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Why is this former NFL quarterback playing in the 94th Utah Open golf tournament?

Tournament begins Friday at Riverside Country Club and runs through Sunday

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Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is playing in the Utah Open golf tournament on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) passes against the Philadelphia Eagles in the first quarter of their NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2007, in Irving, Texas.

Tony Gutierrez, Associated Press

Since he became a lead color analyst on NFL games for CBS Sports, former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has developed a reputation for telling viewers what is going to happen on the football field before it happens.

His ability to predict the future is uncanny.

So when the affable Romo says he’s entering this week’s 94th Siegfried & Jensen Utah Open golf tournament with plans to win the thing, perhaps he should be taken seriously.

“Well, I came here to win,” Romo said in a news conference prior to Thursday’s Pro Am at Riverside Country Club in Provo. “I mean, that’s my goal. But I gotta go out there and play well.”

Earlier in the interview, when asked if he could make the 36-hole cut in the 54-hole event that begins Friday and runs through Sunday, the ever-present smile almost left Romo’s face.

“Yeah, definitely. I will be disappointed if I don’t, just with how I have been playing lately,” he said, detailing how he shot 71-69 a few weeks ago at the Texas State Open and missed the cut by a single stroke.

“I wasn’t putting very well then,” he said. “My ball striking has improved dramatically each month this year. I would say this year I’ve made the biggest leap in the last four” since he began playing golf seriously and competitively upon retiring in 2016.

So how does a 14-year NFL veteran and four-time NFL Pro Bowler get invited to play in a golf tournament in Utah? The total purse is $110,000 and the winner will receive $15,000.

“Well, I came here to win. I mean, that’s my goal. But I gotta go out there and play well.” — Former NFL quarterback Tony Romo on playing in the Utah Open

Tournament director Devin Dehlin said Romo is good friends with Park City’s B.J. Staten, the 2014 Utah Open champion, from their days playing golf together in Texas, where Staten is originally from.

“Tony is a great guy, and I think he is going to have a wonderful time,” Staten told Fairways Media. “He loves the game of golf. He enjoys grinding it out and he enjoys competing. That’s probably an understatement.”

The two met at a sand volleyball tournament in the Dallas area, then starting playing golf together at Royal Oaks GC with other pros such as Colt Knost, Harrison Frazar and Justin Leonard.

Romo was actually going to play in last year’s Utah Open, which was scaled down a bit due to the pandemic, but he injured his wrist playing in the 2020 American Century Celebrity Golf Championship in South Lake Tahoe and had to withdraw.

“B.J. is a wonderful guy and a great player,” Romo said. “He got the ball rolling.”

Romo said he has vacationed in Utah the past few years and played some golf here at altitude, but hadn’t played Riverside until Thursday’s Pro Am, when he was paired with Ned Siegfried and three former BYU players who also played in the NFL: Robbie Bosco, Chad Lewis and Lee Johnson.

“They tell me the course is fantastic,” he said before heading out. “You can just tell it is pure … like the courses in Wisconsin where I am from that cost more than $8 to play. It is pure, and that is the best term for it. That is probably the reason I am here. I am excited to see it.”

Romo retold the story Thursday about how he got into golf. He got some clubs for Christmas when he was 8 years old. He immediately went outside and went into a neighbor’s yard to hit the balls into his yard, for safety’s sake. But one of his shots struck the curb “and the ball went right back into our neighbors’ window,” he said, laughing.

“That has pretty much been my golf game the rest of my career.”

Romo also took the time Thursday to talk about former BYU quarterbacks Zach Wilson and Taysom Hill, heaping praise on both. He said he knows whether Hill or Jameis Winston will win the starting quarterback job in New Orleans, but won’t say it publicly because he doesn’t want to get Saints coach Sean Payton upset at him.

The majority of the 156 golfers in the field are from Utah. Former BYU golfer Peter Kuest is the defending champion, having shot a 23-under-par total last year to win by seven shots over Kavan Eubank of Idaho.

Locals Hayden Christensen and Kelton Hirsch tied for low amateur honors at 2020; Hirsch, who is Dehlin’s son-in-law, recently completed his playing career at BYU and has turned pro.

Romo isn’t the only celebrity in the field. Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith, a past club champion at Riverside, is also in the field.

“This is a home game for me,” said Smith, who owns a home on the 18th fairway at Pebble Beach and has played in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and other events he calls “majors for me.”

Former PGA Tour regular Daniel Summerhays has entered and will play the first two rounds with past champion Dean Wilson and Riverside head pro Chris Moody.

Romo will tee off at 1:10 p.m. Friday with Staten and recent Salt Lake City Open champion Zach Johnson. 

Grace Summerhays, the only woman in the field, tees off at 8 a.m. with Tyson Shelley and her cousin, Willard Richards. Summerhays is the daughter of Boyd Summerhays, who is PGA Tour star Tony Finau’s golf coach.

Smith said Thursday that some day he hopes to get some Jazz players in the event, players such as Donovan Mitchell or Mike Conley. Or, he said, perhaps Jazz minority owner Dwyane Wade will make an appearance as his golf game improves. Smith tees off at 7:50 a.m. Friday with fellow amateurs Shane Brady and Braxton Watts.

Admission is free for all three days.