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 die 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 die Nike tour and die 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.