NBA's Stephen Curry returns to birthplace of Akron on mission to foster diversity in golf (2024)

Nate UlrichAkron Beacon Journal

  • The Underrated Golf Tour that 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 U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
  • Curry revealed he visited the house of LeBron James as an NBA rookie and gave a nod to the I Promise School

As Stephen Curry tried to replicate the “Shot in the Dark” made famous by Tiger Woods during the NEC Invitational in 2000, nearly 100 junior golfers surrounded the NBA superstar Saturday afternoon to offer advice and motivation.

Curry paused after his fourth 9-iron shot 167 yards from the pin 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. Widely considered the greatest shooter in basketball history, Curry had hit the green. Loud cheers and fist bumps followed the successful shot, which Curry would later explain he wanted to try since he first saw it as a kid.

The players on the Underrated Golf Tour rallied around Curry in his birthplace 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're all creating — 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 world of golf at dusk in Northeast Ohio, he became the first Black player to win the Masters in 1997.

However, more than two decades later, golf's lack of diversity compelled Curry to act. In 2022, the four-time NBA champion and two-time Most Valuable Player launched Underrated Golf with a mission to increase the number of competitive golfers from diverse communities.

Curry receives 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 him being named the 2023 recipient of the Ambassador of Golf Award. Last year's winner, former U.S. 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 U.S. Open included no known Black players.

“We're another piece to that puzzle that's trying to solve what you saw at the U.S. Open,” Curry said. “You realize it's a long scope of work that needs to be done to create that pipeline, and no matter how 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 a cool kind of 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 landscape of golf. A media personality who played golf professionally for two years, Lowery became an Underrated Golf ambassador when the tour he and Curry imagined had finally come to fruition.

“When you look at the participation numbers in the game of golf, especially when it comes to the competitive space of Black and brown [players],” Lowery said, “that's when I realized, 'Steph, you might be the one that can start to shift that narrative.'

“To get to the point where we know what diversity feels like, that's where it'll probably have to take a person like Stephen and activations such as this.”

Quincy Leonard, 18, met Curry last year while vying 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 encounter.

“When they see that Steph is playing golf, more people want to play golf,” said Leonard, who credits Underrated Golf with helping him earn a scholarship to play the sport at Florida A&M University.

Underrated Golf Tour could produce PGA 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 featuring 96 golfers ages 11-18.

“This thing's going to grow and grow, and eventually you're going to get some kids that get this opportunity that are going to be able to go to college on scholarships and then some of these kids are going to probably make it to the PGA Tour because Steph Curry had a vision,” PGA Tour Champions player Billy Andrade said.

Curry said he fell in love with golf when he was 10 because it helped him bond with his dad. By the way, the younger Curry's excellence extends beyond the basketball court.

“He has the skill set to be a pro golfer, but, no, he cannot 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 perusing an in-flight magazine. The two became friends, with Curry playing in Andrade's charity event, the East Lake Invitational.

After PGA Tour Champions brass reached out to Andrade last year about giving Curry the Ambassador of Golf Award, Andrade called Curry with a suggestion to bring Underrated Golf to Firestone Country Club on the same weekend he would be honored. Curry ran with the idea. He and his dad attended the tournament and dinner.

Steph Curry returns to birthplace of Akron for the first time since 2009

Curry pointed out he had never previously been to Firestone Country Club. He also revealed it was the first time he'd visited Akron since he took a trip as an NBA rookie to the house of LeBron James in 2009, when the Warriors were in town to play the Cavs.

Curry, 35, and James, 38, were born in the same Akron hospital.

“The work that he's doing here with his [I Promise] School and the legacy that he's left here, it's a cool kind of connector, I guess, 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 were holding up trophies on the same green, that, to me, is just the coolest thing in the world.”

Curry said the feedback he has received from Underrated Golf players and their families has been one of the most rewarding aspects of the tour.

Shyell Lowe, 17, of Plainfield, Illinois, said she has been golfing since she was 3, though she didn't compete against another Black golfer until two years ago.

“I've experienced a lot of different things being an African American golfer,” Lowe said. “I've experienced racism, microaggressions, all of that jazz. Having Underrated kind of show me that, hey, what they were doing was not OK ... now I can stick up for myself more. I'm more confident.

“There's going to be so many more minority golfers from all different backgrounds coming in, and it's going to elevate the game more. There's going to be more players that look like me.”

LeBron James to be honored in hometown: Why the former St. Vincent-St. Mary phenom will be inducted into the Akron Public Schools Athletics Hall of Fame

Curry said he wants young people of color to know “there's opportunity here in the game of golf,” and he's determined to ensure more of them are granted access to the game.

Yet, there are more layers to Curry's cause.

“There's an educational component that we have here,” Lowery said. “We want to really be the vehicle that sparks some of these kids to a career path, whether it's in golf or just general business.

“Steph cares what's next in the game of golf for the kids, but it doesn't trump what's next in the game of life for these kids. So that's what it's all about — the equity, access, opportunity.”

The chance to duplicate a legendary shot on a historic course is a nice perk, too.

Nate Ulrich can be reached at nulrich@thebeaconjournal.com. On Twitter: @ByNateUlrich.

NBA's Stephen Curry returns to birthplace of Akron on mission to foster diversity in golf (2024)
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