MOUNT PLEASANT — The game plan was simple for Tony Romo on Sunday in the final round of the Racine Tri-Course Amateur Championship.
Romo wanted to play aggressively at his home course, Meadowbrook County Club, even though he held a five-shot lead over defending Tri-Course champion Todd Schaap and was six shots ahead of Ricky Kuiper.
With only a couple glitches along the way, his plan worked and Romo continued the resurrection of his golf game with a nine-shot victory in the 57th annual Tri-Course, presented by Point One Recruiting Solutions.
Romo, who also won in 2004, finished with a three-round total of 7-under-par 208, the second-lowest score in tournament history and the second-largest margin of victory. Romo also is just the third player to shoot three sub-par rounds, joining Jason Samuelian in 1993 and Bendt Bendtsen in 2008.
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Kuiper, 21, played solid all day and shot a 1-over 72 to finish at 217. Schaap struggled to a 76 and a total of 220.
Romo, 38, capped his victory with birdies on the final two holes, the 159-yard, par-3 17th and the 429-yard, par-4 18th.
“I stayed aggressive,” Romo said. “I took mostly conservative lines and aggressive swings, and that’s the approach you take when you have a lead. When you’re hitting it as solid as I’ve been hitting it, you can trust it — commit to the swing and hit it.
“I was able to do that throughout the week. It was hard to do when you’re not hitting it where you’re aiming, but I was (doing that) this week.”
The aggressiveness was evident several times, the first on the 518-yard, par-5 third hole. Romo was in the rough short of the green on his second shot, flipped a shot out of the rough to six feet, then firmly and confidently knocked in the tricky sidehill birdie putt.
Another prime example, and Romo’s personal highlight, was on the 470-yard, par-5 eighth hole, which features a pond in front of the green and had the pin cut on the far right of the green.
Romo drilled his tee shot close to 300 yards right down the middle, then he hit a 9-iron from about 150 yards to 10 feet from the pin. He just missed the eagle putt, but tapped in for birdie and a six-shot lead over Kuiper.
“You have to do the slope and the wind, and you have only about eight yards of space on that green,” Romo said. “That was one of the more difficult shots to get a good number on. When I figured out a number, I went with it and I really felt comfortable from that point.”
Romo finished the front nine in 1-under 34, then, on the 484-yard, par-5 10th hole, Kuiper again cut into Romo’s lead with a two-putt birdie, while Romo made par.
However, on the next hole, the 169-yard, par-3 11th, Romo hit within six feet and made the putt, while Kuiper couldn’t get up and down from the sand for a bogey and the lead was seven again.
The last glimmer of hope for Kuiper came when Romo made bogeys on the 360-yard, par-4 14th hole, where he three-putted, and on the 412-yard, par-4 15th, where Romo was in the sand for the only time in his round.
Kuiper parred both holes, but had his momentum stopped when he lipped out a two-foot par putt on the 401-yard, par-3 16th.
Kuiper was generally satisfied with his round — he had four birdies, including back-to-back birdies on the second and third holes — but his double bogey from the sand on the 192-yard, par-3 fourth hole was a killer.
He was within four shots of Romo going to 4, but hit his bunker shot thin and went over the green and eventually made a 5.
“I felt good right off the start,” Kuiper said. “It was looking promising and I had good looks on the first three holes, but the fourth hole took the wind out of my sails. I was happy with the way I played — I had fun out there. I saw Tony play some really good golf all week.”
Schaap, 50, got to 1-under for the tournament after a par-birdie-par start, but played his next four holes in 4-over before a birdie on the ninth hole for a 37. On the back nine, he couldn’t make a birdie and shot 39.
“I missed a bunch of fairways,” Schaap said. “and you can’t be missing fairways with the greens as fast as they were. It was enjoyable — we play a lot (together), so it was a lot of fun.”
THOMAS EARNS SENIOR TITLE: Jeff Thomas, who lives in California and comes back for the Tri-Course every year as a former champion, took home a little extra this year with a Senior Division trophy.
Thomas, 59, who won the tournament in 1979, has come back to play almost every year since 2006, when former champions became eligible to play. He totaled 229 on rounds of 79, 75 and 75. Paul Zarek was second at 235.
With the change in the rotation of the courses this year, Thomas was happy he got to play at Racine Country Club first.
“It was weird playing the courses in a different rotation,” Thomas said. “But I’ve always played Racine the worst. I got my tough round out of the way first, so I was kind of optimistic. It went pretty well.”
CADDY PERSPECTIVE: Romo’s best friend from high school, Nick Sekeres, was on Romo’s bag when he won for the first time in 2004 and also this weekend.
Sekeres, who like Romo lives in the Dallas area, said what was most impressive about Romo’s play was his putting.
“All three days, his putting was consistent,” Sekeres said. “He didn’t make a lot of putts, but his speed was good. There were only a few putts on the whole weekend where he was off on speed and put him in a bad spot.”
RUN AT THE RECORD: Romo finished just two shots away from the record for lowest score in relation to par.
Bendt Bendtsen shot 204 in 2008, but that total was 9-under-par because Johnson Park was played at par-70 following historic flooding just a couple weeks before the tournament. The largest margin of victory is 13 by Bendtsen the same year.
TEAM STANDINGS: The Meadowbrook team of Romo, Kuiper, Schaap, Chris Wood and Zach Nash set a tournament record, totaling 1,090 over three days. The previous record was 1,098 by Racine Country Club in 2008.
Racine Country Club (Connor Cain, Joe O’Brien, Tom Chambers, Paul Chay, Scott Petersen) finished at 1,195 and Public Links (Greg Gain, Jim Webers, Kai Kamakian, Brian Eitel, Ken Heffel) totaled 1,211.