballing. And the next thing you knew, tourism was one of the main income providers for the state of Alabama.

DAVID BRONNER: Being the good little bureaucrat I was, I wrote to about five people. And I said, this is what I want to do. I want to do two or three or four 54 hole sites. And Trent was the only one that picked up the phone and called me and said, man that'd be exciting. It'd be-- a matter of fact, it'd be the pinnacle of my career. And I said, all right, come over and take a look at it. And then we got started going. So we were off running on eight-- eight sites at the same time, which was the largest golf course development in the history of the world.

-The culture is to give back and to do the right thing. That's one-- to me, that's one of the great life lessons you can learn from playing golf. This Robert Trent Jones trail is no different from that. We've got great people who have done great things and make great decisions that have allowed the state to reap the benefits from this trail.

NARRATOR: Labeled the best public golf on earth by "The New York Times," Alabama's Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail just celebrated its 10 millionth round.

-When we built these original golf courses-- and even added the other three-- we made them in proximity to each other where you could play, say Grand National today. Hop your car. An hour, you're over in Prattville and right at there off in Montgomery. You can go south to Mobile, or even go north to Birmingham.

All in all, you're going to have affordable prices, great golf, and it's just going to be an amazing golf destination when you come play one of them.

-The original seven sites were built at one time. Starting with the clubhouses, everything has the same architectural style and look. No matter if it's one of our smaller sites in a smaller community, the commitment to excellence and conditions and facilities are there.

-You have the Appalachian Mountains. You have the water of the coast. You have the swamps. You have every kind of variation. It's gorgeous.

We're so fortunate in Alabama that we really have two seasons. We have a spring season, and a fall season. So that makes for a real nice ability to bring in tourists from around the country. That's the uniqueness of The Trail.

-It funds part of the retirement program. It brings tourism to the state. We have lots of people-- especially like October, November, December, January-- that come down here because the weather's good, and play golf. And to think that the game of golf brings that to the state, to share that with the people-- to share a little bit of Alabama with people-- it's kind of a neat thing.

NARRATOR: Jason Dufner is a man of the people. But with three career PGA tour victories, including a major championship, his talent on the golf course sets him apart. But why is it that Dufner has captured the hearts of golf fans around the world, even before the Dufnering craze? Well, we go to the source.

-I grew up in South Florida. Used to go to The Honda Classic at Weston Hills. Used to work there range, kind of like I'm doing right now. Used to watch you hit balls.

-Is that right?

-Way back then. Yep.

-How old were you then?

-Uh, 14, 15, 16. Just started playing golf, and-- uh-- kind of where I got my start in the game, actually, is watching you guys play in the early to mid '90s. That swing hasn't changed much.

-Hey, that was a good shot, too.

-Back when I started playing, the only way I could get real information about good golfers was from television, or going to tour events. So I had to learn by watching-- you know-- other players that were good at it. So I tried to think about who the best players were-- who I thought were great players during that time period-- maybe time periods before, and just tried to learn as much as I can and absorb about the game of golf. Because I think you can't stop learning with the game of golf. I feel like the more you immerse yourself into the-- to the game, the more you learn.

NARRATOR: Now one of the best players in the world, Dufner was a late bloomer. He didn't really start playing golf until he was 14, and received no scholarship offers to play collegiately.

Undeterred, he walked on at Auburn University.

-I've heard from-- uh-- one of your ex-college roommates who's with us today, that you didn't have a scholarship when you came to Auburn.


-You just going to walk on here?

-Just going to walk on and see if I could do it.

-See if you could do it.

-When I first started and I didn't play good in high school events-- you know, I committed to getting better, I'd play good. When I didn't have a college scholarship, I committed to walking on-- I got good enough. So I just felt like it was just going to keep continuing that way. Maybe that was a little naive at the time, but I think self-belief, confidence, the mental aspect of golf, really gives me and nice edge to be competitive now in a professional game.

-And we got Jonathan [INAUDIBLE] who was at school with Jason, and now is the coach at my alma mater University of Houston.

