For years, golf has provided an escape for superstar athletes in different sports. Michael Jordan is passionate about golf and plays regularly. Stephen Curry and Patrick Mahomes are very dedicated golfers, as well. But only J.R. Smith has taken golf and made it his sole focus.
Smith has gone from 16-year NBA veteran and two-time champion to a collegiate golfer playing for North Carolina A&T. J.R.’s journey toward becoming a golfer is fascinating in itself, but the story of the first swing he ever took will amaze — and possibly anger — longtime players who spend years working on their craft.
J.R. Smith competed in his first golf tournament
This summer, the 36-year-old Smith enrolled at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro to earn a degree and play for the golf team. So far he has achieved the latter, making the team and qualifying for the Elon Phoenix Invitational.
Smith’s collegiate golf debut wasn’t without some mistakes. The former Sixth Man of the Year shot a 12-over 83 in his first round, with six bogeys and four double-bogeys. However, he drained a pair of birdies and had a run of five straight pars as he became more comfortable. He played better in round two, finishing with a 7-over 78. His score could have been even better if he avoided bogeying four of his final six holes.
Overall, Smith finished 81st out of 84 players in the field.
“That first 18 was just to get his feet wet,” Aggies coach Richard Watkins said. “Then he buckled down, and I was really pleased with what he did that second 18, because education doesn’t come cheap. And I think he learned some lessons out there today.”
“I was nervous, I was,” Smith said at the end of the day. “I didn’t really know what to expect.”
Smith recalled the first time he swung a golf club
“Rashard Lewis’ first foundation event was a golf outing event,” Smith said. “And for me, I never played golf. I told him, ‘I don’t play golf. It’s not my thing.’ He’s like, ‘Nah, man, just come on. You can just ride around, mess with the cart girls, take some shots, whatever.’ And I’m like, ‘Alright, cool. Sounds like a good time.’
Soon, Smith got his first taste of golf itself, thanks to a Basketball Hall of Famer he couldn’t say no to.
“I pulled up on Moses Malone’s group, and he sure enough said, ‘Young fella, come hit this ball.’ And for me, the respect I have for the Hall of Famers and people who came before me is very tremendous. So if somebody asks me to do something, I can’t tell them no. So I was like, ‘Yeah, sure. I’ll hit the ball.’
I get up there and I’m like, ‘How do you do this? Show me how, I haven’t played before.’ So he showed me how to hold the clubs, how to technically swing. I watched a few guys in front of him. … So then I hit my first shot down the fairway about 300 yards. Everybody’s shocked and I’m like, ‘It’s easy. It ain’t that hard.’J.R. Smith
Golfers who have been playing for years can rarely hit a drive 300 yards down the middle of the fairway. So for Smith to do that with his first swing is simply remarkable.
For what it’s worth, the game got its revenge on Smith soon after.
“So then I got back, of course, looping around the course because we were out there for five hours for this outing,” Smith continued. “And we pull up on [Malone’s] group again. He’s telling everybody all day, ‘Man, you gotta see him hit this ball. Hey, young fella, I bet you can’t do it again. I bet you can’t do it.’ So I’m like, ‘Alright, whatever.’ Get out there, I couldn’t hit the ball. It was so frustrating, it was so frustrating.”
J.R. Smith is serious about golf
Smith has gone from the top of the basketball world to the bottom of the ladder in golf. But the former NBA star wants his first competition to just be a starting point in his new endeavor.
“More than anything, it’s just being able to go out there and compete as one of the guys, just another name, and get my [butt] kicked,” Smith said. “It was actually a very humbling feeling. Again, I’m ready to go to that range to work on it. I had fun, but I don’t like losing.”
Even before enrolling in school, J.R. was a dedicated golfer. He told Harmon that during his NBA days, he would play golf before practice, after practice, and before games.
“It gives me such a calm and soothing feeling, man,” Smith said. “Every shot obviously you’re trying to hit perfection, so you have to lock in, focus, and concentrate. … It’s a nerve-racking game but it’s probably one of the most peaceful feelings to have once you hit that ball down the fairway.”
Smith’s next chance to compete will come on October 23 at the UNC Greensboro Grandover Collegiate.