The NBA season is over, but Steph Curry will be competing again much sooner than expected.
It was announced Wednesday that Curry will compete in the Web.com Tour's upcoming Ellie Mae Classic at TPC Stonebrae, to be held Aug. 3-6.
Is this a fair use of a sponsor's unrestricted event exemptions? Or is this taking a spot away from a Web.com Tour player who is fighting for his status? ESPN golf writers Bob Harig and Jason Sobel debate.
Harig: Jason, by all accounts, Stephen Curry is an excellent golfer. He loves the game, goes out of his way to play it on the road, and has a low single-digit handicap. He's exactly the type of celebrity athlete golf loves to have on its side. But getting a sponsor exemption into a Web.com event has unsurprisingly led to a lot of conversation. He's taking a spot from a player who is trying to do this for a living. It's an understandable reaction.
Sobel: I get it. He won't win; he won't contend; he might not even beat anyone else. But that's not the point. A sponsor is given two unrestricted exemptions into its event. Right now, two months ahead of a late-season Web.com tourney, we're talking about it. Which means the exemption is already paying dividends. This whole outrage over "taking a spot from another player" is invalid, because it was never another player's spot in the first place.
Harig: I can argue this both ways. The tournament is getting publicity, which is the entire point of a sponsor exemption. That is why the sponsors are there in the first place -- they are often used as a means to help sell tickets. Yet while it wasn't another player's spot, it could be. Those who are against this will argue, and with some purpose, that a player fighting for his status might really benefit from getting that exemption.
Sobel: There are 26 tournaments on the Web.com schedule this year. At an average of 150 players in each field, that's about 3,900 spots available -- and we're debating the legitimacy of one of them. People who are upset over Curry's exemption should instead look at it this way: Casual fans will come for the NBA star and stay for the up-and-coming golf stars. I guarantee that some spectators who come only to watch Curry will wind up leaving the course with a greater appreciation and knowledge of some really good players. Isn't that the ultimate win-win scenario?
Harig: It is. The bottom line is that sponsors are looking for value; to get it, you want attention. This brings more attention than any other player in the field could bring. Without sponsors, there are no tournaments and no playing opportunities at all. But I understand how it could be hard for a struggling player on the Web.com Tour to see the big picture.
Sobel: You're right -- and I'm actually surprised this situation is the exception and not the norm. The most common narrative surrounding golf is that it's static, stale and boring, and the most common response is that the solution should be focused on new ways to create more interest in the game. This tournament is doing exactly that, and now there's backlash. I love initiatives like the PGA Tour turning the Zurich Classic into a team event, or the European Tour holding skills competitions at night under the lights. This is just another idea to help push golf away from the same ol', same ol'.
Harig: The ultimate gauge to me is this: We're all going to be curious to see how Curry performs. Elite athletes in other sports have a way of being humbled in golf. Curry no doubt has confidence in his skills, but how will he hold up playing against professionals -- even ones who perform at a level below the PGA Tour? My guess is he will struggle big-time, but I'm still wondering how it will go.
Sobel: Of course he will, but at least he'll do better than a professional golfer in an NBA game. To me, the better gauge is ratings, ticket sales and overall interest level. If more people learn about the Ellie Mae Classic -- and the Web.com Tour in general -- because of this exemption, that's the measuring stick. Based on the initial reaction, I think that increased interest level is already a no-doubter.