Johannesburg - Despite a disappointing back nine, South Africa’s MJ Daffue is still pleased to be in the mix at the US Open in a tie for 16th after a second round two-over 72 at The Country Club, in Brookline, on Friday.
Americans Collin Morikawa and Joel Dahmen lead the way on five-under, while fellow South Africans Branden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen, Shaun Norris and Erik van Rooyen all missed the cut.
Daffue, playing in his first-ever major, had opened a three-shot lead after his first seven holes on six-under overall. Daffue made the turn in three-under 33, however, three bogies and a double bogey saw him come home in five-over 40 to crash down the leaderboard and settle on one-under heading into the weekend.
Still, for the journeyman professional who only earned his PGA Tour card last month through his performances on the secondary Korn Ferry Tour it remains a position he is excited about.
“Back nine was disappointing. I did the simple things really bad,” said the 33-year-old after his round.
“You know, if you'd told me before yesterday I would be one-under par in the top 15 after finishing my round today, I would have said yes. So taking everything out of the equation, just being happy where I am and still in it with two really good rounds.”
When asked if he liked a good underdog story, with the insinuation that he is one Daffue said: “Underdog stories, I don't know. Am I an underdog? But, you know, we'll see this weekend, I guess.”
Since turning professional in 2013, Daffue had never cracked the top-1000 in the world rankings until he ended 2020 ranked 662nd. At the beginning of this year he was ranked 897th and currently finds himself 296th in the world.
With that in mind, leading the US Open at one point during his round could have been a heavy burden for Daffue - but that’s not the way he saw it.
“Didn't really think back, but I did tell myself, you know, enjoy it. Not a lot of people get to lead the U.S. Open by three shots. I just told myself, enjoy it. You've done a lot of work. It's finally paying off.
“Once again, we'll try our best the next two rounds, but whatever happens this week, you know, I've already done a lot of good things here, and in the process I was able to entertain some people today, too. It's been good.
“Yeah, thinking about the moment and leading, you think about it, but I saw it as proof of the work I've been putting in.”
Daffue struggled with the tragic death of his future mother in law in May 2013 as she tripped on a street corner and fell in front of a speeding car. Daffue was leading a a Hooters Tour event when he received the news about the accident. He took nine weeks off, but when he returned he admitted he wasn’t emotionally ready.
Since then, Daffue has struggled with his game - even taking more time away from playing - and depression and only this year has begun to see his results improve dramatically.
“For a long time I was feeling sorry for myself just thinking about what I need, what I need to do, how can I get to the next step. The moment I stepped away and said, okay, I'm going to start being a volunteer assistant coach at the University of Houston, help these guys, I started feeling a little bit of self-worth, and everything changed.
“You feel good about yourself. You get out of depression, and you just focus on other people. The world is crazy out there, and I feel like you have to make mistakes to know what it feels like so you know what the great feels like too.
“I think that's why I can appreciate things now because I know what it feels like to be at the bottom. I'm not saying I'm at the top, but this is not the bottom, so it's very good.”