Former NBA guard J.R. Smith made his college golf debut for North Carolina A&T on Monday at the Elon Phoenix Invitational, and that sentence alone might be worth its own book some day. For now, Smith shot 83-78 and beat a pair of La Salle golfers as North Carolina A&T sits in 11th place (of 13 teams) after Day 1 of competition.
The Aggies did not use either of Smith’s scores toward their total. In college golf, teams drop one of five scores, and his was the lowest both times. Still, it was a pretty decent start for somebody who, on this day a year ago, was busy winning Game 6 of the NBA Finals with the Los Angeles Lakers — his second of two titles in his nearly two decades in the NBA.
Smith, who qualified to play in the No. 5 spot on North Carolina A&T’s team, made two birdies and two doubles in his first five holes of play on Monday. That is what you would probably expect from a world-class athlete trying to contend on a fairly high level in a sport he has not played competitively for extended periods of time. Unfortunately, he only made one other birdie over his next 31 holes of play on the day (golfers played 36 on Monday at Alamance Country Club in Burlington, North Carolina).
Smith looked the part, although the photos themselves are surreal. Can you imagine being the fifth guy for George Mason or Radford and rolling up to somebody who was flying private with LeBron James 12 months ago and made $88.3 million over the course of his career?
Interestingly, Smith was paired with Pedro Rabadan of Elon, who leads the event after Day 1. That fact brought is humorous in light of this quote from A&T head coach Richard Watkins from before the tournament begin.
“I’m hoping it puts pressure on the two guys playing with him,” said Watkins. “I’m hoping it does not affect him. You would think a guy like J.R. is used to having eyes on him.”
Perhaps it brought some pressure on the other two guys, but clearly not enough as Rabadan shot 65-66 to lead the event by four.
Regardless, the outcome for Smith is good, and his swing looked fantastic. And while it perhaps did not lead to the scorecard Smith wanted on Monday, it’s fantastic that somebody so accomplished on one discipline is entering the arena in another one. Golf is a vulnerable game, playing with a bunch of college kids probably even more so. Smith clearly loves it enough to dive in regardless and risk, failure or frustration for the opportunity at success in a world where it is so fleeting. That, in and of itself, is success.
The third and final round will get underway at 8 a.m. on Tuesday.