One of a Kind Chris DiMarco is a self-made golfer who's never going to outwork his Tour rivals, but he's blasting by them on the money list nonetheless

June 09, 2002

Chris Dimarco's entourage showed up for the first round of the
Verizon Byron Nelson Classic last month just as DiMarco was
walking off the 10th green at Cottonwood Valley. "I started off
double bogey, par, bogey," DiMarco said to his wife, Amy. "How
late did the kids sleep?"

"Nine o'clock," said Amy, his entourage of one.

"Wow! They slept till nine?"

Welcome to DiMarco Island, where there's no swing coach, no
sports psychologist, no Pilates instructor and, trust us, no
dietician. DiMarco would need a name tag if he ever showed up in
the Tour's fitness trailer. The closest thing to trendy in
DiMarco's life is his wardrobe, which is rich in earth tones and
pleats. It is tempting to describe DiMarco as retro, but that
connotes a conscious effort to read the grain and roll his
career against it. The fact is, the 33-year-old DiMarco is
merely well-grounded. He believes in Amy, whom he has known
since junior high. He believes in the Florida Gators' football
team, to which his devotion is unequivocal. He believes in the
Pings in his bag, the brand he has played since his sophomore
year with the Gators, and he believes in his swing, the basics
of which have not changed since the first time he hit the ball
as a seven-year-old in Orlando. "A coach? Never have had one,"
DiMarco says. "Dad put the club in my hand, and my swing is not
that much different now. I'm a feel player. I know what I need
to do to play well."

His approach is simple and, judging by the results, effective.
In a stretch of 13 tournaments, from last August through
February, he won twice, at the Buick Challenge in October and at
the Phoenix Open in January, and he had six other top 10
finishes. This year he's seventh on the money list, with
$1,675,902. Over the last 14 months DiMarco has made the cut in
31 of 32 starts.

Now DiMarco is looking forward to bigger game, playing Bethpage
Black. He feels a connection to the place because he was born in
Huntington, N.Y., 15 miles away. (His family moved to Orlando
when he was seven.) With his laser iron approaches and deft
short game, DiMarco has proved himself capable in major
championships. In nine majors he has finished 16th or better
five times. At the 2001 Masters, his first appearance at
Augusta, he led after each of the first two rounds and remained
among the contenders well into the final round. Then he got
anxious and, in his words, too quick: He tied for 10th, eight
strokes behind Tiger Woods. "I like the major atmosphere a lot,"
DiMarco says. "You know par is a good score. You don't have to
worry about shooting 62."

Most of all, DiMarco believes in himself. Professional athletes
are fierce competitors, but even in that company, DiMarco's
confidence stands out. In an age when the range is filled with
grinders, DiMarco refuses to follow the crowd. "Chris knows who
he is and what his life is about," says Florida coach Buddy
Alexander, who took over the Gators in 1987, when DiMarco was a
sophomore. The two remain close. "We get guys who don't like to
work out. We get guys who don't care about what they eat. We get
guys who don't like to practice. It's pretty unusual to get one
who fits all three categories and who can really play. Chris
simply wanted to play. He wanted to tee it up and beat somebody."

Alexander would have range days, during which he had his players
work on the parts of their game that needed it most. DiMarco,
Alexander says, would hit about 25 balls before he would begin
walking up and down the range looking for a game. In that regard
DiMarco hasn't changed. His brother Rick caddied for him at this
year's Masters when Chris's regular caddie, Pat O'Bryan, took
ill. "Chris told me, 'Meet me in front of the clubhouse 35
minutes before tee time,'" says Rick, a 38-year-old banker in
Orlando. "He hit 10 or 12 balls, then said, 'Give me three
[balls] to putt,' and left the range. He's always been
self-sufficient. You see Vijay Singh on the range for four
hours. If Chris tried to work like that, he would mess himself
up."

A couple of years ago DiMarco considered hiring a sports
psychologist. He met with Joel Fish over dinner two nights
before the first round of the 2000 SEI Classic. DiMarco
unburdened himself of the feelings he has had when he's inside
the ropes, then went out and won his first PGA Tour event, by
six strokes. He accepts the idea of using someone as a sounding
board, but that's it. "I don't think somebody who hasn't been
there could give me advice about how to react to standing over a
five-footer with everything on the line," DiMarco says. Says
Fish, "He has an excellent ability to monitor his emotional
thermostat and adapt it to what he needs. That's the key to golf."

DiMarco developed his competitive drive as the youngest of
Richard and Norma's three boys. Chris relishes the memory of
playing football as a kid with Rick and Mitch, who's now 41. The
older boys would get on their knees in the living room, and
Chris would try to burst through them. "He would run full blast,
and we would pick him up and drop him on the floor, hit him
hard," Rick says. Chris beams as he retells the story. "I never,
ever, gave them the satisfaction of seeing me cry," he says.
"When your brothers are eight and five years older than you are,
their paying attention to you is all you really care about."

