PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Tony Romo is ramping up his work again – with a golf club in his hand, not a football or mic.
The former Dallas Cowboys star received terrific reviews in his first season as the lead NFL analyst for CBS Sports but now has fairways and greens ahead of him for months. This week he’s playing in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am with pro Will Zalatoris, having a blast touring Monterey Peninsula on some of the world’s best golf courses.
And in March he’ll make his PGA Tour debut at the Puntacana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic on a sponsor’s exemption.
Golf provides Romo, now 37, with his latest challenge, and when the competitive fire still burns within, he won’t pass on the chance to face the best players in the world. While he has big dreams of earning his way onto a professional circuit, he knows he faces long odds.
“But I think that's what makes it really fun and enjoyable,” Romo said. “I also think that the challenge that’s presented is what a competitor really wants. … Just as an athlete you always want to play and compete … to get a chance to play with some of the best players in the world and get (the chance) to test your game and see what you got.”
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Despite being a long shot to make it where he plays for a living, it’s not unrealistic, for Romo has plenty of game. His handicap for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am is 0 and he has a plus-3 handicap index playing out of the Dallas National Golf Club, where he hooks up for rounds from time to time with Jordan Spieth.
“He's helped me with my game, obviously,” said Romo, who has tried to qualify three times for the U.S. Open but fell short each time. “I really believe you can learn through osmosis sometimes, just being a fly on the wall.”
Well, this week, Romo is in the ear of Zalatoris, a rookie playing just his second Tour event as a pro. Romo is one of Zalatoris’ childhood heroes, and the two met at and now frequently play together at Bent Tree Golf Club in Dallas. Romo knows how to pick his partner – Zalatoris is in contention after rounds of 67-69 and as a team they are in the top 10.
“I was giving him a hard time because he showed up late to the first tee this morning,” Zalatoris said after the two finished at the Monterey Peninsula Shore Course. “But today was really cool. We had a lot of really good conversations and it's, honestly, it's funny for me because I see him as someone who works on his game pretty hard and almost is like a peer with how hard he works on his game, quite frankly.
“And especially playing golf with him, it's funny to me because I see all these people trying to get his picture and whatnot and I'm like, yeah, he's cool, but he's not that cool.”
His scorecard was cool, though.
“He played good. He had five birdies. He didn't have any shots either, so those were gross birdies,” Zalatoris said. “So he did a great job.”
Romo’s goal is to keep doing a great job. He has been seeing Spieth’s chiropractor, Troy Van Biezen, to help strengthen his back following surgeries that ended his NFL career. He is now fitter and stronger and able to physically withstand a routine and schedule of long practice hours for his golf game.
The past two months, he has seen real progress in his game. Now he knows he has to see more, especially when he could face complaints about taking the sponsor’s exemption at the Puntacana Resort & Club Championship – which is played the same week as the Dell Technologies Match Play – because he’s taking a spot from a professional.
“If you play good, they will respect you. If you don't play good, then you really aren't going to be respected very well,” Romo said. “If you hit a 5-iron ... and you can put it to a back right pin and fade it in there, they're going to respect you. And if you can't, then you'll probably get some blow back.
“I understand that. That's why you've got to go out there and play well.”