Jason Dufner’s PGA Championship victory fortified his plan to retire from golf in the next few years, if his wife doesn’t insist he keep working.
“The plan is coming together really well,” Dufner, 36, said yesterday, two days after winning the golf season’s final major tournament and a $1.4 million paycheck. “I’ve got a five-year exemption now, so that would take me to 41. Maybe I’ll push it back one year.”
Dufner’s first major title three days ago at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York, marked his third U.S. PGA Tour win since turning professional in 2000 and raised his career earnings to $15.1 million. His emotion-free demeanor on the course and everyman appearance off it has made him an Internet star, placing Dufner in prime position to capitalize on a lifestyle that he’s not sure how long he’ll want.
“There’s other things to life than chasing a golf ball,” Dufner said during an interview in New York near the end of a day of television and radio appearances. “When kids come into the picture I’m sure I’ll want to be home a lot more, and just try to do some other things with my life.”
Dufner’s wife, 25-year-old Amanda, said she doesn’t have the same vision for her husband.
“He’s the one that wants to retire early,” she said in an interview. “I don’t want him to retire.”
Dufner, who is now No. 8 in the Official World Golf Ranking, said that other than tournaments, practice and corporate outings he’s played about six rounds of golf in the last year.
“Vijay Singh, he’s a golf junkie,” Dufner said. “Lee Trevino: golf junkie. Tom Kite: golf junkie. I’m not a golf junkie.”
Asked what he is a junkie for, Dufner said: “I don’t even know yet.”
“That’s the thing I always tell my wife,” he said. “She’s like, ‘What are you going to do?’ I tell her I don’t know because I don’t have time to think about it.”
Dufner’s attitude toward the game may help answer why he seems so dull while playing it, rarely cracking a smile or displaying emotion regardless of whether he’s holing out for an eagle from the fairway, as he did last week, or making bogeys.
That approach, matched with a floppy head of brown hair and a paunch that lets fans know he’s not a workout junkie, has created “a little bit of mystery behind him,” said Ben Walter, Dufner’s agent.
“He seems a lot like the weekend warrior who’s out there to have some fun and enjoy themselves,” Walter said in an interview. “The golf audience definitely connects with it, but it’s really resonated with the broader audience. They see a lot of that in themselves.”
While his understated sense of humor has helped him gain fans -- he told radio interviewer Howard Stern yesterday that the replica Wannamaker Trophy he was given for his PGA win holds 43 beers -- Dufner had help from a Twitter post from fellow golfer Keegan Bradley, who’s become a close friend since beating Dufner in a playoff at the 2011 PGA Championship.
In March, Bradley posted a photo of Dufner, wearing a bright red golf shirt and sitting on a classroom floor with his hands beneath his outstretched legs while reclining against a wall next to students. Bradley’s caption: “Haha I don’t know what to say. This is the best picture ever. #duffdaddy”
The photo went viral, leading other golfers, fans and some celebrities to imitate the pose, just as many did when football player Tim Tebow kneeled in prayer during games.
The Internet craze helped Dufner pick up about 80,000 Twitter followers over the next two weeks, he said. His PGA Championship win has added 30,000, bringing the number of @JasonDufner followers to more than 250,000.
“He’s very astute and I thought something like that could roll into something pretty large because that only happens if he’s got the respect of his contemporaries,” Walter said.
Dufner said he’s enjoyed the spotlight of the Dufnering craze. Amanda Dufner said she “really didn’t think it was that funny” at first, though she’s come around to it.
With the PGA Championship title, Dufner automatically qualifies for a lifetime spot in the tournament.
“I’ll play in at least that one,” he said, pointing to players, such as Steve Stricker, who’ve taken time away from the game or severely limited their schedule. “Maybe it will be some type of semi-retirement.”
Dufner has an economics degree from Auburn University, while Amanda said her degree from the University of Alabama is in marketing. If she can’t keep him in golf, she said she’s not worried.
“It’ll work out,” she said. “He’ll retire and I’ll start working. It’ll be perfect.”
Would they work together?
“Probably not,” Amanda said. “We might kill each other.”