Mitch and Rick played high school football, and Chris did too,
but only as a freshman at Lake Brantley High in Altamonte
Springs, Fla. At 5'2", Chris was a better fit for the golf team.
By his senior year he had reached 5'7", which allowed him to
look Amy Curtis, a cheerleader and a gymnast, in the eye and ask
her out. Amy was also a family friend. The DiMarcos and the
Curtises used to drive the two hours north to Gainesville and
tailgate together at Florida football games. "I remember telling
my little sister that I thought Chris was cute," Amy says, "and
she said, 'But he's so short!'" By the time he registered for
freshman classes at Florida in the fall of 1986, Chris was 6
feet tall. Amy transferred there before her junior year, and
they married in 1991. They have a son, Cristian, 6, a daughter,
Amanda, 4, and a cat named Titleist.

Chris's love for his family is palpable. His parents live a
little more than a mile away from the house he and Amy moved
into this spring. It's not too much of a stretch to say that
Chris's extended family includes the Florida football team. When
he dons his Ping hat in the locker room, he places on its side a
small cloth sticker of the Florida mascot. His driver has a
Gators headcover. This year DiMarco became one of 457 Bull
Gators, Florida boosters who donate at least $10,000 a year to
the athletic department, for which they get to buy eight
football season tickets ($168 each) and two parking passes.
"He's a regular guy," says Bryan Kornblau of Richmond, a fellow
Bull Gator and a close friend. "He likes to eat. He likes to
throw the football. He's got a heck of an arm. We're very loud
and obnoxious. I love going with Chris to away games. I feel
very protected. We went to Tallahassee for the Florida State
game and were walking to the stadium. We were the only guys in
orange and blue. All I will say is that Chris was very vocal."

When DiMarco is in Orlando, he is either playing a $2 Nassau
with his buddies or is at home with the kids, remote in his
hand. Amy, who's been to a Spinning class or two, teases him
about his sedentary lifestyle. "We rode bikes home from his
parents' house the other day, and I challenged him to a race,"
Amy says. "I let him get ahead, and at the end I blew right past
him."

Chris rarely works out--and doesn't feel guilty about it. "Once
I get out there and start walking, I get back in shape," he
says. As he speaks, he adroitly juggles two bags of Jelly
Bellys, plucking the flavors he likes out of one bag, then
depositing the banana, bubble gum and chocolate beans in the
other. Chris's ability to eat heartily, not work out and still
remain physically sharp enough to play causes Amy to shake her
head. "He has good genes," she says.

Only someone who believes in himself to the degree that DiMarco
does can persevere for as long as he did--eight years--before
getting established on Tour. DiMarco bounced from tours in South
Africa and Canada to the Nike tour and the PGA Tour, which he
first played in 1994 and '95 before losing his card. He spent
'96 in Orlando, playing the mini-tours and an occasional PGA
Tour event on a sponsor's exemption. His struggles could be
traced to a chronic case of the yips. "My senior year of
college, I won five tournaments," he says, "but it was hit or
miss with the putter. Being 21, I didn't know what a yip was."
Second putts began to haunt him. DiMarco, who had made a career
of relying on his own counsel, began listening to anyone who
approached him on the practice green. He tried long putters and
belly putters. He putted cross-handed. Nothing helped. "Once it
gets into your head," DiMarco says, "you stand over a putt and
think, 'What is this going to feel like?' That's what I was
fighting."

The yips burrowed into his subconscious. "I'd have a nightmare
of being on The Price Is Right," he says. Bob Barker would
invite him onstage, and DiMarco would play the Hole in One game.
In the TV version the contestant places six grocery items in
order, from least to most expensive. For every item correctly
valued, the contestant gets to move his ball closer to the hole
to attempt a putt to win a car. In DiMarco's recurring dream, he
did so well that he had a one-footer left to win the car. As he
stood over the putt, he awoke every time in a cold sweat. "I can
take a seven-iron and hit it 120 yards or 170 yards, and every
yard in between," he says. "To not be able to hit a four-foot
putt was horrifying."

In 1995, while waiting in the pro shop during a rain delay at a
mini-tour event at Disney World, fellow Tour pro Skip Kendall
suggested that DiMarco try the Claw, the awkward-looking grip in
which the right hand is open and palm down and steadies the
putter while the stroke is made with the left hand. DiMarco
quickly became comfortable with the setup. In '97 he finished
third in earnings on the Nike tour and regained his exemption on
the PGA Tour. He has improved his standing on the money list
every season since, from 111th to 62nd to 19th to 12th. More to
the point, DiMarco ranked 12th in putting last season and this
year is 10th.

Last year DiMarco mounted a late-season push for the Ryder Cup
team, only to finish 13th, three spots short of automatic
qualification. With his early success this year, he has turned
his eye toward the majors and the 2003 Presidents Cup, Nov.
21-23 in George, South Africa. Perhaps it should be left to U.S.
captain Jack Nicklaus to tell DiMarco that South African
television will not be carrying the Florida State-Florida game
that weekend.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DARREN CARROLL STICKING WITH WHAT WORKS The basics of DiMarco's swing have changed little since he first struck a golf ball at age seven. COLOR PHOTO: GARY BOGDON FAMILY AFFAIR Chris loves to putter around in the backyard with Amanda and Cristian. COLOR PHOTO: GARY BOGDON GATOR ATTACK DiMarco wears his love for Florida football on his sleeve, and it's amply evident elsewhere in his home and wardrobe.

"You see Vijay Singh on the range for four hours," says
DiMarco's brother Rick. "If Chris tried to work like that, he
would mess himself up." Gary Bogdon

"I like playing in the majors," DiMarco says. "You don't have to
worry about shooting a 62."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)