J.R. Smith’s collegiate debut is here.
The longtime NBA player-turned college golfer has officially qualified for his first tournament with North Carolina A&T State, and will make his debut on Monday at the Phoenix Invitational.
"He has a good enough golf game to put up some good numbers," Aggies coach Richard Watkins said, via the school’s website. "But this is what I tell people. If you want to find out how good a golfer really is, put the word tournament or money in front of the round. Playing when there is nothing on the line is one thing. But, put meaning to it, and the heart rate changes. The grip on the club changes, and we get to see who you really are."
The NCAA cleared the 16-year NBA veteran last month to play golf at the HBCU after he enrolled at the school to pursue a degree in liberal studies. Smith was going to play college basketball at North Carolina, but instead decided to enter the NBA draft right out of high school.
Smith was selected with the No. 18 overall pick in 2004 by the New Orleans Hornets, which launched his NBA career. He also played for the Denver Nuggets, New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers and one last season with the Los Angeles Lakers before retiring last year. He won two NBA titles alongside LeBron James, once with the Cavaliers and again with the Lakers, and averaged 12.4 points and 2.1 assists per game throughout his career.
— LeBron James (@KingJames) October 8, 2021
For the past decade or so, though, Smith has taken up golf and even reportedly holds a 5 handicap. So, when he enrolled at North Carolina A&T State, the 35-year-old made a push to join the team.
The two-day event at the Alamance Country Club will be Smith’s first real test in the sport, something he had to earn. All Aggies players have to qualify for every tournament in practice, unless they finish first or second on the team at the previous event. Smith cleared that mark by a single stroke.
“Golf is one of those games that has you feeling really high or can bring you down to your knees and humble you,” Smith said in August, via the PGA Tour. “And to have that feeling and knowing that all of the game’s pretty much on my own hands and I don’t have to worry about teammates to pass the ball and receiving passes and playing defense, so I can play my game and just have fun.”
As for whether he can handle the extra attention at his first tournament, Watkins isn’t too concerned.
"I'm hoping it puts pressure on the two guys playing with him," Watkins said. "I'm hoping it does not affect him. You would think a guy like J.R. is used to having eyes on him."