Early this morning, 17-year-old Hope Hall hopped a flight with her family from their home in Florida bound for San Francisco on a trip that marks a first on several fronts.
It’s Hope’s first visit to Northern California for her first round at TPC Harding Park, the historic muni and major-championship host. It is also her first chance to meet Steph Curry, at a gathering in advance of the Curry Cup, the final event in the inaugural season of the NBA star’s passion project: the Underrated Golf Tour.
“I’m excited for all of it,” Hope says.
True to its name, the Underrated Tour has bootstrapping ambitions. High among them is to expand golf’s reach by providing equal opportunity and access to young players from communities that the game has often overlooked.
The goal, to borrow Curry’s words, is to help golf live up to its promise as “a game for everyone.”
As a Black female golfer, Hope is just the sort of student-athlete Underrated has in mind. But her beat-the-odds story runs deeper than that. Hope was an underdog before she ever swung a club.
The second of three children of Marvin and Pam Hall, she was born 28 weeks prematurely, when, according to health-care data, infant survival rates are a shade better than 50/50. Hope was barely a pound when she went from the womb to the incubator, and so scrawny that her leg could fit inside her father’s wedding ring.
By age 3, Hope was well out of danger, but her fine motor skills were undeveloped. To help her progress, her parents, neither of whom played golf, put a plastic club in her hands and allowed her to start swinging in the safety of their home. The smile on her face told mom and dad that they were onto something.
At 6, Hope played her first tournament round, firing a 72.
“People are always impressed when they hear that,” she says. “Until I tell them it was only nine holes.”
In Maryland, where her family lived, joining a private club was out of the question. But a public facility called Mitchell’s Golf Complex offered ready access. It also proved a gateway to invaluable instruction when a teaching pro named Nancy Row noticed Hope and offered to take her under her wing.
In those early years, Hope approached golf with the joyful innocence of youth, focused on the shots, not the surroundings. But as her game matured and her perspective broadened, there’s was no ignoring the obvious: golf’s demographics did not reflect the diversity of the world she knew.
“I can get lonely out there sometimes as a person of color,” Hope says. “You’re definitely aware that not a lot of people look like you.”
On the junior circuit, that awareness often came with an added burden. Hope felt pressure to represent.
“I was worried that if I played badly, some might see it as evidence that people like me didn’t really belong in golf,” she says.
More often than not, though, Hope played well. After her parents’ work took the family overseas, first to Nigeria and then South Africa, the Halls settled in Florida, where Hope starred on the high school team at the St. Andrew’s School, in Boca Raton, the alma mater of the former LPGA stalwart Morgan Pressel. Hope’s team won the district championship three times.
It was during her senior season, this past spring, that Hope first caught wind of the Underrated Golf Tour. The concept struck a chord with her, and not only for the golf. The circuit offers an array of off-course programs, including a guest-speaker series and networking events with leading brands and corporations: golf as a portal to greater opportunity.
So far this season, the Underrated Tour has staged four 36-hole tournaments, in Chicago, Phoenix, Tampa and Houston. Hope competed in three of those events, missing only Phoenix so she could play in the Florida Girls’ Junior Championship, where she finished T-3.
This fall, Hope will enroll at Dartmouth College, where she plans to study bio-medical engineering while playing on the golf team. She’s chomping at the bit to get that going.
But first things first. On the Underrated Tour, this week’s grand finale is also known as the Tour Championship, and like the other Tour Championship, currently unfolding in Atlanta, it will showcase a limited field: the top 12 season-long point earners in the boys’ and girls’ division. Hope is not the only Hall who made the cut. Her younger sister, Alana, will peg it at Harding, too.
“(This Tour) is so brilliant and amazing because it removes a lot of the pressure minority golfers often feel in predominantly white spaces,” Hope says. “Even though it’s a competition, it’s less stressful because you’re not the only person of color out there. It feels easier to be yourself.”
Also like the Tour Championship at East Lake, the Curry Cup features a staggered start. Hope will step up to the first tee at three-under, two shots behind the leaders.
In the grand scheme, that’s not much to overcome.
The Curry Cup runs Aug. 28-30, at TPC Harding Park, in San Francisco. For more information, visit stayunderrated.com.