Phil and Steph pair up;exactly what golf needed

NAPA—It was exactly what golf needed. Especially at this time of the year, when the majors are months in the future or months in the past; especially with football virtually night (Thursday and Monday)­ and day (Sunday); and the baseball pennant races nearing conclusion.

  Exactly what golf needed, with Tiger out of the headlines and the PGA Tour schedule starting (never mind the calendar; to pro golf it’s already 2020); the rest of us in September tend to think of falling leaves not of falling putts.

  This is the Safeway Open, and what happened in the pro-am Wednesday, Steph Curry pairing up with Phil Mickelson, Tony Romo putting his single-digit handicap on display, very well could be bigger than anything in the tournament that starts Thursday,

     Golf, as tennis, is a sport without home games. But not without favorites. Or personalities. Can you think two larger favorites or personalities, at least in Northern California, than a guy who was a two-time NBA MVP and a guy who won five majors and 40-something other events, including the Pebble Beach AT&T again last February.

  Golf always has been the crossover sport, the one Joe DiMaggio and Willie Mays enjoyed as much as baseball, the one a singer like Bing Crosby made almost as popular as “White Christmas.”

  And athletes who dabble at the sport—well, dabble is the improper description—are as much  in admiration of the golfing greats, Phil, Tiger, Justin Thomas, as everyone else. 

   We might stand in the backyard or the gym, throw up jumpers and wonder how we compare with the Warriors’ Curry, arguably the best ever, while Curry powers one off the tee and wonders how he compares with Mickelson. Truth tell he doesn’t have to wonder.

 Mickelson said Curry’s tee shot on the par-5 ninth hole, at Silverado, which measures 557 yards, carried 370 yards. Wow. He had a sand wedge to the green. Wow

   But the way Curry hits a drive should be no more surprising than how he hits—to use a sports colloquialism—a 3-pointer. The qualities which enable him to make the shots beyond the arc, timing, strength, wonderful hand-eye-coordination, are the same qualities which enable him to drive the ball miles off the tee.

  “The thing, I think, about Steph Curry’s game,” said Mickelson, “is his touch, his hands, his chipping, putting. He’s got an incredible touch.”

  As would anyone who rarely misses a free throw and who in practice often makes 35 to 45 consecutive 3-pointers

  Curry grew up in North Carolina, golf country—think Pinehurst—and was almost as adept at that game as hoops when the Warriors made him a first-round draft choice. He’s played in a minor pro tournament, didn’t make the cut but was impressive  
   “He’s also got a ton of speed,” Mickelson said about Curry’s swing. “Dropping all kinds of bombs off the tee. Just hellacious bombs, deep and very accurate. Certainly straighter than I have.”

  Some candor and self-criticism. Mickelson never has been sharp with a driver—one of the reasons he hasn’t won the U.S. Open, the tournament where the fairways are narrow and the rough deep. But in his younger days (Phil now is 49) he could, as the cliché goes, get it up and down out of the ball washer. 

   When Phil was an amateur, Golf Digest  put him on the cover, inside showing a photo sequence of Mickelson hitting backwards over his head and landing the ball in the cup.

  After the round Wednesday someone asked how the twosome would do as a best-ball team. Mickelson either misunderstood or in typical smart-aleck Phil style wanted to needle the questioner.

“Basketball,” Mickelson responded, “no, I can’t run.

  Curry added, “I didn’t know if he said basketball. 

 He didn’t, but being Steph Curry was standing there off the 18the green, why not?

  “His overall game,” Curry said of Mickelson, “I was just in awe of every shot, but I tried to hold my own too. I learned a lot about how to read greens for sure. “

   Said Mickelson, alluding to Curry, “I just enjoy bring around greatness, and his work ethic and what he puts in to be the best in his field is inspiring to me.”

  As to everyone.

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