After going straight from high school to the NBA, two-time champion J.R. Smith is getting his college athlete experience at 35. But, he isn’t playing basketball.
Per NCAA rules, students cannot attend college for a sport they already played professionally. Since Smith played 16 seasons as a professional basketball player, he decided to follow another passion of his when enrolling at North Carolina A&T — golf.
Smith will compete in his first college tournament on Monday, Oct. 11 through Tuesday, Oct. 12.
Smith’s first college tournament is the Phoenix Invitational hosted by Elon University at the par-71, 6,867-yard Alamance Country Club golf course.
MORE: How to follow J.R. Smith’s college golf debut
Is J.R. Smith good at golf?
Twelve years ago, Smith was playing in Moses Malone’s charity golf tournament. He hit a 300-yard drive, and since then, he has been hooked on golf.
Smith started playing golf up to six times a week, along with attending various PGA Tour events to follow around the professionals. He established friendships with PGA professionals Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Keegan Bradley. Back in 2017, Smith even caddied for Jason Day at the World Golf Championships.
According to the PGA Tour, Smith has a 5 handicap. Men’s handicaps range from 0 to 28, with the average being 14.2. However, collegiate golfers at the Division I level tend to have handicaps below 3. NC A&T golf coach Richard Watkins, who gave Smith the chance to join the team, said in an interview with the Washington Post that they wanted to see how good of a golfer Smith was before signing him, and he impressed them despite a higher handicap.
“After we had played about four or five holes, my assistant coach and I kind of looked at each other, and we were like: ‘Uh, yeah. He can play,’ ” Watkins said. “He’s not just a good golfer for an NBA player. He’s just a good golfer, and he’s going to be significantly better.”
Smith didn’t qualify for the Aggies’ first tournament in September, which Smith announced via Twitter.
Didn’t make the team qualifier for our tournament this weekend… bitter sweet feeling to have wishing my teammates the best this weekend go get em fellas!! #AggiePride
— JR Smith (@TheRealJRSmith) September 23, 2021
Smith has also hosted 11 years of his own charity golf tournament, which he named the J.R. Smith Annual Charity Golf Classic.
Why J.R. Smith is playing college golf
When Smith was a senior in high school, he had multiple offers to play college basketball, including an offer to the University of North Carolina. Smith ended up declining all the offers because his family was in need of money after his father got sick. He needed the paycheck to help his family, but UNC said he was always welcome to come back to school if he wanted.
Smith claims to have always thought about returning to college. So as his love for golf grew, he decided it was time to enroll in school.
“Golf is one of those games that has you feeling really high and or can bring you down to your knees and humble you,” Smith said, via Golf Digest. “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 … I can play my game and just have fun.”
Smith reached out to his friend and fellow NBA player Chris Paul, who then told his brother C.J. to speak with Watkins about Smith’s potential to play for NC A&T. Since NC A&T is a historically black college (HBCU) and C.J. lives in North Carolina near the university, he thought NC A&T would be a good fit for Smith. Watkins opened his arms to Smith, and the rest is history.
“It’s a big deal for A&T. It’s a big deal for him,” Watkins said, via PGA Tour. “It’s not very often that somebody in his position really has an opportunity to have a thought, a dream, an idea, and to be able to go ahead and move in that direction.”
What is J.R. Smith’s college major?
Not only will Smith hit the golf course, he has been hitting the textbooks, too. Smith chose to major in liberal studies, and he has detailed his college experience for his fans through his Twitter account. Some of his tweet updates on college life have gone viral. Here are some of his best tweets about adjusting to college life.
85 on my midterm!!!! Liberal Studies class
— JR Smith (@TheRealJRSmith) October 8, 2021
Had my first golf team practice yesterday!! The experience is amazing! Can’t wait for the opportunity to put our skills on as a team! So many great teammates with great tips to get around the course!! Learning so much from these dudes! #AggiePride
— JR Smith (@TheRealJRSmith) September 8, 2021
Another great tutoring session! For sure asking for more hours, a little extra help ain’t never hurt nobody!
— JR Smith (@TheRealJRSmith) August 27, 2021
J.R. Smith’s golf swing and highlights
While playing with Rickie Fowler in a pro-am event, Smith asked Fowler for some advice on his game.
Although this video is now five years old, it shows Smith’s swing in motion.
This video shows some of Smith’s best drives caught on camera. The second drive was from Smith’s celebrity tournament run at the Quicken Loans tournament in 2017.