On the DiMarco

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Chris DiMarco knew it was his time this week. All the three footers fell. Every mistake offered opportunity. Even his beloved Florida Gators won in miraculous fashion.
 
Yes, the time had come for DiMarco to finally step into the PGA Tour's winner's circle. And fittingly enough, he did so at the inaugural SEI Pennsylvania Classic.
 
DiMarco carded a final-round 2-under-par 69 for a six-shot victory over Scott Hoch, Brad Elder, Jonathan Kaye, Chris Perry and Mark Calcavecchia. A decade removed from his outstanding collegiate career, DiMarco finally earned his first PGA Tour title.
 
The road less traveled is often covered in stones. Yet, in golf, that bumpy road is more oft traversed than not.
 
A brilliant amateur career means nothing on the professional level. DiMarco, like many others, found that out the hard way.
 
A Tour rookie in 1994, DiMarco finished 85th on the money list. The future was promising. Then came 1995. DiMarco endured the dreaded sophomore slump. He finished 174th in earnings and lost his Tour card.
 
'I had a terrible year (in 1995),' DiMarco recalled. 'It was mostly putting. I was not putting well at all. At the end of the year, I played in a mini-tour event and I was not playing well. And Skip Kendall showed me something, `look at this (putting) grip.'
 
'And I looked at him and told him, `You're crazy,' but I tried it and it kind of resurrected me.'
 
DiMarco had no official-playing status in 1996, but he did have a new putting grip, and with it, a new sense of confidence.
 
'I knew I was as good as anybody out here from tee-to-green,' said DiMarco. 'It was just a matter of getting the ball into the hole.'
 
In 1997, DiMarco used his 'claw-like' grip to finish third on the then-NIKE Tour. He even collected a victory at the Ozarks Open. Twenty-nine years old at the time, DiMarco had earned another shot in the big leagues.
 
DiMarco had a solid season in 1998. He picked up a pair of top-10s and finished the year 111th on the money list.
 
'I had a year that I proved to myself that I can play out here with that grip,' DiMarco said, 'and then, you know, last year I had a good year.'
 
Last year, DiMarco made the cut in 20 of 31 events played. He finished runner-up at the Southern Farm Bureau Classic, and ended the year 62nd in earnings.
 
As he did in 1999, DiMarco steadily improved in 2000. Entering this week's Pennsylvania Classic, the now-32-year-old was 40th on the money list. He had established himself as a respectable competitor, earning two more second-place finishes.
 
Yet, he still had something to prove.
 
Through three rounds at the in Paoli, Penn., DiMarco held a three-stroke lead. Though he had come close to winning before, this was virgin territory for DiMarco. He had never taken a lead into the final round of a PGA Tour event. And with the likes of Calcavecchia and Loren Roberts nipping at his heels, even DiMarco wondered how he would handle the pressure.
 
'I got a good message from Brent Geiberger (who won his first-career event at the 1999 Greater Hartford Open) last night,' said DiMarco. 'He said: `Focus on yourself, don't worry about anybody else.'
 
'I told my wife the message. I said, `You know, that's such good advice.' I said, `Don't get ahead of yourself, just do - you know, what you've been doing the last three days and it will be great.' I took that to heart and I did that.
 
'Me and my wife have been through so much and my family has been through so much. Being so close so many times, even on the (Buy.Com Tour), losing in playoffs - it's just never been easy.'
 
Remarkably, Sunday's final round was.
 
With his family on hand, DiMarco holed a 143-yard approach shot at the par-4 3rd for an eagle 2. That set the tone for the day.
 
'I heard a clank, and I didn't know if it was over the green and hit somebody or if it went in,' DiMarco recounted, 'and then everybody went crazy. That really relaxed me, perhaps a little too much.'
 
At 14-under, and leading by five shots, DiMarco held a comfortable cushion over the field. That comfort level decreased, however, with bogeys at the 4th, 9th and 11th holes.
 
Nervously leading Calcavecchia by two, DiMarco calmed himself on the par-4 12th. The former University of Florida All-America spun his approach shot back to eight feet, and then converted the birdie putt. Meanwhile, playing in the group behind DiMarco, Calc bogeyed the 12th to fall four off the pace.
 
'The birdie at the 12th was probably the biggest,' said DiMarco. 'I think Calc birdied 11 and I bogeyed. So we went to two shots and he bogeyed 12 and I birdied 12; so we're right back to four shots. That really helped me a lot.'
 
DiMarco played his final seven holes in 2-under-par. He strolled up the 18th with a six-shot lead, making his final tap-in easy to handle.
 
'I tell you, if it was only a one-shot lead, that eight-incher would have been really hard,' DiMarco said with a wry smile. 'But with five shots to spare, it was a really easy putt.
 
'It's a great feeling. It is what you hit those extra balls on the range for, what you hit those extra putts for.'
 
For the record, DiMarco never three-putted the tricky Waynesborough Country Club greens.
 
DiMarco has many reasons to be proud of his accomplishments this week. Five-hundred-and-forty-thousand of those will come from his winner's check. His perseverance has finally paid off, and in a big way.
 
But more than that, DiMarco has earned something money can't buy on the PGA Tour - respect.
 
'The Tour is an elite club as it is, and then the winner of a PGA Tour event is another one, even amongst itself,' said DiMarco. 'So I'm extremely proud of myself that I achieved that.'
 
DiMarco can also be proud of the fact that he'll be playing amongst the Tour's best at both the season-ending TOUR Championship (top 30 on 2000 money list) and the 2001-kickoff, the Mercedes Championships (all 2000 Tour winners.) DiMarco now stands 16th in season earnings.