Rock Chalk Weekly: DiMarco Follows Passion for Golf From an Early Age
Written by Spencer Scheve, Kansas Communications Student Assistant
Kansas senior Gabriella “Gabby” DiMarco has spent her entire life around the game of golf. Growing up in West Chester, Pennsylvania, DiMarco loved spending time with her father, Steve. Her dad was a huge golfer and she took every opportunity to be with him whenever she could. When her dad would say that he was going to the golf course, she was always first to ask if she could come.
“He got me started playing golf around the age of five by taking me to the range and riding along the course when he played,” DiMarco said. “I just fell in love with the game instantly.”
After learning the ins and outs of the game from her dad, DiMarco started to play competitively throughout elementary and middle school in small events and participating in her first tournament at the age of 10.
Also a basketball player during her youth years, DiMarco entered West Chester East High School and made the Girls’ varsity basketball team her freshman year, being a solid athlete making the travel team as well. Raised in a family of basketball players, as her father and two uncles played hoops at Lycoming College, DiMarco on the other hand, took her own route and became the only competitive golfer in the family.
“It was not easy to give up playing basketball, but I knew I wanted to play golf, especially after (my) freshman year, realizing how small I was compared to the basketball team,” DiMarco said. “I spent most of my time playing golf, while the basketball team was lifting weights. Basketball is definitely my second sport. I loved playing it and think it is totally different than golf.”
At West Chester East, DiMarco discovered there was not a girl’s golf team in high school, but her passion for the sport led her to decide to go out for the boy’s golf squad.
“At our high school, we only had a men’s team, there was no women’s team,” DiMarco said. “I decided I would go out for the men’s team. At first I got there and everyone was thrown off, wondering what this girl is doing here.”
When it came time for the first tournament, West Chester East head coach Rich Rivello had DiMarco play. The event was laid back and some of the guys on the team became some of DiMarco’s best friends.
“I have always been known as ‘Gabby the Golfer.’ I played other sports and was pretty athletic, but from a young age, I knew that golf was my passion,” DiMarco explained. “Only the private schools have women’s teams, so it was pretty common to have maybe one girl on each team. I was the first girl to ever play on our boy’s golf team. It was definitely a neat experience. It is really the only sport where you can be co-ed, not need any rules or barriers, because in golf, you don’t need to be the tallest or hit the ball the farthest.”
For the first three years of DiMarco’s high school career, she played from the same tees as her fellow competitors. There were no differences between a man and a woman.
“That is the best thing to happen to my golf game, because for once I didn’t hit it the furthest and almost had a disadvantage, but made my game so much better,” DiMarco said. “That is one of the reasons I was able to get to this level here, playing for KU.”
While at West Chester East, DiMarco achieved a spot on the All-Chestmont First Team her junior and senior seasons (2009-10). She qualified for the Pennsylvania State Tournament all four years of high school, finished in the top-10 as a junior and was runner-up as a senior.
In DiMarco’s pursuit of the sport of golf throughout her life, she and her father traveled across the nation to play in many events in different states spanning from Niagara Falls, New York, to Daytona Beach, Florida.
“Traveling for golf was different than basketball,” DiMarco said. “In basketball, you go to the event, play and go home. In golf we got the chance to adventure and see places,”
When it came to DiMarco’s senior year of high school, she started looking at many colleges up and down the east coast.
“I was pretty set on staying in the Eastern time zone, since I am originally from Philadelphia,” DiMarco explained.
Kansas women’s golf head coach Erin O’Neil saw DiMarco play at a tournament in North Carolina. She sent her an email and they started talking. O’Neil invited DiMarco to visit KU, go to a basketball game and see what the university had to offer.
“In my head, I thought to myself there is no way I am going to Kansas. I come from a big family of basketball players and I am the only golfer,” DiMarco said.
Despite her original reservations, DiMarco took O’Neil up on her offer and decided to visit KU, during which she would get to attend a men’s basketball game. The moment she got off the plane she saw cornfields she said, “Forget this, this is not happening.” However, that mindset changed the moment she reached Mount Oread, as she instantly fell in love with the people, the atmosphere in Allen Fieldhouse and the academic staff.
