Tour Confidential: Was the Steph Curry experiment a success?

August 7, 2017

Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and GOLF Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com.

1. Two-time NBA MVP Steph Curry made his highly anticipated pro golf debut at the’s Ellie Mae Classic in the Bay Area last week. He shot a pair of 74s (eight over overall), missed the cut by 11 but still finished better than a few pros. We’ve already discussed in this space whether Curry belonged in the field, but now that the event is behind us—did his performance eclipse your expectations? And would you like to see Curry play more pro events in the future?

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: It was just great to see Steph Curry out there. His play was excellent, he has so much energy and brings out energy in others. There had to be people watching golf for the first time only because he was playing. I think he should be very, very selective about future invitations. is one thing—it needs all the attention it can get. The PGA Tour is another. But you have to think he’s going to be around the game for decades to come, and it will do a lot for him, and vice-versa.

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, (@Jeff_Ritter): Steph drew eyeballs, played well and had a blast. What’s not to like? Too bad he has to continue that pesky basketball career that interferes with his golf game. I agree with MB that he should be selective with his professional appearances, but let’s do this one again next year.

Sean Zak, associate editor, (@Sean_Zak): I aligned my expectations with that of Las Vegas, and Steph crushed those expectations. I not only want to see Steph tee it up again, as a gigantic hoops fan, I think I’m desperate for it. Two rounds were not enough! Plus, it made me think a little harder about those rumors he floated on Feherty, that he could see a golf career after hoops. Yes, please!

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine (@JoshSens): I walked with him both days and more than his ball striking, what amazed me was his composure. A golfer with a much better swing could have shot a much higher score. I didn’t expect him to break 80. I agree with Michael. He should be selective in his appearances. A little Curry goes a long way. But this was so much better than another hit and giggle celebrity pro-am, or a novelty act like Jerry Rice was in his debut a few years back. Too bad there aren’t more like Curry: a true superstar in the heart of his prime who can hang inside the ropes at that level. Quick, someone get Lionel Messi a set of sawed off clubs.

Joe Passov, senior editor, GOLF Magazine (@joepassov): Curry definitely shattered my expectations. I had been beaten back by one too many pretenders, from Jerry Rice to old quarterback Mark Rypien. Giant golf clap to Curry. With his (basketball) Hall-of-Fame cred and his infectious personality, Steph brought golf some significant positive attention, much needed these days.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): It was great stuff, ruined only by the PGA Tour’s myopia—how on earth did they not have any live coverage? What Steph did was so much fun and hope he tries again next year.

2. Grow the game with Steph? You bet. The tournament handed out about 10 times as many media credentials as it did the year before, and social media was buzzing during and after his rounds. Yet none of the action was broadcast on TV or streamed online. Missed opportunity? [Editor’s note: A Tour media contact said it wasn’t originally scheduled to be broadcast and that there wasn’t enough time to put one together after Curry entered.]

Bamberger: It wasn’t on TV? I saw so many clips, and followed the rounds on, I felt like it was. Maybe the contractual issues get too complicated, but it would have been a great event to show on TV, and to show the talent that exists at golf’s AAA level.

Ritter: Huge, huge miss. Gotta think the Tour won’t make the same mistake next year if Steph returns.

Shipnuck: See above. And the PGA Tour has a small army of staffers in its digital content dept.—if they weren’t going to televise it live, at least send some folks from Ponte Vedra, because unlike all of us hard-working reporters trying to service the fans the Tour staffers can post video in real-time.

Zak: I’ve been giving Golf Channel a break on this topic all week as there is only so much time in the day to broadcast live golf, and between the Women’s British Open and the best male players in the world taking down Firestone, their hands were probably tied. Logistically, this is something they had weeks to prepare for, though, so I’ll go short of calling it a “huge miss,” like Ritter, but agree they’ll do better next time. Like any great fight, the sequel will get twice the hype. I just hope it isn’t a letdown.

Sens: Given the way news and images spread these days — especially among the younger sector in which golf says it is so intent on growing the game — I’m not sure the absence of TV had a huge practical impact. If you wanted to see or read what Curry was up to, you could do so easily enough. But there was something ironic about the Tour cracking down on the reporters who were out there trying to transmit real-time feeds—you know, working to get word out about an event that should welcome every bit of attention it can get.

Passov: Right with you, Sean and Josh. Not only did Golf Channel have those two events, but also a Champions event and the Barracuda tournament. A bit of bad luck. That said, they (or the Tour) should be flexible enough to accommodate when a real story is going on. I remember way back in 1996 when reporters fled the second Presidents Cup in Virginia to head to the Quad Cities, where Tiger was in contention to win his first PGA Tour event. That was newsier. Gotta believe Curry made the event THE golf event of Thursday/Friday. It should have been covered live.

