LAS VEGAS – For every calf he roped, there were countless miles Tyson Durfey traveled through the course of the 2015 ProRodeo season.
Every interstate, every highway, every county road and every dirt road led to one place at the end of the year, the National Finals Rodeo. It’s the sport’s grand championship and features the largest purse, a record $8.8 million.
Durfey is an eight-time NFR qualifier from Savannah, Mo. He knows the road to Las Vegas is filled with narrow shoulders that leave little room for doubt. Once he arrived in Sin City two weeks ago, he made the most of his situations.
“I thought my NFR was outstanding,” said Durfey, now living near Weatherford, Texas. “Other than winning the average and the world, it was as good of an NFR as I could’ve had. I won two rounds, and I made two of the best runs of my life in one NFR. That’s outstanding.
“I haven’t tied very many calves in six (seconds) in my life, and to do it twice in one NFR is amazing.”
He shared go-round titles on the third and final nights, posting a 7.5-second run to split the third-round win with eventual world champion Caleb Smidt of Bellville, Texas. He finished that with a 6.7-run on the final night to share the go-round buckle with four-time champ Tuf Cooper of Decatur, Texas.
Durfey’s final-round run was the fastest of his career. He also was 6.8 seconds to place second in the sixth go-round – 23-time world champion Trevor Brazile posted a 6.6 to win that round.
Along the way, Durfey placed in two other rounds and ended his 10-day run in Las Vegas with $71,982, which pushed his season earnings to $153,983. He finished eighth in the world standings. Still, his biggest victory may have come during the third round on Dec. 5, the same evening his wife, country artist Shea Fisher, performed during the opening.
“We were pretty excited about it,” he said. “It took me 70 rounds to win my first go-round buckle, and I only won two in my first seven NFRs. To get two go-round buckles in one year was outstanding, so I’ve got one for me and one for my wife.
“That’s one we will remember for a long time. I watched that go-round the other night, and it will be a great memory for us.”
So will all 10 rounds. Durfey was part of an incredible display of athleticism in this year’s NFR tie-down roping. In a sport made up of fast times and big scores, there was plenty of action.
“The calf roping was amazing to watch and probably the toughest calf roping that has ever been in the history of the sport,” Durfey said. “It’s very rare that you see 6-second runs, and there were multiple ones. That’s never been done before.”
Ropers posted sub-second runs 12 times, including three by Brazile, who also tied the NFR record with a 6.5-second run in the eighth round.
“Several years ago, there was one go-round where there were three times in succession where they were 6,” Durfey said. “Now they’re doing it every round. To watch the growth of the sport is phenomenal. Guys are getting better, and they’re getting faster.
“I was on top of that a couple of nights.”
There also were some down times. Durfey finished out of the money six nights and suffered three no-times. He just didn’t let himself get down about it.
“I think the most important thing is optimism,” he said. “I’m not a very pessimistic person. I believe my best day is tomorrow, and that’s the same whether you’re on your back or standing upright.
“For me, getting to go to another round at the NFR is pretty awesome. A lot of guys don’t make in one year what I have a chance to make in one night.”
That’s true. Outright go-round winners pocketed more than $26,000 each night. For the four times in which Durfey placed, he averaged nearly $18,000 per round.
“My horse, Nikko, has been phenomenal,” Durfey said. “That horse didn’t make a single mistake out of 10 rounds of the NFR, which I’ve never had before. Most of the time horses get tired and worn out – like the rest of us – and they make mistakes. He scored good and ran hard, and he worked every time.”
Now it’s time for a break from rodeo. The horses will get a few weeks in the pasture, and Durfey may not swing a rope for a bit, but the work never ends for a rodeo cowboy. Even while spending time with family over the next few weeks, he will find time to stay in shape.
“It’s time to get back to the gym and get back to working out,” he said. “My goal every year is to be a world champion. As long as my goal is that, I’m probably going to have to work my butt off.”
That’s what champions do.