Steph Curry is known for schooling people on the hard court. But he imparts a lot of lessons on the golf course, too. Here are 13 things we learned by walking inside the ropes with the NBA star during his first round of the Web.com Tour’s Ellie Mae Classic.
1. He’s a Quick Study
At last year’s Ellie Mae, in his Web.com debut, Curry pulled driver on his first hole and tugged a shot so far left that it settled in the cup-holder of a marshal’s golf cart. Darned if he was going to do that again. On the first tee this year, Curry played conservatively, opting for a long iron, which he managed to keep inside the concrete path.
2. He Knows His Rights
Despite that smart decision, Curry, who shot a one-over 71, didn’t find the fairway. His ball settled in the first cut, in a scruffy lie but close enough to a drainage plate that Curry thought to motion for a rules official. “I can’t get off the first tee without a ruling,” he said, grinning. For the second time in two years, he got relief.
3. He Represents, Sort Of
To Bay Area sports fans, Curry is a local hero. And here he was playing before a home crowd, less than 30 miles from the NorCal town where he now resides. No wonder the murmurs of disappointment when the starter introduced him as hailing from “Charlotte, North Carolina.” Yeah, he grew up there, but still…
4. He Can Work the Ball
Curry plays with a strong left-hand grip that has hook written all over it. But on the course, as on the court, he can move the ball both ways when it’s required. He showed as much on the 193-yard par-3 12th hole, where he played a gentle fade with a six-iron to a right pin that would have made Ben Hogan proud.
5. Even without High Tops, He’s Got Hops
While tracking his approach shot on the uphill par-4 18th, Curry leapt from both feet to get a better view, a springy instance of instant elevation that suggested he could dunk in soft spikes, too.
6. He Takes Dead Aim
Speaking of dunking, on the 8th hole — his 17th of the day — Curry flushed a pin-seeking nine-iron that rattled off the flagstick, leaving a ball mark an inch from the cup.
7. He’s Mentally Tough
We saw it last year, when he put on a Seve-like masterclass in scrambling. And he showed it again Thursday, when he fell to four over through 11 holes, only to rebound with three back-side birdies to finish with a 71. Like the hoop team he stars on, Curry plays best with his back against the wall. You could spend a lifetime taking lessons, but that’s a skill that can’t be taught.
8. He Commands Loyalty
They came in Warriors jerseys and collared shirts, and they followed him in throngs for five-plus hours over billygoat terrain in heat that only scorpions could love. Call them Curry’s Cadets, and while they might not be as numerous as Arnie’s Army, nothing on the Web.com Tour comes close.
9. He’s a People Person
Amid the camera-clicks and shout-outs and whirlwinds of commotion, Curry was a model of poise and pleasantry, tipping his cap, fist-bumping young fans and tossing out golf balls as souvenirs. He is wise enough to know that if you let people in, even just a little, they’ll be more respectful when you need your distance. It’s a lesson other stars could stand to learn.
10. He Doesn’t Look Tall on the Tee Box Either
In NBA games, Curry calls to mind a Lilliputian in a land of giants. But he doesn’t loom much larger on the links. To watch him strolling shoulder to shoulder Thursday with his 6-foot-1 playing partner, Martin Trainer, was to wonder if the program had it right: Could Curry really be 6-foot-3?
11. He’s Got Range
Curry’s other playing partner on Thursday was big-bombing Cameron Champ, who frequently outdrove him by 50 or so yards. But it’s not like No. 30 is a short-knocker. On Thursday, his average driving distance was 327.5 yards, which placed him 27th in the field.
12. He Has Quieted All Doubters
Before last year’s debut, Curry’s exemption into the Ellie Mae inspired some grumbling on social media that his spot should have gone to a deserving pro. Not so this week, with the Twittersphere alive with admiration, and Curry’s phone abuzz with well-wishing texts. The spirit was summed in a tweet from Mike Van Sickle, another competitor in the field: “It’s really cool to be able to hit balls next to Steph Curry this week. Great publicity for the Tour and we all appreciate him being out here.”
13. But He Still Looks Destined to Miss the Cut
So, yeah, Curry’s good, and he played a gutty round. But even after scratching out a score he should be proud of, he’s T107, eight shots off the lead. There’s a chance he’ll make the weekend, just as there’s a chance that Mike Weir could beat him in a game of one-on-one.