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Look beyond the Web

Social media was set abuzz last week, which is something the Web.com Tour can't lay claim to doing on a regular basis.

A statement on Wednesday confirmed that two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Steph Curry will be teeing it up at the Ellie Mae Classic in California early next month.

Now, what I know about basketball is probably on a par with my knowledge of organic chemistry. But the very fact that I had actually heard of Steph Curry prior to last week's announcement underlines the level of star quality the man will bring to a Tour which seldom hits the mainstream headlines. How could it not be a good thing?

Naturally though, there was no shortage of detractors, who made the ostensibly reasonable argument that the Golden State Warriors guard is absorbing a place that could have gone to a struggling, aspiring and ultimately more-deserving scrapper, who is simply trying to put food on the table.

Daily bread, one assumes, is not an issue for wealthy men like Curry, and, even as a respectable two handicapper, it would seem that his mate Klay Thompson's prediction that he could "maybe finish top 20" was a bold one. In truth, it would be an impressive effort if he were to simply break 80 for two rounds in a row.

Curry himself, probably said it best: “These guys are ridiculous. 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."

So is he just taking up space then?

There are a number of so-called bottom feeders on the Web.com Tour; those without status, who must rely on Monday qualifiers, and, failing that, invitations like the one Curry got simply to have a chance of earning a pay cheque. Hard - and unenviable - graft, but that's what these tours are about, and celebrity no-hopers taking their place not only deprives them of much-needed opportunity, but also undermines their Tour. Or so the argument goes.

I do sympathise with their cause, and my mind boggles at how so many talented professionals can pursue a career so uncertain and cruel - and with no guarantees of reward or success down the line. But, for me, criticisms of the Curry invitation get short shrift. The Ellie Mae Classic are entitled to invite any player they want with their exemptions. From a strictly results-driven perspective, is Curry any less worthy than someone like John Daly, who lived on PGA Tour invites for years? He certainly wasn't there because of his consistency or exemplary performances on the course. He was there because of his magnetic, crowd-pulling presence.

And of course, the Curry inclusion is supported by far stronger benefits than just a mercurial personality, or booming drives. As a high-profile basketballer giving professional golf a whirl, feet through the door that week were a sure thing anyway. But the fact that the event will be taking place (roughly) in his backyard will increase that exponentially.

There will also be opportunity to highlight the Warriors Foundation, the franchise's charity, which, by all accounts, does great work in helping local education and youth development. True, it was already the tournament's main beneficiary anyway. But this will surely push its profile through the roof.

And then there is the most significant benefit of the lot... think of all the eyeballs which will be following the event globally - either on television or online. Eyeballs from both the worlds of golf and basketball. And not just in terms of numbers, but diversity too. A recent Nielsen study found that 63 per cent of the PGA’s television audience is 55 or older. An overwhelming 87 per cent are white, while just 12 per cent are below the age of 35. A dying, colonial elite, really.

Over half of the NBA's audience, on the other hand, is under 35, with just a quarter being 55 or older. In turn, 57 per cent of viewers identify as 'non-white'. Even if just a fraction of this non-golfing, NBA audience tune in, what might that do for the growth of our game? Expanding things further up the funnel will inevitably see significant benefits trickle down to the Web.com Tour as well, attracting players and sponsors that otherwise may not have had the game of golf in their crosshairs. Who knows... it could potentially end up making a career on this particular circuit rather more lucrative in years to come as a result.

The extent of Curry's lasting impact by competing at the Ellie Mae Classic remains to be seen, and one doubts the tournament is looking much beyond self interest in recruiting him. And it is a shame for whoever the casualty of his cameo appearance will be. But, for the sake of one week, and even just the possibility that it could do the sport of golf the power of good, it seems an overwhelmingly good gamble to take.

I, for one, will be keeping an eye on the leaderboard that week. Doing so would have been much less a priority in my life were Curry not there. I daresay I'm not the only one.

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