Af­ter slow start, NBA su­per­star wields hot put­ter in pro golf de­but

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS -

HAY­WARD, Cal­i­for­nia — Stephen Curry pumped his right fist, raised his put­ter in the air and gave a firm shoul­der bump to cad­die Jon­nie West, his golf part­ner on road trips with the Golden State War­riors.

Af­ter three bo­geys in five holes of his pro­fes­sional golf de­but, a birdie was wor­thy of cel­e­bra­tion.

It was the an­i­mated, con­fi­dent Curry that NBA fans know so well — the two-time league MVP fi­nally feel­ing it and mak­ing the tough shots on the chal­leng­ing course at TPC Stone­brae while com­pet­ing in a tour­na­ment one step be­low the PGA Tour.

With a bo­gey on the last hole, he had a re­spectable 4-over 74.

“It was an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, I’ve been look­ing for­ward to this since I found out I was play­ing, and to fi­nally hit my first shot in tour­na­ment play was a re­ally, re­ally ner­vous mo­ment but it was ev­ery­thing I hoped for,” Curry said.

“If you told me I was go­ing to shoot 74 go­ing into the first round I’d take that all day, ev­ery day. I’m pretty happy with it.”

Curry drew 300-plus fans to the Web.com Tour’s El­lie Mae Clas­sic, where Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame wide re­ceiver Jerry Rice has played a few times in the past.

The star point guard of the cham­pion War­riors high­fived fans be­tween holes on the pic­turesque course pro- vid­ing panoramic views over­look­ing San Fran­cisco Bay, and he chat­ted with the other two play­ers in his three­some, Sam Ry­der and de­fend­ing cham­pion Stephan Jaeger. Both will be on the PGA Tour next sea­son.

Curry, who munched on a break­fast sand­wich while play­ing the first hole, missed badly on his open­ing tee shot. The drive landed on a hill and bounced per­fectly into the cup holder of a golf cart.

Not quite as spot-on as those sig­na­ture pregame tun­nel shots at Or­a­cle Arena or the jaw-drop­ping, buzzer­beat­ing 3-point­ers from way, way back.

“That’s prob­a­bly a first on the tour. There was a golf cart just to the left of my tar­get on the first hole and it went right in the cup holder,” Curry said.

“Not an ideal way to start, call­ing a rules of­fi­cial over af­ter your first tee shot. I kind of set­tled in af­ter that.”

On the 15th fair­way, Curry leaned on Jon­nie West, a mem­ber of Golden State’s front of­fice and son of Hall of Famer Jerry West.

Then Curry fin­ished the par-5 15 th by sink­ing a 5-foot, down­hill birdie putt. He made par on No 16, then sur­vived a tee shot to the bunker and a near stum­ble climb­ing out of the sand on the par-4 18th and drained an 8-footer to save par.

That prompted a tri­umphant club tap to his shoe and Curry then held up the ball, sport­ing a big grin.

“It was awe­some,” West said. “He han­dled the nerves of this be­ing his first time in this type of at­mos­phere pretty well.”

Curry be­gan his round on the back nine and when his name was an­nounced on the tee, “I could barely feel my hands; I had to try to take a deep breath,” he said. He made the turn in 2-over. The top 65 and ties from the 156-player field will make the cut.

Curry, play­ing on a spon­sor ex­emp­tion and one of three am­a­teurs in the field, was out­side the top 140 and five shots be­low the cut as the first round headed for con­clu­sion.

“I want to play bet­ter to­mor­row. Now that I kind of got the jit­ters out hope­fully that will hap­pen and hit a cou­ple more good shots and make a cou­ple more putts,” he said.

With so many cam­eras click­ing, cheers and whis­tles mo­ments af­ter he struck the ball and hun­dreds of sup­port­ers in No 30 shirts and War­riors gear, it was a hec­tic day.

There were no balls lost, ei­ther. Wher­ever Curry’s shots landed, a big crowd quickly gath­ered to get an up-close glimpse of one of basketball’s best.

Curry was one of the big­gest bar­gains in the NBA be­fore the War­riors re­warded him last month with a new five-year con­tract that will pay him $201 mil­lion.

Play­ing his other sport­ing pas­sion, Curry got plenty of help along the 7,024-yard, par-70 course. Those with homes lin­ing the lay­out gath­ered in groups on decks to catch a hole or two.

On this day, it was Jaeger mak­ing a key as­sist down the stretch.

Wait­ing at the tee box on their fi­nal hole, Jaeger took a basketball be­long­ing to 14-year-old Erik Oswald for Curry to sign and de­liv­ered it back to the giddy teen who had fol­lowed his hoops hero all day.

“Un­be­liev­able gallery out here,” Curry said.

“Hope­fully that con­tin­ues through the week. It’s re­ally some­thing to see.”

ERIC RISBERG / AP

Golden State War­riors basketball star Stephen Curry re­acts af­ter miss­ing a birdie putt on the eighth green dur­ing the Web.com Tour’s El­lie Mae Clas­sic on Thurs­day, in Hay­ward, Cal­i­for­nia. Curry shot a 4-over-par 74.

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