Abu Dhabi: When the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship tees off, on January 17, Jason Dufner will be keen to stay in contention after his successful exploits in 2012.
After an 11-year barren run on the circuit, the 35-year-old struck a purple patch when he won two PGA titles within the space of 22 days last year. The twin successes came after the American was agonisingly close to winning a major, but let slip a five-stroke lead over the final few holes to finish second to Keegan Bradley at the 2011 PGA Championship.
That, along with a fourth-place finish at the US Open last year, has catapulted Dufner into the limelight. Having recovered from his winless streak with two wins in 2012, he is looking for a solid start to the year at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.
In an exclusive interview with Gulf News, Dufner said he is keen to build on his recent success and claim an elusive first Major. Excerpts:
Your first two PGA Tour wins came in 2012. Congratulations. That must be great for your confidence. Is it an indication that you’re maturing into the finest stage of your golf career? I think it is an indication, yes. I have now won twice and had a shot at the US Open. I think the best is yet to come from me. I’m very excited for 2013. My swing and short game, with the help of my instructor, Chuck Cook, along with putting myself in contention for tournaments week in and week out, have really built upon one another.
You’re 35 and have been a professional since 2000. Have there been times where you’ve been negatively affected by the long wait for silverware? What kept you going?
To be completely honest, not once. I feel fortunate today to be playing golf, to be a professional athlete. I get to play golf for a living — it’s very cool. I knew one day I would make it. There has always been a sense of self-belief, and I never thought it would be overnight.
You’ve come agonisingly close to a Major in recent years, having finished second at the 2011 PGA Championship and tied for fourth at the US Open. Are you on the verge of winning a big one now?
I hope so. I keep working to improve my game, particularly putting. I just have to keep putting myself in the position [to win a Major] over and over again, and hopefully that day will come [when I win one].
How disappointing was it finish so close in previous Major attempts? Has it increased your hunger to succeed? Can you explain to us how hard it is to move on from such a situation and how it affects a sportsman?
That experience was so positive for me. By no stretch did I ever think it was negative. The 2011 PGA gave me confidence that I could one day win on the PGA Tour and also one day win a major championship. I haven’t replayed it too many times in my head because the great thing about golf is I was competing the very next week. I didn’t speak to any sports psychologists because I knew everything I was doing was right. It was actually a moment of validation — a moment so positive for me that I could build off it for the rest of my career.
How much emphasis do you place on a Major defining your career? What was the end goal when you entered golf?
To be honest, I am living my dream. The dream was to make it to the PGA Tour. I am here now. Are victories and major victories nice? Absolutely. Do I want them on my resume when I retire? Absolutely. Are they integral to how I lead my life and approach the profession I love? No. I am here and doing my best to make the most of it and that’s all I can ask for of myself.
Would you say you’ve buried that ghost and are ready to move on. Does the fact you won one by a play-off this year prove that you’re mentally stronger and more prepared?
As I said, there was no ghost to bury. That experience, as I have said, it’s been nothing but positive. Not one negative thought was taken from those moments and for that, I am stronger.
Does your approach to the start of 2013 reflect the fact that you’re a golfer building toward the ultimate prize? How and why can the event Abu Dhabi ease you into the new year and prepare you for a successful season?
In the golfing world, where the tournaments are increasingly deep [in terms of talent], this is one of the best I will play all year. I love to play around the world, and to have the opportunity to come to Abu Dhabi will help me grow professionally. I am really looking forward to the experience.