The PGA champ on love, loyalty, ghosts and bad bounces—and why he's looking forward to his high school reunion
GOLF FOR A LOT OF KIDS can be a lonely game, or at least a game for lonely people. Sometimes, the kids who turn to golf aren't the most popular kids in school. Let's face it, the best golfer on the high school team usually isn't as popular as the star quarterback. But it's a game you can play by yourself, and it gets cooler as it goes along. The really good golfer at age 35 has more swagger than the 35-year-old high-school quarterback who doesn't play football anymore. My 20th high school reunion at St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale is coming up, and I plan on attending. It'll be interesting to see how I stack up now as opposed to back then.
I'M A KID IN A LOT OF WAYS. I love getting a cool autograph. I have a picture of Bo Jackson with the football pads and baseball bat across his shoulder. I have a signed poster of Michael Jordan taking off from the foul line, which I got at the 2012 Ryder Cup. It's childlike, but not childish. In a way, I really owe those guys. If it weren't for the heroes I had as a kid, there's no way I would have become a pro athlete. It was because of them that I practiced hard. They helped me aspire to have a better life. Those autographed posters are like a tribute to them.
GROWING UP in South Florida, I'd hit Wiffle balls, imagining I was one of the tour players I saw at Weston Hills, where they played the Honda Classic in the early '90s. One time my dad brought home a Cayman ball, which would go no more than 100 yards. I'd adopt the swings of the players I saw. My John Daly swing was long and reckless. Fred Couples was smooth and rhythmic. When I wanted to be mechanical and precise, I'd be Nick Faldo. Of all the swings, Jason Dufner's worked the best.
I PLAYED THE MINI-TOURS in Florida for five or six years. It's one of those things you look back on with some fondness, but you wouldn't want to go back to it. Some crazy things happened. One time, a promoter announced a series of tournaments. I paid the entry fee of $7,500, showed up at the first event, and nobody was there. The promoter had run off. About a hundred of us stood around wondering what our recourse was, and there was none. The lifestyle was interesting. A pod of four of us, college buddies, would rent a house and head out to go play. It wasn't always desperate. I did make money. But you can't go on like that forever.
BEING IN THE PUBLIC EYE is tough for me. It's been an adjustment. My whole life, I've flown under the radar, and to suddenly put everything out there, I admit makes me uncomfortable. I guess I'm a shy person, at least to people I don't know well, or who don't know me. I tweet a lot [@JasonDufner, with more than 388,000 followers], but mostly fun stuff about Auburn, the NBA, what I see on TV, or promotional things for sponsors or the Jason Dufner Foundation. It's not a close look into my daily activities or personal life. I have to hold some things back that only the people close to me can see. It's what keeps me sane.
LOVE ME ALL YOU WANT, and keep it coming. It's the best thing out there. In the movie "A Bronx Tale," the Chazz Palminteri character says it's better to be feared than loved. A productive attitude for mob guys, maybe, but a sick way to go through real life. It's love, not fear, that helps 800 kids a year through the foundation. It's love, not hate, that's behind all good relationships. When did hate or fear ever make anyone happy?
I'VE HAD LONGER HAIR for some time now, but I think every once in a while you have to change things up. I'll probably just ask the barber for a trim and see what happens. It's not like I've never had short hair before. I used to buzz it. When I won my first professional event, it was completely buzzed.
ON THE LAST HOLE of the Byron Nelson in 2012, I hit a sand wedge to 25 feet. When I got 60 yards from the green, I looked up and saw myself making the putt. Total déjà vu. When the putt went in, it was hard to act excited, because in my mind the sequence had already played out. I'm a strong believer in visualization and read a great book once that explained the techniques of Russian weightlifters, who are very good at it. But here's the thing: Can we get to the point where we can will the déjà vu moments to happen, instead of just hoping they will? Maybe. That's one of the mystical things about golf that keep us coming back.