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Stephen Curry finds shooting from distance a far tougher challenge in golf than basketball

By Carl Steward
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HAYWARD -- During his one and only practice round before he tees it up for real alongside a field of real professional golfers, Stephen Curry learned a sobering lesson on Tuesday.

At least for him, shooting a basketball from a long way away is a whole lot easier than hitting a golf ball from a long way away.

The Warriors star guard may the best ever at the former, and better than most decent amateurs at the latter. But even as an accomplished golfer who admits he loves the intensity of competition on the links almost as much as he does on the court, he's stepping up in class big-time this week. He'll be playing PGA Tour yardages on the long, hilly TPC Stonebrae course that demands that you not only hit it far, but straight, against pros that know how to do both with exacting precision.

"I hit it a pretty good ways, but not as far as these guys," Curry said as he tuned up for his 8:35 a.m. Thursday start in Web.com Tour's Ellie Mae Classic. "Most of the courses I play, I'm not playing their yardages and I don't hit as many drivers off the tee. So I just have to get comfortable with hitting the driver a lot more."

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And the club that was giving him the most trouble Tuesday?

"You know that driver I was just talking about?" he said with laugh. "That's the only thing I have to get figured out. But I also don't want to use up all my good shots right now. I only have a limited number, unlike these guys."

Even though there are very few trees on Stonebrae's links-style layout, Curry was definitely having a little trouble early on from long distance. On his first nine holes, trying to stretch out his driver a bit, he sprayed a few balls off the tee into the tall, dry weeds, and considering rattlesnakes have been known to take up residence in the un-manicured terrain of the Hayward hills, he was wise to not go straying very far off the actual course to find them. Things got better on the second nine, when he relaxed, slowed down a bit and found his groove with the driver.

But when the tournament starts, those errant shots will count, and lost balls will also result in penalty strokes. Curry knows the deal, and understands the odds of potential embarrassment. That said, he's sticking to a very ambitious goal over a layout he estimates he's played around 10 times.

"I want to make the cut, of course," he said.

Apprised that last year's cut line after the first two rounds was 3-under par, Curry paused and said, "Well, I guess that means I'll have to play the best two rounds of golf of my life."

Gathering his senses, he then amended his outlook.

"I'm just going to try and keep myself in play," he said. "I may make a few bogeys, but hopefully a lot of pars and a couple birdies and try to keep things as stress-free as possible."

A little stress figures to mount, though. Curry will be playing alongside defending Ellie Mae champ Stephan Jaeger, who shot a PGA Tour record 12-under 58 last year, and Sam Ryder, who is No. 2 on this year's Web.com money list and coming off an eight-stroke victory in last week's Pinnacle Bank Championship in Omaha, Neb.

There will be a gallery significantly larger than the 20 or so folks who followed him during his practice round. There possibly could be a group of Warriors players and personnel on hand to watch.

But Curry, predictably, wouldn't have it any other way. Playing in this event has dominated a lot of his thoughts ever since he received the invitation on the day of Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

"I absolutely love golf, I love competitive golf," he said. "It's a dream come true just to play with these guys. It's my one week to try it, because I don't know if I'll ever do this again. Ever since I found out I was going to have this opportunity, I've been thinking about it constantly because it's going to be so much fun."

Curry has been getting advice from all angles, including Tuesday when he played with Web.com pros Taylor Moore and Nick Rousey, and he garnered additional course knowledge from his caddie, Johnny West, who's a Stonebrae member. But the best advice he said he's received so far was from good friend and PGA Tour pro Wesley Bryan, who sent him a text on Monday.

"Wes told me that like every course, there's a tee box, a fairway, there's a green and you're usually going to make some birdies," Curry said. "You can't get psyched out about the venue, the pressure, the gallery, the atmosphere. None of that really matters. It's about staying in the moment, hitting some good shots and having fun. And that's what I'm going to do."

His practice round playing partners believe he's set up to play well based on what they saw.

"I think he's a good golfer," said Moore. "He can hit some quality shots and he has a little bit of pop off the tee. He hit it a lot better on the back nine."

As for any chance of making the cut, Moore added, "I think it'll be tough just because it's not his element, per se, just like it would be tough for me to go in an NBA game and score 20. But he can definitely hang, though. I think he's going to beat a couple guys. His game is good enough to do that."

Curry does believe there's one critical mental rule that applies to both basketball and golf -- don't let one bad shot snowball into the next one and beyond.

"When you're shooting shots, you have to have a short memory," he said. "Out here it's pretty much the same ... only their misses are much more contained than mine." 

This article is written by Carl Steward from Mercury News and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.