JOHNS CREEK, Georgia - For a 34-year-old journeyman who suddenly found himself the final-round leader of the PGA Championship, only to give up a five-shot advantage, Jason Dufner appeared almost nonchalant when asked to explain where it all went wrong.
Dufner was five shots clear of compatriot Keegan Bradley while playing the 15th but then made three successive bogeys while his rival produced two birdies to send the tournament into a three hole playoff won by Bradley.
Words such as ‘choke’, ‘nerves’ and ‘inexperience’ are frequently thrown around when players allow such a commanding lead to dissipate but Dufner insisted there was no mental aspect to his loss.
“I don’t feel like I was nervous. I knew what was at stake. I was confident with my game but just didn’t quite execute a couple of shots coming in,” he said.
The playoff was effectively lost with a three-putt bogey on the 17th after he had missed a good birdie chance on the 16th.
“I played a pretty solid 18th hole, wish I had a little better number to get more aggressive with that pin,” he said.
“But they are tough holes. The one I want back is probably 16 more than anything,” he added, referring to the six-foot birdie putt he missed in the playoff.
Dufner has yet to win on the PGA Tour—his previous best effort being a playoff defeat in the Phoenix Open this year — but he was not worried about whether he would be added to the long list of players remembered for narrow defeats in majors.
“I’m not a history buff as far as golf goes,” he said. “I know the media tries to define careers on certain players, ‘you did this, and you didn’t do this’. I’m not into that. I just play golf. I love playing golf.
“I love the competition, and I want to be as good as I can be.
"If that’s 20th in the world with no majors, or first in the world with 10 majors, or never to win a Tour event, I’ll be fine with it,” said the Cleveland-born Dufner, whose career highlights include two wins on the second-tier Nationwide Tour.
That might sound like a throwaway line coming just minutes after such a crushing defeat but Dufner had played with such a relaxed manner throughout the tournament, even on Sunday, that it was convincing.
“You know, coming from where I came from, to be in this position, it’s a dream come true,” he said. "I could never have imagined playing in major championships, playing with Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods; that’s a milestone to me itself.
“I’m not going to let this define my career. I have a lot of things ahead of me, I’m young, not as young as Keegan is, but I have a lot of time to play golf and hopefully I’ll have more time to win majors and use what happened today as a positive.”
The runners-up spot does, however, allow the 80th-ranked Dufner the chance to compete again in the top tournaments next year and should give his profile in the sport a major boost.
“I’m disappointed now, but there’s a lot of good things to take from this week,” he said.
“I’ve got the rest of the playoffs this year, and I believe this gets me into all of the majors next year so that’s a good opportunity to try to win more majors.”
For all that laid-back attitude, Dufner betrayed a little of the determined spirit and pride that he will need to call on if he is to fight for a title again.
“You know, maybe looking back 10, 15 years from now, I’ll feel disappointment that I let this one get away if I never get another chance,” he said.
“But I’ve got a feeling that I’m going to have some chances to win some majors and some other golf tournaments to close one out.”