The similarities between Jason Dufner and his hero, Ben Hogan, are almost too obvious.
Both men were late bloomers. Hogan won his first major title, the 1946 PGA Championship, at age 34. Dufner nearly matched him with a runner-up finish in the 2011 PGA – at age 34.
Then there’s the golf swing, where Dufner presents a mirror image of Hogan at several key junctures from address to finish. Of course, that’s no coincidence. Dufner has studied “Bantam Ben” enough to earn a doctorate in Hoganomics, absorbing every word of the landmark instruction book Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, and patterning his own swing after the nine-time major winner’s.
It’s certainly paid off for Dufner, who broke through for his first PGA Tour win at the 2012 Zurich Classic of New Orleans and soon followed it with a win at the HP Byron Nelson Championship. He nearly iced the cake at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial – aka “Hogan’s Alley” – but settled for second behind Zach Johnson.
Dufner almost avenged his idol’s most famous defeat during the U.S. Open at San Francisco’s Olympic Club, where Hogan lost a playoff to Jack Fleck in 1955. Dufner couldn’t quite pull it off, though, tying for fourth.
Dufner’s signature: Right elbow tucked against body on downswing.
Who else does it: Ben Hogan, Jim Furyk, many others
While Dufner’s pre-swing waggle gets a lot of attention, it’s the position of his right elbow that really keys his success.
When Dufner reaches the top of the backswing, his left arm is in a very “flat” (horizontal) position, with the right arm underneath the shaft and the elbow pointing toward the ground. There’s little if any separation between Dufner’s upper right bicep and his body.
Dufner’s right elbow stays tucked against his side throughout the downswing, which keeps the shaft on plane and the clubhead squarely on path to impact.
Why it works for Dufner: A tightly tucked right elbow is a key ingredient to a compact golf swing, preventing the club from getting out of control or off plane. It also routes the clubhead to approach the ball from inside the target line, one of a handful of traits nearly all pros share.
Crucially, Dufner (like Hogan) rotates the hips, torso and shoulders through the shot on the downswing and follow-through. Without this rotary motion, the right elbow would either fly away from the body or get “stuck” behind it, leading to disastrous results.
Just how well does this technique work for Dufner? As of this writing, he stood fourth on the 2012 PGA Tour in total driving (a combination of distance and accuracy statistics), sixth in greens in regulation, and first in ballstriking (a combo of total driving and greens in regulation).
Hogan himself would be proud of those numbers.
How it can work for you: The “towel drill” will help you learn to maintain a tucked right elbow throughout the swing:
- Fold a small towel or wash cloth and place it between your right bicep and armpit.
- The right arm should be close enough to the body to hold the towel in place, without squeezing it against your side.
- Make a series of slow practice swings, attempting to keep the towel from falling on the backswing, downswing and follow-through.
- If the towel drops during the swing, your right arm has become “disconnected.”
- Once you’ve got the hang of it, try hitting balls in the same manner.
Remember, proper body rotation is critical to the success of the tucked right elbow position. If your body and arms turn in sync, you’ll hit longer, straighter shots. Just like you-know-who.
Better Late than Never for Jason Dufner
Many of the golfers you see that go on to win major championships burst right onto the PGA Tour scene straight out of college – or even skip college altogether. Such was not the case for Jason Dufner. While he was certainly an accomplished amateur player, having reached the finals of the U.S. Public Links along with posting an impressive career at Auburn University, Dufner struggled to gain traction quickly in his pro career. Most of his early years (after turning pro in 2000) were spent on the Web.com tour trying to work his way up to full PGA Tour status.
With a reputation as a hard worker, Dufner kept at it and his persistence begins to pay off. 2009 was his first big season on the PGA Tour, winning more than $2 million and finishing 33rd at the end of the season. He wouldn’t win on Tour until recording two victories in the 2012 season, but by then Dufner had safely secured his spot as one of the better players in the world. In 2013, he would win the PGA Championship for his first major title. While he has struggled with a few injuries since that victory at Oak Hill Country Club, Dufner remains a player to watch on the PGA Tour for years to come.
