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Breaking through the comfort zone

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LA QUINTA, Calif -- If you're one of those golfers who can't seem to break through your handicap, look to Scott Mraule for hope. 

Mraule is competing in the Championship Flight of this year's National Championship. Back in 2007, he won the National Championship in the Sarazen Flight in just his second year playing golf. 

In a matter of a few years, he's taken his game from a 20-handicap into the Championship Flight with a handicap under 4. 

But speaking with Mraule, you'll discover his rise isn't just a case of dumb luck. 

'I go out to the range every night and hit 150-300 balls,' he said. 'I work on putting in my living room, when I can find the time I work on the short game.' 

That repetition, plus a lot of action in competition - he's played 13 events in 2011 - leads to confidence. 

'It's about forgetting bad shots,' he said. 'And having trust in yourself.' 

Mraule certainly has no fear of going low. He's carded as low as 68 and has gone under par many more times. He thinks he can play competitively for the next ten years.

After two days at nationals, Mraule finds himself with more work to do. He sits 18 shots behind K.C. Fox.

The anti-sandbagger

Amateur events can be havens for seasoned sandbaggers who slyly raise their handicap all season long only to score low in the right tournament with the biggest prize. 

But a prime example of personal pride over handicap-massaging is Am Tour finalist Mark Titone from Naperville, Illinois. Mark, 52, joined the Chicago North Am Tour this year and had a stellar season in the Sarazen (12-15.9 hcp), playing in 22 events. After three runner-up finishes, he won his 8th event at Ravisloe Country Club. 

His strong play in 2011 meant his handicap was dropping fast, and on the eve of the final tournament before the National Championship, Mark chose to play even though it would assuredly mean his handicap would drop below 12. Doing so would put him into the Sr. Hogan flight (8.0-11.9), which meant against players nearly four shots better at Nationals. 

But Titone told his local tour that his goal was to play in the best flight he could, and the satisfaction of making a higher flight took president over winning in a lower flight. And here his is at PGA West this week in the Hogan Flight. 

After two rounds, Titone finds himself well off the pace at PGA West in 102nd place. But if his rookie season's rapid improvement is any indication, look out for him at Nationals next season.