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Rhode Island (RIGA) State Stroke Play Championship

BY PAUL KENYON Journal Sports Writer

EAST PROVIDENCE, RI (August 17, 2005) -- Eugene DiSarro changed his golf image forever yesterday.

No longer will he be best known as a leading candidate for "Mr. Congenialty," an outgoing, excitable guy who roots for everyone. As of yesterday, he is a champion. He now is a member of the exclusive club of players who have won a Rhode Island Golf Association major.

Playing on his home course, DiSarro put together a near-flawless 4-under-par 66 yesterday to pull away from a tightly bunched field. Combined with his even-par 70 in the morning, it gave DiSarro a 54-hole total of 4-under 206 and a two-stroke victory over former player of the year Billy Auger in the Stroke Play Championship at Metacomet.

"Wow," DiSarro said as he savored the moment. "Wow. I'm a champion."

It was a hugely popular victory, as evidenced by the number of players and Metacomet members who came by to hug or high-five DiSarro.

"I'd love to win," said Auger, DiSarro's partner in the RIGA Four-Ball. "But I'm happy for him. I really am.

"It's great to see him win a tournament. He's been gridning it out for years," Auger said. "He's a great player. I don't think he gets the due he deserves sometimes."

The victory culminated a six-year effort by DiSarro. Now 43, the auto buyer did not play state events until six years ago.

"I didn't think I was good enough," he said. "At Metacomet, there are a lot of good players -- very, very strong players who do not play in state tournaments but should, because they are that good."

DiSarro decided to try at the urging of RIGA Hall of Famer Paul Quigley.

"Paulie took me under his wing and talked me into it," DiSarro said. "Paul's like my dad. Any time you need a pick-me-up, he's there."

DiSarro became an immediate factor. He has contended in numerous events. Until yesterday, though, he had never won, in part because he has had trouble believing in himself.

"He rattles himself. He's such a solid player, but sometimes he doesn't give himself the credit he deserves," said Auger, who has combined to finish in the top four with DiSarro in each of the three years they have been a team in the Four-Ball. "It's great to see him break through. Now you don't know what can happen. Once a guy breaks through and wins a major, watch out."

In typical worrywart form, DiSarro almost did not play in the Stroke Play. While he has been playing well, he was frustrated with not winning and concerned about having the event on his home course. Quigley got him to play.

"I had to talk him off the ledge," said Quigley, who finished 11 strokes behind DiSarro.

DiSarro won like a champion. After the morning 18, the event was up for grabs. Steve Royer, the assistant superintendent at the New England Country Club, fired a 66 to surge into the lead at 138. However, with scoring good in the nice weather and excellent course conditions, the field was bunched.

In the final round, DiSarro went out in 33. He hit all nine greens in regulation. He had three birdies and one bogey, a three-putt at five. That got him to 2-under and in the lead. However, Tom McCormick, the State Amateur and Public Links champion who eventually finished third, and Jason Pannone, the defending champion who tied for fourth, were within one stroke. Four others were at even par, two behind DiSarro. DiSarro never knew where he stood.

"I didn't know until I finished," he said. "The only thing I knew was that Paul (Quigley) came out and told me to just keep doing what I was doing."

Smoking a cigarette at times to calm down -- "I can be a little hyper," DiSarro said in a major understatement -- he birdied 11 and three-putted 12 for bogey. He won it when he rolled in a 10-footer for birdie on 15, then sank a sliding 18-footer on 16.

Routine pars on the last two holes gave him the long-sought title. DiSarro spoke about how his playing partners for the final day, Conor McMahon and David Marino, two collegians, routinely outdrove him by 40 yards. But with his own swing (he barely uses his legs), he was constantly down the middle and on the greens.

He hit all 18 in regulation. And this time, everyone was congratulating him when it was over.

"Every one of the guys out here is my friend. The top 30 guys or so who consistently play, we're all friends. It's like our own mini-tour," DiSarro said. "I've never seen a guy root against anyone else. We all like each other."

DiSarro just happens to be one of the most popular players in the group. But now that's only part of his image. That and being a champion.

For complete results, click on the tournament link above (amateurgolf.com membership requested).

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