Klein: Dufner is someone everyone can relate to

Jason Dufner and his wife, Amanda, after winning the 2013 PGA Championship at Oak Hill.

Jason Dufner and his wife, Amanda, after winning the 2013 PGA Championship at Oak Hill.

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12:02:06 AM ET. 04/18/2014




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We’ll be hearing a lot about redemption after this tournament, as if the morality tale of the 2013 PGA Championship is winner Jason Dufner’s bounce back from his heartbreaking loss in the 2011 PGA. That’s when he squandered a five-shot lead with four holes to play and eventually lost to Keegan Bradley in overtime.

You knew that’s why Bradley was hanging around the 18th green as Dufner tapped in for the win this time. Nice touch. It’s one of those special moments of camaraderie in golf – more common these days on the LPGA Tour than on the PGA Tour. On the big circuit, they fly to their own Net Jets schedule. The women, meanwhile, fly group charter so they all hang around Sunday afternoon.

CBS didn’t miss a trick in anticipating the storyline. When Dufner stepped up to the watery par-3 15th green leading by two, Feherty invoked the ghost of 2011, and talked about the similarity of the 15th holes they faced then and now. The video “splashback” to 2011 showed Dufner hosing his tee shot on the par-3 to the right. It was a foreboding image given that he faced another downhill par-3 with water on the right this time. But instead of replaying history, Dufner made us all feel better about vanquishing those elusive golf gods. All that remained was the drama of him not throwing up on himself over another one of those unwatchable 2- to 3-foot putts he struggled with all week.

Of course Jim Furyk, trailing by two most of the afternoon, was looking for his own redemption – from his sad meltdowns a year ago that saw him lose the 2012 U.S. Open and then squander away the Americans’ chances at the Ryder Cup at Medinah. But you don’t get to be a folk hero hustling for 5-Hour Energy, which Furyk does. He’s a fine golfer. But he’s out there, not one of the people.

In Dufner we have someone we can all relate to. He looks frumpy, as if he just rolled out of bed. He waggles almost as much as Sergio Garcia used to reset his hands a decade ago. And he’s got some weird thing going on with his lips that makes you recall your high school days when you had a skin condition. He even wears what looks like a bowling shirt (it had a bib on the back!) on the final day of a major.

But he’s also got some amazing game, worth about $17 million in career earnings. Small wonder he consistently challenges, as close as he hits his iron shots. And it turns out he also has a sweetheart of a wife at his side. Nobody who watched him embrace Amanda astride the 18th green today will forget how – and where – he momentarily held her. True love.

And then there’s that Dufnering thing, a flashback pose of total nonchalance that evokes “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” PGA President Ted Bishop – surely the first person occupying that previously honorary post whom the public recognizes and listens to – thought enough of Dufnering that he had his staff photographed in that position Saturday afternoon. Can’t wait to see those photos posted somewhere. (Editor's note: Click here for a link.)

Dufner is the 19th different winner of the last 21 majors. Only Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson having repeated during that span. And while some generalized sports commentators who don’t follow golf will rue the lack of a strong challenge by Tiger Woods as bad for the game, a good case can be made that men’s pro golf has never been healthier. Golf doesn’t need any one person. It just needs fine players. When Tiger is among them, great. When Mickelson is on form, that’s great, too. But this week we got something of a new folk hero anointed. It isn’t really about his redemption. It’s about golfers we can relate to, faults and all. And it’s about golfers who accept their character and don’t try to act as if they’re mythic heroes.

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