- The Underrated Golf Tour, which Stephen Curry launched last year, held a tournament at Firestone Country Club, not far from Akron City Hospital, where the Golden State Warriors guard was born in 1988
- Curry received the Ambassador of Golf Award and congratulations from last year’s winner, former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
- Curry revealed that he visited LeBron James’ house as an NBA rookie and gave a nod to the I Promise School
As Stephen Curry tried to repeat the “Shot in the Dark” made famous by Tiger Woods during the 2000 NEC Invitational, nearly 100 junior golfers surrounded the NBA superstar Saturday afternoon to offer advice and motivation.
Curry paused after hitting his fourth 9-iron 167 yards from the tee on the 18th hole at Firestone Country Club’s South Course and studied a video of his swing captured by a spectator’s smartphone.
Then two more attempts next to a plaque commemorating Woods’ iconic moment did the trick. Considered to be the greatest shooter in basketball history, Curry had hit the green. Loud cheers and fist pumping followed the successful shot, which Curry would later explain he wanted to try since he first saw it as a child.
The players on the underrated golf trip rallied around Curry in his hometown of Akron, a fitting scene because the Golden State Warriors guard has been an uplifting force in their lives since last year.
“It was the best — memories that we all make — and hopefully it’s just the start of a lot of great things,” Curry said during a one-on-one interview with the Akron Beacon Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network.
Three years before Woods mesmerized the golf world in the twilight of northeast Ohio, he became the first black player to win the Masters in 1997.
But more than two decades later, golf’s lack of diversity forced Curry to act. In 2022, the four-time NBA champion and two-time MVP launched Underrated Golf with a mission to increase the number of competitive golfers from diverse communities.
Stephen Curry receives the Ambassador of Golf Award and congratulations from Condoleezza Rice
Curry’s advocacy through the tour and the guarantee he issued in 2019 to fully fund men’s and women’s golf at Howard University for six years led to his being named the 2023 recipient of the Ambassador of Golf Award. Last year’s winner, former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, congratulated Curry in a video message played Saturday night during a dinner reception at Firestone Country Club.
Curry called the honor “very surreal” and said it provides “more inspiration and encouragement to keep doing what I’m doing.” The award came on the heels of Curry being named the NBA’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion in May.
Less than 2% of all golfers are black or Latino, according to Underrated Golf’s website. And the 156-player field at last month’s US Open included no known black players.
“We’re another piece of the puzzle trying to solve what you saw at the US Open,” Curry said. “You realize there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to create that pipeline, and however long it takes, I think we’re all committed to doing it.”
A mutual friend introduced Will Lowery to Curry about a dozen years ago at Raintree Country Club in Charlotte, North Carolina. Curry grew up in Charlotte after he was born on March 14, 1988 at Akron City Hospital when his father, Dell, played for the Cavaliers for one season (1987-88).
“It’s kind of a cool subplot to the whole thing,” Curry said of his return to Akron.
In 2019, Lowery and Curry sat at a kitchen table in Curry’s home and talked about how he could use his platform to change the golf landscape. A media personality who played golf professionally for two years, Lowery became an underrated golf ambassador when the tour he and Curry envisioned finally became a reality.
“When you look at the participation numbers in the game of golf, especially when it comes to the black and brown competition area [players]” said Lowery, “that’s when I realized, ‘Steph, you might be the one to start changing that narrative.’
“To get to the point where we know what diversity feels like, that’s probably going to take someone like Stephen and activations like this.”
Quincy Leonard, 18, met Curry last year while competing for Underrated Golf’s Curry Cup. When Leonard returned to his hometown of Montgomery, Alabama, virtually all of his friends wanted to hear about the meeting.
“When they see Steph play golf, more people will play golf,” said Leonard, who credits Underrated Golf with helping him earn a scholarship to play the sport at Florida A&M University.
Billy Andrade envisions Steph Curry’s Underrated Golf Tour eventually producing PGA Tour players
Firestone Country Club served as the site for the second of Underrated Golf’s five tournaments this summer. Julia Vollmer, 17, of San Antonio, Texas, and KJ Ofahengaue, 18, of Lehi, Utah, finished atop the girls and boys divisions in an event with 96 golfers ages 11-18.
“This thing is going to grow and grow and eventually you’re going to have some kids that get this opportunity that are going to be able to go to college on scholarships and then some of those kids are probably going to make it to the PGA Tour because Steph Curry had a vision,” said PGA Tour Champions player Billy Andrade.
Curry said he fell in love with golf when he was 10 because it helped him bond with his father. The younger Curry’s excellence extends beyond the basketball court, by the way.
“He has the skills to be a professional golfer, but no, he can’t beat me,” Lowery said with a laugh.
Andrade learned about Curry’s passion for golf more than 10 years ago when he read a story about it while reading an in-flight magazine. The two became friends, and Curry played in Andrade’s charity event, the East Lake Invitational.
After the PGA Tour Champions brass reached out to Andrade last year about giving Curry the Ambassador of Golf Award, Andrade called Curry with a proposal to bring Underrated Golf to Firestone Country Club the same weekend he would be honored. Curry ran with the idea. He and his father attended the tournament and the dinner.
Steph Curry says he was back in his hometown of Akron for the first time since visiting LeBron James as an NBA rookie
Curry pointed out that he had never been to Firestone Country Club before. He also revealed it was the first time he had visited Akron since taking a trip as an NBA rookie to LeBron James’ house in 2009 when the Warriors were in town to play the Cavs.
Curry, 35, and James, 38, were born at the same Akron hospital.
“The work he does here with his [I Promise] The school and the legacy that he’s left here, that’s a cool kind of connection, I think, in terms of just being able to be here,” Curry said. “But this place and the history here, just to have those kids walk down the same 18th fairway that all those champions walked down and hold up trophies on the same green, to me that’s just the coolest thing in the world .”
Curry said the feedback he’s received from underrated golfers and their families has been one of the most rewarding aspects of the tour.
Shyell Lowe, 17, of Plainfield, Illinois, said she has been playing golf since she was 3, although she didn’t compete against another black golfer until two years ago.
“I’ve experienced a lot of different things as an African-American golfer,” Lowe said. “I’ve experienced racism, microaggressions, all that jazz. After being underestimated, I’ve shown that what they were doing was not okay… now I can stand up for myself more. I’m more confident.
“There will be so many more minority golfers from all different backgrounds and it will elevate the game more. There will be more players who look like me.”
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Curry said he wants young people to know that “there are opportunities here in the game of golf” and he is determined to make sure more of them get access to the game.
Still, there are several layers to Curry’s case.
“There is an educational component we have here,” Lowery said. “We really want to be the vehicle that starts some of these kids into a career path, whether it’s in golf or just general business.
“Steph cares about what’s next in the game of golf for the kids, but that doesn’t trump what’s next in the game of life for these kids. So that’s what it’s all about — equity, access, opportunity.”
The chance to duplicate a legendary shot on a historic course is also a nice perk.
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