Kirk

Cox Celebrity Championship: Romo Takes Trophy

Dallas quarterback Tony Romo watches one of his tee shots take flight in the Cox Celebrity Championship at Morgan Run Resort and Club.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has guided his share of fourth-quarter comebacks, so he’s confident of winning late in the contest as long as there’s still time left on the clock. Or, in the case of golf, with holes still remaining to be played.

Tony Romo hoists the 2011 trophy after winning the Cox Celebrity Championship.

With three holes left in Sunday’s final round of the Cox Celebrity Championship at Morgan Run Resort and Club, Romo knew he had a chance. And he made the most of it at the par-5 16th hole with a 15-foot eagle putt. That made the difference in a two-shot victory for Romo (70-67—137) over former NHL player Dan Quinn (72-67—139). First-round leader Mark Mulder (67-74—141) slipped to third place. NFL Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk (70-72—142) was fourth, followed by former major leaguers Rick Rhoden (71-72—143) and Vince Coleman (69-74—143).

Romo couldn’t help ribbing New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, the tournament host, when he was presented with the winner’s trophy.

“It’s funny,” said Romo. “The only thing sweeter than this is when we went down to New Orleans and handed the Saints their first loss a couple of years ago.

“Just kidding.”

Brees accepted the jab good-naturedly, especially after Romo turned around and donated his $25,000 winner’s check to the Brees Dream Foundation. That increased the total donated to the foundation this week to $135,000.

Romo, who started the round three shots off the lead of Mulder, strung together several pars on the front nine to stay in contention. Four one-putts with his belly putter after the turn moved Romo up the leaderboard before the eagle landed him in the lead. Romo, who annually attempts to qualify for the U.S. Open, has won his share of these celebrity golf events. That said, the Cowboys quarterback will have no trouble keeping himself occupied over the summer if the NFL lockout drags on.

Kirk

Cox Celebrity Championship: Everybody Loves Ray

Actor/comedian Ray Romano hits his opening drive in the Cox Celebrity Championship at Morgan Run Resort and Cub in Rancho Santa Fe.

Ray Romano is two swings into his round Saturday in the Cox Celebrity Championship at Morgan Run and everyone can see he is already having swing thoughts.

After getting a big hand from the gallery with a big drive off the first tee (though the shot landed in the adjacent fairway), Romano’s second shot finds a greenside bunker. As he grabs his sand wedge from his bag, Romano is approached by a young boy who asks the actor/comedian to sign a DVD collection of “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

Ray Romano blasts out of a sandtrap on the first hole at Morgan Run.

Romano obliges, then heads to the sandtrap. After sizing up his shot, Romano swings and gets too much of the ball, knocking it well over the green. “Kid probably wants to give me the autograph back now,” cracks Romano, who needed several more strokes to finish the first hole.

Fans expect to see spectacular shots from players such as first-round leader Mark Mulder. The former pitcher shot a 4-under 67, two shots better than former outfielder Vince Coleman. NFL Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo were another shot back at 70 entering Sunday morning’s final round.

Romano? He fared better after carding the triple bogey 8 on the first hole, but still was well behind the leaders with an 88. Unlike the others, the pressure on Romano isn’t to impress the gallery with his shot-making but his wise-cracking.

“If I hit a bad shot, that’s what they’re expecting,” said Romano. “They know I’m a hacker.”

Golf is a difficult enough game without being interrupted between shots to sign autographs and pose for pictures, but Romano is more accommodating than most because he knows it’s what fans are expecting at these charity events. It does put added pressure on his play, however.

“When I’m over the ball,” said Romano, “I have two thoughts — I have the swing thought and the what-am-I-going-to-joke-about-after-my-swing thought.”

Romano was quick with a quip when a shot went awry — entertaining the one- to two-dozen fans who followed him throughout his round — but he is serious about his golf. In fact, last year at this event Romano was working with swing coach Hank Haney to improve his game. Romano’s goal is to break 80 for the first time in his life.

“It hasn’t happened yet,” said Romano, adding, “This is the course I’ve come the closest.”

A three-foot putt on the 18th hole was all that stood between Romano and a 79 at Morgan Run a couple of years ago. “And I missed it,” said Romano, who has been so busy with work that he hasn’t had many opportunities the past year to pursue his goal.

“I’ve been playing 30 years, so I’ve had my chances,” said Romano. “I don’t get enough chances (now) to groove a game to get to that point.”

So it will be left for art to imitate life. Romano stars now on the show “Men of a Certain Age,” where he plays Joe, a party store owner with aspirations of playing golf on the Senior Tour. We’ll find out how things go for Joe beginning June 1 when the TNT series resumes new episodes.

“That’s a big part of his life,” Romano said, referring to Joe’s quest to reach the Tour. “That’s going to be in the next six episodes that that’s going to raise its head. He has to face an unfulfilled dream. He’s putting it off and in denial and scared that he will fail and can’t do it. He doesn’t want to face the dream being extinguished, so it takes a little something to give him the push to actually go out and do it.”

Kirk

Cox Celebrity Championship Swings Into Action

NFL Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk putts for a birdie on the 18th hole at Morgan Run in the Cox Celebrity Championship.

Scene and heard around the course on the opening day of the Cox Celebrity Championship at Morgan Run Resort and Club in Rancho Santa Fe:

Jerry Rice practices sand shots before his opening round.