3. Sports Illustrated last week published a 7,000-plus-word story that dove deep into President Trump’s complicated relationship with golf (written by Alan Shipnuck with reporting from Michael Bamberger, Ben Baskin and Pete Madden). The news media latched onto a quote in which Trump called the White House a “real dump.” But from a golf perspective, which part of our crew’s reporting most surprised you?

Bamberger: Until I read the story, I didn’t realize how far-flung Trump’s golf empire was. I would have to think that Robert Mueller is investigating the financing of those overseas courses.

Ritter: I agree, Michael. For example, two projects in the works in Indonesia, which could cause a potential conflict of interest if the course developer there rises to lead the country. If his investigation wades into those waters, it’s a lot for Mueller to untangle.

Zak: I was most surprised to hear just how high Trump’s golf courses sat on his priority list a decade ago, and even prior to that. The businessman owned so many things, had so many irons in the fire, so to say, but nothing meant more to him than the thought of a generous article in Sports Illustrated. All course owners want great press, and all course owners think highly of their courses, but Trump seemed as far out on that spectrum as any owner I can recall.

Shipnuck: I agree the “dump” quote took on a life of its own but it was gratifying that many in the golf press (and beyond) took notice of and appreciated all the reporting and nuance that went in to the piece.

Sens: I’m long past being surprised by anything Trump-related. But it is striking just how much golf he’s been playing while in office given how outraged he sounded when his predecessor pegged it.

Passov: I’ve played with the President and reported extensively on his course dealings, so nothing I read surprised me. It did remind me, however, just how passionate — almost fanatical — he is about golf. Playing it, talking about it, supporting it through tournament he hosts—golf is a big, big deal to President Trump.

4. It’s PGA Championship week (already?!), when Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C., will host a major for the first time in its history. Hideki Matsuyama is coming off a win at the WGC-Bridgestone and Jimmy Walker is defending his title, but the biggest story is Jordan Spieth and his quest to become the youngest player to complete the career grand slam. What other storyline are you most intrigued to see play out?

Bamberger: I’m eager to see how Rory plays there, to see if he can get the various pieces together.

Ritter: You can see it’s all starting to come together for Rory, and I expect him to be a factor. I’d also like to see two guys with near misses this year — Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar — jump back into it and chase that elusive first major title.

Zak: I want to know if “Uncle Phil” Mickelson is for real in his “old” age. You could argue that 47-year-olds have no business contending on the PGA Tour, much less being in the top 30 players in the world. Yet, here’s Phil, ranked 27th in the world, promising Steve Stricker he’ll make the Presidents Cup on merit and without a captain’s pick. Mickelson has a ridiculously good history at Quail Hollow — seven top 5s and 11 top 12s in 13 tries — but will Father Time allow him to keep this up the longer we push forward?

Shipnuck: I agree that Rory and Jordan are the headliners but I’m wondering if DJ can salvage his year. Back in the runup to the Masters he looked utterly unbeatable. You only get that kind of momentum a few times in your career, if you’re lucky, and Dustin has been a broken man ever since slipping on the stairs. One great week at the PGA can change everything, though. Here’s hoping.

Sens: I’ll twin two storylines and go with the Rory/Rickie combo. Both have won at Quail. They even squared off in a playoff. They have history on the course, and a lot hovering over them as the event approaches. The best to never win a major mantle may not rightfully belong to Rickie, but he’s always in that conversation, and the pressure that comes with it just keeps growing. And then there’s the swelling expectations around Rory to finally get back into peak form. And they’ll be playing in the same grouping the first two days.

Passov: I think you’ve all covered the necessary ground here. Matsuyama’s just about due for a major. He contends frequently, but is usually undone by one so-so round. Off his 61 at Firestone and a runner-up at the U.S. Open, I like his chances on a long, soft course like Quail Hollow—but that reminds me of two more overlooked storylines. One is whether Brooks Koepka can show some staying power in majors and contend here; the other is whether long-hitting Justin Thomas can get in the hunt and close it out.

5. Place your bets, people. Give us your pick to hoist the Wanamaker Trophy and a LEGIT dark horse.

Bamberger: Rory to win, Pat Perez as my dark horse, 11 under as a winning score. I’m not good at this, by the way. Not at all.

Ritter: I think it’ll be a big hitter since the course has been strengthened and it’s supposed to rain off and on all week. Maybe this is Fowler’s time—he has a title at Quail from the Wachovia/Wells Fargo. I also like Rory, Belgian Bomber Thomas Pieters and dark horse Tony Finau to contend.

