Mariah Stackhouse knew she was witnessing something special. It was the final round of NBA star Stephen Curry’s Underrated Golf’s first annual Curry Cup at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, site of the 2020 PGA Championship, in September 2022. “It was incredible to see what Steph and his team had done with the event for the kids,” Stackhouse says of the Underrated Golf program. “I could see how much they loved it. It was awesome seeing so many promising, young Black golfers in one space actually getting to compete on great golf courses.”
In the spring of 2022, four-time NBA champion Curry founded Underrated Golf, an all-expense-paid junior tour to help underrepresented players around the country pursue the game. “We are driven to open more doors for diverse players and balance participation in the sport to truly reflect our society,” Curry noted in a press release. Additionally, the Warriors’ point guard pledged to financially support and help establish a Division I men’s and women’s golf program at historically Black college Howard University for the 2020-2021 academic year, after 50 years without a team.
Stackhouse, a KPMG ambassador since her rookie season in 2017, knew after just a few hours of witnessing Curry’s event that she wanted to get involved and support the program.
By March 2023, Stackhouse helped secure KPMG as Underrated Golf’s title sponsor, helping the organization expand mentorship and leadership development programs for players. Stackhouse will attend the second-annual Curry Cup in September 2023 and provide lessons and career advice to participating junior golfers.
Despite her recent struggles on the golf course (in 2022, she made only three cuts on LPGA Tour), Stackhouse wanted to utilize her platform beyond her scores. As just the seventh Black player to earn LPGA status, Stackhouse understands the impact of visibility in the golf world and the importance of accessibility to the sport. (There are no Black golfers with full-time status on the LPGA Tour.)
Stackhouse, who will tee up this week at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, talked to ESPN about the importance of being involved with Underrated Golf, why she wants to continue to grow the game and her hope to impact the sport beyond her playing career.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
ESPN: Do you believe Underrated Golf is filling a gap in the golf world?
MS: Yes. Several great projects are targeted at giving minority golfers a more competitive experience. This program has the same focus, but Steph is running it. And so there are resources ready to take it and say, “Hey, let’s not just make this one event, let’s make this a tour. Let’s go to different parts of the country. We’re funding the kid’s travel. We’re taking care of that experience so that they can play.” And the parents are burden free.
The targeted age group, 12 to 18, is really special because those are the years when it’s important to start learning how to travel, play golf, play high-caliber and challenging courses, and build your game in that manner and have a schedule. And if you end up at the top, you now get some status and an opportunity to compete in American Junior Golf Association [AJGA] events. It provides a stepping stone and a platform. Nothing else is being done in exactly that manner.
ESPN: How important is it for young children and families to have access to programs like Underrated Golf?
Incredibly important. [As a young player] I was playing in a lot of these youth organizations. I was already actually playing competitive local and regional tours. My dad still wanted to put me in these programs because he wanted me to have fun with the game and get good at it with other young kids in my area. That was incredibly important to him. Not only my competitive development but social development in the world of golf. As a young, Black golfer, it was even more important.
Creating and making sure your kids get into an environment where they are surrounded by people that look like them too, subconsciously, that’s providing them an experience that they might not know they need.
ESPN: What role will you play within Underrated Golf?
MS: I’ll be at the championship event in September. And after the championship round concludes, there will be a golf development and leadership training day. The golf portion will be in the morning. Steph will be there with me. I’ll do a demo. He’ll moderate it. I’ll give them some tips and go through a golf demonstration. Then we’ll both talk to them just about the journey through athletics, mentally, physically and just talking to them about the sport.
Then, in the second half of the day, we’ll transition into a few different leadership trainings. One run by myself and a couple of different people in the area. And after, we’ll talk about affirmations. I’ll share mine. I have an affirmation I’ve said since I was young. I’ll help the kids create their affirmations.
ESPN: What’s your affirmation?
MS: I’ve actually never shared it. It’s about four paragraphs long. My parents wrote it for me when I was younger to repeat to myself. It’s a page dedicated to me, myself, and my well-being. They wrote all of that. And I still repeat it to myself today. And I’ll share my affirmation with the kids that day.
ESPN: Why is it important to be involved with Underrated Golf, especially when your golf game isn’t where you want it to be professionally?
MS: I think the struggles that I’ve gone through over the last couple of years threw everything into perspective. It showed me that a career as an athlete is not guaranteed. I’m in a very unique space right now. I have the platform; I have the status. What can I do to be most impactful while I’m still playing? That doesn’t mean to say that if I’m not playing professional golf, I lose my influence. I don’t think that’s the case.
But it’s really put into perspective that all you have is now. Right? I’m blessed in that I’m on the up-and-up physically and feel capable right now. So maybe last year I felt, when will I get this back? But I feel confident again.
But before that, I felt it gave me a little sense of urgency to do everything with my platform. I think that’s why. I’ve been out here on tour. This is my seventh year [on the LPGA Tour], and I’m still getting questions around different interviews and things like that, talking about what it’s like to be the only Black player on tour.
There’s a young, Black golfer at USC right now named Amari Avery, who is really good. I have no doubt Amari will make it on tour. I want Amari not to have that “only one” experience so that she’s not the person that has to carry X, Y and Z on her shoulders when she’s out there. That’s what I’d like for the next generation of golfers. Maybe it’ll take a long time for it to be great numbers of Black women and men on tour. I want it to become less about the representation they’re carrying and just about the game they show up with.
ESPN: How does that make you feel?
MS: We had the Tiger wave and then a few people popped up. It just goes to show it takes more than just someone showing up and being the face. It must be something done on an intentional level to fuel that pipeline. There are a lot of initiatives going on right now. Whether it’s something I create on my own or Steph’s Underrated Golf Tour. I want to support efforts to grow the game.
ESPN: Why is it important to have guys like Steph at the forefront of making golf a cool sport for the next generation?
MS: Traditionally, golf is not seen as the cool sport. But when you see football players, basketball players and baseball players, the second they’re in the offseason, they want to run and play a bunch of golf with friends. And they’re always posting on social media that they’re having a good time. I think that will improve the perception of golf culture. Even to this day, I’ll meet people or hang out with new groups that I don’t know, I never really mentioned the golf stuff offhand, but eventually, once it comes up, they’re like, “Oh, you play golf?” And they say, “Wow, that’s really cool. I wouldn’t have expected that!”
And what they’re saying is, you don’t seem like a golfer. I think the more we can remove ourselves from that perception, the quicker it makes people want to go out and have a casual round at their local public course with friends and get to know how to play the game.