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