Long on success: Big-hitting Argentine Romero is living out his dream on the Champions Tour

The Baltimore Sun

In the 1960s, when Eduardo Romero was just a skinny, 7-year-old Argentine boy caddying in the small town of Villa Allende, he did not believe golf would ever provide more than a few pesos he could give to his father when he came home from the factory each day.

"I just wanted to be a caddy at [Villa Allende Golf Club]," Romero said. "It was the only golf course in my town, and it was 100 years old. If I carried the bag, I'd win a little money to help my family. We needed money for food."

But his father, in addition to working in an auto factory, was a teaching professional. Gradually, Romero had the opportunity to play golf more frequently, a luxury for most people from his village.

"When I was 11 years old, my father would say: 'You want to play golf? Golf is very hard. You have to practice every day. You have to travel a lot. And you have to work,' " Romero said. "I tried it for two years, and I liked it. My father saw something special in me. He said, 'Maybe you are a good player.' "

When it was time to try to make a career of it on the PGA European Tour, Romero had to sell the family television and freezer and his bicycle just to get enough money to travel.

Although he continues to live in Argentina, spending close to 60 hours a month on a plane because he insists on returning home between tournaments, he has never really looked back. He has won 93 times around the world during his career and arrives in Baltimore this week for the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship as perhaps the hottest player on the Champions Tour, having won three of his past five starts.

He is the only player to win three times this season and has a good chance to win his second major this year, having already captured the U.S. Senior Open in August.

Romero also represents the changing face of golf. In 1960, when Chi Chi Rodriguez joined the PGA Tour, Roberto de Vincenzo was the only notable Hispanic golfer on tour. Two weeks ago on the same Sunday, Camilo Villegas (Colombia) won the PGA Tour Championship, Romero won the SAS Championship and Lorena Ochoa (Mexico) won the Navistar LPGA Classic.

"For all the [foreign] players, to win in America is like a dream," Romero said. "The day after I finished [the U.S. Senior Open], I felt nothing special. But the day after that, when I fly to Argentina, there were so many people in the airport with cameras and so many people in my little village, little kids with Argentinean flags, maybe I wake up. It was fantastic. I'm still enjoying it."

If you're looking for a favorite this week, Romero might be the guy. The Baltimore Country Club course is playing long and soft this week, unlike last year, when it was dried out, which will force a number of players to hit 4-irons and 5-irons into difficult greens. Romero, however, is one of the longest hitters on the Champions Tour, and if he drives it straight, he'll be shooting at pins with short irons and wedges.

"If he controls it off the tee, I think it's a huge advantage for Eduardo because he drives it a mile," said Fred Funk, who finished tied for third at last year's event behind Loren Roberts and runner-up Tom Watson.

If nothing else, Romero should be fun to watch this year if only because his approach to the game is so much different from other top players on the Champion's Tour, such as Roberts and Jay Haas.

"He's very different than either Jay or I," Roberts said. "He's what I would call an emotional player. He hits driver every hole, just lets it rip, and plays kind of like Arnold [Palmer] used to play. If he has a great week putting, he's great. But that emotion he has is great for golf."

In addition to switching to a belly putter - which Romero believes has helped him considerably - he has also gone back to using yoga to calm himself during a round. It's something he tried 10 years ago at the suggestion of one of Argentina's top soccer players, and Romero has been tinkering with it ever since.

"It's mental yoga," Romero said. "My problem sometimes was concentration. I lose my concentration very fast sometimes and one hole, make bogey or double bogey. But it helps me a lot."

When Romero steps up to the first tee today, he'll already have a physical advantage over many of the competitors. But his mental approach is probably the reason he's the best player on the Champions Tour at the moment.

"It is completely different," he said. "When I put the ball on tee, I think, 'I make birdie. This is easy. This hole is for me.' "

if you go

What: Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship

When: Today (first round) through Sunday

Where: Baltimore Country Club at Five Farms (East Course), Timonium

Schedule: Today and tomorrow, first tee time 7:30 a.m. (gates open at 7); Saturday, first tee time 8:45 a.m. (gates open at 8); Sunday, first tee time 8:30 a.m. (gates open at 8).

Tickets: $22 in advance, $27 at gate for today-Sunday rounds. Today is Free Fore 50 Day. All spectators ages 50 and older are admitted to the grounds at no charge, while supplies last.

Parking: Located on Shawan Road in Hunt Valley, just west of Interstate 83

Directions to general parking: I-83 to Exit 20B, merge onto Shawan Road West and follow signs

Information: ceseniorplayers.com

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