The AT&T Nelson’s motivation for giving Tony Romo a sponsor’s exemption to play in this week’s tournament is clear: His mere presence in the 156-player field elevates the event’s profile, especially in North Texas.
Romo’s motivation for accepting the invite is equally evident: He’s Tony Romo, 39-year-old ex-Cowboys quarterback, lifelong golfer, naturally ambitious at anything he attempts.
Such was the case when he came to the Cowboys in 2003 as an undrafted free agent out of Eastern Illinois, and in 2017 when he became CBS’s lead NFL analyst despite no prior broadcast experience, so why wouldn’t it be true when he tees it up for Thursday’s first round of the Nelson?
“If you want to compete, you want to play against the best,” Romo said Monday after his Bush Institute Warrior Open team finished third at Trinity Forest Golf Club, site of the Nelson.
“Obviously I understand where I’m at comparatively to the guys in this field. These are the best of the best. How you improve is being around them, watching them and thinking about it and practicing. For me, putting it on display is the enjoyable part.”
Romo was responding to a question about his willingness to put his golf skills on public display, in front of what certainly will be large galleries as well as a national TV audience.
Yes, it takes chutzpah to do what Romo is attempting, especially since he shot 15-over-par in each of his only two previous PGA Tour appearances, last year’s and this year’s Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic.
It will help that Romo is a member at Trinity Forest and has played countless rounds here, including a personal-best score of 65.
But is it courageous of him to risk shooting in the 80s again (his scores in the Dominican Republic were 77-82 and 79-80), on TV? No, true courage was on display during Monday’s ninth Warrior Open, in which 24 wounded United States servicemen played alongside golfer-celebrities like Romo.
“An honor to get invited to come out and play and just to hang with these guys,” said Romo, whose father, Ramiro, served five years of active duty in the Navy. “The feelings you have for the people who sacrifice for our country, it’s hard to put into words how meaningful it is to the rest of us.”
Among Romo’s playing partners on Monday was Army captain Tony Odierno, who in August 2004 in Iraq lost his left arm when the Humvee he was in got caught in a rocket-propelled grenade ambush.
“Golf,” Odierno said, “was one of the first things that got me out of the hospital, outdoors, doing something that I used to do.”
Romo clearly was impressed by how consistently Odierno “striped it” down the middle of the fairway. And what did Captain Odierno think of ex-Cowboys captain Romo, the person and golfer?
“The best way to describe it is he’s just a really good guy. … And he’s a great player. It’s just a whole different ballgame, the way he hits the ball.”
Romo certainly isn’t some duffer. This isn’t like his one-night stint as a Dallas Maverick in 2017, when he donned a uniform and warmed up, but spent the night on the bench.
Romo is an accomplished player in his own right, having won last July’s American Century Championship celebrity tournament in Lake Tahoe. He’s also attempted to qualify for several USGA national tournaments and is scheduled to do so again at next week’s U.S. Open local-qualifying round at McKinney’s TPC Craig Ranch.
After his retirement from the Cowboys he channeled his competitive juices toward golf. For the past 15 months or so, Romo said, he has treated golf “like you’re going to the office,” practicing almost daily.
On Monday he compared this stage of his golf “career” to 2003, when he was just trying to make the Cowboys roster. He has no doubt he’ll be nervous when he tees it up on Thursday.
“I think that’s part of anything that’s important to you,” he said. “And then from there it’ll calm down a little bit, each shot and each hole. I’ve just got to get off to a good start and see what happens.”
Two months ago in the Dominican Republic, he averaged a field-worst 2.176 putts per hole. He since has gone to a split-hands putting style that resembles a hockey-stick grip – successfully, so far.
With the possible exception of Jordan Spieth, no player in the field has played Trinity Forest more often than Romo.
“That obviously helps,” Romo said, adding with a laugh, “I think also just the fact that I’m probably putting a little better. I’ll try not to be the worst in the field again, by far.”
For Romo, making the cut would seem to be a pipe dream. Last year’s Nelson cutline was 4-under. To make this year’s Nelson cut Romo likely would need a birdie-to-bogey ratio similar to his NFL touchdown-pass-to-interception clip of 248 to 117 – and avoid blowup holes.
“The expectations of it, you really have none,” he said. “You don’t want to put a ceiling on yourself … that’s not what you ever should do when you’re going into anything sports-related.”
He didn’t do that in football, nor has he in broadcasting. Why should the Nelson be any different?
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