Since he began to establish himself as a consistent presence on the PGA Tour, Dufner has become a fan favorite thanks to his laid back personality and calm attitude on the course. Beyond just the golfer Dufner is, golf fans seem to appreciate his approach to the game. Regular followers of the PGA Tour are familiar with both the Jason Dufner dip and Jason Dufner waggle, which stand out and make him quickly recognizable. The golfer Dufner has become is a testament to his dedication to the game, along with plenty of natural talent.
The Dufner swing is a simple and repeatable one, which is certainly a big part of his success – especially under pressure, such as coming down the stretch to win the PGA Championship. There is plenty that the average amateur can learn from the Dufner swing, even without simply trying to copy it into their own game. Like almost any Tour player, watching Jason Dufner play golf is a great opportunity for the average player to take something away that can make them a better player next time they head to the course.
Whether you appreciate the laid back style and Jason Dufner dip, or just like to watch the way he swings the club and stays cool under pressure, it is easy to understand why he is such a popular figure on Tour – both with fans and other players. Let’s take a closer look at a few specific elements of his swing to see what it can teach you about your own game.
The Power of the Waggle
The Jason Dufner waggle might be one of the most recognizable moves on Tour. If you watch very much golf on TV, you have surely seen this move at least once or twice, if not hundreds of times. As he steps into the shot, Dufner uses his hands and wrists to waggle the club back and forth a few times. When he has finished the waggle, the club then gets set down behind the ball briefly before he gets into hit swing. While you don’t have to copy the exact technique of Dufner’s waggle, you should have one of your own in some form or fashion.
What is the big deal with a waggle? Well, it can do a variety of good things for your swing. The first, and most common, reason for using a waggle is to rehearse the motion that you are going to use in your takeaway. While Dufner uses a waggle that is almost all hands, some golfers prefer to move the club more with their shoulder rotation while the hands stay quiet. Whatever you are trying to accomplish in your takeaway is what should be represented during your waggle. By rehearsing it a few times before you start the swing for real, you should improve your chances of making a quality swing.
With that said, the waggle often serves an even more important purpose for many golfers – to relax the muscles and get into rhythm before starting the swing. Rhythm is extremely important in golf, and standing like a statue prior to you swing makes it difficult to find that rhythm. If you were to take your stance and stand perfectly still for a few seconds prior to making your swing, it is likely that you would struggle to keep a good tempo or make a very athletic swing. You can solve that problem by building a waggle into your swing.
To help better understand why a waggle is so important in golf, it might be helpful to think about an example from another sport. In basketball, making free throws is an important part of being a successful team. While not every player on the court will be a good free throw shooter, the team with the better free throw percentage overall is going to have an advantage in the game. In some ways, shooting free throws is very similar to hitting a golf shot – the player is control of the ball and has to initiate the action without anything else going on around them.
So what do basketball players do when they are getting ready to shoot a free throw? Do they stand perfectly still while holding the ball out in front of them, and then shoot it at the hoop? No. Almost every basketball player has their own unique routine that features the basketball version of a ‘waggle’. Some players will take a specific number of dribbles before picking the ball up and shooting. Others will spin the ball in their hands, or even pass it around their back once or twice. Usually, there is some flexing of the knees up and down, and a deep breath or two to relax. Whatever the routine happens to be, rarely will you see a shooter stand perfectly still before sending the ball toward the hoop.
This is exactly what you should be doing on the golf course, and it is exactly what Jason Dufner is doing with his waggle. He wants to have some movement and rhythm built in to his swing before he lets it start. In order to improve your tempo, and your ball striking, you should work on developing your own unique waggle that makes sense for your swing. Just like you practice your swing technique on the range, you should also practice your waggle until it becomes comfortable and consistent. Yours doesn’t have to look like Dufner’s, but it should serve the same purpose – to get you comfortable with your takeaway technique, and to get some rhythm started before you make a swing.