-When I showed up here in 1999, Jason was a mentor of mine. He was a senior, he was an All-American, and he was somebody that I looked up to. It's been great to see what he's accomplished. He always had a really, really good game, and always worked hard at it.

-He told me-- you know-- very bluntly, that in five years he'd be a top 20 player in the world.

-Wasn't quite five.

-Wasn't quite five.

-Ten. Took ten.

-But-- but-- leaving that chipping green that day, I didn't have any doubt that uh-- that he didn't believe he was going to be a great player. That was just one example of several conversations. And I think-- you know-- if you're going to reach that level, you know-- obviously you have to have a tremendous skill set. But it's kind of the chicken or-- or the egg. I mean if you don't have the skill set right then, you have to have the self-belief that you-- you're going to acquire it.

-Just a lot of confidence came from knowing that I was working hard. Uh, that I had an open mind to-- to getting better. To-- to-- Thinking that I wasn't good enough, whatever level I was at. And always seemed like when I committed to that-- to try to get better to take my game to another level-- I could do it. So that gave me a lot of confidence. That gave me a lot of self-belief.

The way I am is, is the way I grew up, and what I come from. And I think that made me a better golfer in some aspects. It made me tougher. It made me appreciate the good things. And it made me work harder to have those good things, because I didn't-- I didn't want to go back to working a 9 to 5. I wanted to play the PGA tour.

-Why do you think people like you so much?

-Uh, I think the every day golf fan can identify with me. I kind of look like them a little bit. I might act like them a little bit. I feel like I could be one of the guys that's in their Saturday group, and then have a couple beers afterwards. So, I think it's a little bit refreshing for that golf fan-- that specific type. And people en-- seem to enjoy what I do out there. And I think I stay true to myself, which I think gains a lot of popularity.

NARRATOR: However, the fan favorite gained even more popularity with his 2013 PGA championship victory at Oak Hill.

-So mate, we all sensed it-- that were watching you that day-- it was a battle. It was a battle. You were hitting the ball so well. You had a battle going on with that flat stick over there. What was it like for you, you know, hitting the ball, putting-- tell us what it was like.

-Um, you know, clearly the ball striking was good. I felt good about what I was doing that week with my swing, the golf course. I think that plays a lot of roles in to-- to where you play well, and when you don't. Oak Hill was a good fit, so ball striking I felt good. But, you know, the putter's kind of been a battle for me throughout my career.

-What was the tip-- what were you thinking of that week with putting? What was--


-Were you trying to do anything?

-No. The weird thing about putting is, is the more concerned I become about it, it seems like I putt a little bit better. It's when I let off--

-Oh, so if you grind it out--


---you're fine?

-It's weird. I feel better, you know. I had a three footer on the first hole, and I'm over it, and I'm like, I really got to grind on this, and let's-- you know-- make-- commit to it. And I made it. So then I felt less pressure and--

-So there's no automaticness for you on the putting?

-No. Uh-uh. It's bad. When I get into that situation, stuff goes bad.

NARRATOR: Thanks to laser like precision with his irons, Dufner didn't have to worry too much about putting on that championship Sunday.

-That swing that you made on 16, was it one of the best swings you made?

JASON DUFNER: 16 was a good tee shot for me all week, actually. You got a little bit of right to the left. The fairway kind of canners right to left. Um, you know, so-- that whole being towards the end-- and to be able to hit driver on that hole really gives you an advantage, because now you're hitting a sand wedge in, and you can be aggressive with it.

NARRATOR: A birdie at 16 in the final round gave him a two stroke advantage, which he held until the 72nd hole. But when his second shot came up just short of the green, the plot thickened. At least temporarily.

-You hit your second shot on the hill--


---that's given you problems--


---during the week.

-In the practice round.

-And you're not cutesie-wootsie yet.

-No. Not-- not done. Jim hit a pretty good shot from where he was to about 15 feet. And I'm kind of in a situation, so I just went back to-- to what me and my coach had talked about. And I hit it up there to about eight feet. Felt like I could--

-Shake it in from there.

