Submerged in an ice bath after a two-hour workout that included 300 made shots from all over the floor, Stephen Curry smiles and says through chattering teeth that he can hardly wait to play golf tomorrow. Between winning the NBA championship in mid-June and returning to training camp for the 2015-'16 season in late September, Curry played a lot less golf than he preferred. He and wife Ayesha welcomed their second child, daughter Ryan, in July. Then he took corporate trips to Japan, the Philippines, China, New York and beyond. There was also a family vacation in Mexico, an appearance on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" and a round of golf with President Obama on Martha's Vineyard. "It's been absolutely crazy," Curry says, "but I'm blessed to be in this position."
Curry has been a 70s-shooting golfer since he was the No. 1 player at Charlotte Christian as a high school senior, and he surprised a lot of sports star/golfers in 2013 when he led the American Century Championship in Lake Tahoe heading into the final round. He finished fourth that year, but he had arrived as an athlete-golfer.
This year our annual celebration of Golfers Who Give Back is devoted to athletes, and though Curry isn't No. 1 on Golf Digest's ranking of Athlete Golfers, he might have been if we combined his golf ability with his commitment to giving back. From Curry to NFL receiver Larry Fitzgerald to Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight Luke Rockhold and U.S. World Cup soccer star Ali Krieger, we've found some golf-loving athletes who do a lot of good for others.
Photos by Chris McPherson
Steve Kerr, your Golden State Warriors head coach, promised to use his connections to get a round at Augusta National for you and your teammate Andre Iguodala if you won the NBA championship. Has that happened yet?
Not yet, and I'm not gonna push it. I know how special Augusta is, and I love the Masters, but I haven't had the opportunity to get there. Hopefully someday.
You did get to play golf with President Obama in August. How'd that happen?
I got five good minutes in the Oval Office with the president during my visit to the White House last February. I was there for his Malaria Initiative and got to speak in front of some very important people. But while we were in the Oval Office, we also talked about golf, basketball, our team, Draymond Green playing on the White House court. It was snowing that day, so we had to take a rain check on playing, but before I left, the president said, "Let's play golf sometime." In August, only 10 days before we played, my agent got a call from the White House schedule makers asking if I could squeeze in a round of golf with the president while he was vacationing on Martha's Vineyard. So, we made some adjustments and squeezed it in.
How nervous were you?
We had a 12 o'clock tee time, so there was a lot of time to think about it. I mean, this would be my only round of golf with President Barack Obama while he's still in office. I woke up, cleaned the clubs, ironed the outfit, and my dad and I were picked up by White House staff and driven 20 minutes across the island to Farm Neck Golf Club. When my dad and I got to the range, Ray Allen [10-time NBA All-Star] was there hitting balls. Pretty soon here comes a caravan of seven or eight Chevy Tahoes. That's when I got real nervous.
So the president joins you guys on the range and...
He immediately starts cracking jokes about Ray Allen and his posse. He's joking how Ray needed a bus to get all of his friends to the course so they could meet the president. Then he started taking some swings and talking about what the teams and the bet would be. We'd be playing for a dollar.
Yeah. One dollar. And it's me and my dad [Dell, the Charlotte Hornets' all-time leading scorer] against Ray Allen and the president.
Now you're on the first tee, and there's a crowd on the outdoor patio.
We agree that everyone can have a breakfast ball if we need 'em, and it's a good thing, because I sprayed my first one so far right...
Out of play?
Oh, yeah. Nerves, for sure. The adrenaline rush on that first tee was crazy. Totally different than anything I'd ever felt. It's the president of the United States, man. The second one I drop-kicked into the fairway, and somehow I ended up birdieing the first two holes. Drained a 30-footer from the fringe on
No. 1 and birdied the par-5 second. It all kinda went downhill from there.
We hear Obama likes to talk trash.
Oh, he's fun. Consistent. Nothing too specific, but he kept it going all day.
Did you get to know him a little bit?
We had a good talk, actually. About the presidency, if it was everything he expected it to be. What he's going to do post-2016. Says he wants to travel. He opened up a lot about how he never really valued his anonymity until it was gone. That was the biggest thing I got from that conversation 'cause obviously I'm kinda going through that a little bit myself. Not like the president of the United States, of course, but you know, your world caves in a little bit. You've got to adjust and learn on the fly.
