by Lang Whitaker | @langwhitaker

My phone rang yesterday, and it was an NBA player wanting to talk about playing golf. If you had to choose an NBA player who was an avid golfer, JR Smith probably wouldn’t be the first to come to mind — you don’t see a lot of golfers with “SWISH” neck tats.

But it’s true: JR Smith loves playing golf. Two years ago, there was a story of a man who randomly was paired with JR at a municipal course in Denver, and the writer went for a hole-in-one and got a chest-bump with JR.

Since then, JR’s hit the links more and more. Next week in his home state of New Jersey, he’ll be hosting the 4th Annual JR Smith Youth Foundation Golf Classic.

SLAM: So, you’re a golfer?

JR SMITH: Yeah! I got into the sport within the last year and a half. I like it, it’s challenging. It just gives me another thing to think about when I’m not playing basketball.

SLAM: I’ve talked to other NBA guys who play golf, and they say they like that it’s peaceful, getting to be outdoors, having time to yourself.

JR SMITH: Yeah, you get time to yourself. You get to be in a nice environment — being outdoors is always a plus for me. It’s just enjoying nice days.

SLAM: How often do get to play?

JR SMITH: I play at the end of the year and at the beginning of the year. Last year I played a lot during the Playoffs. Played a lot during the Lakers Playoffs series.

SLAM: Tell me about the JR Smith Youth Foundation?

JR SMITH: My foundation is pretty much to get kids scholarships to camps, schools, I give scholarships to a bunch of little girls so they can go to cheerleading camps. Just things that can keep kids doing something positive. It’s based out of Jersey, because that’s where I’m from, but we try to give and help out everywhere. We did Hurricane Katrina relief my rookie year, and we just keep going on.

SLAM: What do you want to come from this golf tournament? Raise money, raise awareness of your foundation?

JR SMITH: For me, I really want to get kids into playing golf, the younger generation in my area. I think golf can be a great sport for kids. I never really had the opportunity to play growing up, and it’s a way to keep kids involved in something positive and keep them active. People always complain about how big kids are and say we should get them involved in more stuff, so why not?

SLAM: You know, I didn’t play golf growing up and only started playing about ten years ago, and now I’m hooked on it. Do you think kids have the patience to really embrace golf?

JR SMITH: I think it’s about the individual. I thought I would never be interested in it, and now I’m hooked. So I think it’s just the individual.

SLAM: Why didn’t you think you’d be interested?

JR SMITH: I just thought it was boring, just watching golf and stuff like that. But after playing it on the Wii, I wanted to really play it, and I just got hooked.

SLAM: Don’t you think people don’t realize that golf is actually really hard?

JR SMITH: It really is. People who criticize golfers when they’re struggling, they don’t ever really see how hard golf is.

SLAM: How’s your summer been? You been working out?

JR SMITH: Yeah, it’s been going great. Working out, been down in Louisville with my brother working out. It’s been great so far.

SLAM: You also played for the Nuggets summer league team. How was that?

JR SMITH: Summer league was cool. I was rehabbing my injury from my ankle, so I really didn’t play like I wanted to, but it was fun to get out there with the younger guys.

SLAM: What do you make of all the rumors circulating that Carmelo Anthony wants a trade?

JR SMITH: Uh, I really don’t know. I’m just excited to see what happens. I’m lost for words.

SLAM: You excited to get Coach Karl back?

JR SMITH: I can’t wait to get him back. He’s the biggest asset that we have.

SLAM: Nothing against Coach Dantley, but it seemed like you guys really missed Coach Karl during the Playoffs.

JR SMITH: Like you said, nothing against Coach Dantley, but you always want to go into battle with your big guns, and that was what we needed.

The 4th Annual JR Smith Youth Foundation Golf Classic will be held next Thursday, August 26, at the Woodlake Country Club in Lakewood, NJ. For more information, please call 609-223-0380.