Average Joe can be interesting, too
Jason Dufner's final-round battle with Jim Furyk at the PGA Championship shows golf is not always about the big names
A golfer who obsesses on failure is doomed to repeat it. The ability to forget is much more valuable than a smooth putting stroke. That's all fine in theory, at least, because neither the media nor the fans will actually let you forget.
Standing on the 18th tee box at Oak Hill with a two-stroke lead on the final hole of the PGA Championship last week, Jason Dufner was facing the most important drive of his life. It was almost two years to the day after he had what seemed like an insurmountable five-stroke lead over Keegan Bradley with four holes to play in this very same tournament. His quest for his first major championship and what would surely be a life-altering victory for the largely unknown journeyman was in his grasp. But three straight bogeys forced him into a play-off with Bradley that he would eventually lose.
You would have to be some form of subhuman to perish those dastardly thoughts completely, particularly when that same seminal victory was in your grasp once more. Of course, Dufner is probably the most unaffected and unemotional guy to ever play the game professionally. "I come across as a pretty cool customer," he would say later, "but there are definitely some nerves out there, especially when you're trying to win a major championship."
Dufner's drive on the 18th was basically perfect, right down the middle. With a two-stroke lead, he could taste the title. But there was no emotional release because there was no emotion. He walked off the tee box and put a pinch of chewing tobacco between his cheek and gums and then tossed the tin to his caddie. Four shots later he was the 2013 PGA Champion and the look on his face when he won was almost identical to the look he had when he lost two years earlier. And this, ladies and gentleman, is golf's latest star.
There are no teams to root for on the professional golf tour so week in, week out, the game needs to sell personalities. Put Tiger Woods on the leaderboard and ratings will boom. The same is true, to a lesser degree, with Phil Mickelson. Rory McIlroy's form may have slipped lately, but the youngster from Northern Ireland has a huge game and crowds to match. Even Adam Scott, the seemingly docile Masters champion, makes guys jealous and women squeal.
You can sell these guys and that is exactly what the media did coming into this year's tournament. With Tiger back at number one and Mickelson coming off an exhilarating and surprising victory at the British Open a few weeks earlier, the last major of the year was set to be their prime time showcase.
However, come Sunday afternoon, neither Tiger nor Mickelson were anywhere to be seen, while McIlroy and Scott eventually fell by the wayside. It all came down to a duel between Jim Furyk and Dufner. Furyk basically has no personality and Dufner has even less. They are both reputed to be nice guys who obviously have serious game. But charisma? Not a lick of it.
At some point, though, if you are a fan of competition and drama then TV rating points mean absolutely nothing. Furyk, an elder statesman with the game's funkiest swing, was desperately trying for one more shot at glory at 43, while the 36-year-old Dufner was seeking redemption. Nether looks or carries himself like a professional athlete, which oddly makes them even more endearing. It's easy to root for them and a victory from either would have made for a heartening tale. In the end it was the portly Dufner who played a flawless round to raise the massive Wanamaker Trophy. Still as exorcisms go, this was about as numbing as it gets.
Golf's newest star eschewed the high-profile TV talk shows, choosing instead to visit with Shock Jock Howard Stern, where he revealed that the trophy can hold 43 beers and, yes, he did grab his wife's behind on the 18th green after winning. Dufner also admitted he was not about to become more animated just for TV. "I try to be true to who I am," he said. "Me fist-pumping and yelling and screaming just isn't me."
While he may never be the promotional lynchpin for a tournament, Dufner certainly does not lack for fans. "You know, everybody can kind of identify with me," he said. "Like the everyman." Oh, and the TV ratings for the final round of this year's PGA Championship? Up 13 per cent from last year when McIlroy won. A victory indeed for the everyman.