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How the Golden State Warriors Use Golf on Their March to NBA History

May 9, 2016

Last Summer in Memphis, Stephen Curry and Andre “Iggy” Iguodala did what we all do when a free day opens up during a business trip: They hit the links. But this round came between Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals. And both men had miserable outings the night before as their Golden State Warriors fell behind 2-1 to the Grizzlies.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr didn’t beat them up with a practice. He gave them the day off, encouraging the two stalwarts to tee it up. “Sometimes the best thing to do is get away from the gym and do whatever relaxes you,” Kerr said. “For these guys, it’s golf.”

Kerr, himself an avid player, scored his coaching gig in 2014 thanks in part to relationships he made on the golf course. Warriors majority owner Joe Lacob has a vanity stake in the Pebble Beach Co. and a house on Pebble’s 14th hole. In explaining the hire, Lacob told USA Today, “I knew [Kerr] through friends and through golf, quite frankly. I’ve been on golf trips with Steve before.”

Curry called the Memphis round “therapeutic.” Thus refreshed, he and Iguodala helped the Warriors storm back to beat the Grizzlies, and they’ve been rolling ever since. They won the 2015 NBA championship, which was just a prelude to this spectacular year. Curry led the league in scoring, shattered the record (which he owned) for three-pointers in a season and helped the Warriors set a record for regular-season wins. One of the spoils of this dream season came in February, when Kerr set up a tee time for Curry and Iguodala at Augusta. During that same road trip, the team’s shooting guard—and bogey golfer—Klay Thompson dropped by the Golf Channel’s Morning Drive studios for an engaging segment.

“Golf is a big part of the team culture,” Iguodala told me at the team’s practice facility in Oakland. He’s only been playing for about two years, but is a self-described “junkie.” He can rattle off the top five players in the world—female players. He hits the range every non-game day, and routinely shows up at practice in his golf togs. A fast learner, he shot a nifty 86 at Augusta, but he’s quick to add, “I’ve got a long ways to go to catch up to that guy.”

“That guy” is Curry. On this day, he was engaged in a putting contest on the hardwood with Lydia Ko, who had dropped by a Warriors shoot-around as part of an LPGA publicity tour. “I haven’t seen Steph that excited in a while,” said a Golden State front-office official. “And if he’s excited, then all of us get excited.”

Curry grilled Ko on everything from the degrees of loft on her wedges to the tenets of the “A Swing,” the method promulgated by her teacher, David Leadbetter. Little wonder the NBA’s reigning MVP calls himself “a golf nerd.” The 6’3″ Curry is surely the only basketball superstar who played on his high school golf team.

He still has the build of the young Tiger Woods and generates the same sort of terrifying clubhead speed, which has helped him become a legit scratch player. I know firsthand. A couple of years ago, Curry and I played together at Spyglass Hill, arguably the toughest course on the Monterey Peninsula. He torched the place with six birdies and shot 70.

Curry is a generous, engaging playing partner. After I made a hard-breaking birdie putt on the 17th hole, the greatest shooter in NBA history offered the perfect exclamation point: “Swish!”