Keeping Score

Curry deserves his shot, but don’t expect much

Let’s get this out of the way first: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Steph Curry receiving a sponsor exemption to play an event on the Tour. In fact, there’s quite a bit right with it.

Curry will play in the Ellie Mae Classic on Aug. 3-6 at TPC Stonebrae in Hayward, Calif., which is about 28 miles from Oakland, where the Golden State Warriors are based. The tournament benefits the Warriors Community Foundation.

Curry is one of the stars for the NBA-champion Warriors and, according to his scores entered at, a 2 handicap. He probably won’t make the cut and might not break 80 in either of his first two rounds. None of that matters. 

Curry is one of the world’s most recognizable athletes, and because of that, attendance at the Ellie Mae Classic likely will increase more than incrementally. That means more attention to a Tour event and more money raised for the foundation.

The argument against allowing an athlete from another sport to compete on the third-best tour in the world is that the celebrity is taking a spot from a professional golfer who is trying to earn a living. 

If you’re depending on sponsor exemptions to keep your job on the Tour, you have more problems than Curry being in the field instead of you.

Besides, this is far from the first time that an athlete from another sport has competed in an event on the developmental tour. In fact, the number is 23 times, and it includes baseball’s John Smoltz, football’s Jerry Rice and Al Del Greco and hockey’s Brett Hull.

But if Curry were to make the cut at the Ellie Mae Classic, he would be the first celebrity athlete to do so on that tour.

Smoltz played in the South Georgia Classic in 2011 on what was then the Nationwide Tour. A plus-2 handicap, Smoltz came undone, posting scores of 84-87. Rice played four times on the Nationwide Tour and broke 80 only once.

It seems as if athletes from other sports want to be golfers and golfers want to be musicians, except for that one time in 2003 when Phil Mickelson was trying to bring his 68-mph high heat to the Class AAA Toledo Mud Hens.

When athletes become proficient in golf – in other words, when they can shoot under par on occasion – some of them obsessively want to see how they stack up against the best players in the world. Tony Romo has tried to qualify for the U.S. Open and has failed on each attempt.

The first thing you need to know is this: most professional golfers are plus-6 to plus-8 handicaps, and some are even better than that. So, that puts Curry 10 shots behind on the first tee. 

Then, it’s not a matter of just hitting the shots. The woods are full of golfers who can hit all of the shots. Tournament golf is about controlling emotions, heartbeat and breathing. The margin for error in golf between a birdie and a bogey is alarmingly thin.

Athletes have their own celebrity tour, the flagship event of which is the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship at Lake Tahoe. In 2010-15, Smoltz posted six consecutive top-10s in that event, including a ninth place in 2011, not long after he competed on the Nationwide Tour.

Which means it becomes a matter of competing outside of your comfort zone. There’s a big difference between a three-pointer and a three-putt. Although Dustin Johnson can dunk, he wouldn’t survive two minutes in an NBA game, which is why golf at the highest level can make the world’s best athletes look like rank beginners.

"When I found out I was getting a sponsor’s exemption, I had a lot of emotions about it because I love to play golf,” Curry said in a statement. “It’s a passion of mine."

"But to be able to play alongside the next and best of the golf professionals is going to be a huge honor, a huge treat. Looking forward to hopefully not embarrassing myself…”

He wouldn’t be the first.

Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email:; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf

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