'The Squeeze' shows Dufner won't change after PGA win

By Jason SobelAugust 12, 2013, 4:00 pm

PITTSFORD, N.Y. – The lasting image of the 95th PGA Championship won’t be a majestic approach shot that scared the hole, or a divinely inspired putt that dropped in, but the champion ambling off the final green in his familiar gait, bottom lip stuffed with chewing tobacco as he embraced his comely wife, punctuating the moment with a playful yet clandestine squeeze of her rear end.

Whenever a player wins a major championship for the first time – and there have been plenty of ‘em lately, with a dozen newbies in the last four years – it is inevitable that he’s asked a question which yields a predictable answer: “How will this change you?” Inevitable because it’s a good question in theory, predictable because the player never allows that he will change.

If evidence exists that Jason Dufner will remain the same ol’ Jason Dufner he was before hoisting the Wanamaker Trophy, it lives in that squeeze. It’s as if the squeeze was his subconscious way of announcing to all of those cameras and microphones following his every maneuver in the seconds after winning a major that he wasn’t going to start doing anything differently.

If we need further evidence, we can ask those closest to him.

Amanda Dufner, his wife: “I don’t think this will change [our lives] at all.”

Roland Thatcher, his roommate and teammate at Auburn University: “I’m not sure this will change him much. A major puts him at another level, but settling down in Auburn keeps life pretty simple. I’m not sure that winning a major would raise his profile any more than it already is.”

Ben Walter, his manager at IMG Golf: “He had only won two PGA Tour events, but had become a pretty attractive commodity because the rest of the population identified with him. We wanted to highlight those attributes – he’s calm, cool, collected, yet funny.”

Or we can ask Dufner himself.

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In a statement that should serve as a tribute to his awareness in the moment, he didn’t offer the perfunctory answer of so many before him. “It’s definitely going to change my life,” he explained, “but I’m determined that it’s not going to change me.”

Dufner remains an intriguing case study in how to grow a personal brand. Between the ropes, he appears to have all the personality of a 6-iron, but he and Walter have worked to showcase a different side of him away from the game.

Much of that has come through Twitter, where he’s been known to expound on everything from college football to reality television. It’s been an invaluable tool for creating additional fan support.

“It’s huge,” Walter said. “I would call it his emotional outlet; it has some pathos to it, too. He can really open himself up.”

It even helped his name become an action verb – or inaction verb, as the case may be. Without social media, the phenomenon of Dufnering – born when photos were taken of its namesake sitting on his hands in a classroom, armed with a dazed look on his face – never would have become an Internet meme.

He’s also shown that farcical side in commercials, including one for Comcast in which his round of golf is so slow that he’s grown a beard by the conclusion of the 30-second spot.

“We humanized him, brought him to life,” Walter continued. “Those spots were able to do that. This will reinforce that. Now I think he moves into the upper echelon of players who have significant and recognizable brand names in the golf space. They key is to get him to move beyond the golf space.

“You’ve got to balance it, too. You don’t want to overexpose him, but you hope it all meets in a crescendo, like where it has right now.”

Therein lies the tricky part for any first-time major champion. How much can I handle? When does it become too much? How do I keep from becoming overexposed? These are questions Dufner will ask himself in coming days and weeks, but the offers are already rolling in. He’s been asked to appear on “The Late Show with David Letterman” and will undoubtedly have more commercials coming to a screen near you.

At least he understands the situation, those profound words serving as a warning cry. Owning a major championship will change his life, but it won’t change him.

More evidence of that rained down from the trees this week. Dufner and his wife recently bought a home in Auburn, Ala., where they had planned to plant some oak trees. Throughout the tournament, they each collected acorns from Oak Hill Country Club, hoping to sprout some trees that will forever contain memories of his victory.

For the rest of us, that lasting memory will be of Dufner ambling off the final green and giving Amanda that squeeze. He wasn’t thinking it at the time, but a move like that can humanize a guy, can help build his brand and enhance his likeability going forward.

As Walter said with a smile afterward, “It fits perfectly. He’s the everyday guy. Who doesn’t do that to their wife every now and then?”

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Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

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Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.

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DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 12:22 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.

Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.

“He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”

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Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.

It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.

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Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 12:21 am

BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''

He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''

Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida

''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''

Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.

''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''

Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.

Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.

Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.