Terese Romeo combines above-average athletic ability with strong perseverance and character to get eye-popping results on the golf course. And that hard work is paying off as she’s set to take part in the Nature Valley First Tee Open in Pebble Beach next month.
The open, Sept. 27-29, will give Romeo a chance to pair up with members of the PGA Champions Tour, who serve as mentors.
“I had to apply for a spot,” said Romeo, a member of The First Tee of Tampa Bay, a golf group designed to provide affordable and accessible golf to children from moderate socio-economic backgrounds.
Romeo is one of 81 participants selected from First Tee chapters from around the country, and was the only girl asked to apply from the Tampa Bay chapter.
“You have to write essays, and have volunteers hours, along with golf,” she said.
The 16-year-old Freedom High School junior from Tampa Palms has already accomplished quite a bit, both on and off the links. Just last year, she won the Class 2A-District 10 golf championship as well as a regional title en route to an 11th-place finish at states — all after recovering from surgery.
“Terese had surgery and came back with a cast,” Freedom girls golf coach Rich Simard said. “She had to play four matches to qualify for district, and I had her go out and play. She used her left hand and swung with one hand. I’ve never seen anything like that all the years I’ve been around golf.”
The team played off the red tees, which are typically placed behind the white tees for championship tourneys.
Romeo has battled with injuries in the past. She hurt her wrist competing in gymnastics a couple years back, forcing her to miss her entire freshman golf season. Now, after two surgeries, Romeo is poised to have her best-ever high school season on the links.
“Now everything is great,” she said. “I hit the ball really straight and put the ball in places where I need to place it.”
Romeo competes in American Junior Golf Association tournaments, and is a longtime member of The First Tee of Tampa Bay, a program of the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA.
“I’ve known Terese since she first started with us when she was eight or nine years old,” First Tee golf coach Jeff Leonard said. “She’s such a competitor. Her putting and chipping comes naturally, and her swing is consistent. She can drive the ball 230 yards.”
Leonard is also impressed with Romeo’s work off the links, amassing at least 400 volunteer hours, mostly as a park camp counselor for younger kids.
“The First Tee has been really good for her,” Leonard said. “It gives her a place to channel her energy.”
And now it will give her a chance to play with a PGA legend at Pebble Creek where the competition will be tough, but there will be a lot to learn as well.
“I’d like to play with Tom Watson or Hale Irwin,” Romeo said. “I met Hale during a senior tour tournament here in Tampa. I was in the gallery during the pro-am event and his amateur walked over to me and asked me to hit his golf ball.”
It was a par-3 hold, and Romeo had to hit it on the green.
“Hale came over and talked with me, and walked with me down the fairway,” Romeo said. “I’ve seen him a couple of times since, and he remembered me. He’s a nice guy.”
“It was a par-3 hole and I hit it on the green. Hale came over and talked with me and walked with me down the fairway. I’ve seen him a couple of times since and he remembered me. He’s a nice guy.”
The 5-foot, 93-pound Romeo works hard at refining her game when she isn’t competing against opponents.
“I practice almost every day,” said Romero, who scored a hole-in-one when she was 13. “I’ll play four, nine or 18 holes. I need to practice more.”
Romeo’s plans for the future include playing golf in college — just to start.
“I want to become a teaching pro out of college,” she said. “Then maybe try to make the LPGA tour.”
And if anyone can accomplish that, it’s Romeo, her Freedom coach added.
“Terese has a great attitude for the game of golf,” Simard said. “I think if she continues to progress like she has progressed, she could be one of the top high school players in the country.”
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