Right Arm Connection
If you are a right handed golfer as Jason Dufner is, the connection of your right arm to your body is a vital characteristic that you should be paying close attention to (for a left handed player, it would be the left arm). Take a close look at Dufner’s backswing and you will see that his right elbow stays close in to his side and is pointed down toward the ground throughout the backswing. This helps him accomplish a flat backswing plane and an overall one-plane swing effect. Not all golfers use a one-plane swing, but Dufner is a classic example of a great one.
This right arm position that he uses during the backswing is in stark contrast to what you will see from most amateur players. The majority of amateurs allow their right arm to lift up and away from their side during the backswing, leading to countless problems. The loss of connection between your torso and your arms makes timing the swing properly much more difficult to achieve. Also, lifting up the right arm tends to put the club above the proper swing plane, meaning you will either have to reroute the club back to the inside, or leave it over the line and likely hit a slice in the end. If you are striving for a simple swing that is easy to repeat shot after shot all day long, something similar to what Jason Dufner uses is a great option. With your right arm properly connected to your torso during the backswing you should find that solid contact quickly becomes easier to achieve.
Should you try to work on improving the position of your right arm, there are a couple things you need to be aware of. First of all, you will need to be sure to make a complete turn with your shoulders if this kind of swing is going to work for you. Shoulder turn is always important in golf, but it is even more crucial when using a compact swing on a flatter plane. Your arms won’t have as much room to swing and generate speed on their own, so it is going to be up to your torso to rotate through the swing aggressively and build up power. You can still hit the golf ball plenty hard using this method, but only when you are sure to complete your backswing properly.
Another important point to make regarding right arm position is that you need to guard against turning the club too far to the inside during the takeaway. If you keep your right arm in tight but also use your hands too much early in the swing, it is possible to get the club ‘stuck’ inside the right path – and you probably won’t recover from that mistake. If you notice that you are hitting hooks when you first begin to work on this technique, it is likely that your hands are doing too much during the takeaway. Practice hitting some shorter shots without as much influence from your hands until you get the right feel. For someone who previously using a two-plane swing with more extension in the right arm, this is going to feel like a radical change which will likely take some time to adjust to.
Not every golfer is going to want to use such a compact right arm position during their own swing. However, Dufner is still a great example of the consistent ball striking that can be achieved using such a technique. Take a look at your own swing and decide if you could benefit from working on the connection that is established between your right arm and your torso during the backswing.
Even Tempo Should Always Be a Goal
Whether it is a product of the waggle we discussed above, or simply his laidback personality, Jason Dufner has a wonderful tempo in his swing that remains constant from start to finish. One of the big challenge for professional and amateur golfers alike is to keep their tempo steady all throughout the day no matter what kind of pressure they are feeling of what kind of shot they are facing. Dufner does a great job of that, and it is surely part of the reason he has succeeded under the greatest pressures that golf has to offer.
While you might not have to hold up to major championship pressure on a Sunday afternoon, you certainly feel some nerves from time to time in your own game. A great way to counteract those nerves and still hit good shots is to maintain a steady tempo that you are comfortable with and works with your swing mechanics. Using a tempo that comes natural to you is advised because you shouldn’t need to spend so much time maintaining it from round to round. Try to make your tempo match your personality as much as possible.
It is important to note that you don’t need to swing with the exact same tempo that Jason Dufner uses. His tempo works perfectly for him, but it might not be right for you. Instead, what you want to copy is the consistency and evenness of his tempo. His swing is very fluid from start to finish, and the tempo doesn’t appear to change at any point during the swing. You may find that you prefer a faster or slower tempo to the one Dufner uses, and that is fine – but you should be striving to reach the same kind of consistency that he has achieved.