What else did you talk about?
He said he really loves his job because there's no easy decision. He said it's just like basketball. You go in with a game plan, and you take a shot thinking that it's the best shot for you, and you have confidence that you're going to make it. And you live with the result.
You drive it about 280. How much longer are you than the president?
Maybe 60 yards longer when we both hit it good. He's gonna hit it 220, he isn't going to lose a ball, and he plays fast. You'll blink, and he'll have hit. He can be telling a story, and he'll stop, one practice swing and hit. I love that about him. He knows his game, and he plays to it.
Describe a shot you hit that impressed the president.
I blocked a tee shot right, and there was a tree in front of me, blocking my path to the green. I had to hit a 40- to 50-yard slice with a 6-iron from about 180 yards. I got it onto the left side of the green and made par from a very improbable spot.
What'd he say?
He just started laughing and said, "That was amazin'!"
Did he hit a shot that impressed you?
I don't remember what hole we were on, but he had about 160 yards to the green. There was a nice little gallery of Farm Neck residents watching, and I want to say he took a 5-iron and hit this low burner that bounced 10 yards in front of the pin and rolled up to five feet. He played it perfect, and it was pretty cool. Got a nice little round of applause from the fans.
Photos by Chris McPherson
You're pretty close to a scratch golfer [1.2 Index]. If you're playing Obama for money, how many shots are you giving him and feeling comfortable that you'll win if you play well?
He shot 84 that day, and I shot 75. I'd give him six a side, and we'd have a good match.
You seem pretty cool on the basketball court, but have you ever choked on the golf course?
Countless times. Whether it's a friendly bet playing with my Pops and you've got an eight- or 10-footer to win 10 dollars or win bragging rights, whatever. I've missed plenty of those. But that match with Obama... I definitely choked.
That team game we had was tied going into the last hole. Then we got into a 15-minute conversation with Spike Lee. His house is at the 18th tee box. He comes out with two of his guys. They were going to the African American Film Festival to show a preview of his upcoming movie, "Chi-Raq." We ended up talking to him for a while, and then I have honors on the 18th tee. I get up there and spray it 40 yards right, out-of-bounds. That was a choke job for sure! I ended up with an 8 on the hole, and we lost the match.
Hopefully you'll get a rematch.
We played on a Friday, and after we finished there was a lot of talk about what we'd be doing the rest of the weekend because we weren't leaving until Sunday. So the president says, "What are you guys doing tomorrow? You wanna play again?" It was kind of funny to think, Here's the president of the United States, on vacation, wants to play golf, have fun and all. We all looked at each other, and the look that my dad, the president and I had was all the same. We're all married men, and each of us was thinking: We've gotta go check with the real boss. It was a cool moment of reflection. Everybody's got responsibilities, and we all know who the real boss is. So we just said we'd call each other later that evening.
Let me guess: You didn't play the next day.
It never happened.
Is that round with President Obama the greatest day of golf you've experienced?
The only other story I've got comes from our golf trip to Scotland last year for my dad's 50th birthday. It was me, my dad, my friend Kris Stone from Under Armour, my brother, Seth, and some family friends. One day we played one of the Fairmont courses in St. Andrews in the morning, Carnoustie in the afternoon and got back to the Fairmont at about 7. It doesn't get dark until about 11:30. Our bus driver was this Scottish guy named Swanny. A great dude. There's a loop of three holes outside our hotel room, so my pops, Swanny and I took three clubs each, grabbed some beers, and we played that loop probably 10 times, until we could not see from me to you. By the end we were playing in bare feet, shirts untucked. It was the coolest, most low-key experience ever and completed a full day of golf from sunup to sundown. It was the most fun I think I've ever had in golf.
Photo by Walter Iooss Jr.
When did golf become part of your life?
Probably the earliest clear memory of golf I have is driving around a golf course in a cart while sitting on my dad's lap.
I was 8 or 9, and I'd be out there messing around with a sawed-off putter. My first specific memory of playing is the first time I beat my dad. I was 13.
So, you played mostly with your dad and your brother?
