Though his résumé is impressive now — with a fourth NBA championship and a Finals MVP trophy — Stephen Curry famously started his hoops journey as an unranked, unheralded and unrecruited high school prospect.
In recent years, Curry has looked to provide a new generation of young athletes with the skills and inspiration that fueled his rise. Beginning in 2019, Curry launched the Underrated Tour as a basketball showcase event for players who might not have otherwise been scouted by college coaches. The tour’s logo has five stars grouped together with three stars highlighted. Accordingly, the tour is open to players who were ranked as three-star recruits or lower, like Curry. To date, 31 student-athletes who have played in the Underrated Tour have gone on to receive full-ride Division I scholarships to play college basketball.
Now, Curry is adding another branch to his Underrated Tour — this time for golf.
“Everybody knows that I love the game of golf, and I couldn’t be more excited to extend this love to the best young players across the country,” Curry said during a press event about the tournament.
The Underrated Golf Tour launched this week with the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA), with the added goal of addressing the sport’s lack of diversity.
“Less than 2% of [junior] golfers are people of color,” Curry said. “And our tour provides a platform of equity, access and opportunity to boys and girls that want to play and compete with the current best players of the AJGA.”
The first of four regional Underrated Tour tournaments starts this week at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club outside Chicago with a field of 60 players — 30 boys, 30 girls — between the ages of 12 and 18.
The fields for each regional will be drawn from top players from the surrounding areas, players who applied online for entry, and winners of a one-day qualifying event taking place the day before the tournament starts.
A diverse field will be the priority at each stop throughout the summer, with a long-term aim of improving upon that 2% figure.
“That obviously is completely disproportionate to society today, which is more around 25-30%. The goal here is that we replicate what society is,” said Underrated chairperson Suresh Singh. “Our tour is going to have 25-30% Black and brown participants.”
Another key component of the tour will be the cost of entry in what is historically an expensive sport.
“Everything is paid for,” Singh said. “Absolutely everything.”
All travel, lodging and meals will be covered for each participant on the Underrated Tour, along with travel for an accompanying parent. Curry has long had a partnership with golf club manufacturer Callaway, and will provide players in need with equipment as well.
The financial commitment from Curry and his brand partners is another piece of his commitment to uplifting the sport of golf.
In 2019, Curry made a multimillion-dollar pledge to Howard University to fund the school’s first Division I men’s and women’s golf teams. The program, which he hopes can become “a marquee golf destination and university,” is outfitted in his Curry Brand golf apparel and footwear.
“To know that they’re rocking Curry Brand, they’re basically walking examples of the impact that we’re able to have,” the NBA star said.
Another aim of the Underrated Tour is to provide access to top-tier golf courses, most of which can cost several hundred dollars for standard green fees, besides a tournament entry fee. Each of the four tournament locations selected — Cog Hill, Wickenburg Ranch near Phoenix, the Golf Club of Houston and the Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead Course near Tampa, Florida — have hosted PGA Tour events.
“This tour is opening doors for young, underrepresented golfers to showcase their skill and play on some of the most revered courses across the country — where they can experience new greens and inspiring views — while elevating their techniques and strategies alongside like-minded players,” said Curry.
The best 12 boys and 12 girls from each of the four tournaments will all face off in the “Curry Cup” at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco in late August.
“The kids that we’re serving are going to have the opportunity in these tournaments to go up against the very best players,” said Singh.
The series of certified tournaments are being held with the American Junior Golf Association, meaning top AJGA amateur players will be competing in every tournament. The winner of each regional tournament will receive two AJGA “performance stars,” which go toward a total score that determines entry into priority tournaments and player rankings.
At the Curry Cup, eight AJGA stars will be awarded for first place and four AJGA stars each to those placing second through fifth.
Next year, the tour plans to add a European division, with future summer sessions to be offered eventually to young athletes in South America and Asia.
According to Will Lowery of the Golf Channel, who, like Curry, hails from the Charlotte, North Carolina, area and serves as Underrated Golf’s professional and tour ambassador, the costs of junior golf can escalate quickly and price out teenage players looking to advance past the recreational level.
Lowery estimates it costs families at least $8,000 to $10,000 to fund a junior golfer’s training, equipment, tournament fees and travel costs. “To do it right,” that cost could increase to as much as $25,000 a year.
“My team and I realize just how important it is to create opportunities for underrepresented communities, who may not otherwise have the chance to gain access to the sport and adjacent businesses,” said Curry.
After opening its nationwide application process in late April, the Underrated Tour received more than 900 applications from young golfers looking to enter the quartet of tournaments, according to Jason Richards, the tour’s athletic operations manager.
Just as basketball players have sought to follow in Curry’s footsteps as a late bloomer, Richards believes golfers can also draw inspiration from the two-time MVP’s career arc.
“Kids can see themselves in that, and not lose hope at a young age if they’re not a five-star or four-star recruit,” said Richards.
Richards has had an up close seat for Curry’s rise to the top. He was Curry’s backcourt running mate at Davidson College, where Richards led all of Division I in assists during his senior year as the duo carried the Wildcats to a Cinderella-worthy Elite Eight run in the NCAA tournament in 2008. After spending several years working in both coaching and administrative roles at the University of Pittsburgh, Richards signed on to help lead the Underrated Tour’s efforts and Curry’s vision of uplifting similarly overlooked young athletes.
While the tournaments will emphasize competition and top-level play, there’s also an emphasis on the access and networking that the game has given to players for generations.
“Golf is the vehicle. We are trying to give these kids a whole host of opportunities that they don’t otherwise have,” said Singh. “The privileged kid, or specifically, the white kid — they have aunts and uncles who are CEOs that they can talk to, or that give them jobs, internships or mentorships. The kids we’re serving, they don’t have that, and they don’t have a place to rub elbows with the folks to get that. We’re giving them that.”
One way the tour will look to inject that level of access is through its corporate brand partners. Each partner is being asked to provide access to its employee base and to participate in panels, workshops and in mentoring players. They will also be encouraged to consider players for internships and jobs.
“We will provide these incredible student-athletes with the opportunity to interface with major executives and decision-makers, creating the next generation of future leaders,” said Curry.
There will also be a curriculum of as many as seven long-term programs throughout the year, with each player participating in at least two.
“We’re setting it up so that not only our brand partners and the people that we have coming to these events, but their friends and colleagues in their life will become mentors to these kids after the sport part of the tour is over,” said Singh. “We’ve got 10 weeks of tournaments, and then 42 weeks of other programming that these kids will be participating in.”
The goal of increasing diversity across the sport is matched by the collective goal of impacting corporate diversity in sports.
“The real mission here is not golf,” said Singh. “Golf and basketball are the tip of the iceberg for where Underrated is going.”