RogerStephCurry

RogerStephCurry

Roger Steele has worked with some of the top names in sport.

Roger Steele

Roger Steele doesn’t care for the label “influencer.”

“The word influencer implies that I have an agenda that for me correlates to a purchasing decision,” Steele said the other day. “And while I think that with some of my brand partnerships, that is the implication that I do want you to support certain things that I’m a part of, what I’m after is much deeper than that — it’s more of an art form. I consider myself a very creative person and when I’m creating things, it’s not necessarily with the intent to influence a decision as much as it is raising awareness of something.”

For Steele, that something is golf.

While he does have deals with brands ranging from Callaway and Nike to SoFi (banking) and Bibigo (frozen Korean food) and plays to a scratch handicap like so many other social-media personalities who consider themselves “golf influencers,” Steele says his primary goal is advocating for the game itself and bringing it to new audiences.

His secret sauce: not taking himself, or golf, too seriously. In a game that has historically been exclusive and rigid, Steele is colorful — especially with his language — and relaxed. In videos that he shares with his nearly 60,000 Instagram followers, he wears T-shirts and sports jerseys and even a clown mask. In one clip, he’s palling around with Los Angeles Rams quarterback Justin Herbert, in the next he’s pacing the fairways at the BMW Championship in a “Golf is Dope” T-shirt, in another he’s jokingly decrying the club-twirling epidemic.

None of this is to say Steele wants to throw shade on content creators who do consider themselves “golf influencers”; he’s just trying to bring something fresh to the game. If there is a label for Steele, he prefers storyteller.

Fitting, given he has a rich story of his own.

A ‘deep appreciation for the game’

Like so many youngsters, Steele was introduced to the game by his father, Roger Sr., a Chicago police officer. At first, young Roger would simply ride in the cart as his father played a local public course, Columbus Park. His father’s rationale was two-fold: He wouldn’t have to pay for a babysitter and he would never have to worry about his boy wandering the streets, getting into trouble with the same people he encountered daily on the job.

“I think that he was pretty smart in doing that, getting me around the game pretty young,” Steele said. “We had a little nine-hole course over here that all of the locals would go to. And it wasn’t much, but it was what we call home as far as golf was concerned.”

Steele never became too invested in the game when he was little. As a kid growing up in Chicago in the early 1990s, he was fully immersed in Michael Jordan and the Bulls.

“All my friends were playing basketball and I was just trying to convince my dad to let me leave the golf course and go play basketball,” he said. “But it’s something that now that I’m here and once I got older, I grew a very deep appreciation for the game. What it does, what it teaches you.”

Had he been playing basketball, Steele would have missed one of his earliest major golf memories.

When he was about 5 years old, Roger watched the reigning U.S. Junior Amateur champion give a clinic at a South Side public course called Jackson Park.

The player was looking for a young volunteer to hit a few balls. Steele wasn’t interested, but his father encouraged him to go up and hit a driver.

Steele said he hit a great shot after which a reporter asked him for his name.

“The next day, me and Tiger [Woods] were in the Chicago Sun-Times,” Steele said.

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Roger Steele getting a lesson from Tiger Woods in 1993.

Roger Steele

Even after that experience in 1993, Steele never took seriously to the game, except as an avenue to spend time with his father. When he completed high school and went off to college to study civil engineering, Steele quit the game entirely.

He focused more on other sports, like basketball. He said he thought he could be a pro athlete in a different sport, but not a pro golfer.

It took getting a job out of college at an engineering firm and being offered a spot in a company golf outing for Steele to pick up the game again.

“They were, like, we got free days off, we’ve got client outings coming up, let us know if you want to join,” Steele said. “And I’m like, yeah, I know how to play golf. And then people in the office were looking at me, like, you know how to play golf?

“I go get my clubs from my parent’s basement, dust them off and I go to the driving range a couple of times, like, the week before. I don’t know what clicked in that time, but it was just different.”

His game came back naturally, and Steels said colleagues started treating him differently at work.

“You go from being this person that is just like another body in an office building to people stopping you when you walk down the hallway, and they’re like, ‘Man, I heard about what you did on 12.’ Or pulling you into their office and being, like, ‘Hey man, what you got going on this weekend?’ The whole energy around me shifted once golf got into the picture.”

No one was happier to see Steele return to the game than his father.

“He’s like, ‘I told you,’” Steele said with a chuckle.

The story became the business

Steele wasn’t crazy about his chosen career path out of college and his newfound infatuation with the game only made his job frustrations worse.

“My whole career was just me making enough money to play golf,” he said. “I probably shouldn’t be giving 10 or 12 hours of my day to something that I’m using to do something else. Why don’t I just go figure out a way to make golf the main thing?”

He was meeting people on the golf course who were entrepreneurs, and he started asking them questions about getting into the golf business for himself.

