||Set up at more than 7,000 yards, Crooked Stick will play every inch from tee to green, according to defending champion Eduardo Romero. (John Mummert/USGA)
Carmel, Ind. - Funny thing happened to Eduardo Romero as he made his way around 18 holes of practice at Crooked Stick Golf Club. He recognized the holes.
"The first time I'm walking on the course, I said to my caddie, 'I've been here before. I remember this hole,'" said Romero. "Then my caddie said, 'Maybe you played in 1991 when John Daly won here.' And it was true. Yeah. I played here, but I didn't remember that time."
Yes, Romero is 55 years old, but this wasn't a senior moment. The reason Romero didn't remember his tie for 52nd at the 1991 PGA Championship at Crooked Stick, the tournament that introduced John Daly to the golf world.
The proud son of a club professional in Cordoba, Argentina, Romero has played golf all over the world since he turned pro in 1982. He has been victorious at more than 100 tournaments, won in Spain, Italy, Scotland, England, Chile, Argentina and the U.S. He has been here, been there, been everywhere many times over.
But he is quick to point out, he has done nothing more memorable than what he did at this time last summer, when he won the Senior Open at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo. That he will always remember.
"It's my favorite tournament," said Romero in his slightly broken English. "I think it's the most important tournament in my life. When I win last year, I'm saying, 'I can do it,' because I win a major. I tried to win a major on the main tour (and never did). It's the (Champions Tour) now, but the U.S. Open is still very important to me, for my career, for Latin America, for Argentina."
Romero is known as "El Gato," or "The Cat," for the way he quietly stalks opponents and pounces atop the leaderboard in championships. The Senior Open was his second Champions Tour major, alongside his victory at the 2006 JEDL-WEN Tradition. He became the second Argentinean to win the Senior Open, joining countryman Roberto De Vicenzo (1980).
Most important, Romero's high-profile achievement added fuel to the golf fire that is burning in Argentina. "It's unbelievable, it's fantastic," he said. "Probably a couple of years ago, the first game in Argentina was soccer, and now it is golf. Golf is going up and up."
Romero cited his wins and the two major championship wins for his countryman Angel Cabrera, which includes a U.S. Open and last April's Masters Tournament. There have been others to excel, including De Vicenzo, Vicente Fernandez and the up-and-coming Andres Romero.
Eduardo Romero, who won earlier this year at the Champions Tour Toshiba Classic, would like nothing better than to keep that momentum going. The Senior Open has had repeat winners three times, most recently Allen Doyle in 2005-2006. Romero, one of the "bombers" on the circuit, believes the long golf course affords him the opportunity to make it four.
"It's very important to have extra yards this week," he said. "But I think the course is a fantastic course from tee to green. I have to play good chips, putt well. You have to have your full game in good condition. If you hit a driver in the middle and then putt poorly, it's not a good combination.
"I love the majors, especially after last year, when I won this tournament. It was fantastic. I feel when the U.S. Open or British Open is coming, I feel like I am a different player."
Eighteen years later, he'll be looking for a different result at Crooked Stick.
Phillip Howley is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on www.ussenioropen.com.