Charlotte GibsonESPN7 minutes of reading
Mariah Stackhouse knew she was witnessing something special. It was the final round of NBA star Stephen Curry’s Underrated Golf’s first annual Curry Cup at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, site of the 2020 PGA Championship, in September 2022. “It was incredible to see what Steph and his team had done with the event for the kids,” Stackhouse says of the Underrated Golf program. “I could see how much they loved it. It was amazing to see so many promising young black golfers in one place actually getting to compete on great golf courses.”
In the spring of 2022, four-time NBA champion Curry founded Underrated Golf, an all-expenses-paid junior tour, to help underrepresented players around the country pursue the game. “We are driven to open more doors for diverse players and balance participation in the sport to truly reflect our community,” Curry noted in a press release. In addition, the Warriors’ point guard pledged to financially support and help establish a Division I men’s and women’s golf program at the historically black college Howard University for the academic year 2020-2021 after 50 years without a team.
Stackhouse, a KPMG ambassador since her rookie season in 2017, knew after just a few hours of witnessing Curry’s event that she wanted to get involved and support the program.
By March 2023, Stackhouse helped secure KPMG as Underrated Golf’s title sponsor, helping the organization expand mentorship and leadership development programs for players. Stackhouse will attend the second annual Curry Cup in September 2023, providing lessons and career advice to participating junior golfers.
Despite her recent struggles on the golf course (in 2022, she made just three cuts on the LPGA Tour), Stackhouse wanted to use her platform beyond her score. As just the seventh black player to achieve LPGA status, Stackhouse understands the impact of visibility in the golf world and the importance of accessibility to the sport. (There are no black golfers with full-time status on the LPGA Tour.)
Stackhouse, who will tee off this week at KPMG Women’s PGA Championshipspoke with ESPN about the importance of being involved with Underrated Golf, why she wants to continue growing the game and her hopes to impact the sport beyond her playing career.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
ESPN: Do you think underrated golf fills a void in the golf world?
MS: Yes. Several major projects are aimed at giving minority golfers a more competitive experience. This program has the same focus, but Steph runs it. So there are resources ready to take that and say, “Hey, let’s not just do this one event, let’s make this a trip. Let’s go to different parts of the country. We’ll fund the kid’s travel. We’ll go on roofs own that experience so they can play.” And the parents are free of burden.
The targeted age group, 12 to 18, is really special because those are the years when it’s important to start learning how to travel, play golf, play high caliber and challenging courses and build your game that way and have a schedule. And if you finish at the top, you now get some status and the opportunity to compete in the American Junior Golf Association [AJGA] events. It provides a stepping stone and a platform. Nothing else is done quite like that.
ESPN: How important is it for young children and families to have access to programs like Underrated Golf?
Incredibly important. [As a young player] I played in many of these youth organizations. I was actually already playing competitive local and regional tours. My dad still wanted me in these programs because he wanted me to have fun with the game and become good at it with other young kids in my area. It was incredibly important to him. Not only my competitive development, but also social development in the golf world. As a young, black golfer, it was even more important.
Creating and ensuring that your children enter an environment where they are surrounded by people who are also like them, subconsciously, it gives them an experience that they may not know they need.
ESPN: What role do you want to play in underrated golf?
MS: I’m going to the championship in September. And after the championship round is completed, there will be a golf development and leadership training day. The golf part will be in the morning. Steph will be there with me. I’m making a demo. He will moderate it. I will give them some tips and go through a golf demonstration. Then we both want to talk to them just about the journey through athletics, mentally, physically and just talk to them about the sport.
Then, in the second half of the day, we’ll move on to a few different leadership trainings. One run by myself and a few different people in the area. And afterwards we talk about confirmations. I share mine. I have an affirmation I have been saying since I was young. I help the children create their affirmations.
ESPN: What’s your confirmation?
MS: I never actually shared it. It’s about four episodes long. My parents wrote it to me when I was younger to repeat to myself. It is a page dedicated to me, myself and my well-being. They wrote all that. And I still repeat it to myself today. And I will share my affirmation with the children that day.
ESPN: Why is it important to be involved in underrated golf, especially when your golf game isn’t where you want it to be professionally?
MS: I think the struggles I’ve been through the last few years put everything into perspective. It showed me that a career as an athlete is not guaranteed. I’m in a very unique space right now. I have the platform; I have status. What can I do to make the most impact while still playing? It doesn’t mean that if I don’t play professional golf, I lose my influence. I think that is not the case.
But it really puts into perspective that all you have is now. Right? I am blessed that I am on the up-and-up physically and feel capable right now. So maybe last year I felt, when will I get it back? But I feel confident again.
But before that, I felt like it gave me a little sense of urgency to do anything with my platform. I think that’s why. I’ve been out here on tour. This is my seventh year [on the LPGA Tour]and I still get questions about different interviews and things like that where I talk about what it’s like to be the only black player on tour.
There is a young black golfer at USC right now named Amari Avery who is really good. I have no doubt that Amari will do well on tour. I want Amari not to have that “just one” experience, so she’s not the person who has to carry X, Y, and Z on her shoulders when she’s out there. That’s what I want for the next generation of golfers. Maybe it will be a long time before there will be a large number of black women and men on tour. I want it to be less about the representation they wear and only about the game they show up with.
ESPN: How does that make you feel?
MS: We had the Tiger wave and then a few people showed up. It just goes to show that it takes more than just someone showing up and being the face. It must be something done on a deliberate plan to burn that pipeline. There are many initiatives underway right now. Whether it’s something I do on my own or Steph’s Underrated Golf Tour. I would like to support the efforts to develop the game.
ESPN: Why is it important to have guys like Steph at the forefront of making golf a cool sport for the next generation?
MS: Traditionally, golf is not seen as the cool sport. But when you see football players, basketball players and baseball players, the second they’re in the offseason, they want to run and play a lot of golf with friends. And they always write on social media that they are doing well. I think it will improve the perception of golf culture. Even to this day I’ll meet people or hang out with new groups that I don’t know, I’ve never really mentioned the golf stuff directly, but eventually when it first comes up, they’re like, “Oh, you play golf ?” And they say, “Wow, that’s really cool. I didn’t expect that!”
And what they say is that you don’t seem like a golfer. I think the more we can move away from that perception, the sooner it will make people want to go out and have a casual round at their local public course with friends and learn how to play the game.