Thursday, July 10, 2008

GNN: Home Cookin' Good For Marino

Steve Marino had a homecoming last week, of sorts. The Fairfax native was in town for the playing of the AT&T National at Congressional Country Club. Marino earned his way into the invitational tournament by virtue of his performance on the PGA Tour during the 2008 season.

He has improved over his 2007 campaign in which he won $1,179,165 in 31 starts with four top 10 finishes. This season, in just 19 starts, Marino has made $1,146,711, has a second place finish, and has almost as many top 10s as last year (3). He has skyrocketed in scoring average – from 94th last season to 19th so far in this campaign. For Marino, though, it was not a direct path from Fairfax to success on the PGA Tour. After graduating from the University of Virginia, Marino began his professional career on the Canadian Tour through 2004. He then joined the Golden Bear Tour in 2004 and shifted to the Gateway Tour in 2005. While playing the Winter Series on that circuit in 2005, he began trying to Monday qualify for Nationwide Tour events. In his first breakthrough, at Richmond, he finished 10th – which allowed him a window to gain Nationwide Tour status for 2006. After spending a season on that tour, he made it to the PGA Tour in 2007 after graduating from Q-School by finishing 8th. Over the past five years, Marino has worked very hard to get to the position he is in now.

In the first round, he took advantage of the opportunity. He fired a first round 65 that gave him the lead. He peaked in that round, though, only breaking par again in the final round with 69. Finishing at -4, he finished tied for 24th and eight shots back of tournament winner Anthony Kim.

Still, he enjoyed the opportunity to play in his home town, particularly for the support of family and long-time friends. “[I]t definitely feels good to have them out there supporting me, and it's fun. I mean, when you have got people out there yelling and screaming, it kind of takes your mind off things, and makes you laugh a little bit.”

While that may have been true in the first few rounds, the local crowd actually made quite a fuss on the weekend. Late in the round on Sunday, Jeff Maggert – playing in the group ahead of Marino - and his caddie specifically singled out some of Marino’s supporters for their rowdiness. Marino asked them to tone it down a bit, but denied the chance to go on record with any comments Maggert may have made to him directly.

Following the event, Marino called into question his putting, which he admitted has been a struggle for him lately, but remained positive in his outlook for the season. “[The finish] definitely gives me some confidence. We've got the FedExCup Playoffs coming up, so I'm trying to round into form for those. I'd like to have some more good finishes and try to get at least in the Top-30.”

Despite the crowd incident and the disappointing weekend with the flat stick, Marino still appears to be headed toward a future PGA Tour victory. With seven top 10s in one and a half seasons, the breakthrough appears imminent. Marino, though, remains patient. “It's going to take a lot of patience and just thinking positively and just staying in the present and not trying to get too ahead of myself.”

That quest continues this week at the John Deere Classic. He finished the opening round at -2 and tied for 46th, but five off the pace set by Ken Duke.


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