- Associated Press - Friday, June 6, 2014

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) - Jason Dufner was on the other side of the world when the reality of what it meant to be a major champion started to set in.

He was tied for 54th place on a Sunday in April at the Volvo Open in Shenzhen, China, when he looked up and saw a decent-sized gallery.

“There were probably 500-700 people following my group,” Dufner said. “And that’s in China. You don’t realize what you can give back to the game or to others who are watching you until you’re put into that position.”

Dufner put himself in that position after a stellar 2013 season that was highlighted by winning the PGA Championship at Oak Hill in Rochester, New York last August, giving the former Auburn University player his first major title.


Dufner posted nine top-25 finishes, including five top-10s, was 15th in the FedEx Cup point standings and collected more than $3.1 million in earnings. He has been named the Alabama Sports Writers Association’s Professional Athlete of the Year for 2013. The award will be presented during the annual ASWA Convention banquet Sunday in Troy.

According to Dufner, who lives in Auburn with his wife, Amanda, it’s the first professional award he has won.

“It’s neat to be recognized by those that follow and report on me and to be acknowledged for doing some things in professional sports that people think are recognizable,” he said Wednesday, just hours before he was set to leave for Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina to prepare for the U.S. Open. “I think this is really the first time I think I’ve been recognized like this, to be honest with you.

“It’s just nice to be recognized by those who are in my home state. It’s a good award.”

Dufner says he’s still the same person since winning his first major, and that the success hasn’t changed his lifestyle. He joked in March that his wife still makes him take out the trash every Tuesday.

But with the amount of national and international exposure that comes with being a major champion and being ranked in the top 20 in the world, Dufner has a different perspective on what it means to be a professional.

“One of the things I started to realize recently, in the last month or two, is the platform that I have now,” said Dufner, who is currently ranked 16th in the world and has four top-10 finishes this season. “People kind of look up to me to play good golf, to kind of conduct myself in a certain way. People come out to watch me play golf and they get some sort of enjoyment or satisfaction out of it, or they identify with me in some way. You have to be kind of aware of how you’re acting.

“Before, I used to be able to just fly under the radar and not worry too much about what other people were thinking or expecting from me. But now, there’s a bigger responsibility, I think, to just act professionally . It’s kind of hard to put into words, but I just feel a greater sense that people draw entertainment or look to me for certain things that I never really was aware of before.”

Especially now, as shouts of “War Eagle” can be heard echoing throughout golf courses all over the country when he hits a drive or makes a putt.

“Yeah, there’s lots and lots of fans out there watching me, especially when we play in the South,” Dufner said. “Golf is a very selfish game and it’s very easy to be selfish and self-centered when you’re playing.

“But I’m starting to be more aware that there are a lot of people out there rooting for me and looking to me for some sort of . they’re out there watching me play for some reason. And just to try to live up to what they’re looking for.”

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