I was a two-sport athlete: basketball and golf. Seth was more into football and fishing. For every three rounds I played with Dad, my brother probably played one.
Were you watching golf on TV then?
Weekends were when I could play golf—Friday after school, and Saturdays. My mom had this rule, being a family of faith, Sunday was the Sabbath, so we couldn't play golf. My dad would flip from NASCAR to golf, and I'd find a TV and watch just golf.
Do you remember your first set of clubs?
Ping Zings. They were hand-me-downs from my dad. The first set I picked out for myself were Mizuno blades, when I was in ninth grade. Two years later, I got a set of TaylorMade RACs for my birthday.
How many 18-hole rounds have you played in 2015?
Probably about 30, but only five in July and three in August.
Which round was your best?
I shot 70 at Pebble Beach at the end of June. I've played Pebble four times, and that's my best round there.
What's your career low?
I've shot 67 twice. Once at Grand Wailea on Maui, and another time at a course in Lake Tahoe, but not Edgewood.
Are you a golf gadgets and technology guy?
I'm a golf-gadget junkie. In my garage I literally have everything. You know that Golf Swing Shirt? I've got one of those. I've got one of those EyeLine Putting Mirrors on my putting green in the back yard.
A putting green in your back yard?
Yeah, three holes, with a maximum 20-foot putt. We bought our house three years ago, and we did the outside and the kitchen so far. But I had to have a putting green.
Do you use it?
Oh, my goodness! Sometimes my 3-year-old daughter, Riley, will come sit on the green and block my putts. I'm trying to get her to roll 'em back to me.
Do you have a regular group you play golf with, or will you play by yourself?
I like company. I don't think I've played golf by myself since high school. If I have a five-hour window, I find out who's available, and we head out.
Ever played with Michael Jordan?
I've played in the same tournament, but never in his group.
You hear the name Tiger Woods, what do you think?
I'm still using Best Ever, even though the story hasn't played out.
You're a Tiger fan?
Love him! Huge Tiger fan. So much so that when I was a senior in high school, one of my good golf buddies, Hank Hanegraff, we'd have a match, and Hank would be Chris DiMarco and I was Tiger. You remember that year when they had that back and forth [2005 Masters]. A month after Tiger had that chip-in on 16, Hank and I were playing on our 15th hole, which is a par 3, and I had a chip-in sort of like that in a clutch moment of our match. We were like, This is too perfect.
Ever met Tiger?
I haven't met him, but he called me out of the blue during the NBA playoffs, and we've been texting ever since.
How'd he get your number?
His representation reached out to the Warriors, and our PR guy said he made the cut to get my number. [Laughs.] During the Memphis series I got a call from a number in Florida, and I didn't answer it. Two hours later, I get a call from the same number again, so I answered it, and he says, "Hey, it's Tiger." And I'm like, "Who?" And he says, "Tiger Woods." And I say, "Oh, no, man, how you doing?" That was right before Game 3. Then, just before Game 4 in Memphis, we're trailing in the series, 2 games to 1, and I get a text from him that says, "Are you ready to be hated?" You know, like we're in hostile territory, and am I ready to handle the urgency of the moment. So I text him back and say, "Yeah, we're ready to get this win."
You scored 33 points and won that night.
Right after the game I sent him a one-word text that said, "Proven!" Then we won the next two games to reach the conference finals, and we've been texting a bit ever since.
You're a mellow guy. Does your temper ever show itself on the golf course?
I learned a lesson really early from my dad. We were playing in Myrtle Beach. There was a par 4 going one way and a par 3 coming back the other way. We had already played the par 4, and now were playing the par 3. We were in a tight match with some friends who were always with us, and there had been a big buildup about this last round of the trip, and I was getting really competitive. I snap-hooked my tee shot left on the par 3, and when I got down there, there was a ball where I thought mine was, but there was a pond just past that. In my head, I'm like, I gotta win this hole. I looked at the ball, and I couldn't remember what ball I was playing. I'm like, There's no way my ball went in the pond. So I hit that ball that I found, not really knowing if it was my ball or not. My dad was watching me the whole time 'cause he saw my ball go in the pond but didn't tell me. So I got that ball on the green, two-putted for bogey, and he asked me what I got. When I told him I got a bogey, he said, "No, you didn't." I'm like, "Yeah, I did." He's like, "No, you didn't. That wasn't your ball. Your ball went in the pond." I was like, "No, that was my ball there." He's like, "No, I saw that ball when we were playing the par 4; it was sitting right there, and I left it alone. Then when we came back, I saw you hit that ball."
