In early April during Masters week, I saw Jason Dufner at the Gold's Gym off the Bobby Jones Expressway a couple of miles from the Augusta National Golf Club. With his trainer, the 35-year-old Cleveland native was studiously going through his workout. He wore a golf hat, a T-shirt and shorts. He carried that same sad look in his eyes, the one that he has regardless of whether he has made a birdie or a quadruple bogey. His skinny legs stood out against his slight paunch.
Later that weekend I was in Dufner's gallery walking with his beautiful and dark-haired fiancée, Amanda Boyd. Dufner was playing in the final group on Saturday with Fred Couples. The two men shared the 36-hole lead, but by the time I caught up with Boyd on the third tee, Couples was already 2-over for the day, but her man had just birdied the easy par-5 second hole.
Boyd is an Alabama grad and Dufner is an Auburn man. She playfully told me that college football seasons could put a strain on their relationship, but that lately with the success of both teams, things had been great between them. I told her that I had seen her man in the gym.
"Jason worked real hard over the offseason to get into better shape," she told me. "He's eating better."
Last August, Boyd had been a few hours west of Augusta at the Atlanta Athletic Club, where her man lost the PGA Championship in a three-hole playoff to Keegan Bradley. I asked her had she been nervous for him then and was she nervous now that Dufner was in contention at the Masters.
"Jason told me at the PGA to not be nervous because he wasn't," Boyd said laughing.
On Sunday, Boyd was standing behind the 18th green at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans as her man tapped in for birdie to beat Ernie Els on the second hole of the playoff. It was Dufner's first win after 164 PGA Tour starts.
Boyd knows her man. Even as Dufner fought down the stretch with Els, who was playing in the group ahead of him, he never lost the calm reserve that's become the hallmark of his on-course demeanor. Dufner's remarkably measured facial expression after knocking in the winning putt reminded me of the exhausted look that Lucas Glover had after winning a rain-soaked 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black.
But Dufner's laconic expression shouldn't be confused with his work ethic. Since his days at Auburn, he's been known as one of the hardest workers on tour. You don't become good friends with Vijay Singh unless you don't mind spending hours on the range working on your game.
In the week leading up to this year's Masters, Dufner played more than 80 holes at Augusta National to prepare for the tournament. Lately he's been working hard on his short game and it showed at the 16th hole in regulation on Sunday, when he made a 44-foot par save to stay in a tie for the lead with Els at 19-under par.
"It's always really tough playing on Sundays whether you're in [the] lead or middle of [the] pack, and today I was fighting, trying to win event, and I think I showed myself a good bit out there," Dufner said. "It was tough. Ernie made a great run at me and it felt like with five or six holes [to go] we were probably going to be battling for the win.
"To get the monkey off of my back, it's a great feeling."
Dufner won't be in the field this coming week at Quail Hollow. He and Boyd are getting married on Cinco De Mayo. The bride might look nervous at the altar, but the groom will probably make it look easy, even though he has worked very hard to get the girl of his dreams.
It's never easy, even for Ernie Els
On May 7, Phil Mickelson will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. The 40-time PGA Tour winner goes in a year after Ernie Els, who at 42 is nine months older than Mickelson. Els has two championships that Mickelson sorely wants: a U.S. Open and a British Open. Victories in these tournaments would give Mickelson the career grand slam.
Els would love to have at least one of Phil's three green jackets. Lord knows he's come close. But time waits for no man. Els spent the first quarter of the season trying to qualify for the Masters, but a missed putt here and there in crucial moments kept him from making his 19th straight trip to hallowed grounds of Augusta National.
The 18-time PGA Tour winner took the setback in stride. He has gained some perspective over the years on life and family. In 2009, Els and his wife Liezl established the Els for Autism Foundation after coming out publically that their son Ben was autistic. The three-time major champion has become one of the most formidable international spokesmen for that cause. His new charge has lifted him to a new level of celebrity in philanthropic and charitable circles that far exceeds the reach of his impact on the golf course.
Still, he hasn't lost his drive to win golf tournaments. After all his success, he's still refining his beautiful and effortless golf swing. If it were not for his putter, he most likely would have won the Transitions Championship earlier this year. That putter hurt him again on Sunday in New Orleans at the most inopportune time. He had a 6-foot birdie putt to win on the first playoff hole, but he missed it. Then he made a mess on the second extra hole and Jason Dufner got his first PGA Tour win.
