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9 things we learned watching Steph Curry and Phil Mickelson play golf (and basketball!) together

September 26, 2019

NAPA, Calif. — As pro-am pairings go, they don’t get much higher-wattage than a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player partnered with a three-time Masters champ. So it wasn’t any wonder that the crowds came out in droves on Wednesday morning, in advance of the Safeway Open at Silverado Resort & Spa, to watch Steph Curry and Phil Mickelson stride the fairways side by side. In vineyard-wilting heat — temperatures climbed into the mid-90s — fans in collared shirts and sleeveless Golden State Warriors jerseys slathered on the sunblock and sweated through a nearly five-hour outing that was less about the scoring than the show. GOLF.com tagged along. Here are 9 things we learned — or had confirmed — along the way.

1. Curry is a bomber

A long-range gunner on the hoop court, Curry is no peashooter on the course. The man can launch it. Witness his drive on the 528-yard par-5, which Curry cut down to size with a tee shot that rolled out to 370-plus yards. “Bomb!” he called out as the ball took flight. From the fairway, he played sand wedge, then drained the putt for an eagle 3.

2. But he knows his limits

Unlike his crossover-athlete counterpart, Tony Romo, who will compete this week on a sponsor’s exemption, Curry did not show up at the Safeway feeling any pressure to keep up with the pros. On the first tee, as Mickelson stepped back to the tips, Curry joined his fellow amateurs one box up. “Come on, Steph. Stretch it out!” a fan urged. “Nah,” Curry said, with a finger-wag. “I’m good right here.”

3. His first name isn’t Steph

To hardcore hoop fans, this is old news. But to many golfers in the gallery at Silverado, it came as a revelation when a youngster in a Warriors jersey called out to Curry from behind the ropes, addressing him by his given name. “Please, Wardell, can I have an autograph?” Wardell, eh? Basketball’s answer to Eldrick.

Wherever Curry goes, his fans follow.
Wherever Curry goes, his fans follow.
Josh Sens

4. If Phil were Curry’s swing coach…

He wouldn’t meddle. “He’s got the two things you can’t teach — speed and touch,” Mickelson said, in a post-round assessment of Curry’s game. “He’s just a rare talent. We simply don’t see many professional athletes come from other sports and play golf as well as he does. That’s something special that you don’t mess with. I wouldn’t have him change a thing.”

5. Phil is funny

At times, Mickelson can come off as an over-eager comic, spouting forced one-liners from behind the mic. But in unplugged moments, he can also be a master of relaxed banter. “You have a really consistently beautiful ball-flight,” Mickelson said to another of his pro-am partners, Vivek Sankaran, president and CEO of the Albertsons Companies, during a laidback lull on the 14th tee. “Is that why they put you in charge, or is it just because you’re good at running the business?”

6. Phil and Steph color coordinated

When Mickelson and Curry showed up at the course on Wednesday morning, in matchy-matchy black-and-white outfits, they looked sharp. They also called to mind two high schoolers who had had FaceTimed each other the night before to map out what they’d wear the next day.

7. Curry isn’t quite as proud of his calves

After so much social media hoopla over the matter, some fans were hoping for a calf competition. No such luck. While Phil obliged by wearing shorts, showing off his newly built-up lower leg muscles, Curry played in slacks, drawing mumbles from the gallery that maybe Phil’s strong calve-game had cowed him into covering up.

8. They both love competition

The golf was casual, far from cutthroat, and neither star seemed inclined to grind as they swept away short putts and grinned at misses. But on the 17th hole, something shifted because someone had hung a basketball hoop on the grandstand by the green. As the two stars approached, a couple of basketballs appeared out of nowhere, and neither man could resist. What started with a friendly free-throw showdown (surprisingly, both made only one out of four, a result that Curry attributed to the hoop being set two feet above regulation height) gave way to a long-range shooting demonstration, with Curry launching moonshots from the green, from what was easily half-court distance. His first two attempts clamored off the rim, and then — you knew it was coming — nothing but net on his third bomb. As the crowd erupted, Curry ran off to the next tee, arms extended in celebration, a sight his opponents have come to know too well.

9. We know that Phil can’t jump, but can he shoot?

Given all the focus on Curry’s golf game, it’s only fair to ask: What about Phil’s hoop form? Um, well. A picture’s worth a thousand words…

Phil Mickelson's form? You decide.
Phil Mickelson's form? You decide.
Josh Sens

Josh Sens