Shimmyin’ Stephen: Curry shines at Ellie Mae Classic

Stephen Curry

Stephen Curry
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

It’s a sight Chris Paul and the Houston Rockets have certainly seen before. The Atlanta Hawks have, too. The entire NBA has watched it on repeat, for that matter.

The Stephen Curry shimmy.

The trademark celebration of the star guard for the Golden State Warriors has a long history of flashing his signature dance move after connecting on a big bucket. And it was on display once again Thursday, albeit on a different kind of playing surface.

And why shouldn’t it have? Curry, playing in the Ellie Mae Classic, posted a first-round 71, tied for the second-best score by a crossover athlete in a Tour event. Only the National Hockey League’s Grant Fuhr has carded a better number, shooting a second-round 70 in the 2008 Ford Wayne Gretzky Classic.

“I want to be successful at everything I do, no matter if it’s out here or playing basketball, whatever the case is,” he said. “That stress or pressure I put on myself to try to be great, that’s where it all kind of comes out because I think everything you do should matter.”

Curry was all smiles following his round, thanks in large part to the recovery he made down the stretch. He approached the 12th hole at 4-over for the day but carded three birdies over his final seven holes to finish at 1-over. One of those birdies came on No. 8 (he started on the back nine) when his second shot ricocheted off the flagstick, nestling five feet from the hole.

“I heard the pin rattle, and that was a cool moment,” said Curry, who received a good-luck text message from Justin Thomas prior to his round. “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.”

It was hardly the only cool moment of the day. Curry Mania was in full effect at TPC Stonebrae, as hundreds of blue-and-gold-clad Warriors fans turned out to cheer on their favorite player at a course just a short drive from the Warriors’ home arena.

Avi Khemani, a computer science student at Stanford University, convinced his friends to join him on the drive over to watch his favorite player. The trip paid off for the 18-year-old, who successfully coaxed Curry into tossing him one of his Callaway golf balls as he walked toward the fourth hole.

“I’m keeping this in my dorm room,” he said, smiling. “It’s going to be a souvenir for a while.”

But physical keepsakes weren’t the only gifts Curry handed out to his dedicated fan base. Twelve-year-old Dallas Munn got bragging rights over his buddies for a while after receiving an acknowledgment from the three-time NBA champion as he made the turn.

“I wanted a fist bump,” he said, “but he gave me a high-five.”

The hand-slap will almost certainly suffice.

Harrod Tang got one better. The 18-year-old received news Wednesday afternoon that he would be the standard bearer for Curry’s grouping, sure to be big news amongst his circle of friends when they finally find out.

“I’ve kind of kept it on the low until it happened,” he said. “I wasn’t too sure if I was going to get Steph. But I was going to do it either way. I would have been grateful either way.”

Curry looked to be grateful at times, too. The 30-year-old got off to an uneasy start, requiring a rules official on his first tee shot after it landed near a sprinkler head. But it was still an improvement on his inaugural appearance in last year’s event when his opening shot found the drink cup of a golf cart on the first hole.

“I can’t get off the first tee without a ruling,” he joked, drawing laughter from spectators.

After starting the day with three consecutive pars, he carded bogeys on Nos. 13, 15 and 16 to drop to 3-over. After recording a fourth bogey once he made the turn, Curry finally made his first birdie of the day on the par-5 No. 4, when he reached the green in two shots and two-putted.

The moment led to a friendly hug between Curry and caddie Jonnie West, who works for the Warriors and is a TPC Stonebrae member.

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

Curry and West will look for more hugs on Friday when the back-to-back defending NBA champion attempts to become the first professional athlete to make the cut in a Tour event. Eleven pros, including Curry in 2017, have tried and failed to do so in 24 career attempts.

They still face long odds. The cutline at the Ellie Mae Classic has been 3-under three of the last four years.

“Obviously when I came out here, that was a goal of mine, and it still is,” Curry said. “I think it’s within a shot, I didn’t lose it today, so that was fun. But it speaks to how hard it is to make it on this tour, to succeed on this tour and then move on to the PGA TOUR. So I have nothing but respect for the grind these guys go through with their sights set on getting TOUR cards every year.”

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