Steph Curry’s foray into Web.com Tour play has raised eyebrows. But it’s certainly not unique.
The idea of a professional athlete competing in a Web.com event is old hat, going back over a quarter-century. In fact, that history keys into the long odds the NBA star faces this week at the Ellie Mae Classic.
The history here backs up all this.
— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) July 31, 2017
But what is the actual experience like? Curry said his head was already spinning in a practice round this week.
Mark Rypien could understand that and then some.
The former Washington Redskins quarterback was believed to be the first professional athlete from another sport and without a card to compete in a PGA Tour event when he did so at the 1992 Kemper Open. (John Brodie and Ken Harrelson played in Tour events during careers in other sports but also had PGA Tour cards while doing so.)
The reasoning behind Rypien’s inclusion in the field at what is now known as TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm (the host of the 2017 Quicken Loans National) was never any secret: At that time, he was the reigning Super Bowl MVP and one of Washington D.C.’s biggest celebrities. His presence at the Kemper Open would galvanize locals to come in droves to see the action.
Rypien was noted as a 1-handicap at the time and had won the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship two years prior (he’d win it again in 2014). Like Curry, Rypien focused himself on trying to make the cut. In retrospect, Rypien’s hopes may have been a tad optimistic.
“I was not prepared,” Rypien said. “I was coming off Disney World and an offseason where I spent more (time) doing speaking engagements and not playing golf. I figured I could just pick a club up the week of the Kemper Open and do well.”
Not so much. Rypien started on No. 10 tee in the first round and sent his opening drive “right of Rush Limbaugh.”
It was an opening double bogey. A bogey followed.
“Boy, was I in for a miserable experience,” Rypien joked.
He would end the day with a 9-over 80 and follow with a 91 to finish in last place by 13 shots.
Rypien had gone into the event with no intention of a career in pro golf, although this wouldn’t be his last stop in that department – Rypien went 78-87 in 2000 at the then Nationwide Tour’s Tri-Cities Open.
If Curry is wondering how he might feel when he steps up for his tee time Thursday, well it can’t get much more frightening than this…
“The opening tee box (at the Kemper Open), I didn’t know how to pull the trigger,” Rypien said. “I had people lining up the fairway and first of all, I was scared I was going to kill someone, just 20 yards away, hosel-rocket one into them.”
But for Curry fans fretting, Rypien overall has fond memories of his experience at the Kemper Open.
The crowds were indeed massive – Rypien felt 10-15 thousand people were following him – and his closing birdie in the first round at the par-3 ninth elicited a roar that reminded him of an NFL crowd.
Rypien also got some humor out of caddies betting on his fortunes.
“(After shooting 80), the caddies coming in there were like, ‘Yeah, I knew that you were going to shoot the under!’ ” Rypien said, with a smile. “And then the next day (when I shot 91) they’re cussing me out and others are tapping me on the back going, ‘Hey, tough day.’ ”
Rypien’s two days on the PGA Tour would prove invaluable.
A learning opportunity that can’t truly soak in without putting himself under the gun.
“Awesome experience: Greg Norman, John Daly, myself had the largest galleries, it was in Washington D.C.,” Rypien said. “It was good. But it was also for the first time ever I was so far out of my element and really appreciated the Tour player more than I ever have.
“For me, it was a very eye-opening experience.”
Curry’s likely to have a similar feeling. We’ll learn soon enough.