At that point, I completely lost it. He told me I couldn't play the rest of the round. He told me I was done, that I had lied and lost my temper.
How old were you?
I was either 12 or 14, I can't remember what year. But I remember that I was really embarrassed. It taught me that golf is supposed to be fun and not that serious. Take your medicine, move on and don't sacrifice your integrity over a round of golf.
You love teaching others how to play this game. You have five minutes with a beginner. What do you do?
I'd give him a 7-iron, let him hit five shots and then give him one or two basics based on what I see. That's fun for me. I did it yesterday in the locker room with Draymond Green, my teammate. Klay Thompson had his golf bag in there, so Draymond grabbed the driver and started swinging. He had these boxed legs, wrist hinge with no body turn, and everything was so stiff. I spent five minutes showing him a couple of things, and I could see it starting to look a lot more natural. I get a lot of joy from helping people like that.
I saw that joy when you wrapped your arm around Taliq Davis, a 10-year-old boy from Killeen, Texas, who has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.
Phew, that was tough. He was introduced to me through Twitter. He has a brain tumor, and the prognosis is not good. His family reached out earlier this year, asking if I'd give him a shout out. So I was on Twitter and saw his picture. I sent him a Happy Birthday video on Twitter, and it got to him. He sent pictures of his room, how much of a fan he is. We've done a lot of stuff for Make-A-Wish in the past, but I didn't know how much of a fan Taliq was.
So, make-a-wish flew him out to meet you at the warriors' practice facility.
As soon as he sat down, he started to tear up. When I finished my workout, I walked over, and he sat back in his chair and lost it.
Emotional for you, too?
Usually in those situations, kids are excited to be there, overwhelmed with all of the fanfare and the logos and pictures in the gym. But this was different. Taliq broke down. He was trying to find the words, but he was basically saying that my story, my faith and watching me play during the playoffs had been such an inspiration for him. I tried to tell him that his story was inspirational to me. But the story went back to him watching the NBA Finals while in the ICU. That put everything into perspective, hearing how much of an impact what we did on the floor had on him.
That wasn't your first Make-a-Wish moment, was it?
I've hosted seven Make-A-Wish kids in the past three years. You know, I live my life and do things through how I believe and how I see the world. Basketball is fun and has provided a lot for me and my family. We're able to impact a lot of people with a lot of different stories and give them hope. That's special to me. Who would have thought that putting a ball through a basket would do that?
You're involved with a lot of charitable endeavors, ThanksUSA, Nothing But Nets, Ada Jenkins Center. Tell us about them.
With those three we've done separate events for each organization. ThanksUSA and Ada Jenkins Center have golf events. Nothing But Nets is on-court and fundraising related. I was able to go to Tanzania three summers ago, to a refugee camp called Camp Nyarugusu in northwestern Tanzania, right next to the Congo. There are 60,000 Congolese refugees there. We distributed 30,000 nets [to prevent malaria] that summer. I've been a champion of that. There's a 3-for-3 campaign. For every three-pointer I make, I donate three bed nets and encourage people to pledge and match.
Who or what inspired you to give back?
My mom and dad. They set the tone early and never let us lose sight of how fortunate we were. My dad funded some computer learning centers throughout Charlotte, so my siblings and I would go volunteer for an hour or two after school.
Any specific memories of giving back as a kid?
When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, there was a family that was displaced into Charlotte, and we sponsored their Christmas. There was a husband and wife, with three or four kids, living in a hotel in West Charlotte. I remember we went to the store ourselves and bought gifts for the whole family. We dropped everything off at their hotel, and even brought a nice little meal that my mom had cooked. When we lived in Toronto there was a huge homeless population there. Any leftovers that we had, we'd wrap them up and take them across the street to this bus stop where a lot of homeless people lived. We did little stuff like that along the way, and we're all still involved in giving back today.
Cover photo by Chris McPherson