Remember ‘Dufnering’? This is the inside story of the photo that sparked a sensation

jason dufner dufnering

The slouch seen 'round the world is nothing less than art.

getty images/Christine Lee

When Jason Dufner, then a 36-year-old PGA Tour professional, swung through the Dallas-Fort Worth area in March 2013, local media perked up. Ten months earlier Dufner had won what was then called the HP Byron Nelson Championship, and he was back in town to help generate buzz for his defense of the tournament, slated for May 16-19 at TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas, in Irving.

Dufner had won twice on the PGA Tour by that point but was best known for his playoff loss to Keegan Bradley at the PGA Championship the previous August. Well, for that and his laconic demeanor. Following his win at the Nelson, Dufner was asked if he ever shows emotion. “Here and there a couple of times a year,” he said. “Usually there is some alcohol involved or Auburn football, but for the most part I’m laid back.”

Keegan Bradley (L) and Jason Dufner (R) wait on the first playoff hole during the final round of the 93rd PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club on August 14, 2011 in Johns Creek, Georgia
Dufner, background, and Bradley faced off in a playoff at the 2012 PGA Championship. getty images

The agenda for Dufner’s Dallas trip included an appearance at J. Erik Jonsson Community School, which is largely funded by the Salesmanship Club, the organization that runs the Byron Nelson. Among Dufner’s duties: a Q&A session in front of Salesmanship Club members and tournament sponsors, and also a cameo in one of the classrooms.

The local NBC affiliate, KXAS, sent a couple reporters to tag-team coverage of the event. David Watkins handled the sponsor session, while Christine Lee was dispatched to the classroom, setting into motion what a decade later remains one of golf’s most unlikely and indelible viral moments.

As Lee recalls it, Dufner wasn’t exactly oozing enthusiasm that Thursday morning — “you saw it in Jason’s face, it wasn’t the most exhilarating field trip for him,” she said — but then again, if school officials were expecting Dufner to do cartwheels across the classroom’s world-map rug, they had the wrong pro. Supreme mellowness is to Duf what smoldering intensity was to Hogan.

His time with the kids ran longer than Dufner had expected — at least 45 minutes, maybe an hour. For much of that period he had sat cross-legged on the floor as the teacher, in a chair to his right, spoke to the students about — believe it or not — relaxation. Soon enough, Dufner’s body began to ache, and he scooted toward the wall behind him for support. His body looked freighted, as if he was coming off a late night.

“I was just observing the class while their session was going on,” Lee told me the other day. “And just being the reporter that I am, I like taking pictures.”

A snap here, a snap there. Lee thought nothing of what she was chronicling, and certainly never thought for a moment that she was in the process of capturing an image that was about to go around the world.

“Honestly, I was just kind of watching him and wondering if he was gonna fall asleep,” she said.

It wasn’t until Lee reviewed her photos after Dufner’s appearance that one picture, in particular, caught her eye. The image portrayed the shaggy-haired golfer, hands pinned beneath his backside and staring into space, looking as bored as an atheist at Easter mass.

Oh, this is funny, Lee thought.

Later that day, she reconnected with Watkins to compare notes about they had documented.

“I was like, ‘How did it go?’” Watkins told me recently.

“And she was like, ‘It went fine. Except I don’t think he’s doing all that well.’

“I’m like, ‘What does that mean?’

“She says, ‘Well, I took this photo of him in the classroom. And his face, he just had no reaction, and he wasn’t moving around much.’

“I’m like, ‘Well, let me see it.’

“And she showed me what became the Dufnering picture.”

Can you believe it’s been 10 years?

When Lee snapped that photo, President Obama had just been inaugurated for his second term, the New York Giants were fresh off a Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots and selfie was about to become Oxford’s Word of the Year.

Dufner’s game was also rounding into form. He had won twice in 2012, and, at the Colonial, nearly a third time. He tied for fourth at the U.S. Open at Olympic Club. He played in his first Ryder Cup, picking up three points in the U.S.’s painful loss at Medinah. (Asked about his chill vibe that week, in such an electric event, Dufner said, “As soon as that birdie putt goes in, I’m on to the next shot. That’s how I’ve always approached the game, and I don’t see that changing just because we’re playing in the Ryder Cup.”) By season’s end, he had ascended to a career-best 6th in the world ranking.

Jason Dufner of the USA plays out from the bunker on the 14th green during day two of the Afternoon Four-Ball Matches for The 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club on September 29, 2012 in Medinah, Illinois
What, me worry? Dufner at the 2012 Ryder Cup. getty images

Dufner was making a name for himself. Several names, actually. Duf, Duf Daddy, even The Dude — a nod to Jeff Bridges’ pot-smoking, bathrobe-wearing character in the 1998 film “The Big Lebowski.” The former Auburn walk-on who had spent much of his 20s fighting for a PGA Tour card had finally arrived.

