LEWISTON, NEW YORK | It’s hard to play golf in the shadow of a family member – let alone a successful, professional one.
This week at the Porter Cup at Niagara Falls Country Club, three players – Cristian DiMarco, Jimmy Jones and Mike Mattiace – are looking to make a name for themselves and break out from the ties to their notable golf surnames.
Most golf fans know the last name DiMarco because of Chris, the player who lost in a playoff to Tiger Woods at the 2005 Masters. But to Cristian, that’s just dad, not a one-time PGA Tour standout. That Masters was easily one of Cristian’s best weeks traveling with his father on Tour, too, but for different reasons.
“That was a good week because earlier in the week, I caddied for him in the Par-3 Contest, and on the ninth green the kids get to putt, and I made like an 8-footer down the slope in front of the crowd, and everyone just lost it,” Cristian said.
It’s hard for Cristian to endure the habit of people constantly calling him “Chris,” or always asking him how his dad is doing, and no doubt there is added pressure because of his last name, but Cristian believes he can start finding his own space because he says there is no comparison in their games.
“He’s a righty, I’m a lefty,” Cristian said. “I also hit it a bit farther. Yeah, sure, I’d like to have his career (seven worldwide professional victories), actually better than his career, but he did pretty darn good.
“I mean, a lot of expectations come with it, but I use it as a challenge and something to drive me to get better.”
He seems headed in that direction, too – at least on the amateur circuit – as he won the Florida Amateur last month. He was also just one shot back at the halfway point at the Porter Cup.
Jones’ path is a little bit different. It was his mother, Dawn Coe-Jones, who paved the way for him. Unfortunately, Coe-Jones, a three-time winner in her 24-year LPGA career, died last November after a battle with bone cancer, but not before giving Jimmy some guidance and memories to last a lifetime.
“She was my coach (growing up), and caddied a few times for me in Canada on the junior tours,” said Jones, who will finish his four-year college eligibility at the University of South Florida this coming season alongside DiMarco. “It was so nice to have a mentor right there, by your side, so it was cool to have an influence like that before I really even got into the game.”
Jones grew up playing hockey in Lake Cowichan, B.C., on Vancouver Island, where the family resided early in Jimmy’s life, but he started to love and play golf more as he got older.
“I used to (have pressure), and that’s probably why I always got so mad all the time,” Jones continued. “So maybe a little added (pressure) because people knew who she was and people knew who I was, but growing up I didn’t know these people. They would always have a story about my mom or something like that. Now that I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed my own game and now I play for myself and there’s not as much pressure on me.”
Since his mom’s passing, Jones just hopes to continue her legacy through his own game, but also keep the memories close to his heart.
“When I won the 2016 New Year’s Invitational, that was the first time she ever saw me win, and that was the last time she saw me play before she had surgery,” Jones said. “She was in the fairway, and when I made my putt to win, she gives a fist pump and a little clap. It’s a memory I’ll have forever.”
Golf runs in the Mattiace family. Mike’s grandfather still plays, his father is a teaching professional throughout Northeast Florida, his sister starts her freshman year for the women’s golf team at Division III Oglethorpe University next month, and of course, his uncle, Len, lost in a playoff at the 2003 Masters, won twice on the PGA Tour and now plays on the Web.com Tour.
Golf is just in the family genes.
“Everyone plays except Len’s kids,” Mattiace added. “It’s pretty funny.”
Mike will begin his sophomore year at the University of North Florida this fall, where last year he played in eight events and finished a career-high second at the Irish Creek Intercollegiate.
Growing up in a golf-centric family meant that Mike was taught at an early age that anything is possible and that no matter what you can achieve your dreams at the highest of levels. And he truly believes that.
For these players, expectations are high. But they are striving to develop their own golf identities.