A chat with 2013 PGA Champion Jason Dufner
As part of 2014 PGA Championship Media Day at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., on Wednesday, PGA.com sat down for a Q&A with defending PGA Champion Jason Dufner.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- In just 50 days, Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., will once again play host to the PGA Championship.
As part of the buildup to the season’s final major, reigning PGA Champion Jason Dufner was at Valhalla on Wednesday as a part of Media Day.
PGA.com caught up with Dufner at Valhalla for an exclusive Q&A.
PGA.com: Can you tell us about the satisfaction you felt when that final putt dropped at Oak Hill last August and you became a major champion?
Dufner: I fulfilled a dream of mine that I’ve had since I started playing golf. It’s been a dream to compete in majors and hopefully win one. I’ve had some chances; especially in the PGA Championship where I’ve had some really nice finishes. To be able to finish this one off at Oak Hill on such a great golf course and be a part of that history with all the greats that have won there was a really neat experience. It’s hard to put into words what it’s like to accomplish a lifelong dream.
PGA.com: In the 10 months since you won the PGA Championship, what has been the coolest experience you’ve had that’s been the direct result of being the champion?
Dufner: I think the neatest thing about being a PGA Champion – a major champion – is the platform you gain because of it. We’ve been able to do a lot of great things through our foundation because of it. I’ve also received a lot of recognition, so people actually come out and watch me play golf now.
I remember being in China and having an awful tournament, but there were still 500-600 people out there following me around and watching me because they know that I’m the PGA Champion. With that, I think there are a lot of expectations to fulfill, but it’s something I’m willing to do and something that’s pretty neat about winning a major.
PGA.com: For the second consecutive year, fans will have some input on the final-round hole location at the long par-4 16th. You just had the opportunity to see the hole. Can you describe the hole and give us your thoughts on the fans choosing the hole location?
Dufner: First off, it’s an extremely long hole. I think they’ve lengthened it to 510 yards, which I’m not a fan of. There’s some water down the right off the tee it looks like, but there’s a little bit of room to play off the tee. Then you’ve got a pretty narrow green that’s elevated a little bit with a bunker on the front right and front left and a green that pitches from back left to front right.
I saw all four hole locations the fans have to choose from and it’ll be a tough challenge, whichever they choose. I’m sure the fans will probably pick that front left location, because it’s probably the toughest. For whatever reason, they like to see us struggle a little bit.
I think it’s a great experience for the fans. It helps them connect with the game and makes them feel like they’re part of the action, so to speak. I think it’s a good idea that they’re limited in the hole locations that they can choose from because – like I said – the fans like to see us struggle a little bit, so if you gave them full control it might get a little out of hand. But, I think it’s good to give the fans a chance to participate.
It’s a tough hole and you’re just trying to make par on it. You can’t get too aggressive on that hole, to be honest. You’re hitting a long iron in there – maybe even a hybrid depending on conditions.
PGA.com: You haven’t played here at Valhalla just yet, but do you have any memories of the course that you can tell us about from watching the 2008 Ryder Cup and the two PGA Championships that have been here?
Dufner: I don’t know too much about the course, but I do remember watching Tiger walk in a putt on that 16th hole and pointing at the cup. I also remember watching Bob May have a putt that looked like there was no chance it was going in and it fell in. I don’t have much recollection of the golf course, I haven’t played it and I didn’t watch the Ryder Cup in 2008. I remember a little bit from watching the PGA Championship in 2000, but that’s about it.
PGA.com: You’ve had a couple of chances now to return to a tournament as the defending champion. Here at Valhalla, you’ll experience for the first time what it’s like to be a defending major champion. How does that make you feel?
Dufner: It’ll be twofold. It’ll be a little bit sad because it’ll mean the year as champion is coming to an end and it’s also hard to defend. There haven’t been many back-to-back winners of the PGA Championship, so it’ll be a good test. I’ll look forward to playing in another major and hopefully hold on to that trophy for another 52 weeks.
PGA.com: Shifting gears to the Ryder Cup. You’re currently No. 8 in the U.S. standings with plenty of opportunities left to collect points – including two majors where points are worth double. How do you feel about your position?
Dufner: It’s getting down to the end of it. We’ve got maybe 10 events or so left that count towards the Ryder Cup – a couple of them majors like you said with double points, which is like playing two events. I’m going to play four or five events coming up and hopefully I can do a little bit better in the majors.
Right now, at No. 8, I’m in a pretty good position. I can’t be too unhappy with that. I wish I was second or third so I wouldn’t have to worry about it. It’s going to be pretty competitive. I think you’ve got about 15 guys, realistically, who will challenge for those top nine spots. We’ll see what happens.
You always want to make the team on points. You don’t want it to come down to what the captain may want to do with his picks, because you’re never too sure about how those are going to go. I’ll be putting forward my best effort, especially in those majors, because that’s where you can make up a lot of ground.
PGA.com: Your first Ryder Cup experience had to be special in 2012. What would it mean to also represent your country in an overseas Ryder Cup?
Dufner: It would be great and it’s something that’s been on my mind. It’s definitely something I want to participate in. Once you’re on those teams, you never want to not be part of them again. Going over there and playing on foreign soil would be really neat.
I’ve heard from guys that have played in those overseas matches that they’re tougher, which I like. I like it when people are yelling and screaming at me and letting me know I can’t do something, or that I stink. I’m hoping I can be a part of the team this year.
I think it’s extremely important, especially for guys like me who were on the team last time and came so close. It would be great to have the chance to go over there and try to win back the Ryder Cup.
PGA.com: Tom Watson is the captain this year. Some have suggested he might be a little too old and can’t relate to players. But you guys can certainly relate to his competitive drive – he was one shot away from shooting his age when he shot a 64 a few weeks back in the final round of the Senior PGA Championship. What can you say about how he continues to compete?
Dufner: He definitely brings that aspect of being a competitor. One thing you can’t say about Tom Watson is that he doesn’t like to compete. He’s still out there playing the Champions Tour and he’s still out there sometimes playing events out here.
He’s made an effort to play some events this year, especially on the PGA Tour, to try to get familiar with some of the younger guys and guys that might be in contention for a Ryder Cup spot. So I think that’s good. I think he’s still in touch with the game. I think he’ll bring a lot of that competitiveness to the Ryder Cup and hopefully it’ll spread through the team to win the Ryder Cup.