Zak: When Hideki Matsuyama goes, he goes about as hard and as fast as anyone. Rory has proven Quail Hollow can be a great ball-strikers playground, but Rory has also proven he isn’t exactly running at full speed. Matsuyama is, and I expect him to finish off a great year in majors here, maybe with a win. As for a dark horse, I’ll mail it in and choose Webb Simpson, Quail Hollow member.

Shipnuck: I guess I’ll take Dustin, just for emphasis. Dark horse: Brian Harman.

Sens: Winner: Spieth becomes the youngest man to complete the career Grand Salame. Dark horse: Xander Schauffele, who has been putting together a Rookie of the Year-worthy season.

Passov: Rory puts it all together this week, at a course that always suits him. Dark horse? Well, Quail Hollow is a George Cobb-designed course, redone by Tom Fazio. So is the University of North Carolina’s Finley course, where Davis Love made hay. Love also re-did Cobb’s Ocean course at Sea Pines on Hilton Head in 2016. The stars might align for Davis Love III this week, twenty years after his PGA Championship win under the rainbow at Winged Foot.

6. Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els will both play in their 100th career majors at the PGA this week. Years from now when you reflect on their careers, which major moment — for better or for worse — will you remember most for each of the Hall of Famers?

Bamberger: So many. On Saturday night in 2004, when the Open was at Troon, Ernie was a shot back through 54 holes. (He ended up losing in a playoff to Todd Hamilton.) When his workday was done, Ernie and family, hand-in-hand, strolled out of the club and to their rental house, walking among all sorts of fans and townspeople. Ernie waved and chatted and looked like he didn’t have a care in the world. It has stayed with me because I thought then how differently he and Tiger handled fame and status. As for Phil, I guess it would have to be Winged Foot in 2006, after his debacle on the 72nd hole, how he answered questions with such candor and pain, and how he went to the USGA awards ceremony, something the other runners-up, Jim Furyk and Colin Montgomerie, did not do.

Ritter: I’ll remember Phil’s walk up 18 at Muirfield, which I didn’t see so much as hear as I walked with the Tiger-Adam Scott group behind him. His battle with Stenson last year and of course the Winged Foot meltdown and the Masters “leap” in ‘04 are also seared into my mind. And I’ll always remember the class and empathy Ernie displayed when he picked up a claret jug after Adam Scott’s meltdown in ‘12.

Zak: I’m with Ritter on Ernie. I was working at a golf course that day. I should have been working outside on a sunny, busy day, but we were glued to the television as Scott imploded. Ernie handled victory at the cost of someone else with incredible class. There are some great photos of him and Scott on the 18th green that live on as proof. As for Phil, let’s not look any further than Pinehurst in 1999. His three Masters, PGA and Open win are amazing, but I think he’ll often be remembered as one of golf’s most lovable losers as well. The images and video of Payne Stewart winning, fist-pumping and grasping Phil by the head with both hands—they’re images we’ll never forget (of both players). That moment also introduced us to Phil the father — ready to quit at the sound of a beeper — another theme of his career.

Shipnuck: There are so many for both of them. For Phil I think it was watching him play the final hole of the 2010 Masters, which he won for his cancer-stricken wife. Amy was crying, Butch Harmon was crying, Bones was choking back tears. I don’t know how Phil held it together, but he did. As for Ernie, the 1994 U.S. Open was the second major I covered for SI, during my internship. I had never heard his name before that week but walked 18 holes with Ernie on Friday. I remember very clearly thinking, I’m not that experienced on this beat but this guy looks like a Hall of Fame talent. It has always been such a pleasure to watch him swing the club-maybe my favorite action ever, even a quarter-century later.

Sens: For Phil, the arm-and-arm walk with Bones after the win at Muirfield. You could tell they both knew he’d done something crazily special, even by Mickelson standards. For Els, the way he bounced back from that six-putt on the first hole at the 2016 Masters. A lesser man would have crumbled, but he steadied himself and played solidly in. And then he handled the inevitable barrage of questions and post-round attention with his usual class.

Passov: I remember all of Phil’s major moments pretty well. It’s the minor moments that will stick with me. Phil the huge tipper. Phil the guy wearing his Masters green jacket at the Krispy Kreme drive-thru in Augusta. Phil the guy who has his family life in proper priority, ready to abandon his 1999 U.S. Open if the beeper were to buzz telling him Amy was in labor. Phil taking all the extra time, with extra smiles, signing every autograph at the Phoenix Open. Say what you will about his flaws and mistakes, but that’s not what I’ll remember. And I’ll lump Ernie in that same class. His “let’s grab a beer” attitude with Oakmont members when he returned there for an event. His absolute class amid heartbreaking defeats, notably at the 2004 Masters, when Mickelson nipped him. The extraordinary efforts he’s made to call attention to autism, when faced with it in his own family. Two fun-loving, extraordinary champions.