Romero remains a stranger because of language barrier

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KAPALUA, Hawaii --- Andres Romero's timing was impeccable.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem was standing in a small group behind the first tee at Kapalua when Romero showed up for his opening shot in the Mercedes-Benz Championship. He nodded in Romero's direction and whispered, "This is a good one, here."

Just then, Romero turned and walked over to a familiar face and said, "Que pasa, amigo?"

He next stepped over to Finchem, smiled and shook his hand.

Romero was the PGA Tour rookie of the year in 2008, and while the tour does not release votes, this should have been a landslide. He was among four rookies to win last year, but Romero was the only one to play in all four majors (he had top 10s in two of them) and the only rookie to reach the Tour Championship.

Some might argue the 27-year-old Argentine was not a true rookie. The year before joining the PGA Tour, he nearly won the British Open, and he tied for sixth in his first World Golf Championship.

Then again, imagine going to a foreign country to learn new places and new faces, barely able to get by in the language.

"It was difficult," Romero said through his interpreter, Marcos Virasoro. "New courses, new people, new places. But I was lucky to win in one of my first starts here, and that gave me confidence. I was used to playing two years in Europe. I knew who I was playing against, and when I won in Germany, I knew I could beat some guys.

"When I came here, it was different," he said. "I knew the people from TV, but I didn't know how they played."

He knows them now -- he was paired with Tiger Woods in the first round of Firestone in 2007 and in the third round at the Masters Tournament last year -- and they are getting to know him.

"I love the fact he's so aggressive," said Anthony Kim, one of the few Americans whom Romero considers a close friend. "Not too many guys out here are that aggressive. He's not scared of anything. I love watching him."

But their friendship is based mainly on their youth and their style, certainly not any deep conversations.

It was another Argentine, former British Open champion Roberto de Vicenzo, who once famously said, "If you shoot under 70, everybody will understand you. If you don't, they won't want to talk to you, anyway."

Romero laughed when reminded of his comment, and he agrees -- to a point.

He had planned to knuckle down on his English studies during the off-season but put it off. It can be overwhelming to learn a new language at his age.

He wants to fit in on the PGA Tour, which could take time until he learns English.

"Everyone says 'hi' to me now. It looks like I'm a good guy to the rest of the people," he said. "Maybe the language is a barrier. I think if I speak good English, I'll have a good relationship with everybody.

"I understand much more than I did a couple of years ago," he said. "But I always say I have to start learning. And I never start."

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