When the Web.com Tour announced Wednesday that NBA superstar Stephen Curry had received a sponsor exemption to play in the Ellie Mae Classic, I immediately thought: how cool. One of the best basketball players on the planet competing on the golf course? Sounds like something that will generate a lot of excitement.
But after scrolling through Twitter, I quickly realized that not everyone was excited about the opportunity for an NBA champion and MVP to tee it up with pro golfers.
“Steph Curry, a 2.2 handicap, is getting a sponsor’s exemption into a Web event,” former Georgia standout Lee McCoy tweeted. “So many great players could use that chance. Sad.”
Said PGA Tour player John Peterson: “So when is @gonna get a start in a D league game??!? This is awful all around. Takes a spot from a pro trying to make it.”
These golfers have a valid point. The unrestricted sponsor invite given to Curry could just as easily have gone to a pro golfer trying to make a living. It could be a player with no status on any tour who has just a few hundred dollars in his bank account. It could be a player who could catch fire for 72 holes and change his career and life forever. (Ask Beau Hossler what finishing second at the Air Capital Classic earlier this month did for him.)
Now, I know some people will argue that Curry’s spot would’ve just gone to someone who couldn’t even earn a spot via a Monday qualifier, someone who is a “bottom feeder” that will miss the cut or finish T-75. But isn’t that what these developmental tours are about? The point of tours like the Web.com Tour is to provide players a path to the PGA Tour.
Curry doesn’t care about that path. His focus is on winning titles on the hardwood. You don’t see the Toronto Raptors letting Drake play point guard when Kyle Lowry decides to rest. Or Prince Harry being allowed to compete at Wimbledon. Or Will Ferrell, aka Ricky Bobby, trading paint with NASCAR drivers at Daytona.
Plus, there are some recent college grads and guys on the Mackenzie and Latinoamerica tours that would certainly relish a Web.com Tour start and could even contend.
Another idea would be to give the exemption to a college golfer. Last year, the Ellie Mae Classic awarded a sponsor exemption to Stanford’s Maverick McNealy. He made the cut. Wouldn’t it be cool this year if the tournament asked Cameron Champ, a Sacramento native who just wowed the golf world at the U.S. Open, to play? Just a thought.
This isn’t the first time this tournament, which will be held this year on Aug. 3-6 at TPC Stonebrae, has done this. NFL Hall of Fame wideout Jerry Rice played it three times, finishing last, second-to-last and withdrawing once. MLB Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz, a much better player than Curry, tried his hand at a Web.com Tour event, too – and he missed the cut after a first-round 84.
Sure, Curry being inside the ropes will bring fans – but only for Thursday and Friday. And what if he shoots 90 and is having to take penalty drop after penalty drop? Surely that’s not quite as exciting as watching him drain 3-pointer after 3-pointer.
“I’m honored to have the opportunity to play with the pros in the upcoming Ellie Mae Classic, not only to be able to compete against some of the best golfers in the world, but to also help bring light to the tournament’s charitable footprint of giving back to the Warriors Community Foundation,” Curry said in a release.
The Warriors Community Foundation is already the event’s main charitable beneficiary, and that won’t change whether Curry is in the field or not. Couldn’t he play in the pro-am like he has in the past at golf tournaments? (The PGA and Web.com tours even have events with a pro-am component such as the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and BMW Charity Pro-Am.) Or compete in a skills challenge similar to what Phil Mickelson did at the KPMG Women’s PGA?
Curry playing seems like more of a publicity stunt. He will certainly create more excitement among fans and in the media, and ticket sales will skyrocket. And that’s a legit argument, as well.
“If one person watches and maybe starts playing (because) of Curry, then it helps the game,” PGA Tour golfer and major winner Jason Dufner said. “He will attract a different audience of people.”
Said PGA Tour winner Justin Thomas: “Happy for @. A lot of controversy being said but if he’s asked, of course he will play! Great for the event and @
But I also think that Curry playing detracts from the other players in the field. Almost everyone will be following Curry, not the other talented players on the course.
“I can see both sides,” Colt Knost said. “But it is an unrestricted spot. It’s like that every week on tour and rarely people complain.”
Tournament officials are allowed to give their sponsor exemptions to whoever they want. They could give it to a golfer, a basketball player, and even (gasp!) a president. It’s their right and I understand that. This is not a full-on criticism of their decision – and it is most definitely not a knock on Curry; if I were him, I would play, too.
But looking past the allure of having an NBA superstar inside the ropes for competition, it just doesn’t seem right. There are deserving golfers out there. These are guys who, like I said before, are just getting by trying to chase their dream.
Isn’t that more important than a few hundred more tickets sold? Deep down, I say yes. But I also understand that this is a business. It’s all about money. And watching Curry compete, even if just for 36 holes, will be a lot more exciting.
It’s just unfortunate.