---two putt, or if I needed the three putt, I could probably still win.

-So, what has it been like for you since you won the PGA? In the future for you, there may be people forget exactly what course you won at, and they may forget what score you won, they ev-- they even may forget what major you won. But they will not forget that you won a major.


You know, that's a neat thing. To be part of history, to be part of that-- that championship, to be able to go the champions dinner for the rest of my life-- to be on that trophy for the rest of my life.


-And, and-- for the history of golf, really. Uh, that means a lot to me.

-Getting to spend a little time with Jason Dufner was great for me. You know, Jason's kind of a-- he's kind of an old soul.

You learned watching Hogan, and you've got all kind of little secrets that you want to tell us about.

-Maybe not all of them.

-May-- maybe not all of them.

-Couple of them.

-May-- may-- one or two. Maybe one or two to help the guys.

Now, you're on the IR this week, and we're not-- we're not hitting at the moment. But you've been nice enough for let us talk about your waggle.

You know, he's a young-- young guy. But he's kind of got an old school feel about him. And he dresses that way, and he swings a club that way, and he even waggles that way.

-It's just something I've always done, I think from watching older time players. A lot of people tell me, you know, people like Hogan and Snead did it. That's where I watched a lot of video footage from back then. There's no conscious thoughts about it. Just kind of something I'd-- I'd rather do than stay kind of like a statue over the golf ball.

For me what was comfortable, because I played a lot of baseball growing up, so I'd-- you know-- be waiting for the pitcher, and you're doing--

-Doing something.

---doing something with the bat. So I would just always, just start doing this waggle. And I'm looking at my target. And I'm not really thinking about mechanics of golf swing. I'm just getting comfortable.

-My son said, dad, why does Duf waggle? And I said, he waggles 'til all systems say go.

-Correct. That's what I would say.

-There you go.

-If I thought about it.


-Dad's right.

-So one of the coolest stories that came out of Jason winning the PGA at Oak Hill was00 Oak Hill's name is of course by the oak trees at Oak Hill. And why don't you tell us about this little acorn that you and your wife collected after the win at the PGA at Oak Hill.

-Yes. So actually, it started uh, at the practice round. I just started grabbing acorns. You know, they're huge acorns out at Oak Hill. People played out there, been out there to watch, see these huge-- huge acorns. Uh, so I just started picking them up, put them in my pocket. Told my wife to do the same. Um, because we bought some land here. We've got about 50 acres, uh, we're building a house on. And, we need trees. So, we collected maybe about 50 or 60 acorns. Happened to win that week, so it kind of makes this story even better, and this-- this is started out of this acorn. We're about, uh, 14 months out. And hopefully we'll be able to put them in the ground at some point out there on the property.

-And when you get to Mr. Burke's age, you'll be sitting underneath this. Should be up, hopefully.

-Yeah. It'll be up there. I hope it will get up there.

-But what a great thing to have as a, as a uh, memento. Possibly some big oak trees from Oak-- Oak Hill.

-Yeah, definitely.

-It's always interesting to talk to players when they win tournaments, and what was key to them, and what-- or what they were worried about. You know, there's always a little insight to be learned.

So here we are on the side slope.



-Similar to 18 at Oak Hill.

-Similar Oak-- 18th hold-- 72nd hole of the PGA championship that you won. And you're now on the upslope. And you had had trouble during the week.


-You know, you-- you told me that you-- you were coming into the hill too much.

-Leaning. Yep.

-And, and-- you know-- going und-- going under it, or doing all kind of crazy stuff.

-Right. Yeah.

-So, when you came up there you hit your second shot into the hill. And now you're thinking, oh God, now I'm gonna-- now I gotta play one of these shots that I've had trouble with.


-So what did you do? You c-- you and you're--

-We got a bad lie-- had a bad lie.

-Worse than that.

-Worse than you can get.

-OK. [INAUDIBLE] in here.

-That's pretty bad.


