I was sorry to hear of Larry Romjue’s passing in April, but it did allow me to recall some great memories of our visits in his Devaney Center office and on the golf course back when I was sports editor.
He politely chided me whenever he thought the Journal Star had been too negative about a Husker team. (Care to guess which one? It wasn’t the men’s golf team.) Regardless, he was a gentleman who led the Huskers to great heights before his retirement in 2001.
Romjue, who coached the NU men’s team for 31 years and also started the women’s program, was honored as Big Eight Coach of the Year in 1996. Nebraska's finest season under Romjue was in 1998-99, when Jamie Rogers and Lincoln High graduate Steve Friesen led the Huskers to a 14th-place finish at the NCAA Championships.
Three Nebraskans (Friesen, Scott Gutschewski and Seth Porter) and two Aussies (Rogers and Josh Madden) put together the best season in the program’s history.
"It was fun in '99 to have a real shot," Romjue told me after announcing his retirement. "They were by far the best (Husker) team."
His boss at the time, Athletic Director Bill Byrne, said:
“He has not only put the Nebraska men's golf team on the map but started a fine tradition for the women's program as well.”
Friesen, a Husker Hall of Famer, said he owes a lot to his college coach.
“We had a great run in the mid to late ‘90s under Coach Romjue,” said Friesen, now the director of instruction at Firethorn. “I had no other scholarship offers coming out of high school except for Nebraska. He saw in me talent that others did not.
“He helped me grow as a person and golfer, and I will always be very grateful for the opportunity he gave me.”
Romjue’s son, Chip, said his dad looked for players who had the coach’s same passion for competition.
“More often than not, he looked at what he considered to be the ‘competitive will’ of the player rather than the beauty of the player's swing,” Chip said. “Over the years, his favorite players were fierce competitors, who he believed matched his personality.”
Romjue graduated from Nebraska City High in 1956 and then Nebraska in 1960. He played golf at NU and was also part of the ROTC program. He served as an Army officer until 1965. Besides coaching at Nebraska, he had head professional jobs at The Knolls in Lincoln and Seward Country Club.
As a pro, he won a bunch of tournaments, including some biggies in Nebraska. He was the 1980 Nebraska PGA Player of the Year and the 1984 Nebraska PGA Professional of the Year. He also earned a spot in the 1991 PGA Senior Championship, won by a guy named Nicklaus.
Chip, who was his dad’s caddie for that memorable weekend, shared this story from the event:
The first day, Jack played three groups behind Dad and set the course and tournament record. The buzz around the course was a mini-Tiger-like festival. Immediately after the round, Dad and I were in the practice putting area when Nicklaus and his son Jack, Jr., were walking past us on their way to the locker room. I alerted Dad to who was coming toward us, and he turned to see Jack and Jackie about 25 feet away.
Jack greeted my dad with "Hi Larry" and my dad responded "Hi Jack." Seriously? Introductions were made, and I waited for the area to clear to ask my father what just happened. He pretended to be surprised at my surprised reaction. He then pointed out that the bag I was holding clearly displayed his name and University of Nebraska. He had met Jack a year earlier at a college tournament where Jack made an appearance during a rain delay. Dad never believed that Jack recognized him without the prompting of the name on the bag, but it was an amazing experience regardless.
Chip, a standout golfer in his own right, said he learned a lot from his pop, most notably the importance of hard work, in life and on the golf course.
“Dad probably never had the physical tools that some other guys had,” Chip said, “but I watched him practice for hours and hours.
“He believed in working hard to achieve success.”
And success he did achieve. RIP Coach.