Kohler, Wis. - Eduardo Romero enjoyed a role as a supporting actor three weeks ago in the U.S. Open victory of his countryman Angel Cabrera. It was Romero, living just a few blocks away from Cabrera in Cordoba, Argentina, who used his own money to sponsor his young protégé on the European Tour.
All of Argentina reveled in Cabrera's triumph. On Thursday at the U.S. Senior Open, Romero gave his homeland more to cheer about as he assumed the lead role in a new national championship drama.
|Eduardo Romero drives on No. 17, just after carding an eagle on the par-5 16th Thursday. (Steven Gibbons/USGA)
With a sterling 6-under-par 66 - a round played both sagely and solidly - Romero on Thursday seized the top spot in the 28
thSenior Open and then settled in for the inevitable line of questioning that makes his position on the leaderboard both compelling and confounding. Argentina has celebrated two major champions - Cabrera and Robert De Vicenzo - but more poignantly cried over one major golfing catastrophe: the poor stewardship of DeVicenzo's scorecard in the 1968 Masters in which he signed for a higher score than he was responsible and pencil-whipped Bob Goalby into a green jacket.
Romero already has a major title in senior golf, having won the JELD-WEN Tradition last summer, and he comes into the Senior Open with his own episode of disappointment to overcome; he led the Senior PGA Championship at Kiawah Island for 67 holes until being undone by one disastrous hole that allowed Denis Watson to streak by him.
Whether he rides on Cabrera's coattails or overrides that disappointment at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, Romero is no bit player this week. But he knew that before he arrived at Whistling Straits, which, like Kiawah, is a windblown and enervating test of golf created by Pete Dye.
"In Argentina, after the win by Angel, he say to me, 'If you go there, try to win the tournament, because two U.S. Opens in one month is fantastic,'" said Romero, 52. "I say, 'Angel, I know it's hard but I try my best.' And the opening round is very good and probably Angel Cabrera is trying to celebrate, but three more rounds to go; you don't know what happens, especially in this golf course, especially in the U.S. Senior Open. I have to be very careful, you know?"
Yes, careful as a mouse. But Romero, nicknamed 'El Gato,' which translated means, "the cat," is very much like his compatriot. He is a strong hitter with a long, naturally flowing swing, complemented by a sweet short game, which somehow squares with his disposition.
Cabrera was 10 years old and a caddie on Romero's home course when he first saw the youngster. Romero's father, also a golf pro, mentioned that the young Angel had loads of talent. "At 15 years old, Angel had a good swing, good concentration, good character to playing. Then I try to help when Cabrera went to the European Tour, that's all."
Pressed on the subject, Romero said: "I help Cabrera when he started to play golf in 1991 - but just a little help. Angel Cabrera make everything because he's a good player, a good talent. And then he won the U.S. Open. Tremendous player."
Romero isn't so bad himself. He won eight times on the European Tour and at age 48 was the third oldest to win on that circuit when he won the 2002 Barclays Scottish Open. His second place at the Senior PGA followed a win at the Tradition and a second in his senior debut at the 2004 Senior British Open.
He still resides in Cordoba but has played in 11 events prior to this week with seven top-10 finishes and a scoring average of 69.26. The week after the Senior PGA, Romero shot 62 to open the Boeing Championship at Sandestin, but had to settle for another runner-up finish, this time behind Loren Roberts.
His 66 Thursday was his eighth round of 68 or better to open a tournament this year.
"Kiawah â€¦ I don't know whether you say he should have won, but at least he could have won very easily," said former U.S. Open champion Scott Simpson, who shot 1-under 71. "I guess these Pete Dye courses are muy bueno (awfully good)."
You couldn't find a better effort at Whistling Straits. Romero hit 11 fairways and 14 greens and got as low as seven under par before a three-putt bogey at the par-3 seventh, his 16
thhole of the day. He claimed to be exceedingly lucky. His playing partners thought otherwise.
"He did everything he needed to do and more," said Jay Haas, who had a 73.
"He played beautifully. It was a very easy round of golf to watch," Hale Irwin added after a 75. "I was talking with Jay and we noticed that he beat our best ball. He played very intelligent golf, very controlled. He made it look easy."
That's how they play golf in Argentina. They don't sweat mechanics or small stuff; they just play. The late Dave Marr once said, "There's not a swing thought in the whole continent of South America."
Romero confirmed that when he revealed that he had hit 500 balls on the practice range Wednesday to prepare for his opening round. Was he fine-tuning a new little nuance to his swing? Hardly. "No, just try to hit 500 balls in the same swing, no changes," he said. "And that's the way it was on the golf course today. Driver, just drive, and then go."
And away he went, a man not so much a country unto himself, but one certainly behind him all the way, a privilege he earned long before his latest headline-worthy day.
Dave Shedloski is a freelance writer whose work has appeared previously on www.ussenioropen.com.