Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo will play in a Monday qualifier for next week’s Byron Nelson Classic in Dallas, and if he gets in, he’ll be a bigger draw than Tiger Woods would ever be.
Romo shot 72 to advance from the pre-qualifying event. He’ll have to go lower than that this Monday if he’s going to play the Byron Nelson. We call qualifying tournaments “rabbits” because that’s how you’ve got to play them: Full-throttle, right out of the gate. You can’t be the tortoise and win the race. It’s a one-shot deal and you’ve got to shoot 65 or 66 to guarantee yourself a place in the tournament. Romo won’t be playing against weekend warriors either. He’ll be facing Nationwide Tour players, ex-Tour players and even Tour players who don’t have an exemption.
Could Romo do it? It’s possible. Golf is not just a hobby for him, it’s a passion. For football players who play golf, the biggest problem is they play six months on and six months off. Lots of golf during the off-season and little or no golf during the season. That means that a football player like Romo can’t practice his short game the way professional golfers do. Tour pros practice putting, chips and pitches the way Romo throws outs in practice: again and again and again until the motions become second nature. A high-caliber recreational player like Romo is always at a disadvantage against a touring pro. If the recreational player is having a good ball-striking day, he’s fine, but if he’s having a bad ball-striking day, it’s tough to recover.
For Romo, this is a really good time for his golf game because toward the end of his off-season, his feel should be as good as it ever gets. It’s been a while since we had a pro athlete who could really play golf. San Francisco 49ers quarterback John Brodie, who won a Champions Tour event in 1991, was the last one. If Romo qualifies for the Nelson — look out! — it will be a big deal for golf and for sports.
I hope Romo pulls it off, and even if he doesn’t, the Byron Nelson organizers ought to give him an exemption to the tournament anyway. I know the argument — he’s taking a spot from a more deserving player, but let’s get real. Golf is struggling to attract new players to the game and to get more fans to the tournaments. What the game needs is more mainstream ambassadors like Romo to get people through the door and on the course. When Jerry Rice plays a Nationwide event, or John Smoltz tries to qualify for the U.S. Open, the game of golf benefits, as does every person who makes a living from it. People who complain about a sponsor’s exemption for Jerry Rice can’t see the forest for the trees.
Of course, some Cowboys fans don’t want Romo playing the Byron Nelson because they want him to focus on winning that sixth Super Bowl for the Cowboys. I take the opposing view. For Romo, golf is a refuge from being a high-profile celebrity athlete, and what I really like is that Romo wants to compete. He’s not just playing recreational rounds with his friends, he wants to test his game against the best. His competitive juices are flowing all year, not just when he’s playing football.
Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Shawn Humphries is director of instruction at the Cowboys Golf Club in Grapevine, TX.