LOUISVILLE, Ky. – In a quiet locker room Thursday afternoon, Jason Dufner gathered his belongings, threw his black backpack over his shoulder and trudged through the door, toward an uncertain future.
Two bulging discs in his neck have made playing golf unbearable. The defending PGA champion withdrew midway through the first round at Valhalla after going 8 over par for his first 10 holes.
Not even Dufner knows when he will compete again, but one thing is certain: He won’t do so until he’s completely healthy. That could be in two weeks at The Barclays. That could be next spring. Or, he said, that could be never again. Seriously.
“I don’t think that’s the case,” he said, “but I’m not going to continue to play hurt. It’s no fun. I’m not proving anything out here. There’s no point in being out here.”
Dufner said he first experienced discomfort at the Masters, but the pain has intensified since the U.S. Open. Since a playoff loss at Colonial and a T-19 at the Memorial, he has two missed cuts and two other finishes outside the top 50.
And now this – an early exit from the PGA, the same tournament that a year ago launched his late-blooming career.
“Obviously I can’t play golf right now,” he said, “so I have no business being out there trying to compete in this championship. … What’s the point in being out here?”
A day earlier, he was asked that very question.
In recent interviews Dufner has described theinjury as an “arthritic, degenerative issue” that he’ll likely deal with “for a good bit.” He had an epidural last Monday to dull the pain, and his doctor recommended that he rest for seven to 10 days. Except that’s not feasible, not in this hectic part of the schedule.
Dufner played in last week’s no-cut Bridgestone Invitational, tying for 66th, and then hoped to play the weekend here at the PGA to secure his spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. That way he could sit out the FedEx Cup playoffs, giving his body about six weeks to rest before the matches in Scotland.
“I kind of need to suck it up and make some points and try and get healthy,” he said Wednesday. Instead, his Round 1 WD meant that Jordan Spieth became the sixth player (of nine) to lock up a spot.
The Ryder Cup is the furthest thing from Dufner’s mind at the moment, and for good reason. The past few months have been trying, both mentally and physically, but he also called the injury a blessing. Now 37, he conceded that he needed to take a “serious” look at his health and get into better shape.
That process begins now.
“I’m not worried about the immediate future,” he said. “I’m worried about getting healthy. I’m not really concerned about when I play again, to be honest with you.”