By hard work, unrelenting determination, practice, dedication and some fortunate breaks, former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo wound up owning many of the team’s NFL passing records, some of its biggest recent wins and almost assuredly a future Ring of Honor inclusion.
And that’s exactly the same formula Romo is now determined to apply in his latest sports pursuit as he seeks to achieve his longshot goal as a professional PGA Tour golfer.
His professional golf chances are about as logical as an undrafted football free agent from a tiny Midwestern college arriving in Dallas and trying out for the Cowboys. But, of course, that worked out pretty good, as he became one of America’s Team’s most successful and memorable starting quarterbacks.
While currently a well-respected CBS Sports Analyst for NFL football games with Jim Nantz, Romo is also putting 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.
“I’m an (TV) analyst so I always have to be ready and prepared to do the games, but this is competition for me,” Romo said of his golf game. “I’ve had a very good summer and have just gotten better and better. I want to see how this goes and how good I can do.”
Romo achieved his biggest golfing success earlier this fall when he advanced to the first stage of a PGA Tour Web.com qualifying tournament. He finished among the top 30 in the field against 86 professional golfers at Lewisville’s Lantana Golf Club.
He has hired a PGA Tour golf instructor, Plano’s Chris O’Connell, who has worked with some of golf’s best professional players, in his longshot quest of earning a living in a sport he has loved his entire life. But at this point, he is eager to start a new career.
“Now I get out of bed, I have a routine, and I grind it out to get better,” Romo said. “I just want to see how good I can be.”
His success in the Web.com tournament allowed him to advance to the first of three stages of PGA Tour qualifying, and while he struggled and finished in the bottom half of the field in the first stage, it attracted the notice of some of the best professional golfers in the world.
“I think it’s incredible that he wants to do this and is willing to put in the time to do it,” said multiple PGA Tour winner Rickie Fowler. “One thing about pro golf and qualifying school is that there are no exemptions, you have to earn your way in, and that’s what Tony did in the first stage.”
“I’m a huge Tony Romo and NFL fan and it’s awesome that he would want to compete at the highest level,” said PGA Championship winner and 2017 Player of the Year Justin Thomas. “You have to remember that 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 very low handicap of 1, 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’ multiple major championship winner Jordan Spieth and Tour winner Ryan Palmer, among others. But he always took a break from the game during football season and never made golf his primary focus.
With his 2016 retirement from the Cowboys, Romo said he’s now 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.
“One thing he has to remember is that he’s competing against guys who have done this their entire life. Guys who have a mortage to pay and a baby to raise,” Fowler said. “But if he continues to put in the work and the effort, I don’t see why he can’t be successful and make the tour in the next 2 or 3 years.”
He won the nationally televised American Century Celebrity Pro-Am this summer at Lake Tahoe, Nevada, and has started working with O’Connell, who has taught longtime PGA Tour players Matt Kucher and Hunter Mahan. Romo said he has committed himself to the hard work of being a competitive, if not professional golfer.
Houston professional golfer Roland Thatcher, a four-time winner on the Web.com Tour, has played with several pro athletes in various pro-amateur exhibition tournaments, the normal routine for most retired athletes, something Romo is familiar with.
But Thatcher said Romo has a chance to succeed in his new career, much like long-time San Francisco 49ers signal-caller John Brodie. He became the first and only former NFL starting quarterback to win on the PGA Champions Tour.
“I’ve seen a lot of athlete’s swings, which are muscular and athletic, but Tony has one of the best looking repeatable swings from a player out here,” said Thatcher. “One of the things you have to do to have success on Tour is to have a repeatable swing and to consistently score low. That’s the key to longtime success. Not one or two good shots or holes or rounds, but repeatable success. Watching him play, I think Tony has that.”
This spring, Romo was granted an exemption to play in a Nationwide Tour, a developmental event at Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, but struggled with an opening round 77 and ultimately finished last in the field, missing the 36-hole cut.
“That was when I was first starting out as a real golfer,” he said. “I hadn’t practiced much and didn’t do much to get ready. You have to commit yourself to do the work.”
Palmer, who lives in Fort Worth, has said his new student knows it’s an unlikely, but not unthinkable path he is traveling.
“I told him while working out in the gym that he could be on the PGA Tour in a heartbeat, but there are a lot of good players out there and he has to be consistent to succeed,” said Palmer. “Tony could shoot 65 on the golf course, but can he do it four times [in a tournament]? Can he do it under pressure all the time?”
Something about multiple fourth-quarter comebacks for the Cowboys taught Romo about in-game pressure, and he’s now determined to see if he can carry that over into a new sport.
“Tony has got a very high ceiling as a player,” said O’Connell, who has worked with some of the top pros in Texas and elsewhere and also tried to qualify for the PGA Tour himself. “He can work and try to be the best he can be. How good can he be if he continues to work at it? I think tremendous.
“Tony has tremendous power off the tee, and if he played on the PGA Tour, he would be one of the longest guys out there off the tee. But his short irons and wedge play is not to the level of a Tour player yet. If he’s willing to put in the work, there’s no reason he can’t be successful. He is an absolute joy to work with, but it’s tough and Tony knows that.”
Far from being discouraged about not qualifying for the PGA Web.com Tour this fall, Romo said he’s looking forward to 2019 and to his golf career with the same passion he once held for football. Plus, he’s got the universal optimism of golfers at all levels.
“Golf is a game where you can suck today, but you’ll try again tomorrow.”
Perfect advice for an undrafted rookie free agent who went on to NFL greatness, or a new would-be professional golfer looking to compete at the game’s highest level.