Alex Hamilton’s golfing journey is bringing him closer to home. The Aiken native and South Aiken High School grad was recently hired at his alma mater, where he’s an assistant coach for the University of South Carolina golf team.

“It’s hard to put into words how much it means to me,” Hamilton said of returning to USC, where he was a star on the golf team and in the classroom. “I grew up a Gamecock fan. I’m lucky to have played here and have success. It was a really cool experience. Now I get to see things from the other side.”

Hamilton joins head coach Bill McDonald’s staff in Columbia. He replaces Don Hill, who left for the head coaching position at Elon University. Hamilton was a standout for the Gamecocks from 2001-05 – playing for Puggy Blackmon, who remains USC’s director of golf – before pursuing a career as a professional golfer.

During his time as a student-athlete at South Carolina, Hamilton was a second-team All-SEC selection and a two-time Cleveland Golf All-American Scholar. He was named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll in all of his four years and graduated in 2005 with bachelor degrees in Economics and Real Estate.

Following that, Hamilton enjoyed success in the pro ranks, spending seven years competing on the eGolf Professional Tour, the NGA Hooters Tour, the Nationwide Tour and the PGA Tour. He captured two tournament titles on the eGolf Tour and finished in the top-10 on three occasions on the NGA Hooters Tour. He also played in the PGA Tour’s McGladrey Classic and Greenbrier Classic in 2010.

He said he was still playing professional tournaments last year, when he got the opportunity to join the staff at Mercer as an assistant. It didn’t take long for Hamilton to realize he wanted to pursue a career in coaching. When he heard Hill was leaving, he called McDonald to express his interest in the opening and soon was on his way back to South Carolina.

“I’m very proud to have Alex joining our staff,” McDonald said in a release on South Carolina’s web site. “His experience here at South Carolina and his playing résumé is a great fit for our program. I look forward to working with Alex and continuing to build upon the success we’ve had here.”

Although he’s just 30 years old and in spite of his success, Hamilton didn’t hesitate when asked about the end of his days playing for pay.

“I’m committed to my career as a college golf coach,” he said. “It’s rewarding and enjoyable to mentor young men. I found what I want to do.

“I chose to get out of the game on my own. Golf didn’t choose it for me. But I was ready to see what else was out there. Now I’m thrilled to death where I am.”

At Mercer, Hamilton’s responsibilities included assisting with course management, practice instruction, day-to-day operations and recruiting. He expects to be responsible for many of the same things with the Gamecocks, saying that members of the coaching staff have to do a little of everything.

He said the main focus of his role is recruiting. In his short time on the job at USC, he’s been busy hitting the recruiting trail, visiting several tournaments across the region this summer.

“I’ve been traveling full-time recruiting. It’s been a busy summer but productive,” said Hamilton, who’s experience with the Gamecocks was a major factor in his joining the staff. “I can use my South Carolina connections and history to help with recruiting.”

While Hamilton’s history is a good selling point for a prospective recruit, he’s very high on the Gamecocks’ future.

“South Carolina is one of the best programs in the nation. There has never been a better time to be a Gamecock,” Hamilton said of this season’s USC squad which played in tied for 27th in the NCAA championship, featuring three sophomores and two freshman playing along with three juniors who are all expected back next season. “This team has a strong outlook for next year. It’s young and experienced.”

Among those young players is rising sophomore Matt NeSmith. The North Augusta native was the SEC co-Freshman of the Year and recently qualified for the U.S. Amateur. He figures to be one of the Gamecocks’ top players next season and Hamilton said he’s looking forward to working with him.

“I’ve known Matt quite a few years, and the opportunity to work with him is incredible,” Hamilton said. “He has a very bright future and is incredibly talented. But he’s also got the right approach, work ethic and dedication to working out.”

There are a lot of parallels between NeSmith and Hamilton, who lettered four years at South Aiken. Hamilton earned all-region and all-state honors with the Thoroughbreds and his family still lives in the area. Hamilton said they couldn’t be happier about his new job.

Like him, Hamilton’s parents – Jim and Pam Hamilton – are South Carolina alums. Jim played golf for the Gamecocks and was the team captain in his junior and senior years.

“My family’s excited,” said Hamilton, who added that although he and his wife Kristin will be moving to Columbia, Aiken remains his home. “I’ll always be connected to Aiken.”

Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 14 years after graduating from Syracuse University.