WEB.COM TOUR INSIDER
Curry looks to impress again at Ellie Mae Classic
August 07, 2018
By Kevin Prise, PGATOUR.COM
Stephen Curry accepts invitation to compete in second straight Ellie Mae Classic
HAYWARD, Calif. – Upon completing the first hole of last year’s Ellie Mae Classic at TPC Stonebrae, Stephan Jaeger asked playing partner Stephen Curry to evaluate the nerves of teeing it up in Web.com Tour competition.
As a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player, three-time NBA champion, Curry could have played it off. But he opted for honesty.
“He said it was the most nervous he had ever been,” said Jaeger, who won the 2016 Ellie Mae Classic by seven shots at 30-under, and has since graduated to the PGA TOUR.
“For somebody like that to say that, it was pretty cool.”
Curry channeled those nerves to the tune of 74-74, missing the cut by 11 shots but impressing all corners of the golf world with his well-rounded game, particularly around the greens.
The 30-year-old enjoyed the experience so much that he’s doing it again. He has accepted a sponsor’s invitation to compete at the Ellie Mae Classic for the second consecutive year, with an eye on making history and becoming the first crossover athlete to make a cut in TOUR-sanctioned competition.
As Curry arrived at his inaugural Ellie Mae Classic, there were plenty of doubters. Golf requires consistent practice in order to compete at a TOUR-caliber level, the conventional wisdom goes. Curry was just two months removed from his second NBA title, and he had recently returned from a trip to China where he hosted junior clinics and did not work on his golf game.
After just a few holes of a Tuesday practice round, it was clear that length off the tee would not be an issue. Curry has been an avid golfer since his youth, and a smooth, fundamentally sound motion ensured long, accurate drives.
But how would his short game hold up under the pressures of tournament competition, where the greens are faster and the rough is thicker, without significant preparation?
As it turned out, Curry’s finesse from beyond the arc proved transferable to competitive golf.
“I remember telling everybody that his short game was really, really good,” Jaeger said, highlighting a short-sided chip to a foot on the par-5 third hole, a ‘high nipper’ that stopped on a dime. “His chipping was pure.”
“I think he impressed a lot of people and shocked a lot of people,” added fellow TOUR rookie Sam Ryder, who played alongside Jaeger and Curry for the first two rounds at TPC Stonebrae, with Curry besting Ryder (74 to 75) in the opening round.
“I think the expectations were a lot lower than what he delivered, but it was kind of a testament to his natural athletic ability and his grit.”
FedExCup No. 2 Justin Thomas played alongside Curry in a recent Safeway Open pro-am, and the reigning WGC-Bridgestone Invitational winner found himself similarly impressed by Curry’s golf intelligence and variety of skills.
Thomas remembers Curry making five or six birdies that day, albeit not from the back tees, and has long admired Curry’s quest to perfect the game of basketball.
The nine-time PGA TOUR winner describes Curry’s 74-74 effort in his Web.com Tour debut as an ‘unbelievable showing.’ Remembering what he saw firsthand, though, he wasn’t shocked.
“The thing about Stephen that he has, that you can’t teach, is he has great hands,” Thomas said, echoing Jaeger’s sentiment. “He has a great short game. The nerves, for someone who doesn’t have a short game or great hands … that’s going to show in a professional event.
“But for someone like him, who has a great short game, who is a great putter … you just need to keep it in play and get it around, and he was going to shoot the score that he did.”
Following his second-round 74 last year, Curry spoke of piqued curiosity regarding how much he might improve with consistent practice and coaching, upon his retirement from professional basketball.
Last month, Golden State Warriors teammate Andre Iguodala even remarked on the Sports Business Radio podcast that, “Steph will be on Tour. He’ll be on one of those Tours. I’ll bet on that."
At the peak of his basketball career, Curry likely isn’t capable of playing enough golf in two months to find the level necessary to contend late into Sunday.
But could making the cut be in the realm?
“Oh yeah, definitely,” said Austin Cook, who won The RSM Classic in November. “He could get on a heater and light up the putts like he does the three-pointers. You never know.”
“I think so,” echoed Andrew Landry, who captured his maiden TOUR title at this year’s Valero Texas Open. “I really do. I think that if he has all the stars align, he could do it.
“He’s one of those guys, he’s a competitor. He’s not going to give up, and we’ll see.”
Cameron Morfit and Charlie Kane contributed reporting.
Stephen Curry extended highlights | Round 2 | Ellie Mae