Commentary

Nelson officials rooting for Romo

Updated: May 16, 2010, 12:41 AM ET
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- If HP Byron Nelson Championship officials can't get Phil or Tiger, they'd sure take Tony.

When the PGA Tour tees it up next week in Las Colinas, the top two players in the world are not scheduled to attend. Tiger Woods is dealing with neck spasms and isn't scheduled to play in either Dallas-Fort Worth tournament. Mickelson's schedule calls for him to play in the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial in Fort Worth later this month, but not the Nelson.

So that leaves … Tony Romo? The Dallas Cowboys quarterback would be just fine for Nelson tournament officials, but he would have to play some solid golf in Monday's open qualifying at Stonebridge Ranch Country Club (Hill Course) to get into the tournament -- provided he can even make it to qualifying.

Romo advanced to the open qualifying after shooting even par on the same course Tuesday. His 9:57 a.m. tee time, however, conflicts with the start of the Cowboys organized team activities, which begin at 11 a.m. He could only participate if qualifying is delayed by at least three hours because of inclement weather.

[+] EnlargeRickie Fowler
Allan Henry/US PresswireOSU alum Rickie Fowler is one of the rising stars Nelson officials hope to secure for years to come.

"We'd love to have Romo," Nelson tournament chairman George Conant said. "He's a great guy, and everyone knows him. This is still a PGA Tour event, and it's about the pros making their living on Tour. But if he can qualify, that's extremely impressive, and we'd welcome him. It'd be great.

"From a tournament standpoint, it would be terrific."

With their event opposite the BMW PGA Championship in England for the second consecutive year, Nelson officials have been challenged trying to recruit the best field possible. Players that might otherwise play in the Nelson, such as Ernie Els and Ian Poulter, are opting to go overseas for the big European Tour event.

None of the top 10 in the World Rankings is playing at the Nelson, but a handful of those in the top 20 of the FedEx Cup standings will be there. Colonial's field, however, will boast some of the world's best as that event isn't opposite a prestigious international event as it was a few years ago.

"It is a difficult situation," Conant said. "We didn't know that they were opposite us precisely until December when their schedule came out. There isn't much you can do. With the Ryder Cup this year, a tournament like that becomes important for the European players. The Ryder Cup officials will be watching them, talking to them, and they view it as important.

"We do our recruiting and go after the best players we can find that won't be over there."

That includes a group of young players making a mark on the PGA Tour. Both the Nelson and Colonial have made it a priority to seek out those talented golfers in the hopes that they not only have fan appeal, but can also be advocates for the tournament long-term.

Peter Ripa, the tournament director at the Colonial, flew to Hawaii earlier this year and personally extended invitations to Michael Sim and Rickie Fowler. Sim, from Australia, was the Nationwide Tour Player of the Year in 2009. Fowler won the Ben Hogan Award -- the Heisman Trophy of collegiate golf that is given out in conjunction with the Colonial -- in 2008 at Oklahoma State.

"The young players who have proven on every level that they can play are important," Ripa said. "You want to build an allegiance and let them know you think of these guys as stars. Fast-forward when they are ranked in the top 20 and everyone wants them there and maybe they think about your event because they've played in it."

Many of the young stars have local or regional ties, giving the tournaments players who can make a big impression on and connect with fans. Those expected to play in both tournaments include Colleyville's Hunter Mahan and Ryan Palmer; Westlake's Ben Crane; and Fort Worth's Rory Sabbatini, the defending Nelson champion and the 2007 Colonial winner. Southlake resident Y.E. Yang, last year's PGA Championship winner, is also playing the double.

"I think different fans identify with different people," Conant said. "Ryan Palmer went to A&M, and the Aggie graduates know about him. Rickie Fowler went to Oklahoma State. He's not living here, but there is a connection there. It usually works out pretty well. Players like playing in their own neighborhood."

No one locally would interest fans more than Romo, the Cowboys' quarterback. A sponsor exemption for Romo would be an option, but the Nelson would rather reserve those for promising golfers or special circumstances with pros.

"We're all fans of Tony Romo, and we think it would be great if he qualified for the tournament. But when we look at our sponsor exemptions, we have to think long term," Conant said.

"That's why we gave exemptions to Tiger Woods and Justin Leonard years ago, and it's why we've given one to Jordan Spieth, the top-ranked junior golfer in the country and the reigning U.S. Junior Amateur Champion. We also look at pros like Chris Smith who are trying to make a comeback on Tour and who depend on this income for their livelihood."

Nelson officials remain pleased with the way their field is shaping up and expect a competitive and exciting tournament.

"We have a good field," Conant said. "It is a changing set of faces that are winning. We don't have some of the name folks, but we have 30 winners on the PGA Tour the past two years in the tournament. We're excited about our field, and we're ready to get things going."

Richard Durrett covers golf for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

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