NAPA, Calif. – Jason Dufner played a game predicated on precision, and it worked. He racked up five PGA TOUR victories, including the 2013 PGA Championship.
But Dufner is 44 now, and his last victory was more than four years ago. Determined to make the most of whatever time he had left on the PGA TOUR, he sought out Vancouver-based rotational strength and conditioning specialist Jason Glass last September to try to gain speed and distance.
“I’m 45 years old, almost, trying to compete with guys that are 15, 20 years younger than me,” Dufner said after shooting an even-par 72 in the second round of the Fortinet Championship, where at 5 under he is seven behind leader Maverick McNealy (64). “You don’t see that in sports very often. A couple cases here and there, but distance has really changed the game.”
He hasn’t made any miracle gains but said he’s picked up around 5 or 6 mph of clubhead speed.
“In my practice, on the range, I’m hitting 118, 119, 120,” he said, “which I’ve never really hit in my career before. Hopefully that should translate to some easier play, possibly.”
Some easier play would be a welcome change. Dufner, once in the top tier of American players, dropped to 154th in the FedExCup last season, and 390th in the world.
Part of that was because the game changed.
“Back in the day the top 50 were the top 50, right, those guys were good at everything,” Dufner said. “And then after that you could kind of manage and navigate your way through with some different skills that didn’t involve distance, if you’re a good pitcher and chipper and shot-maker.
“But now you’re seeing guys coming out of college,” he continued, “when they first turn pro, they’re all over 170, 175 ball speed. It just makes it significantly easier; it’s hard to keep up with that when guys are hitting sand wedges and you’re hitting 8-iron.”
To begin to close that gap, Dufner found rotational-strength coach Glass through mutual acquaintances. They don’t live near one another and work together only virtually, but so far, so good. His new commitment to working out, which Dufner admits he doesn’t enjoy, is starting to bear fruit.
“It took me six or seven months to actually notice, because I had to build a foundation,” he said, “but starting in June or July I started to see some significant gains.”
After averaging 286.2 yards in driving distance in 2019, he was up to 289.6 last season. If he maintains his momentum it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect something in the low to mid 290s this season. Such incremental gains, while they may look miniscule, tend to add up over time.
No, he’s not going to scare Bryson DeChambeau, but Dufner is determined not to fade away.