LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A year ago, Jason Dufner ambled around Oak Hill Country Club, winning his first major championship and hearts of golf fans introduced to the relaxed concept of Dufnering.
Dufner's goals for the 96th PGA Championship, which begins Thursday at Valhalla Golf Club, are more modest.
"Get through 72 holes," he said.
Dufner's victory lap has turned into a slog complete with a July 28 epidural to combat an arthritic, degenerative issue in his neck. Still, Dufner said he never considered skipping this event because defending his title is important and, currently sitting eighth in the point standings, he wants to make the Ryder Cup team.
Dufner said he first felt pain at the Masters, where he missed the cut. The condition stabilized a bit as he lost a playoff to Adam Scott at the Crowne Plaza Invitational in May. But his lack of mobility, a restricted shoulder turn and fatigue have affected him greatly since the U.S. Open, where he also missed the cut.
"I'm probably not going to be healthy until I can take six to eight weeks off," Dufner said. "Not sure when that's going to be. But I'll get through it."
The man whose slouching on the floor during an elementary school appearance became a social media craze hasn't lost his deadpan sense of humor. After talking about using his condition as a blessing to analyze his off-the-course habits and fitness level, the doughy Dufner was asked why he doesn't feel he has done enough physically to stay in shape.
"You can take a look and see," he cracked. "It's not that hard."
Ryder reality: U.S. Rydar Cup captain Tom Watson introduced Steve Stricker as his third vice captain, joining Raymond Floyd and Andy North. He also addressed Dustin Johnson's leave of absence from the PGA Tour, which will leave him off the Ryder Cup team.
"I was disappointed from a selfish reason that the team was going to lose a bomber, a guy who had a great record in the previous Ryder Cup," Watson said. "But I understand a little of what he's going through and I want him to get well."
Watson isn't surprised golfers like Dufner and Tiger Woods hope to play through injuries to make the team.
"After what happened at Medinah (in 2012), I'd be the same way," Watson said of the European team's comeback victory.
Summer switch: With golf returning to the Olympics in 2016 and that also being a Ryder Cup year, the 2016 PGA Championship will be staged July 25-31 at New Jersey's Baltusrol Golf Club. Save for 1971, the tournament has been held in August every year since 1969.
"It's a very congested schedule and we view it as a positive," said Pete Bevacqua, CEO of the PGA of America. "We think the temperatures will be better. Less people are on vacation."
Tap-ins: The $10 million purse here doles $1.8 million to the winner and $1,080,000 to the runner-up. ... Dufner's Champions' dinner Tuesday night featured "butt rubbed" filet mignon as its main course, a playful nod to his celebratory pats of his wife's posterior on the 72nd hole last year.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun