Tony Romo is never going to scare anyone on the PGA Tour, which is why he was back at his day job on Sunday in an NFL broadcast booth in Chicago rather than on the fairways of Silverado in Napa, California.
As late as Friday afternoon, Romo was in position to make the 36-hole cut at the Safeway Open, won on Sunday by Cameron Champ but dominated in the early days by the former NFL star’s appearance — along with the usual consternation over whether he should even be there in the first place.
A 2-under-par 70 in the first round had the place buzzing along with contingency plans to replace him on Sunday’s NFL broadcast alongside Jim Nantz taking on more meaning.
“It’s bloody impressive,” said Adam Scott, who was the first-round leader with a 65. “I’m never going to throw a pass in the NFL, that’s for sure, so I think it’s unbelievable that he can do that.”
Romo was always a long shot to make the cut, and he struggled during the second round. But his participation nonetheless gave the event a boost, and that is really the point.
The Safeway is the third event on the 2019-20 PGA Tour schedule that will stretch until next August. The first major championship is still six months away. American sports fans are engrossed in other things, mostly, with football being the main attraction.
The fact that Romo played in the NFL at a high level and is now part of one of the game’s top broadcast crews only enhances his participation. That he acquitted himself well is a boost for him, but also for the game, showing again just how hard it is to complete in golf at an elite level.
There was more grumbling that Romo, who received a sponsor exemption, was denying a fledgling pro an opportunity. Romo, 39, plays as an amateur, and while he clearly is an excellent player, it is also a stretch to think he could be competitive in this setting, even if he devoted all of his time to it.
So, the theory goes, why not someone more deserving?
Romo received one of the tournament’s two unrestricted sponsor exemptions. Regular PGA Tour events typically receive up to eight sponsor invites, with all but two usually reserved for players who could not get in through their PGA Tour status.
Often, the unrestricted exemption Romo received goes to an amateur or a local club pro — typically someone not trying to make his living playing tournament golf. These spots are viewed as perks to the title sponsor, and they are used in varying ways. The fact they are not used like this one was for Romo more often is most surprising.
Trying to generate interest this time of year is especially challenging. Why not give the event a bit of juice this way? And who is to say that someone who tuned in or followed for that reason didn’t later come back to learn something about the winner Champ, whose emotional story of winning for his grandfather is the kind of ending you cannot script?
NBA star Stephen Curry also was part of the week, playing in the pro-am with Phil Mickelson. Curry has twice played in Korn Ferry events on sponsor exemptions, and that same mantra holds true. To put it in Curry’s vernacular: No harm, no foul.
They were joking, we presume, when Mickelson, Curry and Romo broached the idea of a match that would include Tiger Woods. Why not? Phil and Steph vs. Tiger and Tony. No matter how you set that up — best-ball, scramble, alternate shot or some combination — it would be pretty cool to see.
Throw in some big-money stakes with a big charitable component, play it the week of a fall event starving for the attention lacking this time of year and, of course, assure Woods’ and Mickelson’s involvement. And give Curry and Romo sponsor invites, as well.
The golf calendar is so crammed with official events now that there is virtually no time for the “Silly Season” events of years past that went out of favor. So work one or two into a regular tournament week.
Steph Curry and Phil Mickelson share their favorite aspects of each other’s game.
And why not consider some alternate formats? There is no arguing that 72-hole stroke play is the best way to determine a tournament champion. But that doesn’t mean there can’t be something outside of the norm to boost interest. With a 10-plus-months golf season encompassing some 48 tournament weeks, there is a room for a little variety.
Already we have a match play format (WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play), a Stableford format (Reno-Tahoe) and a team event (Zurich Championship).
There has been considerable talk of some sort of combined event with the LPGA Tour, which should be the highest priority. Why not a team event pairing golfers based on the college they ended? How about a tournament limiting the number of clubs in the bag to seven or eight?
How about something crazy like rewarding players who hit a green in regulation with an automatic two putt? (Think about the premium this would put on accuracy off the tee and the knowledge that you have a free run at birdie putts.)
There are plenty of ideas — and seemingly some room to implement them.
The Tiger Watch
On Aug. 18, Tiger Woods shot a final-round 72 at the BMW Championship and saw his PGA Tour season come to an end after 12 events.
Sometime in the following few days, he had an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee.
On Aug. 27, Woods announced he had undergone the procedure that was to repair minor cartilage with a statement from his doctor saying he expected “a full recovery” and that the entire knee was examined with “no additional problems.”
Woods said at the time it would not impact preparations for the Zozo Championship in Japan, where he is scheduled to compete in the 78-player PGA Tour event that begins Oct. 24.
In the intervening six weeks since that surgery, Woods was seen in public at the US Open tennis tournament as well as a UCF college football game. He was at a course-design project in Missouri as well as last week’s Nexus Cup, a competition at Liberty National that was raising funds for Woods’ TGR Foundation.
What we haven’t seen is Woods swinging a golf club.
He had a putting contest last week with former NFL player Michael Strahan and was seen with his clubs but not hitting them. And in an interview for “Good Morning America” with Strahan, Woods said: “I got the clearance last week to start full practice, so I played nine holes the other day. It’s sore, yeah, but now I can start lifting and getting my muscle back.”
You can read a lot into that. Last week, Woods said, he had been given full clearance a week prior “to start full practice” and then played “nine holes the other day” and that he was “sore.”
With three weeks until “The Challenge: Japan Skins” with Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Hideki Matsuyama, followed a few days later by the Zozo Championship, it appears Woods has some work to do to get his game in shape.
The Rory Frustration
You have to love McIlroy speaking his mind, and he isn’t happy with the setup of European Tour courses. He has said as much on a couple of occasions and did so again Sunday after the Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland.
“I’m sort of honestly sick of coming back over to the European Tour and shooting 15 under par and finishing 30th,” said McIlroy, who was playing just his fourth “regular” European event (outside of the majors and WGCs) and third since winning the FedEx Cup in August on the PGA Tour.
“I don’t think the courses are set up hard enough,” said McIlroy, who despite four sub-par rounds finished seven strokes back of winner Victor Perez. “There are no penalties for bad shots. It’s tough when you come back and it’s like that. I don’t feel the good golf is regarded as well as it could be. It happened in the Scottish Open at Renaissance. I shot 13 under par and finished (34th). It’s not a good test. I think if the European Tour wants to put forth a really good product, the golf courses and setups need to be tougher.”
McIlroy might have a point in general, and he is accustomed to a smattering of tougher PGA Tour layouts, such as Torrey Pines, Riviera, Bay Hill and TPC Sawgrass.
But he also was competing at a pro-am, for which courses such as Carnoustie and The Old Course would never be set up as difficult as they would be for The Open. And the Scottish Open he referenced was generally put down to a lack of wind and bad weather leading to low scores.
And then there is this: When McIlroy won the Canadian Open earlier this year at Hamilton Golf and Country Club, he did so with a 72-hole score of 258 — 22 under par on a par-70 course.
McIlroy did clarify his remarks on Monday in an Instagram post, noting that speaking in the context of a pro-am event “wasn’t the right place to do it,” but “I can assure you it came from the right place.”
McIlroy will again have a mostly-heavy PGA Tour schedule in 2020. For the remainder of this year, he is scheduled to play the Japan PGA Tour event as well as the WGC-HSBC Champions, which counts on both tours, and then the season-ending Dubai tournament on the European Tour.