Tony Romo just says no to golf

IRVING -- Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo's decision to forgo an attempt to qualify for the 2012 U.S. Open golf championship didn't garner national headlines.

No, it was just a blurb on "a little Internet site" with him acknowledging that someone else submitted his name without his permission. He had no intention of playing.

Considering that Romo has never come close to qualifying in his previous tries, his decision will have no impact on the tournament.

But to steal a line from the movie Tin Cup, with which Romo has more in common as a risk-taking football player than a grip-it-and-rip-it golfer: "When a defining moment comes along, you define the moment... or the moment defines you."

This is potentially a defining moment for the star-crossed Romo, who is on his way to owning all of the Cowboys' passing records.

But he still has to endure questions of whether newly signed backup quarterback Kyle Orton was brought in to push or compete with him. Or whether the Cowboys should consider drafting his replacement if Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill falls to No. 14.

It's stupid, really.

Have people simply forgotten the mess the Cowboys had at quarterback after Troy Aikman departed in 2000 and before Romo took over in 2006?

Romo has to deal with questions because of his inability to lead the Cowboys on a deep run in the playoffs, let alone a Super Bowl title. His 10-17 record as a starter in December and January is only topped by his one win in four postseason starts.

He is better known for his failures than his successes. Most notable were the botched hold on a potentially game-winning field-goal try in a 2006 wild-card game in Seattle and a trip to Cabo San Lucas during the bye week before a divisional playoff loss to the underdog New York Giants in 2007.

Once a darling, Romo is now looked upon in some circles with scorn. Everything he does is scrutinized based on its impact on the Cowboys' won-loss record.

That includes whom he was dating during his bachelor days and what he does in the off-season -- which brings us back to golf and the U.S. Open.

It's not just that Romo loves golf. He is a pretty good golfer -- so good, in fact, that there has been talk of him trying to qualify for the Seniors Tour after he is long done with football.

Romo, like many other football players, plays a lot of golf in the off-season. It has never caused him to miss any team-related or football-related activities.

Romo's and the Cowboys' struggles late in seasons and late in games when it matters most invite criticism, and he is roundly criticized for playing golf. Everyone knows Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers don't eat, sleep and drink football in the off-season.

Of course, they have title rings that give them the benefit of the doubt.

Romo doesn't.

That's why this little decision to forgo an attempt to qualify for the U.S. Open should not be brushed aside. This is a big deal for Romo and the Cowboys. Never mind that the decision could also partly be brought on by Romo becoming a new father in the past couple of weeks.

Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said there is no doubt Romo's decision sends a message to the rest of the team -- and the world -- that the maligned quarterback is focused on leading the Cowboys to a Super Bowl title.

Given how things ended last season with the Cowboys blowing more double-digit, fourth-quarter leads than any team in franchise history and the talk this off-season about the lack of leadership in the locker room, Romo's message couldn't have come at a better time.

"It starts at the top and you show that commitment, and there's no doubt about it, it trickles down," Witten said. "He's definitely the leader of that group to send that message."

Witten said anyone who knows Romo would never doubt his dedication and commitment to winning because they have seen how much time he puts in.

Witten, who is Romo's best friend on the team, understands the perception that lingers around his quarterback partly because of the Cowboys' inability to win in the playoffs.

"I don't think anybody has ever doubted his dedication," Witten said. "But I do think there's a perception that goes along with that and there's something to be said for that. I don't think that ever takes away from anything he ever does on the football field.

"I believe he'll put us in position to be successful this year. He's an elite quarterback. Until he wins a championship, the critics are going to come. The thing about him is he is so far past that. He knows he has one goal."

This decision to skip golf follows a quiet move by him and the rest of the Cowboys to begin workouts at the team facilities well before last Monday's official start date.

The Cowboys finished 8-8 last season and missed the playoffs because of a season-ending loss to the Giants, who went on to win their second Super Bowl title since 2007. It's been a motivating factor all off-season.

"Bottom line is we haven't played well enough to win those games," Witten said. "We have that urgency. You've got to be your best at key times. You can't say you're close. We had too many games go the other way."

Romo certainly has that sense of urgency.

The perception that golf is on the back burner and football is all that matters is an important and defining moment for Romo heading into a season that could potentially put him at a crossroads with the Cowboys.

At age 32 and his contract due to expire after the 2013 season, if Romo doesn't find a way to get it done in 2012, the Cowboys could very well be looking for his replacement this time next year.

That's not stupid.

That's a fact and a prime example of if you don't define the moment, it will define you.

Clarence E. Hill Jr.


Twitter: @clarencehilljr

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