The challenge of maintaining a steady tempo is one that will always be present, but you can take a cue from Dufner and maintain an even keel on the course if you hope to preserve your rhythm for all 18 holes. There is a good reason that many of the best players you see on the PGA Tour are so calm and relaxed – it is because that trait helps to keep your tempo under control. If you are excited for a few holes, then frustrated and angry on other holes later, it will be almost impossible to hold your tempo even over that time. Your emotions have a great deal to do with your swing rhythm, so keeping them in check should help you to be a better player.
The Jason Dufner PGA Championship title at Oak Hill included an incredible round of 63, which tied the all-time low round in a major. The ability to shoot such a great score on a difficult course under high pressure is a testament to the rhythm that he can keep in his swing throughout a round. Dufner had a chance to make a putt for 62 on the final hole of that round, after hitting an approach shot to inside 15 feet. Rhythm and tempo are major elements of what has made Jason Dufner PGA Tour-caliber, and they will continue to be big parts of his success going forward.
There is more than One Way to Do It
Much of the attention on the pro tours these days goes toward how far the professional players can hit the ball. And obviously, long driving and powerful iron shots is an advantage that every player would love to have.
However, it is not a prerequisite for playing great golfer – or even for becoming a major champion. Jason Dufner is a great example of that fact.
Now, before we go too far, let’s not make the mistake of thinking that Dufner is a short hitter. That certainly isn’t the case. For example, in the 2012 PGA Tour season, he averaged 292.4 yards off the tee. There is nothing about that statistic that indicates ‘short hitter’. However, it did place him 64th on the Tour that year, well behind some of the bombers like Bubba Watson. In more recent years, Dufner has seen his driving distance rank drop into the 100’s, although some of that drop can certainly be explained by injury problems that he has dealt with.
No matter what the specific numbers might be, it is sure that Dufner isn’t the longest hitter on the Tour. Despite that, he already has one major title to his name, along with two other PGA Tour wins. This is a great example that a player doesn’t need to focus solely on distance in order to compete at the highest levels of the game today. With a solid short game and excellent ball striking from tee to green, Dufner is able to more than keep up with the guys who drive it longer.
There is a powerful lesson to be learned from this example that you can apply to your own game. If Jason Dufner can win a PGA Championship without being the longest hitter in the field, do you really need to focus on distance so much in your own swing? Is that really what is holding you back? Many amateur players are so obsessed with how far they hit the ball that they forget to deal with the other, more important elements of the game. Spending time working on things like tempo (and the short game) will likely get you a far better return on your effort than you would find simply by searching for more clubhead speed. In fact, if you do focus on the basic fundamentals of the swing in order to improve, you might find that your driving distance ends up increasing anyway as a result.
Golf is a game that rewards all-around performers, and that is exactly what you should strive to be on the course. Rather than zeroing in on one area of the game that you hope to ‘master’, you should instead try to take away your weaknesses and become proficient in everything. Often, shooting a good score is more about not making mistakes than it is about hitting incredible shots. By preparing yourself to deal with as many challenges as possible on the course, you will be better able to navigate your ball around safely and shoot scores that you didn’t think were possible. Sure it is fun to hit long drives, and there is nothing wrong with working on your power, but it should always be done in the context of making your swing better and improving your overall game.
Jason Dufner is one of the most interesting players to watch on the PGA Tour, and it won’t be any surprise to see him back near the top of the leaderboard in a major championship very soon. Injuries aside, he has one of the overall games on the Tour, and the perfect demeanor for a professional golfer to possess. He has already built a large fan base thanks to his performance on the course and his personality off of it. In spite of being in the middle of the pack in terms of driving distance on the PGA Tour, Dufner is able to tame even long and challenging courses through a combination of smarts and excellent ball striking. Golfers who hope to learn from Dufner should look to the relaxed waggle and even tempo as great examples to be followed.