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Barber: Stephen Curry keeps up with Phil Mickelson at Napa's Safeway Pro-Am

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NAPA — Professional athletes are not like the rest of us, in case you hadn’t already noticed.

When I covered the Raiders full time back in the mid-2000s, then-defensive coordinator Rob Ryan eased the grind of training camp one year by bringing an aluminum bat and a few softballs out to the field in Napa, and organizing a home run contest among his players. The balls were the frustrating, squishy kind that don’t travel far. A lot of the players hadn’t swung a bat in years. And they proceeded to crush dinger after dinger, the balls flying over the fence and into the hallways of Redwood Middle School.

It’s as if these guys (and girls) are created specifically to make the rest of the world feel physically inadequate. And it isn’t just football players. When I recall that Carl Lewis was drafted by the Chicago Bulls, or that tennis legend Althea Gibson played on the LPGA tour, or that Dave Winfield was drafted by four professional teams in three different sports, it makes me want to embrace reality by plopping onto a beanbag chair with a giant bag of Fritos.

And then there’s Stephen Curry. The greatest shooter in the history of basketball, the man with the golden handles and the ability to drive at 7-foot humans and lay acrobatic teardrops off the backboard, is a very good golfer. A “scratch golfer,” to be specific, meaning he is expected to play to par on rated courses.

Curry was at one of those courses Wednesday, for the Safeway Open Pro-Am at Silverado Resort and Spa. In a field of PGA golfers that included Phil Mickelson and Justin Thomas, and among celebrities like chef Thomas Keller and former NFL quarterback and current CBS analyst Tony Romo, Curry was the top name on the marquee.

Organizers put him in the same foursome as Mickelson, a supergroup for the masses.

The Safeway Open Pro-Am doesn’t draw as heavily as, say, the ones at Pebble Beach and Lake Tahoe, and it was a blistering, 100-degree day in the dry hills of Napa. But Silverado saw a record volume of Warriors gear Wednesday. Wherever Curry walked on the course, he was greeted by fans in Warriors caps, Warriors socks, The Town jerseys, The City jerseys and jerseys from the "We Believe" era, most of them featuring No. 30.

Every kid called for an autograph. Every adult man with a buzz had something to say to Curry. The attention was relentless.

It must have been strange for Mickelson, one of the great golfers of his generation. He got a lot of attention, too, but most of the hubbub surrounded Curry, who was understated in white cap, white shirt with a golf collar and pants that bore a subtle, black-on-black tropical print.

Steph Curry on the golf course was pretty much what I’ve seen of Stephen Curry in the basketball arena, or anywhere else. He seemed happy, relaxed and only slightly self-conscious — an occupational hazard for a global icon — as he joked with his fellow golfers and event officials. Curry operated behind an appropriately sized barrier, dropping it occasionally when the mood struck him.

Waiting for others in his group to drive from the 15th tees, Curry spontaneously took a practice pitch toward a cluster of condominiums and bounced a ball off someone’s chimney. He pitched another at a cornhole board some guys had set up near the condo, misssing the holes by only a few feet. On 17, some fans had set up a basketball hoop on the wall bordering the green. Curry took shots from free-throw distance, missed them all somehow, then shook his head and lofted some 30-footers, drawing a roar of applause when he hit one.

As he walked toward the green at No. 18, two ladies stood at the rope and yelled, “Steph Curry, you want some ice cream?” He looked at them and raised his arms in query, as if to say “who wouldn’t?” Then he scooted under the rope and loped over to their ice cream stand, returning with a cup.

But Curry was no Bill Murray. He wasn’t a jester on the course; he was a player.

“The thing about Steph Curry’s golf is his touch, his hands, his chipping, his putting,” Mickelson said. “He’s got an incredible touch but he also has a ton of speed. You saw him dropping all kinds of bombs off the tee, just hellacious bombs, deep and very accurate, certainly straighter than what I have.”

Asked for his highlight of the day, Curry said, “The tee shot on 9, because I said I was going to hit bombs and then I swung it square on the face. Before I even finished the follow-through, I was yelling out, ‘bombs!’”

“That drive went over 370 yards, I’m not kidding,” Mickelson added. “He hit a sand wedge into a par 5.”

I thought Mickelson might have been exaggerating for Curry’s benefit. But when the round was done, I spoke to Andy Walz, a general manager for Chevron (one of the tournament’s major sponsors). A week earlier, Walz found out he would be playing in Mickelson’s group. Three or four days after that, he learned that Curry would also be in the foursome, which also included Albertsons president and CEO Vivek Sankaran.

“I couldn’t believe how powerful he was,” Walz said of Curry. “He’s probably got 1% body fat.”

Walz said it was impossible to tell for sure, because Mickelson was hitting from the professional tees while Curry was doing it from the amateur tees, but he believed the Warriors star was generally striking the ball farther. Walz said his own drives are 240 to 250 yards, maximum. Curry’s, he noted, were a good 100 yards longer.

“I think he had 120 yards to (the green of) No. 9. Maybe 130,” Walz said. “That’s a par 5.”

At the same time, the Chevron executive wasn’t surprised by Curry’s ability. Wardell Stephen Curry Jr. is, after all, a world-class athlete. He is also a golf freak who built a putting green and bay at his house, has played in the Web.com Tour’s Ellie Mae Classic and has been known to set an early alarm on the morning of an NBA playoff game to watch the Masters tournament.

But imagine for a moment the amount of time that Curry puts into being a basketball player — the dribbling drills, the free throws, the endless 3-point attempts, the gym work, the core training, the film preparation. All of it. It’s so much more than a full-time job. Curry is also a father of three who, unless he is one of the world’s greatest actors, is as devoted as they come.

And yet Curry is good enough at his hobby that he can go out for a day and not embarrass himself while alternating strokes with Phil Mickelson.

“I was just in awe every shot, but tried to hold my own, too,” Curry said.

And he did. Sigh. Where’s my beanbag?

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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