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