News & Opinion

Curry gives golf an edge this week

One of the world’s best, most dynamic, popular basketball players will dress like a golfer for the next two days. He will show his boundless passion for the game, hit some good shots (and several bad ones) and continue to praise the abundant skills of players on the Web.com Tour. 

How is this bad for golf?

It’s really not.

Stephen Curry’s participation in this week’s Ellie Mae Classic is terrific on all fronts – for him, for the tournament, for the game. Nothing shouts, “Golf is cool!” more than one of the planet’s coolest humans publicly demonstrating how much he loves playing.

Just imagine all of the kids out there who idolize Curry as a basketball player, marveling at his crazy dribbling skills and mind-blowing three-point shooting. But maybe they think golf is stodgy, boring, uncool.

Then they see or hear about Curry on the course this week, smiling and having the time of his life. They learn he’s been playing golf since age 10, watches Golf Channel regularly and has a putting green and practice net in his backyard.

Hey, maybe golf isn’t so stodgy.

“I love that he’s out here,” Web.com Tour pro Nick Rousey said after Tuesday’s practice round with Curry. “It gets people excited. It gets the sponsors excited. They get encouraged, and they want to sponsor the tournament. If they do that, I get a job.

“So, I think it’s great having him out here.”

Rousey is right: Curry’s presence is good for business, and golf is still a business. It’s fighting for media attention and limited sponsorship dollars on a saturated sports landscape. Curry can only help, especially in the Bay Area.

Still, many fans and some tour pros lamented the decision to offer him a sponsor exemption. They insisted it should have gone to a Web.com player trying to make it on tour. Lee McCoy and John Peterson were among the pros who derided the Curry invitation. 

Sorry, but that’s shortsighted. 

There are 156 players in this week’s field at TPC Stonebrae in Hayward, near Oakland. All but four of those were earned exclusively on merit, no subjectivity allowed. Tournament officials then had four sponsor exemptions, two restricted to Web.com Tour members and two unrestricted. 

Put another way: If a tour pro can’t earn his way into a field that big, then he needs to play better. 

Taylor Moore, a 24-year-old Web.com rookie who also joined Curry for Tuesday’s practice round, understands both the frustration and the big picture.

“I could definitely see the ridicule of it,” Moore said. “For a lot of guys, this is their job and for them to have a spot in this tournament could be the difference in their career. So, I get that side of it.

“But I think it’s pretty cool for a world-class athlete like Steph to play in an event like this and kind of promote our sport in a different light. I think it’s a unique opportunity for him, especially in the Bay Area. I don’t have a problem with it.”

Many fans also don’t realize the extraordinary talent on the Web.com Tour. Curry, who sports a handicap index of +0.1, will make the point when he misses the cut by a country mile. But he’ll hit his share of good shots, draw sizable crowds, speak respectfully about tour pros and generate lots of buzz.

And that’s great for golf.

Ron Kroichick has covered golf for the San Francisco Chronicle since 2005. He also is a regular contributor to NCGA Golf, the Northern California Golf Association’s magazine. E-mail: r.kroichick@comcast.net; Twitter: @ronkroichick