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Dufner, who squandered a five-stroke lead on the back nine of Sunday’s final major and then lost a three-hole aggregate playoff to Keegan Bradley, was invited by his alma mater’s football coaching staff to stop by the school’s athletic complex.
“They had a day off [Monday], and I walked into one of the auditoriums and the whole team was in there, and they gave me a standing ovation,” he said. “So that’s pretty cool. I don’t know a lot of those guys personally as far as the players go, but the coaches, and for them to take time out from their training to get ready for the season coming up in a couple weeks and to hear them say, ‘Oh, I was watching.’ You wouldn’t expect a 320-pound defensive lineman to be watching golf on Sunday, but they were.”
What they witnessed was an agonizing finish for Dufner, 34, a fifth-year PGA Tour player who bogeyed the 15th, 16th and 17th holes on Sunday. Aiding Dufner’s reversal of fortune were birdies by Bradley, who was playing one group ahead of Dufner, at the 16th and 17th holes.
How Dufner’s major collapse ranks will be barstool banter for years. Hall of Famer golf writer Dan Jenkins filed it along side of Ed Sneed in the 1979 Masters and Jean Van de Velde in the 1999 Open Championship. That may be a bit harsh given that Sneed and Van de Velde did not have someone dropping birdies to close the gap like Bradley was doing.
Still the loss stung.
On Tuesday, Dufner, who is playing in this week’s Wyndham Championship, was asked if he felt like he had “just come through a tragedy.”
“It’s been kind of a weird experience,” Dufner said. “Everybody that’s kind of come up to me, I almost feel like it’s a funeral or something tragic, like you said, happened. I don’t feel that way at all. It was a great experience. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to win that event, but I had a great chance, best opportunity probably to win a tour event, so I feel good.
“I’m disappointed with not being able to finish that tournament off with a W, but I’m a professional golfer, I’m going to continue to be a professional golfer. There are many more events to play in on this tour, on any tour. It doesn’t really matter to me. I’ve been a golfer for 10 years, and I’m going to continue to be a golfer.”
Dufner may never win a major or even a regular PGA Tour event, for that matter, but his even-keel demeanor will serve him well in the days, weeks and years to come as this PGA Championship is remembered.
He lost. The sun set and it rose on Monday. Remember Rory McIlroy shooting 84 on Sunday at the Masters? Dufner certainly does.
“I feel like there’s been more guys who have lost leads or lost tournaments in that situation and then have had greater finishes in the future than guys that have lost leads and you never heard of again,” Dufner said. “Rory McIlroy is a good example. I don’t know exactly what his lead was going into the back nine, but it didn’t end the way that he would have liked. And then a couple months later he wins the U.S. Open in record fashion.”
So do not write Dufner off yet.
Stuart Hall is editor of the Golf Press Association.