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Marino wins Virginia State Amateur title

So much for the power of experience.

Youth was served when Cavalier second-year golfer Steve Marino defeated two-time champion Keith Decker July 9 to magically win the Virginia State Amateur Championship.

"It was great," Marino said. "I proved to myself I could beat anyone."

"It was so thrilling," said his mother, Fran Marino. "He puts so much time and effort into his game and it was nice to see his dedication pay off."

Marino, of Fairfax, truly took the long road to victory, as he faced three former State Amateur champs. Among that trio of foes was the third-seeded Decker, who Marino downed in the exciting final.

"I thought I would be more nervous the night before and not be able to sleep," Marino said. "But I actually wasn't that nervous and slept fine."

"Steven didn't even know that [Decker's] caddy was another golf legend, David Partridge," Ms. Marino said. "It was probably better off that he didn't know he was going up against two champions in one. Ignorance was bliss."

With a relaxed attitude, Marino finished off his five days of feverish golf with an impressive victory. He never trailed after the second hole of his morning round against Decker, a two-time champion.

"It was a long week and I was pretty tired at the end," Marino said. "I was ready to go home."

In what might be one of the understatements of the year, Marino describes his battles against many of Virginia's toughest golfers merely as a "long week."

That long week included Marino barely making the first cut after the first two days of stroke play, earning the 29th seed out of the 32 qualifiers.

"I wasn't thinking about getting a specific seed, I just wanted to qualify," Marino said. "I felt comfortable with the seed I got because I knew I had to play well to win each match."

The match play portion of the tournament began with a surprising triumph over 1992 winner and fourth-seeded Allen Barber. Marino then rolled through the competition until his semifinal match against the No. 1 seed, Faber Jamison.

It was in this late-round battle that Marino got a little lucky. Needing to hold his one-hole lead at the 17th, Marino sunk a long putt that helped ensure victory.

"Right then I kind of knew something was going on," Marino said. "I would be lucky to make that putt one out of 30 times. I think the putt sums up the whole week."

But Marino sees this win as more of a building block than a pinnacle. He said he can use this achievement to help him in his upcoming challenges, the toughest being the qualifier for the August U.S. Amateur Championship at Pebble Beach, the largest amateur tourney in the world.

"More than anything this was a confidence builder," Marino said. "I have a newfound confidence that I will try to use in achieving my goals."

Also integral in Marino's success now and possibly in the future is knowing when to take some time off.

"I took a pretty big break from golf after school ended because I was getting a little worn out," Marino said. "I think that really helped me become re-energized, and I really looked forward to playing in the State Amateur."

Marino's combination of talent and early-found experience should also help Virginia's golf team. The Cavs face off with many top programs in the ACC. These squads include perennial contenders Georgia Tech and Clemson.

Interestingly enough, Virginia is fortunate that Marino brought his talent to the University. Against his mother's suggestions, Marino chose the Cavaliers as his college choice.

"I'm from the South and wanted him to head down there for school," Ms. Marino said. "But he wanted to go to Virginia and it was his decision."

A decision that the Cavaliers should celebrate for a long time to come.

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