“I knew I was going to go into business and loved the business school,” DiMarco recalled. “There really wasn’t anything I didn’t want here. I figured why should I even look anywhere else, this is the place for me.”
Off the course, DiMarco is hard working. She gives 100 percent to whatever she puts her mind to, whether it is academics or athletics. She is an outstanding student and has achieved many academic honors in her four years at KU.
“Grades were always really pushed at my high school and with my parents. I was always expected to get good grades. Here, our coaches are the same way. The team is expected to get the highest GPA over and over again,” DiMarco explained. “It just becomes natural with time management skills.”
On the course, DiMarco has also achieved continued success each year as a Jayhawk. During her freshman season at Kansas, she competed in 8-of-11 tournaments, including four as an individual. Her best finish of the year was a tie for 24th at the Marilynn Smith Sunflower Invitational in Manhattan, Kansas, with a three-round 233.
As a sophomore, DiMarco competed in 11 events and racked up three top-25 finishes. Like the previous year, her best finish of the season came at the Marilynn Smith Sunflower Invitational in Lawrence, with a three-round 228.
“I had a small injury coming out of sophomore year and it really started to affect my golf swing and my mental outlook on everything,” DiMarco recalled.
DiMarco sat down with the Kansas coaches at the beginning of her junior year and together they made a decision to play her as an individual in the fall season due to a partial tear in her hip flexor she had sustained before coming back to KU. DiMarco trusted her coaches and during that time, she worked on a couple of swing changes that she needed to make in order for her swing to be able to handle the pressures of competition on a more consistent basis.
“That was definitely going to be hard. I was going to take a lot of time and really it negatively affected my game in the beginning, but was a necessary change. I have a great relationship with my coaches and trusted what they thought,” explained DiMarco.
Any time a player makes a swing change, time is needed in order to make it a habit. The time spent on the range will transition to executing the new swing on the golf course and finally being able to perform the move in tournament conditions.
“Obviously there is a physical component to making a swing change, but there is an equal, if not greater, mental component that can be very challenging,” O’Neil said. “Therefore, we knew that by starting on making her swing changes at the end of her fall junior year we would have the time to allow her to work through the process and be ready to compete during her senior year.”
As a junior, in the five events that DiMarco played in the fall, she had one top-20 and one top-10 finish. Her top-10 finish was at the UMKC Kangaroo Invitational, where she shot a three-round 230 (+14) and finished tied for ninth. Her top-20 finish was at the Marilynn Smith Sunflower Invitational in Manhattan, where she shot a three-round 235 (+19) to finish tied for 12th.
“It was tough to take a step back and be in the individual position and a supporting role, but I think it really helped me to be the leader this year,” DiMarco said. “Not only to compete better and shoot lower scores, but to help motivate underclassmen.”
As a senior in 2014-15, DiMarco competed in all five of KU’s fall events. She earned one top-10 finish and one top-20 finish. The top-10 finish was at the Minnesota Invitational, where she tied for sixth by shooting a career low 54-holes 221 (+5) and also led the team in scoring. Her other top-20 finish was at the Marilynn Smith Sunflower Invitational in Lawrence, where she placed tied for 19th.
Over winter break, DiMarco continued to hone her skills on the course as she competed in the 89th Annual South Atlantic Women’s Amateur Championship, also known as the SALLY, at Oceanside Golf and Country Club in Ormond Beach, Florida. She finished tied for 21st in the 51-golfer field, shooting a four-round 311 (+23).
“Gabby has developed into a tremendous leader,” O’Neil said. “She has made a point to spend time each week with our freshmen helping them adjust to being a college athlete. Gabby and our other seniors also make it a priority to do little things that will make a big difference for our team chemistry like finding ways for the team to spend time together outside of the golf course.
“Her biggest strength is that she leads by example. She is an excellent student, puts in lots of time on her own practicing, takes care of her responsibilities and, most importantly, she represents KU with tremendous amount of class.”
By taking her own path, “Gabby the Golfer” deviated away from her family’s game of basketball, competed with boys to follow her passion with golf and left the east coast for the state of Kansas. While on her own path, DiMarco hopes to help the Kansas women’s golf program down a new path of its own—with a second-consecutive NCAA Championship appearance, which would be a first in school history.
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