11/26/13 7:00am
11/26/2013 7:00 AM

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.

08/21/13 9:00pm
08/21/2013 9:00 PM
GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Golfer Marie Santacroce of Mattituck, shown here practicing at Island’s End Golf and Country Club in Greenport, was named to her conference All-Academic team.

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Golfer Marie Santacroce of Mattituck, shown here practicing at Island’s End Golf and Country Club in Greenport, defended her Long Island Women’s Amateur Stroke Play Championship.

GOLF: Santacroce retains L.I. title Marie Santacroce of Mattituck shot a 1-over-par and then won a four-hole playoff over Casey Durant of Eisenhower Park Golf Club to defend her Long Island Women’s Amateur Stroke Play Championship last Wednesday at the Bethpage State Park Red Course in Farmingdale.

Santacroce, representing Island’s End Golf and Country Club, shot a 77 in the first round on Aug. 12 before following that up with a 76 in the second and final round. She held a three-stroke lead going into the second round. Durant had a two-day total of 149.

On the fourth playoff hole, Santacroce two putted to win the championship.

RUNNING: Year 15 for Sound to Bay The 15th annual Sound to Bay 10K and 5K will be run Saturday, starting at 9 a.m. at Iron Pier Beach in Northville and concluding at South Jamesport Beach. Gerry O’Hara of East Rockaway, making his debut in the 10K event, won last year’s race in 36 minutes 29.1 seconds. The top female finisher was Maria Pavkovitch of Union City, N.J. Her time was 39:23.2.

The winners of the five-kilometer race were Patrick McCabe (18:42.7) and Patricia Alcivar (20:38.2).

FOOTBALL: Four carries for Maysonet Cleveland Browns running back Miguel Maysonet ran the ball four times for 5 yards in a 24-6 preseason win over the visiting Detroit Lions last Thursday night. Maysonet, a former Riverhead High School and Stony Brook University standout, has 30 yards from 13 carries in two preseason games for the Browns (2-0). He has also caught two passes for 13 yards. The Browns have injury issues at running back. Trent Richardson was listed as out for Saturday night’s game at Indianapolis with an ankle injury. Dion Lewis broke his left leg and will require surgery.

10/03/12 7:00pm
10/03/2012 7:00 PM

SAILING: 125 boats expected for regatta One hundred and twenty-five sailboats are expected to hit the water Saturday morning for the 19th annual Whitebread “Round the Whirl” Regatta. The regatta will start in New Suffolk at 8:35 a.m. Seven cruising and racing divisions will be contested as sailors navigate a 30-mile race that will round Shelter Island and return to New Suffolk.

COLLEGE WOMEN’S GOLF: Santacroce shoots 70 Marie Santacroce of Mattituck, a sophomore at Flagler College (Fla.), shot a 2-under-par 70 at the Lady Bearcat Invitational in Hilton Head, S.C., on Sunday. She scored a 76 on Saturday to go along with her 70 on Sunday for a two-day total 146 and a tie for sixth place in the 66-player field.

08/21/12 8:00pm
08/21/2012 8:00 PM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Marie Santacroce of Mattituck, winner of the recent Long Island Women’s Stroke Play Championship, practicing at Island’s End Golf and Country Club in Greenport on Monday.

It all started with an offhand remark, intended to be humorous more than anything else, but it changed Marie Santacroce’s life.

Santacroce disliked golf. She found it boring to watch. So, one day when she was 14, she joked to her father, John, who was playing a lot of golf at the time, that she was going to try out for the Mattituck High School boys golf team (Mattituck does not have a girls golf team). As Marie recalled, her father perked up upon hearing this and excitedly brought her into the backyard to practice shots with her.

“I’m the son he never had,” said Marie.

Marie Santacroce may not have realized it at the time, but that impromptu practice kick-started a promising playing career. All it took was the right swing, and Santacroce became hooked to the sport she used to disdain.