Golf fans knew him. And soon enough, so, too, would pop-culture fans who didn’t know a putter from a pitching wedge.

When Watkins saw Lee’s photo, his immediate reaction was, This is the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time. Watkins covered sports for the network and had a particular interest in the Tour. He followed the pro game closely and played fantasy golf. He knew all about the Dao of Duf.

“I knew he kind of had a hilarious, everyday-man personality, that you wouldn’t have looked at him as your normal PGA superstar, which he was at the time,” Watkins said. “He’s the man of the people. And knowing that about him and getting this picture just cracked me up. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

“I said to Christine, ‘Can I please have this photo? I’d like to post it.’

“She’s like, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’

Giddy with his score, Watkins posted the picture to Twitter and…


“It didn’t get a lot of run,” he said. “I didn’t really have many followers. You know, I wasn’t probably a blue-check guy at the time. Nobody was paying attention.”

Social media is funny like that. But one reply, share or retweet can change everything.

Watkins’ golf buddies loved the photo, too, and thought a wider audience should see it. One of those friends, Derek Johnson, suggested Watkins send the photo to the sports and culture site Deadspin.

“I didn’t send it, because at the time, being in the media, I didn’t want to give another media outlet a chance to run with the story,” Watkins said. “But also my TV channel wasn’t the type that — no one would pick up on it on our website or on my Twitter to blow it up.”

Johnson had no such conflict of interest, so he shared the image.

Deadspin’s tastemakers were into it. That same afternoon, the site ran an article with the facetious headline, “Golfer Jason Dufner Appears To Be Having A Lot Of Fun Visiting These Kids in Dallas.” The piece was so popular that later that day the site followed up with a “Sad Jason Dufner Photoshop Contest,” in which writer Tom Ley called the Dufner pic “our favorite thing about today.”

Lee had no idea of the silliness that was afoot until the following morning. That’s when her phone started pinging. Her manager at KXAS had left her multiple messages. “Usually my phone blows up if something really big happens and I have to go out of state or out of city for a wildfire or mass murder or something,” Lee said. “But luckily this time that wasn’t the case.”

This time, a photo she had taken was lighting up social media.

Lee’s immediate concern was that her boss might be upset with her. He was not; he had been calling only to see if she’d seen the reaction to her snapshot. Then she thought about Dufner. “I was kind of embarrassed for him, because I didn’t want him to be seen in a negative light,” Lee said.

Indeed, the image almost immediately spawned good-natured razzing from Dufner’s Tour pals. Within hours of the Deadspin story’s publication, the game’s biggest stars were #dufnering, a name inspired by the 2011 #tebowing craze. Images began to make the rounds of Bubba Watson slouched against the General Lee; Rory McIlroy propped up against a grill room chair; and Rickie Fowler looking corpse-like in a red wagon in his garage. Keegan Bradley’s tweet of the photo — “best picture ever,” he typed — gained particular attention, garnering hundreds of retweets. By Friday morning, #dufnering was trending on Twitter, and Bradley fully leaned in. From the Shell Houston Open, he posted an image of himself, Dustin Johnson and Brandt Snedeker sitting side-by-side, hands tucked.

When D.A. Points won the title on Sunday, what other choice did he have but to Dufner next to the trophy? And that’s exactly what he did.

Dufner didn’t have a leg to stand on — or a wall to slouch against. All he could do was sit back and take the ribbing. Earlier in the week, he did he best to explain his drooping pose to the world, tweeting, “What can I say, I was tired, my back hurt from sitting on the floor, and we were talking about relaxation and focusing. #dufnering”

How Dufner actually felt about the less-than-flattering image becoming an international meme overnight was unclear to Watkins and Lee in the immediate aftermath of the photo’s circulation. “I think if it was me, I may have been a little pissed,” Lee told me. But they did get some insight a couple of months later when Dufner returned to town for the Byron Nelson.

Dufnering was still very much a thing at this point, and KXAS producers were eager for the opportunity to reunite the golfer with the reporters who had facilitated the craze. Dufner agreed to an interview.

“Before we filmed, I just went up to him and was like, ‘Hey, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for this to go out. Are you okay?’” Lee said. “I told him, ‘That wasn’t my intention. But it happened and here you go. How do you feel about it?’

“He took it so well. He was just probably one of the most chill guys I’ve talked to in that golf environment. He just kind of went along with it. And he thought it was really funny that people’s pets were trying to copy his post, too. And so it all worked out — gave him some good publicity, right?”

Watkins (pictured above with Lee and Dufner) detected a less positive vibe from Dufner.

“We had all these fun things that we wanted to do with him, and he just was not having it,” Watkins said. “He probably reluctantly gave us five minutes of his time after one of his practice rounds where he’s probably tired as it is. He did an interview with us, which he really obviously didn’t want to do. And the story was pretty much done after that. He did what he needed to do as the defending champion and recognized that this thing had gone viral.”

