Red-hot Dufner keeps cool demeanor

By Will GrayJune 5, 2015, 9:59 pm

DUBLIN, Ohio – Even a barrage of eagles isn’t enough to break Jason Dufner’s poker face.

Dufner remains the PGA Tour’s most notable flat-liner, offering the same deadpan expression when he misses a cut and when he wins a major. Like a duck on a pond, he keeps his effort below the surface and guards everything else with care.

That trend has continued at the Memorial, where Dufner (66-67--133) is back on the leaderboard after months of injury and turmoil.

The closing stretch at Muirfield Village is as daunting as it gets, but Dufner carved it up during his second round. After a birdie on No. 14, he eagled the par-5 15th and followed with an ace on No. 16, holing a 6-iron from 208 yards. It was his fourth eagle of the week, already one off the all-time mark for a tournament.

His post-round reaction? Dufner-esque.

“I hit it pretty good,” Dufner said of his hole-in-one, “and it looked pretty good from my vantage point.”

Dufner did not speak with reporters after his opening-round 66, and instead offered statements to a Tour media official. On Friday multiple national media members attempted to ask questions, but Dufner gave answers only to select local media outlets.

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While an eagle-ace combo would be a highlight of many careers, Dufner appeared largely unaffected. In fact, he seemed like a man weary from running an emotional gamut over the last year.

Dufner withdrew from his title defense at the PGA Championship in August because of bulging discs in his neck, and the injury abruptly ended his season and cost him a spot on the Ryder Cup team. He said last summer that an end to his career could be near, and after the injury he made it clear that golf was taking a back seat to his overall health.

“I’m not really concerned about when I play again, to be honest with you,” Dufner said at Valhalla.

He returned in Australia after more than two months off, but he didn’t tee it up again in the U.S. until January. At that point, he was a man transformed – the bushy hair on display at Oak Hill was neatly trimmed, and he had shed nearly 30 pounds.

While his appearance changed, the results did not return. Dufner has slipped to No. 68 in the world ranking after starting the year at No. 38. He was 16th exactly one year ago.

Injuries, though, have not been Dufner’s only off-course battle. Over the years, he openly shared moments of his marriage on various social media platforms and his relationship garnered headlines in March when he and wife Amanda filed for divorce.

While the precise source of his regression is difficult to pinpoint, the fact remains that Dufner has been struggling. He went 11 straight starts this year without a top-15 finish before finally breaking through last week with an eighth-place tie at the AT&T Byron Nelson Championship.

Dufner shot 65-64-66 over the final three rounds in Dallas and has brought that momentum with him to his home state.

“Last week was a pretty good week. I felt pretty good about my game coming in here,” he said. “The practicing has been good, casual rounds, pro-am has been good. Usually that begets some good play out here in tournament rounds, so I’m excited.”

Jim Furyk played the first two rounds alongside Dufner, and the veteran knows what it’s like to deal with both a long-term injury and the frustrations that can arise when the results don’t immediately return.

“You think you’re just going to come back, and three weeks later you’ll be ready to go, but it just takes some time,” Furyk said. “His game looks like it’s really coming around, and it’s just hard for us to be patient. We all want it now.”

Always a tough emotional read, Dufner has done little to open up this week despite his on-course success.

His play, though, has him in contention for his first win since his major breakthrough nearly two years ago. Dufner trails David Lingmerth by a shot, a position that Furyk suggested could be even better based on his tee-to-green performance.

“I’ll say right now, he put a ball-striking clinic on these last two days,” Furyk said. “The fact that he’s only 11 under, he did make some putts but it could be whatever. He’s missed a bunch of 4- and 5-footers, and he could easily be well under par, more than what he is.”

The poker face appears unlikely to change anytime soon, but so too does Dufner’s spot on the leaderboard. And who knows, perhaps a victory that could signal the end of a difficult journey back to the top might be enough to warrant a smile.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.