Commentary

Marino making most of Open opportunity

Originally Published: July 17, 2009
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

TURNBERRY, Scotland -- The humps and hollows, the burns and bounces, the quirks that make links golf both wonderful and woeful can lead to a maddening experience when dealing with it for the first time.

Given that context, Steve Marino would have been excused had he blended into the crowd at the Open Championship while trying to figure out the faucets and where to find a few ice cubes.

[+] EnlargeSteve Marino
Ross Kinnaird/Getty ImagesPrior to this week's British Open, Steve Marino had never played a round of links golf or shot below 73 in a major championship.

But after five days in Scotland and four rounds of links golf in his life, Marino might as well be wearing a kilt while channeling his inner Tom Morris.

The third-year PGA Tour pro, who once shot 59 on the Grey Goose mini-tour, carded a 2-under-par 68 at Turnberry on Friday morning and found himself tied for the 36-hole lead with Tom Watson, wondering how it happened.

"In terms of scoring, it was probably one of the best scoring rounds I've ever had," said Marino, 29, who had never set foot in Great Britain before getting off the plane Monday. "I was really struggling off the tee. I hit it in the rough a bunch, missed a bunch of greens. I holed a shot from 116 yards for birdie, made a bunker shot for a birdie, and then there were points in the round where I felt like I was one-putting every hole.

"I really don't think I could have shot one stroke less today."

OK, so perhaps Marino was a bit fortunate in his second competitive round of links golf. But he added that 68 to a first-round 67 to reach the halfway point of the Open at 135, 5 under par. Before this week, Marino had competed in three majors and never scored better than 73.

Here he is in contention at Turnberry, and he played most of his round Friday in blustery conditions that saw him don a wool cap.

"He's a great kid and has a ton of talent,'' said friend and mentor Mark Calcavecchia, who is a stroke behind Marino. "He's really kind of figured it out in the last couple of years. He hits it far, really doesn't have any weaknesses in the game that I've seen the few times that I've played with him. It's great to see him playing well. It's just a matter of time before he wins.''

So what's more amazing: a links neophyte tied for the lead or a 59-year-old legend named Tom Watson who has five Claret Jugs in his collection and is eyeing a sixth? Both remain difficult to comprehend.

"It played so difficult out there today, with the wind early and the rain," Marino said. "It was kind of raining on and off early. It was one of the hardest courses I've ever played."

Marino had his share of adventures Friday, but it was nothing compared to just getting his first start in an Open Championship.

A week ago, he was competing at the John Deere Classic when it became apparent that he would be high on the alternate list for the Open, which uses the Official World Golf Ranking to fill the field when players drop out.

When Phil Mickelson notified Open tournament officials that he would not be participating because of family illnesses, Marino moved to first alternate. But he was in Illinois with no passport and virtually no clothes necessary for the typically dicey Scottish weather.

So Marino arranged to have his father, Steve, fly from Washington, D.C., to Marino's home in Tequesta, Fla., to fetch his passport and FedEx it to the John Deere Classic, just in case.

"He left Friday morning and flew back Friday night," Marino said.

Then on Sunday, Japan's Shingo Katayama withdrew, meaning Marino was in. He jumped on the charter arranged by the John Deere tournament and landed at Prestwick International Airport on Monday morning.

"I didn't have any expectations," said Marino, who has made 15 of 20 cuts this year, lost to Steve Stricker in a playoff at the Colonial and earned more than $1.4 million, but is looking for his first victory. "I've been playing well for a while, so I had some confidence in my game. This has been a little bit different, but the practice rounds and yesterday was like playing over in the States, with the perfect weather and no wind. But today it was quite a challenge and quite different."

Marino, who is staying in a cottage on the Turnberry grounds, woke at 4 a.m. for his 7 a.m. tee time and was greeted by blustery winds and intermittent rain. His manager had scurried about to secure some cold-weather clothing, and off he went, making three birdies and three bogeys on the front side before adding a bogey, a birdie and an eagle on the back.

When Marino finished, he was just a shot behind Japan's Kenichi Kuboya but in the comfort of a warm clubhouse.

Not bad for a guy who had never played a links course before this, never traveled to the U.K. and played less than a handful of rounds outside the United States.

"Obviously it's an advantage to have experience, but it can also be an advantage not to have experience," he said. "I haven't really experienced any nightmares over here yet. But watching it on TV my whole life, I've seen some crazy things go on. And I've got it in my head that some crazy things might happen to me, both good and bad.

"Yesterday I was in one of those bunkers and was kind of up against the face of it and didn't get it out and left it in there and made a double. But I was able to bounce back from that, because I just kept telling myself these kinds of things are going to happen over here. I don't think anybody in the whole field is going to go four days without making a double bogey or worse."

Marino, who is ranked 77th in the world, said he is not keen on attempting to drive on the left side of the road, although he's sampled some of the food. "I haven't tried haggis [a traditional Scottish dish], and I don't think I will. It doesn't look that great. But the food's been good. A lot of guys come over here and say they don't like the food, but it's been OK."

Many come over and say they don't like the golf, either. But so far, Marino is doing just fine.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com