The newest star of American golf was standing on the 18th green at the HP Byron Nelson Championship on Sunday, facing a 25-foot, right-to-left downhiller for a spot on Davis Love III's Ryder Cup team. Jason Dufner does not get amped about much—Auburn football, a party with good libations—but he knew what was at stake as he lined up his slick, meandering birdie putt.
Looking on from a perch to the right of the green was a trio of highly interested observers: the former Amanda Boyd, Dufner's bride of two weeks (even with that degree from rival Alabama); Peggy Nelson, the widow of the tournament namesake; and Dicky Pride, another 'Bama alum who, thanks to a fabulous par save at the 72nd hole, was tied for the lead with Dufner.
After tornadoes tore through Alabama last year, Pride organized a charity pro-am in his native Tuscaloosa, eliciting help from his friends in professional golf. "[Jason] said, 'I'm coming, I'm bringing a team and how can I help,'" Pride recalled on Sunday. "He was the first guy. For a guy who doesn't say much, that says a lot about him."
Dufner says that he doesn't read putts as much as he visualizes where he wants his ball to go, and when he released his putter, the result was a no-doubter. The putt dropped, and the 35-year-old Dufner, winless in his first 163 Tour starts before breaking through at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans last month, suddenly had his second victory in three starts and had vaulted to third in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings.
"I hope it gets Davis Love's attention," Dufner said. "Being a Ryder Cup year, that would be special to have on your résumé and play in, even if it's only for one time. That was one of my main goals."
With the Ryder Cup only four months away, Dufner should have no worries about making the team. The top eight point-getters are guaranteed a spot, and it would take Dufner-like streaks from a handful of players for him to lose his spot. So now he can focus on another goal: winning a major. Dufner nearly pulled that off last year at the PGA Championship before three late bogeys dropped him into a playoff with Keegan Bradley. While Bradley won the championship at Atlanta Athletic Club, Dufner gained a following of devotees who loved his preshot waggle and laid-back demeanor.
"There wasn't much disappointment from last year—maybe for a little bit after the PGA—but [I] played well there," Dufner says. "[It was my] first time in a major to have a chance to win. I think it really propelled me this off-season. I played well in some events, and I was thinking coming into this year that I could play some really good golf. It's time to win some events out here. So I think everything that happened last year has propelled me into playing well this year."
Dufner was early into his second round at the Nelson last Friday as the man with whom he shares a career arc was walking off the course. Bradley had just played 18 holes of steamy wind-blown golf on a day so hot that even the armadillos were looking for shade. Now he had options galore at the TPC Four Seasons Resort at Las Colinas. The glimmering, saltwater lap pool was calling for a dip. The spa offered several enticements, including the Old Fashioned Cowboy Soak, which includes a 25-minute hydrotherapy bath, a 50-minute massage (Swedish or deep tissue) and a glass of chilled Shiner Bock. Bradley instead opted for choice C—the hotel's 6,000-square-foot Sports Club.
For the next 90 minutes Bradley worked up another sweat, moving from the stationary bike to the treadmill to golf-specific exercises focusing on the area between his chest and his pelvis. He then headed over to the club's basketball half-court and began stroking jumpers.
If this seemed excessive after five hours of trudging through a Texas furnace, you don't know Bradley. After two victories in his rookie season last year—at the Nelson and the PGA—Bradley, despite the stories hailing his achievements and pedigree, did not believe he had arrived. Outsiders loved the bouncy gait, the 300-yard drives and recollections of his World Golf Hall of Fame aunt, Pat.