Two years later, Watkins and Dufner crossed paths again, by way of a remote TV interview set up by one of Dufner’s sponsors. Watkins was in Texas, and Dufner on the West Coast. Watkins reintroduced himself as the guy who had posted the Dufnering photo. Then he cracked a joke. Something along the lines of, “When should I expect my commission check?”

“He didn’t get much of a rise from that,” Watkins said. “I just continually think he doesn’t want anything to do with me.”

The following year, they met again, this time by happenstance at a Dallas bar between the weeks of the Byron Nelson and Colonial.

“He gives me a double take, but he doesn’t say anything,” Watkins said. “And because I could tell his brain was thinking, I stopped him. I’m like, ‘Hey, Jason, I just wanted to reintroduce myself. I’m David Watkins. Does that name ring a bell to you?’ And he goes, ‘No.’ I’m like, ‘Well, I’m the guy responsible for Dufnering from when you were here a couple years ago.’ He looked at me, just straight through my eyes, like, into my soul, and then just walked away in disgust. He didn’t even say a word.”

However Dufner truly felt or still feels about the craze that bears his name — both he and his manager, Ben Walters, declined to be interviewed for this story — it quickly became part of his brand. About five months after the photo surfaced, Dufner found himself within a shot of Jim Furyk’s 54-hole lead at the PGA Championship at Oak Hill, in Rochester. N.Y., to where the event will return next week.

In recapping Dufner’s week to that point, New York Post reporter Mark Cannizzaro wrote:

Jason Dufner’s deadpan expression on the 18th green yesterday upon the completion of his PGA Championship third round at Oak Hill was an updated version of what already has become all the rage in golf — “Dufnering.”

Dufner, the frumpy, slouched-shouldered golfer with the perpetual expressionless look on his face who has become a cult figure of sorts in his sport, for the second consecutive day had a chance to break out of his patented dullard mold and do something different — show some emotion, smile, gasp, do a cartwheel.


We, however, would get nothing and like it.

The headline on the article: “Expressionless pro can add first major to ‘Dufnering’ craze.”

Dufner and Dufnering were inextricable.

On Sunday at Oak Hill, Dufner coolly closed with a two-under 68 to beat Furyk by two and claim his first and still only major title. But even Dufner’s possession of the Wanamaker Trophy wasn’t enough to quell interest in the bizarre fad he had unwittingly started.

The following week, during a New York City media blitz, Dufner was a guest on the ABC morning-show Live with Kelly and Michael, with Rebecca Romijn filling in for Kelly Ripa. Less than four minutes into the interview, Romijn’s co-host, Michael Strahan, couldn’t resist.

“Dufnering, right?” he said, reaching for a print-out of the viral photo. “Can you please explain that?”

After Dufner detailed how the moment was immortalized, Strahan said, “You know what, you have a created a sensation.”

“Turned out good,” Dufner said, drawing applause from the studio audience.

Watkins thinks so, too.

“I’m sure when you say ‘Jason Dufner’ to the average golf fan, that’s where your mind goes,” he said. “I think there’s a little bit of me that feels a little bit guilty of that. But I think overall, it was a good thing for him. I’d like to think so.”

Watkins left the reporting business in 2007 and now is an account executive for a cybersecurity firm. He lives in Frisco, Tex. Kim left KXAS in 2005. She now lives in California, where she runs her own content-creation business, Kimbop TV.

Watkins said he has no regrets about posting the image, and he readily admits that he enjoyed his own fleeting burst of celebrity among his colleagues and friends in the weeks and months after he posted the photo.

“I knew it was an unflattering image,” he said. “But I also didn’t expect it to blow up. So when it did, I did not feel bad by any means. But I think I was enjoying the attention it was receiving. And therefore the attention I was receiving.

“I felt like I had a very, very small part in something that people really got a kick out of and enjoyed. So yeah, it was a great experience for me. I guess the most viral thing I’ve ever been a part of.”

Lee was also caught off guard by the photo’s popularity, even more so than Watkins. “I wasn’t born with the social-media viral gene, the Marvel detector gene,” she said. “So I wasn’t sure [it would blow up]. That was never my intention. When I took it, it was just more for chuckles.”

In the end, though, the photo delivered so much more.

“It really helped me think twice about how social media works, how storytelling works, how things can be shared,” Lee said. “It just made me realize, wow, the power of one picture.”

Alan Bastable Editor

As’s executive editor, Bastable is responsible for the editorial direction and voice of one of the game’s most respected and highly trafficked news and service sites. He wears many hats — editing, writing, ideating, developing, daydreaming of one day breaking 80 — and feels privileged to work with such an insanely talented and hardworking group of writers, editors and producers. Before grabbing the reins at, he was the features editor at GOLF Magazine. A graduate of the University of Richmond and the Columbia School of Journalism, he lives in New Jersey with his wife and foursome of kids.