Former NBA Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith has officially embarked on his journey into the world of collegiate sports. On Monday, Smith debuted for the North Carolina A&T men’s golf team. But the first round of his college athletic career wasn’t as productive as he’d indeed hoped.
J.R. shot 10 over 81 Monday in Round 1 of the Elon Phoenix Invitational Tournament in Burlington, N.C. Smith had a successful career playing professional basketball, winning two NBA titles in 16 years, so it must be challenging for Smith having to step down to the collegiate level and start over in a completely new sport.
In case you’re wondering, this does not appear to be anything close to a publicity stunt. Smith is out there getting after it and trying to succeed as a golfer. J.R. qualified for Monday’s tournament like any other player would, making the cut by one stroke.
“He has a good enough golf game to put up some good numbers,” said A&T men’s golf coach Richard Watkins. “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.”
It was just the first day of Smith’s first college golf tournament, so I’m sure most will give him a mulligan on the tough outing. It’ll be fun watching his progression over time to see if he can actually make it in another sport. Just because he’s playing at the collegiate level doesn’t make what Smith is attempting any less complicated or praiseworthy. I’m also pulling for J.R. being back in school, which can get overlooked in all of this.
For J.R., the goal should be to become a better collegiate golfer than Michael Jordan was as a baseball player in the minor leagues. I know that bar is set low, but he’s already fighting an uphill battle.