NBA Star Curry shoots opening 71 at Ellie Mae Classic

Stephen Curry. Photo credit Getty ImagesGolden State Warriors All-Star Guard Stephen Curry returned to the Tour’s Ellie Mae Classic on Thursday, posting a 1-over 71 at TPC Stonebrae in the tournament’s opening round of play.

Beginning his day on the par-4 10th alongside Tour winners Martin Trainer and Cameron Champ, Curry slightly pulled his iron off the tee into the first cut of rough, up against a sprinkler head adjacent to the fairway.

“I can’t play this hole without getting a ruling,” he joked, referencing the infamous opening tee shot in 2017 that wound up in a drink cup inside a cart left of the hole.

After taking a drop, the back-to-back NBA Champion recorded three consecutive pars to open his round before stumbling with bogeys on Nos. 13, 15 and 16 to turn in three-over par.

“This time, it took me until hole No. 8 or 9 to really just get comfortable, especially on the greens. Again, you can’t simulate that pressure standing over 10-foot putts, 5-foot putts, knowing they count, and how many of them for me were for pars early,” said Curry. “That was a hard part to adjust to, but once you get in a groove, good things happen.”

Making the turn to the front nine, Curry recorded a fourth bogey at the par-3 second, but rallied quickly thereafter with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 fourth after reaching the green in two shots.

The much-needed birdie gave way to a light-hearted hug between Curry and his caddie, Jonnie West, who works for the Warriors and is a member at TPC Stonebrae.

“It took me six holes last year to get my first one and it took me 12 holes this year. So, I had to wait a little bit. It was a nice relief to see a putt go in,” said Curry.

On the par-4 seventh, Curry hit his second shot to 10 feet and promptly converted the birdie try to move back to two-over par for the round. His shot of the day, however, came on the par-4 eighth, where a flush 9-iron from 148 yards ricocheted off the pin and settled 5 feet short of the hole. The 30-year-old calmly rolled in the putt for his third birdie of the round to move back to one-over par.

“Yeah, there's one of those off the face, hit it flush and it was on line. Then I hear Jonnie in the back whispering under his breath, like, ‘Be as good as you look,’” said Curry. “I see it hit -- or I hear the pin rattle and that was a cool moment. I didn't know how close it landed. When I walked up there, literally was an inch away from dunking it. Out here I don't get many dunks.”

At the 598-yard par-5 ninth, Curry hit an impeccable tee shot and a flawless second which landed 20 feet short of the back-right hole location and scurried to the back of the green, roughly 40 feet from the hole. Putting up and over a ridge, he left his first putt 5 feet short and then missed the ensuing birdie try. The closing par left him with a respectable round of 1-over 71 and within striking distance of the cut line heading into Friday’s second round.

“It was fun to be able to hit some decent shots early, and from there turn it into actual scoring, which was good,” he said after his round.

Curry made his Tour debut at the event’s 2017 edition, posting rounds of 74-74—148 (8-over) en route to missing the cut by 11 shots. In the history of the Tour, only two former professional athletes competing in events have broken par in a round: Ralph Terry (71, 1990 Dakota Dunes Open) and Grant Fuhr (70, 2008 Ford Wayne Gretzky Classic).

Trainer and Champ posted rounds of 69 and 68, respectively. The duo, both playing with Curry for the first time, came away impressed by the NBA star’s game on the course.

“It was impressive. His game as a whole was really impressive. It really surprised me. Obviously, he's not as sharp because I don't think he plays as much as we do. Obviously, we play every single day and we have for years. He's got a real job,” said Trainer, who is No. 4 on the money list with two wins this year. “But he definitely has the talent and the touch, and I was very impressed several times today. He got off to a bad start and he came all the way back and ended up having a pretty good round.”

Champ, who won the Utah Championship presented by Zions Bank last month and is No. 6 on the money list, echoed Trainer’s comments regarding Curry’s talent given that golf is a hobby and not a career.

“It was definitely a good experience, obviously all the fans shouting his name and whatnot. Yeah, it was good just to see his game, too. I was very impressed,” said Champ, who leads the Tour in driving distance. “I mean, to shoot 1 over, like I said in prior interviews, just how much golf he plays per year, to see his game and his athletic ability was just great.”

Curry, Trainer and Champ will begin second-round play off of No. 1 tee on Friday at 2:26 p.m. PT, with the low 65 players and ties making it to the final 36 holes of play.

“Out here every shot's important, so definitely have respect for that and hopefully tomorrow I can come out and post a low number. And I'll know the projected cut line after the round today, but should be close,” said an optimistic Curry after the round.