Santacroce strives for shooting in the 60s

COURTESY PHOTO | Flagler College (Fla.) junior Marie Santacroce with Santiago Cavanagh, Flagler’s director of golf.

It’s incredible what a win can do for an athlete’s confidence. That could go double for a golfer.

Mattituck resident Marie Santacroce had made some vast improvements in her golf game during her first two and a half years of college, including winning one-day tournaments, but she had never won a two-day, 36-hole event.

Until this fall.

The Flagler College junior scratched that off her golf bucket list when she won the 11th annual Flagler Fall Slam tournament at the Marsh Creek Country Club in St. Augustine, Fla., on Oct. 29.

“Even last year I could tell my game was getting better, but I still never had a win,” Santacroce said in a phone interview. “So I was getting a little disappointed. I didn’t have a stellar summer, but I still played well. I didn’t get any great results. I came back and I was playing really solid. I was in a really calm mind frame. I wasn’t too obsessed about getting that first win. I just let it happen and it was good and very satisfying.”

Keeping her emotions in check has been a big part of Santacroce’s golf game.

The Fall Slam tournament was a perfect example. Santacroce entered the final day three shots behind the leader, but fired a 1-under-par 71 to top the 80-women field with a 1-over 145. That tied the Fall Slam record for 36 holes.

“She’s very calm,” Flagler’s director of golf, Santiago Cavanagh, said. “She’s able to stay in the moment. One bad shot doesn’t make or break her. She doesn’t worry about another player.”

Conversely, Cavanagh doesn’t worry about Santacroce.

“From the moment she came here she has gotten better and better,” he said. “She has a great work ethic. You can see it in the class room and in practice. She’s constantly finding a way to get better.

“Now when she has a good round, it’s a great round. … I don’t see a weakness now. She’s just solid all-around.”

But forever her own biggest critic, the 5-foot-4 Santacroce sees plenty of room for improvement.

“My ball striking has gotten much better, especially with my long iron,” she said. “I’ve always had a strong short game because I normally don’t hit a lot of greens in regulation. So, improving on that allowed me to hit more greens and make more birdies and go lower, which has drastically brought down my scores from the mid-seventies to the low-seventies. Hopefully, I can keep improving on that and get even into the sixties.

“Being able to shoot in the sixties consistently would be really an amazing thing for any golfer,” she said. “Most of the pros, that’s where they are. You’ll see them, the leaders would come in at 66, 67. They do really well, it would be like 62, 63.”

Santacroce shot a 69 at the Florida Southern tournament as a freshman.

“I definitely can do it again,” she said. “I would like to do it more frequently. That’s something I’m working for.”

The Mattituck High School graduate has been piling up the honors on the links and in the classroom. She was the Peach Belt Conference rookie of the year and earned All-Conference honors last year. She also has made the Peach Belt Honor Roll twice.

Santacroce came home for Thanksgiving and will return to school for final exams. She will come back to the North Fork for the winter break and will continue to hone her game, even if it’s not on a golf course.

Santacroce said that she plans to train in a local gym, at an indoor range or her house “just working on my swing, like technique, because when I am in season, for a golfer it’s very hard to focus on a major swing change. It’s just feeling what works on that particular day. I’m going to try to improve my swing more than going out and playing over the winter break because I don’t want to get sick.”

She wants to be in top shape for her next tournament — the World Golf Invitational in St. Augustine on Feb. 9.