Tony Romo (Northern Texas PGA photo)
DALLAS - Through hard work, endless practice and repetition, skill and a bit of luck, former Dallas Cowboys starting quarterback Tony Romo wound up owning most of the team’s NFL passing records, some of its biggest recent wins, All-Pro honors and a reputation as one of the top quarterbacks in the team’s storied history.
That’s exactly the same formula Romo is determined to apply in his latest sports pursuit as he seeks to achieve his longshot goal as a professional PGA Tour golfer.
While currently a well-respected CBS Sports Analyst for NFL football games with Jim Nantz, Romo is determined to put in the same work needed for success on the professional circuit with golfers who have played the sport their entire lives and are intent on making it their full-time career.
He will get a huge chance this week as he was given a sponsor’s exemption to compete in the 2019 AT&T Byron Nelson Championship, which begins Thursday at Room’s home course, Trinity Forest Golf Club just south of downtown Dallas.
Romo competes frequently as an amateur, teeing it up everywhere from Wisconsin state amateur events to the prestigious Western Amateur. Last fall, he entered Web.com Qualifying School advanced to the first stage by finishing in the top 30 in a pre-qualifier. PGA Tour players noticed.
“I think it’s incredible that he wants to do this and is willing to put in the time to do it,” said PGA Tour winner Rickie Fowler. “One thing about qualifying school is there are no exemptions, you have to earn your way in and that’s what Tony did in the first stage.”
Added major winner Justin Thomas, “I’m a huge Tony Romo and NFL fan and it’s awesome that he would want to compete at the highest level. You have to remember he’s an elite, trained athlete and if he puts in the work and competition there is no reason that he can’t do it.”
Romo, who carries a handicap of scratch, has played golf consistently since coming to Dallas to begin his Cowboys career in 2003. He’s played with several local top Tour players including Dallas’ Jordan Spieth (a fellow Trinity Forest member) and recent PGA Tour winner Ryan Palmer, among others. He always took a break during football season and never made golf his primary focus.
With his 2016 retirement from the Cowboys, Romo says he’s prepared to put in the work to succeed in his second sporting career even if he’s spotted his fellow competitors a decade-plus head start.
Romo has hired Plano-based instructor Chris O’Connell, who has worked with some of the Tour’s best in Matt Kuchar and Hunter Mahan. Romo is now using a split-hand hockey stick-type putting grip to sweep the putts into the hole. He said he is excited to play in his hometown event and to put his amateur game on full display before thousands of North Texas fans.
We caught up with Romo to talk about his amateur game and this week’s Byron Nelson start.
AMATEUR GOLF: How do you feel going into your first U.S. PGA Tour event as a solo amateur player on your home course in Dallas?
I am very excited to play this week. It’s always been a dream of mine to play in the Byron Nelson and play at my home course, so I’m looking forward to it. I played before when I tried to find my game on the week of the event, but I feel like I’m ready and my putting is better.
AG: You were a success in football and have been very successful at CBS Sports, is it the same with golf?
It’s about having a preparation and a plan, like football or CBS. Now, I get out of bed, I have a routine and I grind it out to get better. I just want to see how good I can be.
AG:How good can you be? Is making the 36-hole cut at Trinity Forest this week a realistic goal?
I want progress, but no real expectations. I don’t want to put a ceiling on myself, because I’m looking to always approve.
AG: What will it take to make the cut at Trinity Forest?
I’ll let the pros who play out here every week decide that, but last year I think the cut was 4 under. It’s always going to be something under par.
AG: What did you learn from playing with the pros at Punta Cana in a Web.com event, then a PGA Tour event?
Just how good those guys are and how they never seem to miss a shot. I made some adjustments from that tournament and I’m eager to put that into play this week.
AG: Care to share what those are?
Not really, maybe if I’m in the last group on Sunday I will.
AG: Nobody in this week’s field, maybe outside of Jordan Spieth, has played more rounds at Trinity Forest than you. Is there a secret to playing well at Trinity Forest?
There are certainly some holes you have to stay below the pin because of the green complexes. It’s really a second-shot course so you have to know how to position your ball. You also need to get off to a good start because of the tough holes at the end.
AG: Are there things in golf which can help you in football?
Sure. Part of what allows me to be successful in everything is my competitive nature to do my best and try to lead others. Some guys go backwards when they get toward the lead. I go forward no matter what sport I’m playing.
AG: So a birdie putt can be like a converted first down?
The more you’re under pressure situations, the better you respond. I have an understanding of the game and what it takes to win and be successful.
Like on the golf course, when it is and is not the time to be more aggressive.
AG: This isn’t your first attempt of playing against top professionals or in other pro golf events, what keeps you coming out here for high-level golf?
I just enjoy the competition of being on the course. I love the fact that I can try to produce something and the fact that people don’t think I can do it.
AG: How did you get started in golf?
My dad started me out when I was 10-12 years old. Always played some in high school and college and that’s why I love it down here, it’s a 12-month (golf) season.
AG: What’s the lowest you’ve shot anywhere?
64 in friendly play, at Racine (Wisconsin) Country Club. My best at Trinity Forest from the back tees is 65.
AG: Who’s the best golf playing quarterback in the NFL? You?
I haven’t played with a lot of the other quarterbacks in the NFL, so I’m not really sure. I played with (former NFL quarterback) Tommy Maddox in a match-play tournament at Trophy Club (Dallas) and took him.
AG: You’ve had great success on the football field in in the NFL, now CBS Sports, so are you concerned about coming out here with little or no success in front of a gallery?
I don’t care about how people perceive me, I just want to be the best I can be. I quit caring about what people thought about me a long time ago.
AG: Why do kickers and quarterbacks always seem to do so well on the golf course?
It’s the same motion time after time.
AG: What about other sports?
Hockey guys can rip it forever, but in golf you have to get up and down and you’ve got to hit it and put it in the hole. That’s the difference. It’s fascinating to see the inside of another sport and see what they do. You can always try to do what they do. They didn’t try what I do.
AG: Regardless of what happens this week at the Byron Nelson, are you still looking forward to a great summer of amateur golf.
Sure. I’m a competitor and this is the closest thing to football. I just enjoy competing. I’ve seen what Steph (Curry) has done and what I’ve done in the Web.com and it’s competing, just wanting to get better. That’s what I’m about. Golf is a game where you can suck today, but you’ll try again tomorrow.