Chris DiMarco calls himself "not a big practicer," but he toiled at Colonial Country Club's short game area last Monday before many players had checked in for the Bank of America Colonial. His season is at a crossroads. Plagued by injuries that started with a fall on a Colorado ski slope in March, he has made just six of 12 cuts, with a lone top-10 (T9) at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. With the exception of his European Tour victory in Abu Dhabi, in January, it's been a year to forget. His ribs hurt; his swing is off; his confidence is low. In other words, hide the women and children because another Florida Gator has gone haywire. And don't look now, but it's a Ryder Cup year. "We absolutely need him on that team," said a top American player.
"It hurts when I sleep, and the most when I get up in the morning," DiMarco said last Tuesday while standing in front of his locker. He pointed to the back of his rib cage, which he injured when he was cut off by a fellow skier and fell on his backpack, and its contents, on the last run of the day. "I ice it. I'm not going to stop skiing. My kids love it. I'll go next year, too."
He looks the same, but looks can be deceiving. By compensating for the injury when he walked, DiMarco developed tendonitis in his foot. He started moving closer to the ball at address to alleviate pain in his ribs. That led to a takeaway that strayed too far outside, a shut face and bogeys. DiMarco came into the Colonial at 155th in driving distance, which is typical, but he was also 147th in driving accuracy. More troubling still is that he'd dropped to 15th in the Ryder Cup standings, a fact that is of some concern to U.S. captain Tom Lehman.
"I told him that from now on he should let his wife carry the Schnapps bottle on the slopes, not him," Lehman said, laughing, as he ate breakfast at Colonial's player dining area. "He and [Stewart] Cink went skiing, up to Snowmass with this guy named Alden Richards, who's a friend of ours. He runs the Aspen Junior Golf Foundation and he teaches skiing. So I called Alden and said, 'Tell those guys if they blow up their knees I'm going to break their necks.' Next thing you know DiMarco's got injured ribs. He probably wouldn't want it known but he had a Schnapps bottle in his backpack and he landed on it." (The party line, which DiMarco told the press at the BellSouth Classic and again at the Masters, is that he'd fallen on "my sunglass case or my phone." So much for the party line.)
Cink, by the way, was even further down the Ryder Cup points list, at 28th, entering the Colonial, but was looking like he might round into form after a 6-under-par 64 on Thursday, good enough for the first-round lead. (He eventually tied for 4th place with six others.)
"He's been really struggling with his injury," Lehman said, "and he's just now starting to feel better. I told him, 'If you're hurting you need to make sure you're healthy. The meat of the schedule, the most points are still coming. You've got three majors coming up, the whole summer. You're not going to do yourself or me or the team any good if you keep playing hurt and keep playing crappy. Get healthy. Be at your best in June, July and August.'"
DiMarco has never finished better than 40th in six starts at Colonial; missing the cut was not as jarring as missing the cut at Augusta last month. What's more, he was pleased with his play the previous week. After a first-round 74 at the EDS Byron Nelson Classic, he shot 67-69-71. "My last three rounds were good," DiMarco said.
Much will change between now and August 20, the last day of the PGA Championship and the cutoff for accruing Ryder Cup points, but for now Lehman is looking at a whole lot of youth and not much experience in the top 10. He played nine holes with Vaughn Taylor, 30, prior to the Colonial, and has been singing the praises of Lucas Glover, 26. Arron Oberholser, too, is looking likely to qualify for the American side after a T4 at the Colonial. All three would-be Ryder rookies rack up a lot of top-10s, but strike no fear (yet) in the Europeans, unlike DiMarco.
"If he gets close, he'll obviously be a strong candidate for a pick," Lehman said. "If he keeps playing poorly it'll be a tough position [for me] to be in because our team needs his kind of fire."
Said DiMarco, who remains hopeful that he can turn his game around in time: "It's extremely unfortunate that I hurt myself and set myself back one or two months, but my goal is still the fourth week in September and getting on that team however I possibly can. If [Lehman] were picking right now, I wouldn't expect to get picked."
Cameron Morfit covers the PGA Tour as a Senior Writer for GOLF MAGAZINE. You can read his column every Monday on GOLFONLINE. E-mail him your questions and comments at email@example.com.