NOTRE DAME, INDIANA | Chris DiMarco knows it’s in there someplace.
Digging it out is the challenge now.
Rounds of 66-66 in the first two rounds of the U.S. Senior Open at Notre Dame’s rain-softened Warren Course are the most encouraging signs yet that DiMarco, now in his second season as a senior golfer, may find a measure of the form that made him a familiar name on PGA Tour leaderboards 15 years ago.
“It’s a lot easier game when you’re hitting the ball where you’re aiming and this is the first time in a while,” DiMarco said Friday.
He turned 50 last August but DiMarco has still not finished inside the top 30 of a PGA Tour Champions event. Putting himself in the top 10 halfway through the Senior Open was a big step because it was the first true cut DiMarco has made since finishing T78 in the PGA Tour’s Puerto Rico Open in 2014.
The game is never easy, but 13 birdies over the first 36 holes makes a big difference, particularly for a player still finding his comfort zone in this new segment of his career. DiMarco made a small swing tweak recently – it involves opening the club earlier on his takeaway – and the results have been immediate.
He’s able to consistently hit soft fades and with the course essentially defenseless after an abundance of recent rain, DiMarco has been aggressive.
“It was nice to kind of earn this right (to play the weekend),” DiMarco said. “It feels good. Every time you get to go on the weekend, in a major especially, it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a good battle.”
By his estimation, DiMarco has played more golf over the past six months than he played in the previous three-plus years. Like a lot of players in their late 40s, he found himself waiting to turn 50. He did television work for Golf Channel but he was stepping into a bit of the unknown when he turned 50 last August.
“It’s hard to get the confidence, but it’s easy to lose the confidence, and I can go back and look and know that I did it in those circumstances. But like I said, (it was) 14 years ago.” – Chris DiMarco
What kind of expectations did DiMarco have for himself?
“None,” he said. “None.
“I just tried to learn what it was about out here. Everybody has been fantastic out here. Everybody has been like: Stay patient. You’ll get it. It’ll come.”
There have been moments. A week after shooting 83 in the first round of the Senior PGA Championship at Oak Hill, DiMarco shot 65 in the first round of the Principal Charity Classic. Better ballstriking last week at the American Family Championship didn’t translate into lower scores because he didn’t putt well, but the first two days at the Warren Course have been different.
“I know what it’s like to contend in majors. It’s in there somewhere, and it’s just a matter of me, again, keeping the nerves in check and just going out and just playing the kind of golf that I’ve been playing,” DiMarco said.
Fourteen years ago, it was DiMarco who pushed Tiger Woods to a playoff at Augusta National, ultimately losing the Masters on the first extra hole when Woods made a birdie to win his fourth green jacket.
That was the Sunday when Woods holed his legendary pitch shot from off the 16th green, the one that tumbled in slow-motion style on its final turn. That put Woods two ahead with two to play but a pair of bogeys put him in a playoff with DiMarco, who nearly holed a chip shot on the 72nd hole that would have won the green jacket.
Like so many others, DiMarco saw Woods cap his comeback with a victory at Augusta in April, rekindling memories of what happened in 2005.
“Anytime you can draw from past, good things, and bring out the confidence that you had in those things … golf is a hard sport,” DiMarco said. “It’s hard to get the confidence, but it’s easy to lose the confidence, and I can go back and look and know that I did it in those circumstances. But like I said, (it was) 14 years ago.”
DiMarco’s focus is on what is in front of him rather than what happened years ago.
“Saturday is the day to kind of make sure you stay within earshot. It’s the old cliché, right, you just want to have a chance with nine holes to go on Sunday,” DiMarco said.
“To me 27 holes you have to get yourself in position, to maybe either chase down or keep the lead or whatever it might be going into that last nine holes, and that’s going to be a shootout, that last nine holes.”
It’s been a while since DiMarco has been in that position. He hopes to change that at the Warren Course.
Chris DiMarco during the second round of the U.S. Senior Open at the Warren Golf Course at Notre Dame. Photo: Chris Keane, Copyright USGA
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