But his focus? It was on finishing in the top 10 to get an exemption into next week’s 3M Championship and more FedEx Cup points to get him into the finals of the Korn Ferry Qualifying at the end of the season. Instead, a few missed shots down the stretch left him in a tie for 22nd — with, among others Matsuyama and Rickie Fowler — and in need of an exemption or another great Monday qualifying round next week.
But instead of getting down about it, he’s taking a few days to reset and looking ahead.
“In all honesty, I’ve been putting these scores together for a while now on the Korn Ferry (Tour) and putting some really good rounds together and was almost able to get my status with only playing nine events last year,’’ he said. “But I’ve been playing this kind of golf for three years now.
Yes, life is good. Not only has he found the key to turning his game around, he and wife Kamie, who has been a rock for him as well, are six weeks away from becoming first-time parents to son Oliver Mathys.
“We’re about to enter a different stage of our lives,’’ he said.
After last week, maybe two stages at once.
“It’s not the way I wanted to finish — I let one or two shots go,’’ he said. “It comes down to the fact I put in the preparation beforehand and was able to come up with a good game plan and I executed it for the most part pretty well. There were a few times I didn’t push too hard, but I got a little greedy and should have laid up on a par-5 give myself 110 yards. And if I hit it 15 feet, it’s not a tap-in, but still a look at birdie.
“It’s not trying to go for the green and hitting it in the water or leaving it out of position and fighting for a birdie or trying to save par.’’
“The biggest difference is now I’ve been doing it when it counts.’’
When he graduated from Lamar back in 2012, Daffue figured his path in professional golf would come a bit easier. He grew up playing with Hall of Famer Retief Goosen, who is still a close friend, and had more than a solid college career.
Instead, it’s been a roller coaster filled with stints on the Hooters Tour, the Sunshine Tour and Korn Ferry events and what devolved into the wrong approach to the game. And there was life.
In 2013, he was leading a Hooters event when his mother-in-law tripped on a manhole cover in her hometown of Nederland and was hit by a car. She was rushed to the hospital and had swelling on her brain.
“The tournament official came up to me (on the course) and told me she wasn’t doing well, you should go and so I withdrew and got on the golf cart and went to my host family’s house, packed my stuff and drove 14 hours back to Texas,’’ Daffue said. “Two days later, she passed away.’’
Her death triggered a bout with depression.
“I had never struggled with that before,’’ he said.
“At that stage, one of the biggest things I learned was there was more to life than golf. It’s very important to know that, but I went a little overboard on it. If I didn’t play well, it was ‘Oh, don’t worry about it, there’s more to life than golf.’
“I got a little bit just OK with mediocrity. There was no drive. As that happened, I didn’t know how to take the bad play. There were just a lot of traumatic memories with the family. It was the first time in a long time there were bigger things than me.’’
Then came the biggest struggles like missing cuts by one shot.
“How to react to that,’’ he said. “Just taking life and implementing it.’’
Then last fall he was playing at the second stage of Q-School and he got a call that his grandfather passed away in South Africa.
“As far as timing went, it wasn’t very good,’’ he said. “I can’t blame his death for me not getting through second stage, but my mind was wandering. I kind of felt in a daze. I tried really hard. But once again, we can’t control those things in life. That’s why I’m working really hard on myself to see what I need to do to deal with these things better.
“I had to learn to face it head on and work through it, not to push it to the side because when you push it to the side, you basically just put it on hold. It bottles up and eventually comes out all at once. I was slipping back to 2014, 2015 and 2016. I had a lot of help from a lot of people.’’
Daffue moved to Kingwood in 2015 and eventually sought out UH coach Jonathan Dismuke, who he knew from his college days, to see if he could work with him and use the Cougars’ practice facility, the Dave Williams Golf Academy, at Golf Club of Houston. Since he had played so many of the college events, Daffue was the perfect volunteer assistant for the Cougars, so he went to work helping them and helping his game as well.
“I learned a lot from helping our players and watching what they were struggling with,’’ he said. “I was able to implement it to my game too.’’
