Thursday, August 3, 2017

Steph Curry holds his own in first round of Ellie Mae Classic

It started with an e-mail message to Steph Curry from the organizers of the Ellie Mae Classic, a Tour event which is held at TPC Stonebrae in Hayward, inviting the Warriors’ 3-pointer wizard to play the tournament—as a competitor, not just a pro-am partner—on a sponsor’s invite.

The message came during the NBA Finals, at a time when Curry had other things on his mind—like winning the NBA Championship. Once that task was wrapped up (sorry, Cleveland…), Curry accepted the invite, igniting a medium-sized flurry of support as well as bashing on social media.

Supporters of his invitation contended that having a high-profile local athlete like Curry playing in the field, not just schmoozing with the pro golfers in a pro-am, would bring welcome attention, from both the media and fans, to this lower-tier event. The bashers mostly beat a one-note anthem—“He’s taking a chance at a win away from a Tour pro who needs to make a living!”—which ignored the fact that Curry’s invite was one of several sponsor’s exemptions that can be handed out to anyone they see fit to invite.

Another sponsor’s invite went to Colt McNealy, younger brother of just-graduated Stanford Men’s Golf star Maverick McNealy, with no notice or push-back on social media. The younger McNealy will follow in his brother’s footsteps as a freshman at Stanford in the fall.

Curry’s presence in the field certainly raised the profile of the event—tournament organizers issued more than 175 media credentials this year, compared to fewer than 20 for last year’s tournament. A gallery of between 300 and 400 fans and media followed Curry and his grouping, pros Sam Ryder and 2016 winner Stephan Jaeger, a bigger crowd than players on the developmental tour are accustomed to seeing.

Curry was welcomed by most of the players in the event during the week; a few even asked for his autograph. One Cleveland Cavaliers fan in the field, Justin Lower, poked a little good-natured fun at Curry, displaying a wedge that was stamped with the letters “L L W L W W W” on the back, recalling the Cav’s championship-winning record against the Warriors last year.

Betting lines in Las Vegas and elsewhere reflected the fact that a win, or even making the cut, would be a huge accomplishment for the Warriors point guard, with odds of 1:2500 to miss the cut, 900:1 to make it, and over/under on a low score of 76.5, high score 79.5.
Even experienced observers underestimated Steph Curry’s golf game today. Curry shot 37-37—74, confounding the oddsmakers — and more than a few bettors.

Accustomed as he is to big events in his own sport, Curry was so nervous on the first tee that, as he told reporters after the round, he could barely feel his hands. His round got off to a rocky start, with a left miss off the tee—a theme that would repeat throughout the day—on the tenth hole (his first), and an unlikely hop off the cart path into the cup holder in a parked golf cart.

After an opening bogey that might have wrecked a lesser man’s round right out of the blocks, Curry went par-par-bogey-bogey before getting a shot back on the 15th hole, the lone par-5 on the back nine of TPC Stonebrae. The birdie on 15 was a beauty, coming on the strength of a center-cut drive, followed by a hybrid shot to within 100 yards, a pith to about six feet. After draining the putt he gave a fist pump, accompanied by the roar of the gallery.

Curry closed out his first nine holes with three pars to turn in 2-over 37. His second nine was a wilder ride, with three bogeys and a double, counter-balanced by a pair of birdies, on the third hole—the other par-5 on the course—and on the par-3 sixth hole, a clutch bounce-back birdie that came on the heels of the double-bogey on the fifth hole.

Even though he finished with a bogey on the par-5 ninth hole for a second 37, at the end of the day Curry had (mostly) silenced the naysayers, putting together a workmanlike 4-over 74 that beat the oddsmakers’ predictions – and bested playing partner Sam Ryder by a stroke.

Wild off the tee with a consistent left miss, Curry hit 7 of 13 fairways and 8 of 18 greens, taking only 27 putts—numbers which reflect the strength of his short game.

Though he is unlikely to make the cut to play the weekend, the Warriors star was happy with his round, “If you told me I was going to shoot 74 in the first round, I’d take that all day every day,” he said.

Curry sits 11 strokes back of Nicholas Thompson, the first round leader at 7-under, and is tied for 142nd place among the 154 players in the field. He tees off Friday afternoon at 2:15 PM.

With the stars of the PGA Tour in Akron, Ohio this week for the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, a parallel event, the Barracuda Championship, in Reno; and the LPGA in Scotland for the Ricoh Women’s British Open, there is no live television coverage of the Ellie Mae Classic. On–the-scene leaderboard updates are available online at, and blow-by-blow reports can be had by following the San Frncisco Chronicle’s Ron Kroichick on Twitter (

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