DiMarco talks and plays and drives the same way--fast. At home in Orlando, in the gated community around the Heathrow Country Club, he zips around at speeds up to 40 mph in his souped-up golf buggy, late for his regular game with 15 or 20 fellow pros and low-handicap buddies (the car-wash guys among them). They all will tell you that DiMarco, who has earned almost $16 million in 10 full seasons on the PGA Tour, will cut off your fingers to win a $400 bet. On tee shots DiMarco will routinely have his ball in the air within 15 seconds of the preceding player picking up his tee. More typical on Tour is 30 to 50 seconds. His struggle to deal with slow play will be magnified at Pinehurst, where the first two rounds, with the tricky chipping and putting, could take nearly six hours.
DiMarco grew up in a sports-crazed house. Rich played basketball at St. John's in the mid-1950s and was coached by two legends: Joe Lapchick and Lou Carnesecca. Rich went on to become a successful executive in the wholesale food business in Florida, but he's a New Yorker--his Italian father was a hairdresser in the Bronx--at heart. Chris's mother, Norma, grew up in Queens, the daughter of a Finnish gravestone maker. Norma and Rich met at the beach, and on their early dates went bowling and to the driving range. Rich would sleep in his car to get a tee time at Bethpage, and he set pins to get free frames and lessons from Hall of Fame bowler Andy Varipapa.
Without ever expressing it, Norma and Rich raised their three sons never to forget their ethnic and working-class roots and to stay in touch with their inner New Yorker. "Don't take no crap from nobody" is a family credo, the firstborn, Mitch, says. The senior DiMarcos and the three sons with their families live within a few miles of one another. "Chris and his brothers were raised like Norma and I were raised," Rich says. "You don't get anything for nothing."
When Chris was seven, the DiMarcos moved from Long Island to a three-bedroom ranch house outside Orlando. The development had a nine-hole course with a double-wide trailer for a pro shop. The DiMarcos helped clear the land for the second nine, Chris moving limbs and small rocks. "It was never an upper-crusty thing," Rich says of the course. "Chris doesn't have that upper-crusty thing in him."
What he has is the willingness, after getting knocked down, to get up and try again. He got that from his brothers, Rick, who is five years older than Chris, and Mitch, who is 7 1/2 years older. When Mitch was 17, he and another big-guy high school football player, buddy Brad Estes, developed a three-kid indoor game. Mitch would defend one goal, Brad the other. Chris got the job of trying to penetrate the goals. He was the game ball. He took a beating, but he loved it.
Before Chris was a golfer, he was a football player. One year he was on an area all-star team that played a squad from Mexico, which was on a goodwill tour. Chris apparently never got the goodwill part of the message. He knocked two kids out of the game and was called for spearing. He was the quarterback, age 10.
Chris learned how to play golf from his father, but he wasn't recruited by any big-time college programs. So he walked on at Florida and made the team as a freshman. (The sorrow in his life today is that he is not the football coach at Florida. He and his brothers and friends make it to most home games, and Gators football is promoted on his golf bag alongside the brand names that pay for the space.) DiMarco developed his game quickly in four years at Florida, but his head lagged behind. He was a prolific club thrower; any offending club could wind up in the weeds 30 or more yards away. "You can be all-world," Alexander often told him, "when you learn to control yourself."
He worked out his club-throwing issues as he moved up through the pro circuits, playing in South Africa, in Canada and on the old Hogan tour, always with Amy on the bag as the young couple tried to save money. Club chucking was only one symptom; self-control is an underlying issue for all golfers. In that regard DiMarco had two big breakthroughs at the Masters this year. Playing in the final twosome with Woods on Sunday, DiMarco hit his A-plus tee shot on the 1st hole. Woods's drive was 75 yards longer. "It is intimidating," DiMarco says, reliving the experience. In years past he might have marched down the fairway thinking, Why am I so average? At Augusta he acknowledged the feelings of intimidation and dealt with them: All I can do is knock it on the green first and put it close. DiMarco did that often enough, closing with a 68 to Tiger's 71, finishing the 72 holes seven shots clear of the field and setting up the sudden-death playoff, which Woods won on the first hole with a birdie.
When it was over Woods said to him, "It was a battle." To win golf's big events, you sometimes, in the late going, have to shed the Tour's everyday stroke-play mentality, switch gears and adapt a match-play mentality. Nobody does this better than Tiger.
The second discovery may have been even more valuable. Woods's pace of play generally is deliberate, but on Masters Sunday it was painfully slow. DiMarco did not fight it. He was playing the best golfer in the world, being watched by tens of millions around the world. Those in the gallery were openly rooting for the underdog, who had won over a lot of people with his feisty, nationalistic fist-pumping play in the Ryder Cup. (On the 6th hole of the second day at Oakland Hills, Sergio Garc�a of Spain, DiMarco's opponent--and friend--put his arm around DiMarco and said, "You know, there is a fine line between playing excited and being over the top." In the privacy of the next tee, OB said what DiMarco was thinking, "Hey, Serg--this is a home game.") At Augusta, DiMarco followed Tiger's lead. He started checking out the little shots every which way too.