There are certain jobs in Texas that carry special significance. It’s a pretty big deal to be governor or a mayor or even a CEO. But in Texas, there is nothing quite like being the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys.
That job belongs to Dak Prescott these days but for more than a decade it was manned by Tony Romo, the undrafted free agent from Eastern Illinois who passed for more yards and more touchdowns than any other quarterback in Cowboys history.
But when you’ve been the quarterback for America’s Team, what do you do for an encore?
If you’re Romo, you become a highly regarded and popular television analyst, entertaining in a novel way by predicting plays based on the defensive schemes he sees from the pressbox. And then during the offseason, you play golf, a lot of golf. Some of it is with pals like Jordan Spieth but more often in highly competitive events like the AT&T Byron Nelson or the American Century Championship, a celebrity tournament Romo has won the last two years at Lake Tahoe.
And up next for Romo, to the delight of East Texas Cowboys fans, is the Tanos Exploration II/Patterson-UTI Drilling Texas State Open that runs July 30 through Aug. 2 at The Cascades Golf & Country Club.
Romo is indeed coming to Tyler, compliments of a sponsor’s exemption, to play some golf and in his own way every bit the crowd draw that World Golf Hall of Famer Lee Trevino was last year when the state open returned to The Cascades after a six-year absence.
The 2019 version of the state open, its 49th playing, is in Tyler for a record eighth time.
“We are excited that Tony accepted our exemption offer to play,” Mark Harrison, executive director of the Northern Texas PGA, said. “We had talked about it earlier this year and it did not look like his schedule was going to allow him to compete, but fortunately for the tournament and the Tony Romo fans in East Texas his plans changed. He’s playing really well, loves to compete and will be a great addition to the tournament.”
Romo attracts the crowds because of his popularity as the Cowboys quarterback and now as a fixture on NFL telecasts. Several years ago at a U.S. Open qualifier at a course just west of Fort Worth, hundreds of fans were on hand to watch.
Even Romo sightings are special even for those immersed in the Texas golf world. Count me in that demographic and I have crossed paths with the Cowboys legend a couple of times in the last year or so.
Once I was dropping off golf magazines to a high-end sports chiropractic and physical therapy clinic in North Dallas and literally bumped into Romo in the lobby. It wasn’t until I was outside in the parking lot that I realized who he was and so I started looking around for an exotic car that he might be driving. The only expensive vehicle I could locate was a new Texas-sized pickup truck that I presumed to be Romo’s.
Then this past April in Fort Worth, I discovered that my educated guess about his pickup was correct. While playing in a “Pro-Scratch” partnership tournament with my former teammate at Robert E. Lee from the late 1960s, retired golf pro Jeff Davis, I ran across Romo and his partner Austin Connelly in the parking lot, packing their clubs away after shooting the low round of the tournament. Connelly, an up and coming young pro from Irving who plays on the European Tour, is someone I have followed from his junior golf days. The two went on to win the Fort Worth tournament at Shady Oaks Country Club.
I couldn’t restrain myself as I passed by, “great round guys and Tony, I was just thinking, have you won an Emmy yet?”
Romo closed the rear hatch of his pick-up, grinned, and said, “No, but thanks for asking.”
With that he came over and stretched out his hand to introduce himself. I have shaken the hands of a few great athletes and usually the hands are oversized in terms of overall size with Johnny Bench and John Smotz readily coming to mind. But Romo’s hand was not so big as thick — like a catcher’s mitt. Those strong hands were an asset as a quarterback gripping a football and certainly as a golfer controlling the golf club.
Romo is truly a scratch amateur golfer in that he shoots even par or better most days that he tees it up. And he likes the challenge of playing against the best, testing his skills that he continues to work hard to improve. He will get a huge test at The Cascades because the talent level at the Texas State Open is just a little less than that of the PGA Tour.
Last year’s winner at The Cascades, Ben Kern of Georgetown, shot the lowest 72-hole score ever by a club pro at the 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club near St. Louis.
So it will be entertaining to see how Romo fares at a course that has been a fixture in Tyler since 1957. And if the crowds gathering to watch him tee off in May at the Byron Nelson are an indicator, a lot of sports fans from East Texas will be on hand at The Cascades.
The sizable crowds out to see Romo will surely be enchanted by his presence but it won’t be the first time an NFL quarterback has thrilled onlookers at The Cascades. Last year’s league MVP, Patrick Mahomes of Whitehouse, has been known to play on occasion with his dad and wow onlookers with his smashed drives.
What might really be fun is for Mahomes to follow Romo and perhaps offer a few comments on his golf game. That would really be a fun turn of the tables before the 2019 season cranks up in just a few weeks.
After all, beating the pros at The Cascades might be Romo’s toughest job of all.