Dufner reflects on Zurich Classic win

AVONDALE — The ability to remain composed under the most stressful conditions usually serves as a dependable 15th club in Jason Dufner’s bag on the PGA Tour.

He is as cool as the inside of an USGA-approved aluminum golf cup, unflappable as the day is long, armed with nerves of steel.

Most of the time.

“Being even-tempered is a tool I definitely can use in any tournament,’’ the reigning Zurich Classic of New Orleans champion told reporters who gathered Wednesday for Media Day at TPC of Louisiana, the site of this year’s tournament from April 25-28.

“But if you’ve been watching me play golf lately, that hasn’t been one of my strongest points.’’

Fore!

In seven tournaments to date, Dufner has missed two cuts with his best finish a tie for 12th at the WGC-Cadillac Championship in late February.

By comparison, he won twice in 2012 (also the HP Byron Nelson Championship), missed only one cut in 22 events, posted a 3-1 record in his first Ryder Cup, pocketed nearly $5 million in prize money and finished second in the FedEx Cup standings.

All this sandwiched around a May wedding to his longtime girlfriend, Amanda Boyd.

“Yeah, it was a whirlwind year for me,’’ Dufner said. “There have been a lot of changes in my life. It’s been exciting and challenging at the same time. I have fulfilled my dreams and answered some questions I’ve had about myself.

“I’ve been looked at as Jason Dufner the golfer more than ever before.’’

With good reason, the 36-year-old native of Cleveland has game.

In 2011, he gave an inkling of things to come by losing to Keegan Bradley in a three-hole aggregate playoff in the PGA Championship. Last year, he broke through with his first two wins on tour in a span of three weeks, first defeating Ernie Els on the second playoff hole in New Orleans, then winning the Byron Nelson on the 72nd hole in Irving, Texas.

Eight top-10 finishes and 14 top-25 finishes rounded out his banner season, culminating with a ninth-place world ranking. He ranks 18th in the latest world rankings.

“I learned a lot about myself,’’ Dufner said. “In fact, I surprised myself by how well I played from the end of 2011 through last year. It’s tough to win out here, real tough, and I’ve played some of my best golf out here and not won. But you never know for sure about where you stand until you do it.

“That’s why winning the Zurich Classic and winning it here will always have a special place in my heart. It was my first one. I look back now at that stretch of golf and say, ‘Did I really play that well for that extended period of time?’’

And the answer is yes.

“The one thing I’ve had to learn how to do is to budget my time and plan a schedule,’’ Dufner said. “I’ve always been one to say ‘yes.’ It’s always been hard for me to tell people ‘no.’ But there’s not enough time in a day to say ‘yes’ to everything.

“I’ve had to learn how to make time to practice, make time to be a good husband and make time for other things related to golf. It’s a balancing act for sure. But you want those opportunities. It’s all part of being out here on tour and fulfilling your dreams.’’

Lagniappe

A five-hole “Celebrity Shoot-Out’’ sponsored by Capital One Bank will be held March 27 at TPC Louisiana, said CEO Steve Worthy of Fore!Kids Foundation, which produces the Zurich Clasic of New Orleans. The four teams comprised of eight celebrity golfers from the sports and entertainment world will play holes 1, 2, 7, 8 and 9 with the best team claiming the $30,000 top prize for its designated charity. In addition, one amateur golfer will have a chance to win $1 million for a hole-in-one on the par-3 ninth hole. ... Interested tournament volunteers can inquire through Fore!Kids Foundation at (504) 342-3000. ... This year’s purse totals $6.6 million with the winner’s share of $1.188 million.