-So you got this up slope. So what I had to do, is I had to lean with the slope.

-Yeah. Get--

-Get with the slope.

-Get with the slope.

-And then swing with the slope.

-Swing with the slope.

-So more of a hook motion.

-Oh-- more hook motion?


-Hey, that's-- that's-- so you want to feel like you're gonna hook it.

-Right. Just a nice sweeping action.

-That was in the gallery.

-You crushed that one.

-We'll do that again.

I'm going to make this up over swing.

-Just the hook.

-Big-- big hook swing. The pin's just there, right?

-Yeah, the pin's maybe eight yards.

-Were you as wide of stance as this, or?

-Yeah. Gotta go wide.

-Could you open your legs this far at this point in the tournament?

-Yeah, I was OK with that. Gotta go wide for balance.


-But instead of being so steep with it, I was-- just like that.


-Perfect. Soft like a butterfly.

-That was a butterfly.

Up over to the hook.


-That's awesome.

-Little sweep-- little sweet hook motion.

Think about if you were on-- if your ball was sitting on a tee--


-Because it's almost the same situation. If you went steep on it, you'd just hit the tee and go right underneath it.

-Yeah, I've done that.

-So you gotta pick it off the tee, kind of-- so to speak.

-So the hook, the hook up over, kind of--

-Yep. Nice soft float motion. Mhm. Appreciate it.

-That was great.

I learn things like I did today from Jason. He-- he let me in on a little uphill shot with a little feel, like I little hooked it up over my shoulder, and that thing came out beautiful off that upslope. Now I'm-- I'm putting that in my repertoire.


-So I got myself in a bad spot right here. We've got like four-inch Bermuda.

You know, there's a shot that we play on the tour. You know, a lot of guys would keep that, that wrist cocked. And never-- never uncock it. Just always hold it cocked. Jose Maria Alfaro made that shot famous, right here.

US Open style. This is five-inch Bermuda rough, right here. Look where that hit, right dead center.

-So, mate, I'm looking at you-- cell phone video of you the week of the PGA. Mate, you were hitting it good right here.

He has a sort of new feel about it, where he sort of uses new terms, like takes his shoulder away-- right shoulder away-- and then covers it. You know, those are sort of new terms, or he feels like he uses a lot of body.

-I like to feel my right shoulder everywhere. Back swing, I like to feel my right shoulder go away from the golf ball, up the-- up the plane. And then coming through, I like to feel it through the golf ball.

-Can I get you guys another round?

-Yeah, sure.

-Uh, I felt like I could hit small draws, fades, whatever the court demanded from me I felt like I could do by just shifting ball position maybe a little bit, or maybe a little bit of [INAUDIBLE] club face.

-This is a montage of a lot of things here. Tell us-- let's go through a few of these here, one of your favorites.

-This one here, I think, is pretty good, uh-- of me and Pat Perez. Watching both me and Pat play golf on TV, you can pretty much get our personalities. Uh--

-That was the joke, right?

-Yep. Definite.

-This was serenity. Volcano.


-This one here.

-That's 63 at Oak Hill, right after the second round. Uh, this one here gets a lot of attention. That's on my Twitter page, and get a lot of Auburn fans that ask me for that print actually, or where they can find.

-My favorite, when you into Australia and-- and--

-Yep. So--

-And you were-- you had--

-I got a hard lesson in Australia. I said, man I love this koala bear. It's so-- so sweet and nice. And the guy said, mate, it's not a bear. So uh, and he did it in a very condescending way. So he wasn't happy with that.

NARRATOR: Think you know Dufner? Tweet, post, and sign up at ruralgolfer.com, and enter for the chance to win the entire Dufner sign caricature set.

-Could be a sketch. Could be a quote about Jason Dufner. Could be a trivia question about Jason Dufner. So be ready.

NARRATOR: Join the winner's circle at ruralgolfer.com.

-We're at Ja-- Jason Dufner street-- lane-- circle-- what is it?



-This is Jason, how he-- emotional he is before he wins, and then how emotional he is after he wins.