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Dufner lays to rest the ghost of Atlanta

August 12, 2013
Jason Dufner discusses his US PGA win

The photo session was beginning to drag on just a little too long for Jason Dufner.

It wasn't that he minded posing with his newly won Wanamaker Trophy. But, now, after a conga line of people had taken turns getting their pictures taken with the US PGA champion, the tournament's official photographer summoned him up to the 18th green at Oak Hill Country Club.

"Thirty more seconds!" the photographer said as he called Dufner and the 12kg trophy up the steep hill to the green. "The sun is fabulous!"

For a moment, but only a moment, Dufner looked like he was camera'd out. A tiny, pained look crossed his face, but the photographer wasn't having any of it.

"If you didn't win, you don't have to do this," he said.

Good point, especially since Dufner has been waiting for years - since August 14, 2011, to be exact - for a chance to redeem himself.

That was the day at the Atlanta Athletic Club that Dufner blew a five-shot lead with four holes left in his PGA Championship Sunday round. Then he lost to Keegan Bradley in a three-hole playoff. Then he stopped at Krystal to buy some belly bombers for the 135-mile drive back to Auburn, Alabama.

"I was probably over what happened in Atlanta, 95 percent of it, by the time we got back home at Auburn," Dufner said.

Dufner unchallenged for title

Furyk shot even par © AP
  • A fantastic display from Jason Dufner to win the US PGA Championship - but Jim Furyk struggled to put the pressure on his playing partner, writes Alex Perry.
  • Click here to read the full article.

But the remaining five percent of hurt didn't disappear until Sunday evening at Oak Hill, when his final putt of a half-foot or so fell into the cup.

"You always carry those scars with you," Dufner said. "[Bradley] always jabbed at me a little bit about having one of these [he patted the nearby Wanamaker] in his house, and thanks for giving it to him, and all that stuff. And now I've got one, too."

Moments after that putt dropped and he shook hands with second-place finisher Jim Furyk and hugged his wife Amanda, Dufner looked up, and there was Bradley waiting for him just off the 18th green. Bradley had finished his round about 3½ hours earlier and was on his way to the airport when he decided he had to be there for his friend.

"We turned around, went through a red light," Bradley said. "We were flying to be here."

There was what Dufner called, "a bro hug," followed by Bradley telling him, "I'm proud of you."

Some players never recover from the burn marks of a blown major. Dufner didn't just lose that 2011 PGA Championship. He lost it spectacularly. Until Sunday, he was known best for that defeat, his SEC mixed marriage to Amanda (he's an Auburn grad, she's a Bama grad) and a social phenomena known as "Dufnering." Google away.

And then he shot a seven-under-par 63 on Friday to tie the record for the lowest round in a major. He overcame Furyk's 1-stroke Sunday lead by the fifth hole, fell back into a tie with Furyk on the sixth and then regained it for good at the eighth. From there, Dufner nursed a 2-shot cushion for the victory.

"I've had leads in majors and not pulled through," Dufner said. "I always felt like that was going to make me a better player and more confident the next time that I had a chance. And, for whatever reason today, I felt really comfortable, really calm and felt like I could do it."

If Dufner saw the ghosts of 2011, you'd never know it. He'd be great at impersonating someone in a coma. Only twice Sunday - when he left a birdie putt short on the par-5 13th, and when he had to do one more photo op - did you know he even had a pulse.

But the memory of that blown lead in Atlanta served its purpose. According to Amanda, who held a tin of dip for her husband as he finished up his postround winner duties, the 2011 PGA loss "was really important. I think it helped make him the golfer he is today."

The golfer we saw Sunday at Oak Hill has a swing that didn't flinch under the pressure of a major. Dufner hit nine of 14 fairways, stayed out of the shag-carpet rough and kept his mistakes to single digits. Most of the time when Furyk hit a good shot, Dufner hit a better shot.

"It's pretty neat to come back and win a PGA, to be honest with you," Dufner said.

A couple years ago, the Dufners purchased 50 acres of land in Auburn. The framing of the house is going up right now, and, soon, the land will have a distinct Oak Hill flavor.

It makes sense now, but earlier in the week Dufner had given Amanda a handful of acorns that he had collected on the course. And a few days ago, the general manager of the club gave him an oak sapling.

"Now it makes it really special," Amanda said. "Hopefully in 20 or 30 years, we'll be able to tell our kids, 'This is a tree from where your dad won his first major.'"

The victory, as it does to all winners, will change Dufner's life. "But I'm determined that it's not going to change me," he said.

Maybe one thing will change. Maybe Mr. Deadpan will do as the photographer said to do on that 18th green early Sunday evening:

Smile.

Dufner finally gets his hands on the Wanamaker Trophy © AP
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This article originally appeared on ESPN.com

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