But Els isn't going anywhere. He'll likely be back at the Masters in 2013. He still has a lot to play for. Twenty wins on the PGA Tour is a nice goal for him to pursue. But now, instead of a single-minded globetrotting mission to gobble up golf trophies and appearance fees, he's also spearheading work in the autism community.
On Monday, Els is to be honored at the Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles by the Friends of Golf for his charitable work.
Bubba Watson said that he was tired this week in New Orleans. He was in the Big Easy to defend his title, but he wanted to keep expectations low. Everywhere he goes now as the Masters champion there are expectations -- demands that the guy with the Pink driver and curving golf ball will show up to deliver a show like the one he gave on a late Sunday afternoon in Augusta.
Goofy Bubba from Bagdad is now a bona-fide superstar on a tour full of guys looking for the secret to success in somebody else's golf swing and work habits.
At New Orleans, Bubba did what he told us he wanted to do all season: he finished inside the top 20 in a tie for 18th. That's a respectable showing. He had one really good round -- a 65 on Saturday.
Bubba is not in the field at the Wells Fargo Championship. He'll make his next appearance at the Players Championship. After his win in New Orleans last year, he didn't have another top-10 in 2011. But he's a new man now. He expects to play well. He was tired this week, yet he showed up to play.
In his Masters post-round interview he talked about his moment passing and that the media would soon write about somebody else. That might have been his way of saying he wasn't ready for everything that came with being a major champion: the intense scrutiny over every little failure or success that he has on and off the golf course. He might be afraid that he could fall under the spell of the swing doctors and mental coaches.
Bubba's not likely to become Nick Faldo and that's a good thing for golf. He'll be a pro in his own way and he'll still get up for New Orleans as much as he does the Masters or any other tournament.
It was refreshing to see two young American names at the top of the leaderboard of the LPGA's Mobile Bay LPGA Classic. Stacey Lewis beat Lexi Thompson by a shot to claim her second LPGA title. Last year, the 27-year-old Houston native got her first career win at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, an LPGA Tour major.
Thompson, the teenage phenom who is still growing into her 6-foot frame now at the tender age of 17, had her best finish of the year after struggling with her game since winning the Navistar LPGA Classic in September.
These two young women remind me of the excellent golf product offered by the LPGA. Both these standouts are beneficiaries of Title IX, which ensured equality for women in sports. Lewis probably would not have been able to play four years of college golf at Arkansas without Title IX, which became law in June 1972.
Coming up on the 40th anniversary of that groundbreaking legislation, I am concerned by a new LPGA shoe fetish campaign that features two of the tour's most prominent young American players -- Natalie Gulbis and Morgan Pressel -- discussing their shoe collections. At one point in the 30-second TV spot, Pressel calls Paula Creamer the Imelda Marcos of the LPGA Tour. Then Gulbis in another shot opens up Pressel's locker to an avalanche of high-heeled shoes.
I get that the tour wants to market its feminine side and the fashion sense of its players, but it's not about golf. It's not how the tour got off the ground when 13 women founded it in 1950, and it's not what's going to sustain it in the future.
Pressel, Gulbis and Creamer are all good enough players to market themselves as golfers. I'm sure there are people who find the shoe fetish ad funny and harmless, but it's not in the spirit of Title IX and the efforts of Billie Jean King as well as the pioneering women of the LPGA who simply wanted to make sure that women would have equal opportunities in sports.
Good golf is the future of the LPGA. All the great women athletes who have stood the test of time were great because of their achievements on the field of play.
Stacy Lewis and Lexi Thompson didn't have to put on heels this week to demonstrate the importance of women's golf.
I'm a huge fan of John Daly and his swing coach, Rick Smith, but I'm wondering when Long John will reward tournament sponsors with a good finish. Daly was a last-minute sponsor's invite this week at New Orleans when Boo Weekley, who was in on a sponsor's exemption, pulled out because of medical reasons.
In three starts this season on the PGA Tour, Daly has a T-51, T-52 and a missed cut this week in New Orleans, where he shot 73-80. I would love to see the 46-year-old, two-time major winner get his card back so he could play a full schedule.
The game deserves to see his amazing talent in full force at least one more time in a PGA Tour event before he goes off to the Champions Tour in four years. At least for the foreseeable future, we can count on seeing him every year at the British Open and the PGA Championship. He won't ever need a special exemption to play each year's final two majors.
Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.