It's a debate that will forever dog the sport and has arisen since the days when Babe Didrickson, a priest and George Zaharias got LA Open sponsor's invites. (Didrickson later married Zaharias thanks to that round!)
Thanks to social media, swelling entitlement of players who haven't made a cut in a major (much less won one), and it should not come as a surprise that a few complainers surfaced on news of Steph Curry's Web.com Tour event exemption.
The Ellie Mae Classic (July 31-Aug. 9) gets to invite any player they want with their exemptions, including college players like Maverick McNealy, who are also taking away a playing opportunity. For 2017 they've chosen a hometown global superstar and low single-digit handicapper that will bring enormous attention to a tournament that otherwise would have gone largely unnoticed. Yes, they probably reached too far when Jerry Rice played given his abilities, but Curry is a both a legitimate golfer (2.0 index) and at the height of his allure.
He's also, as Ron Kroichick notes in this SF Chronicle exclusive, humbled by getting to be around the talented players of the Web.com Tour.
He played alongside Justin Thomas (now ranked No. 12 in the world) at Silverado Resort in October 2015, and with Harold Varner III (now No. 135) this past October. After the Varner round, Curry acknowledged the disparity between tour pros and accomplished amateurs.
“These guys are ridiculous,” he said. “Their misses are good shots for me. It’s just a different type of expectation. You see their ball flight and it’s something you’re not used to."
There is also an opportunity to highlight the Warriors Foundation, and while we should always suspicious of sports teams and their foundations, this one seems more active and player-supported than most.
From an unbylined wire story at CNN.com:
“I’m honored to have the opportunity to play with the pros in the upcoming Ellie Mae Classic, not only to be able to compete against some of the best golfers in the world, but to also help bring light to the tournament’s charitable footprint of giving back to the Warriors Community Foundation,” Curry said in a release.
Oh and did I mention this may get the Web.com Tour more eyeballs and recognition than any other event they play all year?
With that stated, let the whining begin!
Brentley Romine at Golfweek.com sides with those who took to social media to gripe about Curry taking food off their tables.
The unrestricted sponsor invite given to Curry could just as easily have gone to a pro golfer trying to make a living. It could be a player with no status on any tour who has just a few hundred dollars in his bank account. It could be a player who could catch fire for 72 holes and change his career and life forever. (Ask Beau Hossler what finishing second at the Air Capital Classic earlier this month did for him.)
Now, I know some people will argue that Curry’s spot would’ve just gone to someone who couldn’t even earn a spot via a Monday qualifier, someone who is a “bottom feeder” that will miss the cut or finish T-75. But isn’t that what these developmental tours are about? The point of tours like the Web.com Tour is to provide players a path to the PGA Tour.
Joel Beall at GolfDigest.com is less sympathetic, particularly to the plight of Lee McCoy who lamented on Twitter, “So many great players could use that chance. Sad.”
For the former Georgia Bulldog's highlight of his fledgling career was spurred by an invite to the 2016 Valspar Championship because, well, he grew up at Innisbrook. He ultimately proved his mettle, finishing T-4 as an amateur. However, a lot of viable, established tour veterans sat at home that week, and though McCoy may ultimately become a presence at golf's top level, he's failed to produce anything of note at the tour outside Copperhead.