Terese Romeo, 16, practices her putting at the Tampa Palms Golf & Country Club.
Terese Romeo, 16, practices her putting at the Tampa Palms Golf & Country Club.

By Matt Wiley | September 14

Terese Romeo looks down at the tee box on the signature par-3 17th hole at Tampa Palms Golf & County Club. After judging the distance and deciding her plan of attack to stay out of the hole’s large water hazard, she adjusts her stance, pulls her Ping club back, swings and watches her ball land safely on the green, just feet from the hole.

In just a few weeks, Romeo will be repeating the same process alongside a PGA Champions (formerly “Senior PGA”) Tour pro and in front of an international audience on one of the country’s most prestigious courses, the Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, CA.

At just 16 years old, Romeo, a Freedom High student and Tampa Palms resident, will be playing in front of the entire world during the 2013 Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach, which will be held September 27-29 and televised on the Golf Channel.

Romeo was chosen by The First Tee program, an international youth development organization that teaches young participants life skills through the game of golf. The Tampa Bay chapter is one of 188 chapters around the world and is an official program of the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA.

“There was a series of essays that I had to write,” Romeo says. “I had to send in an application with a resume and my handicap (which is an impressive 1) and some golf scores.”

The First Tee focuses on helping kids develop nine core values, including honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment. According to the program’s website, the First Tee aims to teach participants how to properly introduce themselves, manage their emotions, resolve conflicts, set step-by-step goals, plan for the future and appreciate diversity.

First Tee of Tampa Bay executive director Ian Baxter says that Romeo is not only one of the most determined golfers he has ever met, she also is a model of what the program is all about.

“She really embodies what a First Tee kid is supposed to be,” Baxter explains. “She’s such a good player, but she also lives what we teach, here.”

Romeo started playing golf about five years ago, when her aunt gave her a club (a 5 wood) for Christmas. Before golf, she says, her passion was gymnastics, until a wrist injury took her off of the balance beam and, after two surgeries, Romeo decided to focus on golf.

Through the First Tee program, Romeo says that she has learned far more than how to swing a club (although she averages a 73 per round from the white, or “men’s tees,” the same tees she will tee off from at Pebble Beach).

“The First Tee program has shown me that it isn’t all about playing golf,” she says. “It teaches you a lot of sportsmanship, even the little things, like shaking someone’s hand, looking them in the eye and saying, ‘Nice playing with you.’ The program teaches you perseverance and confidence that you can take off of the golf course, too.”

Romeo will be playing alongside 80 other players who were selected by their local First Tee chapters. Along with the First Tee participants, 81 PGA Champions Tour professionals and 162 amateur golfers also will participate in the tournament, which counts as one of this year’s professional tour events. However, Romeo doesn’t seem too phased.

“I don’t know about winning,” she says, “but if I get paired with a pro who’s playing well at the time, maybe we’ll have a chance.”

For more information about The First Tee of Tampa Bay, please visit TheFirstTeeTampaBay.org.

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