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Local Qualifying the Beginning of Romo's New Competitive Path

May 9, 2017 Aledo, Texas By Brad Townsend
Tony Romo was followed by nearly 300 fans during his U.S. Open local qualifying effort at Split Rail Links & Golf Club in Aledo, Texas. (Mark Button)

He was listed on the tee times as Antonio Romo (a), which was fine with him.

Among the many facets that Tony Romo – as he’s better known – appreciates about USGA championships are their traditions. Using his full name was a fitting way, Romo said, to pay homage to a game he has loved since age 6.

Romo came up short on Monday in his bid to advance to sectional qualifying through an 18-hole U.S. Open local qualifier at Split Rail Links & Golf Club, ending the dream of playing the championship proper at Erin Hills in his native Wisconsin. But the recently retired Dallas Cowboys quarterback said he hopes to qualify for many future USGA championships.

“For me, this is really the beginning of the season,” said Romo after shooting 3-over-par 75 before a gallery of about 300 in this rural setting about 50 miles west of Dallas. “I’ve never had the opportunity to play as much as I will be able to, hopefully, going forward.”

Now that he no longer has to worry about offseason team activities, Romo said he is considering trying to qualify for the 117th U.S. Amateur Championship, which will be contested Aug. 14-20 at The Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif. He might also play in the prestigious Western Amateur in late July.

For Romo, this was his third attempt to qualify for a U.S. Open, but the first in his new life – as a 37-year-old retired quarterback about to embark on a career as CBS’ lead NFL analyst.

One of Romo’s primary reasons for wanting to qualify for this year’s U.S. Open is that Erin Hills is only 50 miles north of his hometown of Burlington, Wis.

“That was a big part of it,” he said. “But, really, it’s just getting back to golf. I needed to play tournament golf. Golf and tournament golf are two completely different deals. The feelings are different.

“In tournament golf, you’re always a shot from being out of the tournament. When you’re with your buddies, you’re a shot away from losing the hole.”

Romo isn’t the first athlete from another professional sport to give U.S. Open qualifying a try. Ex-San Francisco 49ers quarterback John Brodie qualified for a pair of U.S. Opens (1959 and 1981). More recently, John Smoltz (baseball), Dan Quinn (hockey), Josh Scobee (football), Grant Fuhr (hockey), Ivan Lendl (tennis) and Mardy Fish (tennis) have played in local qualifiers. Fish, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist who reached as high as No. 7 in the world in his chosen profession, carded a 77 on Monday in a local qualifier in Valencia, Calif.

Romo advanced to sectional qualifying seven years ago when he shot a 69 in local qualifying at Honors Golf Club of Dallas. However, after opening with a 71 in the 36-hole sectional qualifier at The Club at Carlton Woods near Houston, Romo struggled in his second 18 and was 8 over through three holes when play was suspended due to weather.

The lengthy delay and a scheduled Cowboys mini-camp the following day caused Romo to withdraw.

Golf and the USGA have long been a part of Romo’s DNA. His father, Ramiro, qualified for the 2015 U.S. Senior Amateur at Hidden Creek Golf Club in New Jersey, where he shot 74-78 and fell two strokes shy of advancing to match play.

“Being able to qualify for anything that says ‘United States’ in front of it feels pretty good,” said Ramiro Romo, adding that he plans to try to qualify for this August’s U.S. Senior Amateur at The Minikahda Club in Minneapolis. The elder Romo also has filed an entry for the U.S. Senior Open, which will be conducted June 29-July 2 at Salem Country Club in Peabody, Mass.

While Tony has never been to Erin Hills, Ramiro has played it several times. He also has purchased tickets for the third round.

“I personally love the golf course,” Ramiro said of Erin Hills. “I think it’s a fair test of golf. I think it’s a wonderful layout and I think the USGA picked a fantastic venue.”

The elder Romo didn’t take up golf until age 29, and it was actually was his wife, Joan, who got Tony his start in the game.

Joan worked behind the counter at Browns Lake Golf Course, about half a mile from their home in Burlington. Joan often arrived at the course at 6 a.m., often bringing Tony, even on school mornings.

“The school bus went right past the golf course,” said Ramiro. “Tony would go with his mom to work, catch a quick nine. The bus would come by at 7:30 and the loudspeakers at the course would go up, ‘Tony, your bus is here.’”

Nearly three decades after going to school with tennis shoes and trousers wet with dew, Romo is rededicating himself to golf, although he and wife Candice have a pair of young sons, Hawkins and Rivers, and a baby on the way.

“Now we’ve got a foursome,” Ramiro laughed, referring to himself, Tony, Hawkins and Rivers.

“Right now, yeah, Tony’s going to want to compete and play,” Ramiro continued. “That’s going to be good, but when the kids get older and want to begin to go out and play with dad, that’s going to be his priority.”

After making the turn at 3 over on Monday, Romo made a 5-foot birdie on No. 10, then missed birdie putts of 10 and 6 feet on Nos. 12 and 13, respectively. He nearly holed a 225-yard 6-iron approach for double eagle on the par-5 14th, settling for an eagle when he converted the 3-foot putt. Romo’s chance at qualifying ended with a triple-bogey 7 on No. 15 when his tee shot found a water hazard.

“As a pro, you can really see who can really hit the ball and who can’t,” said David Lutterus, a local professional from Fort Worth who played with Romo. “And he strikes it. Every shot is kind of flush and he compresses the golf ball and drives it nicely; good short game. He was a pleasure to play with.”

How good does Lutterus think Romo could be? If Romo took time to hone his game, Lutterus thinks it is PGA Tour-caliber.

“If he wanted to, there’s no question about it; I think he could make it,” said Lutterus. “You know what he’s got? He’s got the mind. We were going down the 13th hole and he was talking about the two par 5s, he was going to ‘eagle this and do that.’ I’m thinking, OK, whatever. Then he goes and eagles the next hole.

“That’s the way you’ve got to think. That was pretty cool. It taught me something. That’s how the best think.”

NOTES: Edward Loar, a professional from Rockwall, Texas, who represented the USA in the 1999 Walker Cup Match, was the medalist with a 6-under 66. Loar finished tied for 32nd in the U.S. Open in 2013 at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa…California native Derek Ernst, the 2011 U.S. Amateur Public Links runner-up, was one of four golfers to shoot 67…Seven players advanced out of the field of 117 competitors.

Brad Townsend is a Dallas-based sportswriter.