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Impassive Dufner the Essence of Cool

By: Marino Parascenzo


Jason Dufner came into the interview room and took his seat at the table, next to the big trophy he had just received for winning the PGA Championship, and was answering questions coming from the large international press corps. A writer standing at the back took the microphone. It was Doug Ferguson of The Associated Press, who is moved on Sundays at tournaments to wear loud and flowery shirts.

"Jason," Fergie began, "back here."

"I see you - kind of," Dufner said. "Couldn't miss you with that shirt on. Nice shirt. Did you get that for free, at least?"

And Dufner - if rumpled were high fashion, he'd be Armani - smiled.

See? Jason Dufner - the unflappable, the essence of cool, the impassive - can smile. He's not really a face painted on a pyramid wall.

There had been some doubt that anything could crack that somber face.

Just minutes earlier, he dropped the winning putt on Oak Hill's 18th for his first major and, for sweet redemption after blowing the 2011 PGA down the home stretch, all he could generate was a hint of a grin. For a celebration, he also managed to lift both hands to shoulder height and gave something like an anemic two-handed pump, or maybe a shudder, and then a little pump with his right hand.

Mark it up as the birth of a new form of Dufnering, along with the coolest golf. When he holed out that fairway eagle in the second round, all he did was give two overhead pumps, like a rig driver honking at you-know-who.

The original Dufnering was just a few months old, sprouting from a photo that zipped around the social-media world. He was in some kids' classroom. There were the young students, sitting at the feet of the teacher, eager. And there was Dufner, like a floppy old hound dog, sitting on the floor and slouched against the wall, feet out, no expression - Dufnering. Suddenly, everybody was doing it.

The new Dufnering will be a guy sauntering down the fairway, face blank, carving his way through the field, en route to his next win.

Will there be one? Or will Jason Dufner join that forlorn group some call one-trick ponies. Fair or unfair, they get the tag because they won something big before more or less disappearing.

One of them is Shaun Micheel, who won the 2003 PGA at Oak Hill with a stunning 7-iron out of light rough from 175 yards to inches at the final hole. It was his first win, and his only win. AP's Ferguson called him a one-and-done - accurate but not exactly the same as a John Calapari recruit. Micheel didn't do much after that. He was troubled by illness for a while, got better, but still nothing much happened. Now he can't buy a putt and can't make a cut, not on the PGA Tour and not even on the developmental Web.com Tour.

Not to be trite, but they call it catching lightning in a bottle. Two Americans, back-to-back, caught it at the British Open. Ben Curtis was in his first major in 2003, and managed to make four bogeys across six holes down the stretch to blow his chance. But Denmark's Thomas Bjorn suddenly gassed a three-shot lead, taking three chops to get out of a bunker and double-bogeying the par-3 16th, then bogeying the 17th, leaving Curtis with the championship. Curtis did win three times on the PGA Tour but just didn't, as they say, move any needles.

Next, in 2004, came Todd Hamilton, then 38, from little Oquawka, Ill., possibly the only town in the United States with an elephant buried in the square. Hamilton had won 11 times on the Japan Tour and missed on eight passes at PGA Tour qualifying school. On the ninth try, he made the tour in 2004, won the Honda Classic in the spring, and entered the British Open where he was, at best, another obscure name in the field at the betting shops. But "Big Easy" Ernie Els probably still dreams about him. Hamilton and Els tied, and ended up in a four-hole aggregate playoff. At the final hole, Hamilton, using one of those mysterious new "hybrids," popped a 30-yard pitch-and-run to two feet. When Els missed his 12-foot birdie putt, Hamilton tapped in for the win. Then he went quiet again.

Ian Baker-Finch won the 1991 British Open for his second victory on the PGA Tour. After that, it was the twilight zone for the pleasant Aussie. In the 1995 British Open at St. Andrews, he hit his opening tee shot across the first fairway, across the adjoining 18th fairway and out-of-bounds. In baseball, that would be a foul ball into the third-base seats. B-F's game collapsed so utterly that in 1995 and '96 he never got past 36 holes in his 29 starts. At the 1997 British Open, he shot 92 in the first round. He eventually found shelter in the TV booth.

This sort of thing is hardly new to golf. With Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen and other stars in the field, it was a club pro named Sam Parks who won the 1935 U.S. Open, thus redefining the term "dark horse." It was Parks' only win as a pro.

It should be noted that winning just one major does not necessarily make a guy a one-trick pony. There was, for example, Lloyd Mangrum, coming back from the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, winning the 1946 U.S. Open. But he had 36 PGA Tour titles. Davis Love III has only one major, the 1997 PGA, but he has 20 Tour wins.

On the other hand, Mark Brooks is one of the strangest cases of the flat-liners. He scored six wins, three of them in playoffs. In 1996, at the mature age of 35, he won the 1996 PGA, also in a playoff. Then he went flat and stayed flat, and is still flat as a rookie on the Champions Tour.

And where do we put Andy North? He won just three tournaments in his career - one Westchester Classic and two U.S. Opens.

By most reasonable accounts, Dufner ought to have been about destroyed by that humiliating collapse in the 2011 PGA. He had a five-shot lead with four holes to play, and blew it. It says everything that he could bounce back in 2012 and win twice on the Tour. And then he adds the PGA.

Is he likely to become a flat-liner? If so, how will we know? He's flat-lining all the time.

Marino Parascenzo can assure you that hanging around with great and famous pro golfers does nothing to help your game. They just won't give you the secret. But it makes for a dandy career. As a sportswriter with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (now retired), Parascenzo covered the whole gamut of sports - Steelers, Pirates, Penguins, Pitt, Penn State and others - but golf was his favorite. As the beat writer for the paper, he covered all the stateside majors and numerous other pro events, and as a freelancer handled reporting duties for the British Open and other tournaments overseas - in Britain, Spain, Italy, the Caribbean, South Africa, China and Malayasia. Marino has won more than 20 national golf-writing awards, along with state and regional honors. He has received the Memorial Tournament's Golf Journalism Award and the PGA of America's Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism. His writing has appeared in numerous magazines, among them Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest and Golf Magazine, and in anthologies and foreign publications. He also wrote the history of Oakmont Country Club. Parascenzo is a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America and is on its board of directors. He is the founder and chairman of the GWAA's Journalism Scholarship Program. He is a graduate of Penn State and was an adjunct instructor in journalism at Pitt.