And he’s gone from focusing on results, to focusing on the process of improving his game.
“There’s a lot of things that life throws at you,’’ he said. “It’s been slow and mainly because I haven’t been able to focus on certain things. When things go rough, you struggle financially. And when you struggle financially, it puts pressure on your golf. And you put pressure performing and by doing that, it puts a lot of focus on results instead of process.
“Since 2017, I’ve seen a big change,’’ he said. “I’ve just tried to become 1 percent better every day. I just try to become a 1 percent better person, a 1 percent better husband, 1 percent better golfer. I try to get short game 1 percent better, long game 1 percent better. If you just focus on the small wins, I feel it has been much easier to move forward.”
The one thing he did not do during those years of struggling was panic.
“I go back to Retief and he won his first major at 32,’’ he said. “It takes a while. When he and Ernie (Els) turned pro, Ernie won his first major in 1994 and so Retief won in 2001. That’s seven years and it’s like, ‘Man I’m just as good as these guys, I grew up playing with them, I know I can do it too.’’
He’s closest to Goosen but is also friends with Els and 2010 Open champ Louis Oosthuizen. And, he has South African players his age like Dylan Fritelli, who played at Texas, and Branden Grace, to help him as well.
“As long as my name is mentioned in the same sentence with them,’’ he said with a laugh, “I must be doing something right.’’
And about that last name? It’s pronounced — Duff-ee.
“People always add something to it,’’ he said. “I’ve heard them all — like Da-fooey. It doesn’t bother me.’’
As for going by his initials? Well, it’s just easier. And MJ, as he said, is big in America with Michael Jordan. He doesn’t get that question, but he did have a Starbucks barista ask how to spell MJ. Really.
The pandemic has hit every sport hard and left players like Daffue with even fewer opportunities to get into fields and move up in the rankings. At the same time, it allowed him and Kamie time to take day trips to visit her sisters in Nederland and enjoy the change of pace.
Right now, he’s focusing on those FedEx Cup points to get him to Q-School finals. He’ll try to Monday qualify for next week’s 3M Championship, play the Barracuda Championship, then try to get an exemption or qualify for the final event of the season, the Wyndham Championship.
“It’s a complicated system, but very black and white,’’ he said. “It’s a tough scene to get onto, and one of the hardest job interviews there is.’’
Once the wraparound 2020-21 season starts, he hopes to either qualify or get an exemption into November’s Houston Open, which is moving to Memorial Park. Coincidentally, Daffue owns both course records at the Houston Open’s old home — Golf Club of Houston. He shot a 61 on the tournament course two years ago when he was playing with the Cougars in a team qualifier and a 62 at the members’ course earlier this year during the pandemic.
“It would have been amazing to play on my home course, but it seems that things work out the way they do,’’ he said. “Maybe this year, I get my chance. Maybe it was for a reason because I’m a much better player this year.’’
He’s focused on getting 1 percent better every day and he’s living by something he heard Tiger Woods say to Harold Varner III.
“Harold was saying he was struggling closing out these things and Tiger told him — ‘Don’t worry about it and run your own race, ‘ ‘’ Daffue said. “That’s kind of what I’ve been trying to do — just run my own race. Just looking at what’s going on around me, and how I can improve and better.’’
He got a glimpse of that last week.
“You can’t be greedy in this game,’’ he said. “You take what you get. You go out and do your best and at the end of the day if you didn’t finish two shots better it is because you didn’t get the ball in the hole quicker. That’s a nice challenge.’’
He was proud of the way he handled the pressure last week, especially playing with Matsuyama on Sunday. He saw it as an honor and an opportunity. And a measuring stick.
“Man, I’m getting to play with Hideki, who is among the top 15 players in the world every year,’’ he said. “And learn from him.’’
The only thing that felt really strange last week? No fans. No noise.
“I usually play better when there are a lot of fans around because you’re being held to a higher standard,’’ he said. “They expect you to hit a good shot and it pushes you to put more focus into the shot.’’
“It’s just a strange world we’re living in.’’
Yet also a week to remember.