— The atmosphere for this charity event is relaxed and fun, giving fans an opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with dozens of former and current players from across several sports. And while there is a $100,000 purse at stake, no one is here trying to make money to meet the monthly mortgage payment. It is interesting, however, to observe contrasts in players’ approaches to the game. Take former NFL wide receivers Jerry Rice and Andre Reed, for instance. Rice, who has aspirations of playing golf professionally, already had his game face on an hour before his noon tee time. Walking from the driving range to another practice area to work on some sand shots, Rice waved off a fan wanting to make some small talk. “Not right now, man,” Rice said. “I’m warming up.” Reed, meanwhile, was encouraging spectators to speak up. “It’s quiet around here,” Reed said before teeing off on the back nine. “You all need to start talking.” After a solid drive, Reed signed several autographs before getting into his golf cart and driving off. Looking at one action photo of himself presented for his signature, the former Buffalo Bills receiver said, “That’s a good picture there. I might have scored on that one.”

— NFL Hall of Fame place-kicker Jan Stenerud, who played the majority of his 20-year career with the Kansas City Chiefs, was greeted by a number of well-wishers and autograph seekers as he prepared to tee off on the 10th hole. Asked one fan: “How’s your leg doing? Said Stenerud: “The leg is fine. My back isn’t.”

— Actor Jack Wagner, the event’s defending champion, knows how Stenerud feels. Wagner was seen at the course but not on the course. Seems he tweaked something in his back and was forced to miss the first day of play. Sounds like he may need a trip to General Hospital for further examination.

— Speaking of place-kickers, former Chargers kicker Rolf Benirschke is playing in the event. His presence was duly noted by one of the two volunteers seated at the driving range. One gentleman was very impressed with the extensive background information provided on the players in the tournament. Reading through the bios, one said to the other: “I didn’t know Rolf Benirschke hosted the Wheel of Fortune in 1989.”

Joe Morgan and Rick Rhoden visit on the practice green.

— Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan wasn’t having much luck finding the bottom of the cup on the putting green when former pitcher Rick Rhoden, a four-time champion in this event and runner-up last year, walked up and provided a welcome distraction. Morgan greeted Rhoden with a big grin and some small talk, then watched with envy as Rhoden stroked putt after putt into the hole.

— There’s one in every crowd. Positioned off the side of the green on the par-3 18th hole was a fan who after each tee shot for one particular group shouted: “Get in the hole.” To which another fan said as an aside, “I wish that guy would get in a hole.”

Kirk

Golf Gets Him Going on the Right Course

It”s always fascinated when I come across someone who has been bitten by the golf bug. I enjoy finding out the how, the why, the when and the where for someone consumed by the game who is pursuing it with passion.

I met Jake Keeslar on the putting green Saturday morning at the Rancho Bernardo Inn. Before we reached the first tee he said: “I”ve kind of set the goal for myself this year to shoot consistently in the 80s. Keeslar said his low round is an 89 (twice) at Camp Pendleton”s Marine Memorial Golf Course, so it is an ambitious goal.

Jake Keeslar prepares to make impact for his drive on the 14th tee at the Rancho Bernardo Inn.

The 18 holes that followed at RB Inn on an enjoyable, springlike afternoon confirmed my suspicions — Jake has been bitten by the bug. He spoke exciting about obtaining the latest driver from TaylorMade. . . . He mentioned Mt. Woodson as among his favorite places to play in San Diego. . . . After a chip shot landed within a couple feet of the flagstick on the 13th hole, he credited a recent tip about keeping the ball forward in his stance. . . . Poor shots were met with an audible groan. . . . There was talk of attending a golf academy in Carlsbad in the fall.

While Keeslar played some golf while growing up in Big Bear, which is a couple hours north of San Diego, he didn”t online casino really get into the game until after “I was blown up” while serving in Iraq. Keeslar lost both legs — his left above the knee and his right just below the knee — five years ago while on a mission in the Anbar Province when the vehicle he was riding in was demolished by a deep buried IED. During his recovery and rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Keeslar was encouraged to go golfing by his prosthetist, an avid golfer who took him to a course called Sligo Creek in Silver Spring, Md.

“When it comes to amputees, golf”s great for balance, coordination and stamina,” said Keeslar, adding, “Just getting out of the hospital. It”s so much for your mind.”

Keeslar played three times last week at Camp Pendleton, which he noted is open to the public. Military members get preferred tee times, but the Marine Memorial Golf Course civilians can play for $30 weekdays and $35 on weekends, plus $12 for cart. The Monday special includes half price greens fees. For tee times or more information call (760) 725-4756 or go to www.mccscp.com.

Pendleton is Keeslar”s home course, but that could change within the next two weeks when he retires. He is building a home in Fallbrook and enjoys the municipal course there. He appreciates Mt. Woodson for the mountain setting and its tight track. He enjoys Torrey Pines and finding himself playing some of the same shots the pros play. He also likes Arrowood Golf Course in Oceanside, although Keeslar was headed out to Morgan Run in Rancho Santa Fe (which will be hosting the Cox Celebrity Championship in May) when I caught up with him Monday morning. He considers himself fortunate to have settled in San Diego. Guess why?

“The amount of days you can play golf,” said Keeslar. “You can get 360 days of golf out here.”

And he seems intent on doing just that.