Steele still didn’t know what he wanted to do, but he saved up money in 2016 and went out on his own to start a golf-related business.

There was much trial and error, Steele said. He tried becoming a golf nutritionist, then started an apparel concept. Nothing took.

“Watching my savings deplete like that was just crazy,” he said. “But my love for the game and me knowing that I wanted to be around this sport, It kept me going, like there was a lot of times that — I’m looking at getting another engineering job. Should I try to start over?”

Through his endeavors, Steele bought his first camera to document the story of whatever business he pursued.

Little did he know those stories would become his business.

He lived in Los Angeles for a time and started freelancing for a contact he met through golf.

“He said, ‘Hey I really think that you’re good at this,” Steele said. “I’ll give you some money and you can start a media company, and I’ll introduce you to people like the Gretzkys [Wayne and Janet] and you can help them tell their stories,’” Steele said. “All of these people play golf so we all go play golf together as part of our discovery process and stuff like this.

“Things kept happening that allowed me to stay close to the game.”

The breakout video

As Steele’s HIPE Media company started to grow, he said his friends increasingly started asking him how they could get into golf or if he would take them to a course.

Steele decided to put his skills to the test and make a video explaining how to get into the game, in his own voice.

“It was a little aggressive, just looking back on it,” Steele said. “I told people you’re going to be trash for a long time. And it’s not something that’s going to fix itself very quickly. It’s not going to go away. So you just got to sit with it and accept the fact that you are trash and then maybe you can go out and have a pleasurable experience.”

Steele used some colorful terms, but he was honest. He was posted the video in September 2020 when golf was in the midst of a pandemic boom. Steele said he was speaking authentically to his friends who had approached him wanting to take up the game. It wasn’t going to be easy for them.

“It just went crazy,” he said of the video, which now has more than 60,000 views on Instagram. “I thought that it was going to be so aggressive that I was going to lose some of my country club invites if I’m being honest. But it was just so well received and they respected me.”

When that video took off, Steele knew golf-content creation was the gig for him.

“Ever since then, I’ve tried to create in my most authentic voice,” Steele said. “I’ve also wanted to empower people to create and express themselves as authentically as possible. I think that because of our love for the game of golf, like when we show up as our most authentic selves, when we align around our authenticity and around the sport, it just makes for much more meaningful relationships.

“That’s what I’ve enjoyed so much on this whole journey, is just being able to connect with people and them knowing that they could come to me and be themselves.”

Room to grow

Most of Steele’s videos involve him doing interviews and spending time with interesting figures. He said golf is one of the best ways to get to know people and he can use that aspect of the game as an avenue to tell anyone’s story.

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Roger Steele on a shoot with Jon Rahm.

Roger Steele

He’s made content with some of the biggest names in golf like Jon Rahm, Annika Sorenstam, Harold Varner III, Xander Schauffele and Cameron Champ to name a few. He’s also done shoots with other stars like Steph Curry, J.R. Smith, Andrew Whitworth and Larry Fitzgerald.

Steele says he has one of the best jobs in the world, but his schedule is never the same day-to-day. It’s all based on what he sees.

“All of my content comes from my real life, where I spend time with friends, with our family, spend time with acquaintances,” he said. “I’m paying attention to those environments. I have emotions that naturally arise around the experience.”

He said there’s plenty of opportunity in golf for different content creators, whether it’s more personality-driven with interviews like his, executing trick shots or as an actual product influencer. Steele encourages others to find their own voice and run with it.

“There’s a lot of people that are doing my job right now,” Steele said. “Maybe not, obviously, at the same levels, but it’s so many people that I look to that are building community that have their own communities that I’m a part of. And I’m like, Yo, you do what I do better than what I do.”

While he doesn’t like the term influencersome of Steele’s goals moving forward involve working with more brands that have the same values as he does. He’s only been working as a content creator for about two years, but he likes the direction it’s going.

“I want to leave this game much better than I found it and I want to make sure it is a landscape that a lot of people have access to and that they get to explore and they get to reap the benefits of it,” Steele said. “The thing that I want to do is continue to be a resource for brands, for entities, for organizations to continue to reach out to new communities, to be able to engage them authentically and to figure out solutions for how do we create a more equitable life experience for everybody that wants access or that is presented with the opportunity to have access to the game.”

For Steele, so far so good.

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Jack Hirsh

Golf.com Editor

Jack Hirsh is an assistant editor at GOLF. A Pennsylvania native, Jack is 2020 graduate of Penn State University, earning degrees in broadcast journalism and political science. He was captain of his high school golf team and still *tries* to remain competitive in local amateurs. Before joining GOLF, Jack spent two years working at a TV station in Bend, Oregon, primarily as Multimedia Journalist/reporter, but also producing, anchoring and even presenting the weather. He can be reached at jack.hirsh@golf.com.



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