“I thought it was awesome right away,” she said. “Once I hit that shot exactly the way I wanted to, I fell in love with the game.”

Santacroce has remained a golf addict ever since. She made Mattituck’s junior varsity team as a freshman before being promoted to the varsity squad as a sophomore.

“I never saw such a dramatic improvement in a kid from her freshman year to her sophomore year,” said Mattituck’s former coach, Jim Underwood.

Santacroce and Morgan Gildersleeve were the only two female members of Mattituck’s “boys” team. In retrospect, practicing and playing against boys may have helped Santacroce’s game.

“I loved it,” she said. “Playing with the boys, it made me want to hit it farther, to help me keep up with them.”

The improvement continued. Santacroce was Mattituck’s No. 1 player for most of her senior season. She finished that season as the team’s most valuable player with a 39-stroke average for nine holes and became the only Mattituck girl to receive all-county recognition.

From there, Santacroce went where so many talented golfers go — to Florida. She brought her skills to St. Augustine, Fla., where she made quite an impact as a freshman for Flagler College, an NCAA Division II team.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Marie Santacroce, who will be a sophomore at Flagler College (Fla.), was the Peach Belt Conference Tournament freshman of the year.

Santacroce played in all 12 events that Flagler competed in this past season. She won one event, a dual match against Chicago State in which she carded a 3-over-par 75. She finished the season with two top-five and four top-10 finishes, not to mention a team-leading 80.1 stroke average per round. She set the record for lowest 18-hole round, a 69, in the Peach Belt Conference Tournament. This past April, she was selected by conference coaches as the conference’s freshman of the year, becoming the first Flagler athlete in any sport to receive such an honor.

But what Santacroce rates as her greatest golfing achievement came on July 31 when she won the Long Island Women’s Amateur Stroke Play Championship on the Bethpage State Park Red Course. She fired a 4-under-par 146, which was four strokes better than second-place Denise Martorana. Santacroce led the field by two strokes after shooting a 74 in the first round. The Mattituck woman topped it off with a 72 in the second and final round.

“My gosh, she’s just really taken off,” Underwood said. “Breaking 70 puts you in an elite class.”

Underwood said Santacroce is one of the top two golfers he has coached, Evan Martilotta being the other.

Santacroce, who is majoring in psychology at Flagler, may have the ideal temperament for a golfer. She said she is able to keep her emotions under control on the golf course. “It’s like a comfort zone for me,” she said. “I’m pretty good at keeping my emotions level in tournaments. I don’t get too excited when I’m playing well and I don’t get too down when I’m playing poorly.”

A good reason for that may be that Santacroce spends so much time on the golf course, practicing daily. “I love practicing,” she said. “I love playing. I love getting better.”

Flagler coach Santiago Cavanagh said: “There are players that say how much they work and there are players that show you how much they work. She is a player that shows you how much she works.”

As a late bloomer to golf, it wasn’t easy for Santacroce as a high school player to get the attention of college coaches. Cavanagh first saw Santacroce play in a tournament in St. Augustine the winter before her high school graduation. “He signed me right there at the tournament,” said Santacroce.

“All it took me to watch was just a couple of shots,” Cavanagh said. “I knew she was the real deal. The first thing that you see is her swing. She has a perfect swing out there, and she’s very consistent.”

Santacroce is a driven player. Part of the drive may be seeking perfection in a sport where there is no such a thing as perfection. There is always room for improvement.

“It’s weird about golf because it’s a sport that you can never master,” she said. “You can go out and shoot the best round in your life; then, if you think about it, you’re like, ‘That could have even been better.’ ”

Santacroce said she would like to qualify for next year’s U.S. Open, which will be played at the Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton. Beyond that, she said, she wants to play professionally.

Cavanagh believes Santacroce has what it takes to reach the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour.

“She has the game and the determination to take it all the way,” he said. “I have absolutely no doubt that she has the ability, she has the game, she has the desire. I’ll be surprised if she continues this way if she does not make it.”

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