NAPA, Calif. – To be fair, it’s only his second year out here, but Justin Thomas felt even more anonymous than usual Wednesday at the Frys.com Open.
No surprise there. He played in the same pro-am group as Golden State Warriors stars Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala.
“It was great for me because no one knew who I was,” Thomas joked afterward. “I just walked to the next tee. I signed one autograph the whole day; they figured I was just part of an entourage.
“No one knows who I am anyways, but even more so in that situation.”
The group attracted by far the biggest crowd of the day, even with Rory McIlroy out on the course.
Curry, the reigning NBA MVP, is one of the best golfers on the celebrity circuit, and as recently as this summer he sported a 0.1 handicap index. He had signed up for the California State Amateur in June but later had to withdraw – his team reached (and then won) the NBA Finals.
“He’s really good,” Thomas said. “Does everything really well.”
Curry says he has a “very clear-cut golf season.” It starts the day after his final game of the season and runs through the end of September, when practice for the new season begins to ramp up. He usually plays three or four times a week, though he says it's less often now that he has two young children.
Curry played in a preseason game Tuesday night in Oakland (14 points, seven assists) and was headed back to practice after the pro-am. When asked whether it was difficult to cram a basketball game and 18 holes into a 14-hour window, Curry laughed.
“I wouldn’t call it tough,” he said, “because any time you get to play golf you somehow miraculously get energy. We have to obviously recharge before tonight. But this is a nice little breath of fresh air to come out and play and have some fun.”
Iguodala, the 2015 Finals MVP, began playing three years ago but only started taking the game seriously within the past year, when he has cut his handicap in half. He topped his first tee shot into the hazard but settled down as the round went on, even stuffing an approach to 5 feet on the last. (He missed.)
“I’m tired of giving him compliments while we’re playing golf,” Iguodala said of Curry. “I guess he just has it. I don’t know what it is, but I’m trying to figure out a way to give it to my son. Hopefully he’ll give my son some lessons.”
How does Thomas fit in this group?
PGA Tour player Rickie Barnes went to school at Arizona with Iguodala and attended (along with several others) the Warriors’ playoff game in New Orleans in April. That night, Curry dropped 40 points, including a 3-pointer in the final seconds, to help lift the Warriors to a 20-point, fourth-quarter comeback.
Iguodala invited Barnes and a few of his friends out to dinner later that week, and he and Thomas have stayed in touch over the past few months. When it became clear Iguodala and Curry were able to play the pro-am, Thomas set up the group.
“It was so cool,” Thomas said. “They’re both golf nuts too, so they really enjoy it and like the game as much as we like watching them.”
Justin Rose has his own Curry story.
After attending that Warriors-Pelicans playoff game, Rose said he was inspired by Curry’s lights-out performance and went on to earn his own victory that week at the Zurich Classic. In the winner’s news conference, Rose even credited Curry with some of his success.
“I was struck by his confidence,” he said.
A few days later, while shopping around Union Square in San Francisco, Rose bumped into Curry, who had heard about Rose’s remarks.
“The craziest thing,” Rose said.