Despite injury and tragedy, DiMarco has 'a great peace'
As if the pain of a back injury suffered while on a ski trip wasn't bad enough, the sudden death of his mother on July 4 compounded Chris DiMarco's agony. But here he is at Royal Liverpool, at peace with himself and within sight of his first major.
By T.J. Auclair, Junior Editor
HOYLAKE, England -- In the fall of 2005, Chris DiMarco became an American golfing hero. He holed a remarkable putt to clinch the Presidents Cup for the United States, received a bear-hug from no less than team captain Jack Nicklaus and was mobbed by his teammates in celebration.
The year 2006 could not have gotten off to a better start. DiMarco traveled to the United Arab Emirates in January to play in the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship on the European Tour's International schedule. With his wife on the bag caddying, he went on to win his first tournament -- PGA Tour, or otherwise -- since the 2002 Phoenix Open.
On top of all that, DiMarco stood at No. 3 in the Ryder Cup standings on the U.S. side, trailing just Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson to start the year.
Quickly, DiMarco's magical ride spoiled faster than a gallon of milk left out on the counter.
While on a family vacation in March at Snowmass Village in Aspen, Colo., DiMarco was skiing and wiped out. Unfortunately for DiMarco, he was wearing a backpack. Upon falling, a cell phone he had in the bag jammed into him, delivering what he called a "kidney-punch," which bruised his ribs and lower back.
Though he wasn't 100 percent healed from the fall, DiMarco tried to play through the pain. He sure didn't want to miss the Masters, where he finished second, losing in a playoff to Tiger Woods in 2005.
As he played on, DiMarco admits he developed some bad habits in an attempt to avoid putting any strain on his injured ribs.
Try as he might, DiMarco couldn't muster any strong finishes. In 12 starts after the injury, he missed seven cuts -- including the Masters -- and his best finish was a tie for 22nd in Memphis. The man who once looked like a lock to help lead the U.S. Ryder Cup team at the K Club in Straffan, Ireland, this September suddenly skidded all the way back to No. 20 in the standings.
All of that was bad from a professional standpoint, but personally, the worst was yet to come.
A little over two weeks ago, DiMarco was at Cog Hill, just outside Chicago, preparing for the Western Open. While he was there on Tuesday, July 4, he received devastating news.
His beloved mother, Norma, who had just arrived in Colorado for a vacation -- of all places -- collapsed suddenly in front of relatives shortly after checking in to a condo and died of an apparent heart attack. She was just 68 years old.
Understandably, DiMarco withdrew from the Western and flew home for a Friday funeral.
"She was a very special lady," DiMarco said. "She never rubbed anybody the wrong way, she never gossiped about anybody. She just went with the flow. And obviously the support she had for me was great. I had a loving, caring mother and father. All the memories I have of her are great."
This week at Royal Liverpool, DiMarco is doing his deceased mother proud. With a course-record 7-under-par 65 Friday, he will enter the final 36 holes of the 135th British Open just three shots off the lead.
How is he managing to play so well this week?
"I certainly have had a great peace about me this week," he said. "I never considered not playing the Open. My mother has always been a huge supporter of me. She followed me around so many times, drove me around as a junior player everywhere. She would be absolutely pissed off if I didn't play. It would bother her. So knowing what her wishes would be, she certainly wouldn't want me to sit home -- what would I do at home? There's nothing I can do."
DiMarco didn't make the trip overseas alone. He was joined by his son, his father-in-law and -- most importantly right now, the person who needs him most -- his father, Rich.
Rich, of course, wasn't exactly keen on traveling to England so soon after burying the love of his life.
"I made him come," Chris DiMarco said. "I told him Friday night [July 7], we had all the services Friday night. I said, 'You're going to the British.' He said, 'I don't know if I can.' I said, 'I already bought the ticket, it's not refundable.' I know how much he likes money, he doesn't like to waste my money either. He wasn't going to do it."
If DiMarco took anything out of the sudden passing of his mother it was a new outlook on life.
"A couple of weeks ago reality set in," he said. "The reality is I'm playing a game. It's not life. Life was two weeks ago. And bad shots are -- it's a bad shot. It's not the end of the world. A missed putt is a missed putt. It's not the end of the world. I think everything is in perspective. And I think I have a good sense about where I'm at and what I'm trying to do. I'm not getting overly upset with bad shots. I'm just at a good frame of mind and good peace."
If anyone can relate to DiMarco right now, it's the leader, Tiger Woods. Of course, Woods lost his father, Earl, to a long battle with cancer in May.
"I haven't seen him at all this week," Woods said of DiMarco. "I wish I could see him and say hello and just talk to him a little bit. If anyone knows, it's probably me because I just went through it myself."
All things considered, DiMarco is handling himself exceptionally well, which is wonderful, especially for his dad.
"He was a little sad coming over, obviously with every right to be," DiMarco said. "It's been tough. He cries, he stops crying, it's great. I think that's the one good thing that's great about him. He's very emotional and he gets it out, and it's good for him. I told him, 'You can cry all you won't, don't worry about it, my shoulder is always here.'"
With any luck -- maybe even a little help from Norma -- the DiMarco family will be able to shed tears of joy Sunday evening.