Steph Curry (Twitter)
HAYWARD, CA (August 3, 2017) - Steph Curry may not win in his Web.com Tour debut, but he proved Thursday that he’s got serious game.
The 29-year-old NBA star made three birdies in his opening round at the Ellie Mae Classic, firing a 4-over 74 at TPC Stonebrae in Hayward, Calif. In a morning wave of 78 players, Curry bested eight of them. (With the afternoon wave started, Curry is T-146 among all players currently.)
For most, that’s not satisfying. But for an NBA player listed around a 2 handicap when his commitment was announced in June making his Web.com Tour debut with admitted little preparation and needing “two of the best rounds” of his life just to survive the cut? That’s really impressive.
“It was an amazing experience,” Curry said. “I’ve been looking forward to this since I found out, and to finally hit my first shot in tournament play was (a) really, really nervous moment, but it was everything I hoped for.”
There was plenty of pre-tournament buzz regarding Curry’s sponsor exemption into the Ellie Mae Classic, and prop bets weren’t kind. The over/under on Curry’s lowest single-round score this week was 76.5.
Well … he blew that one away Thursday.
“If you told me I was going to shoot 74 going into the first round, I’d take that all day, every day,” Curry said.
Another prop bet was over/under of 2.5 birdies Curry would secure in the entire event. He made three on Thursday alone, prompting him to joke about that prop bet in particular.
Curry has been underestimated much of his life in basketball and soared past expectations to the tune of first carrying little-known Davidson College to a surprise elite eight run before becoming a two-time NBA champion and MVP with the Golden State Warriors. Seems fitting that he’s surpassing beliefs in golf as well.
As for the highlights of the day, Curry started inauspiciously at the par-4 10th when his opening drive went left and ended up in a golf-cart cup holder.
“Great way to start,” Curry joked after the round.
He would bogey the hole: Perfectly understandable considering his early nerves.
“As soon as (the starter) said my name on the first tee (of the round), that’s when I could barely feel my hands,” Curry said. “I tried to take a deep breath and still wasn’t anything I could prepare myself for that moment.”
Curry followed his opening bogey with two more at Nos. 13 and 14, but it was about that time that he said he was starting to feel comfortable and playing a regular round of golf. Around that point, Curry produced his first birdie in his Web.com Tour career at the par-5 15th.
Three pars from there – with a great save at 18 – and Curry was out in 2-over 37.
Curry would bogey the par-3 second but came right back with a birdie at the par-5 third to move it back to 2 over.
Then came a pivotal point at the par-4 fifth.
Curry hit his drive left into a hazard, forcing a penalty drop. He would get it to 8 feet for bogey but miss the putt. With that double bogey, he had dropped back to 4 over and his round could have come unraveled.
Instead, Curry found the green at the following par 3, drained a 20-footer for birdie and even imitated Jordan Spieth after holing the crucial putt.
“I have to take advantage of those opportunities because they don’t happen very often,” Curry quipped. “I saw that right out of Jordan’s playbook at Royal Birkdale and (my caddie) was a good sport about it and went and grabbed the ball out of the hole for me.”
Pars at Nos. 7 and 8 followed. A sloppy bogey after missing a 4-footer at the par-5 ninth wasn’t ideal, but a 4-over 74 is something to be proud of. Especially considering this stat:
Curry was probably accurate in stating he needed two rounds of his life to make the cut, and the odds remain pretty slim he’ll be the first athlete from another sport to do so in a Web.com Tour event.
Still, this round was heady stuff from Curry.
Stephan Jaeger, a member of Curry’s threesome and a two-time winner on the Web.com Tour this season, raved about the guard’s play around the greens.
“I was really impressed by his short game,” said Jaeger, who shot 3-under 67. “He’s got really, really good touch around the greens. His speed is really good around the greens and I think that’s where most, most amateurs aren’t as good as the pros.”
Among the players Curry beat Thursday were Casey Wittenberg (76), the 2012 Web.com Tour Player of the Year and a 2003 U.S. Amateur finalist, Frank Lickliter II (76), a two-time PGA Tour winner, and Matthew Goggin (76), a five-time Web.com Tour winner.
He also bested his other playing competitor Sam Ryder, who opened in 75 but won a Web.com Tour event less than a month ago.
Ever the competitor, Curry is looking to improve Friday.
“I want to play better tomorrow, and now that I kind of got the jitters out, hopefully that’ll happen,” Curry said. “Hit a couple more good shots and make a couple more putts.”
That’s solid thinking, but it doesn’t change how Curry looked in that opening round.
If you were hoping for Curry to get embarrassed Thursday, you’ll be disappointed. Instead, he did nothing but impress.