Matt NeSmith is returning to the U.S. Amateur. The North Augusta native and rising junior at the University of South Carolina didn’t just advance out of his qualifying stage event, he captured medalist honors as well.
“It’s awesome. I played some really good golf,” said NeSmith, who was happy to finish an event with his name on top of the leaderboard for the first time in almost two years. “It gives me confidence to do well, and I got a win under my belt. … It gets the monkey off my back.”
In two rounds at the Columbia Country Club, in Blythewood, NeSmith carded a 66 followed by a 64 to finish at 12-under par.
His combined 130 was three strokes better than the 133 carded by Will Murphy, NeSmith’s teammate on the Gamecocks’ golf squad.
NeSmith opened qualifying Monday with a bogey-free round that included five birdies, thrusting him near the top of the leaderboard. Although he carded one bogey in Tuesday’s final round, he more than made up for it with eight birdies. That high-scoring round left the rest of the field in his wake and ensured NeSmith a berth in the U.S. Amateur, which will be played at the Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, Georgia from Aug. 11-17.
“I hit it pretty straight and didn’t get into trouble,” said NeSmith, who has qualified for the U.S. Amateur for the second year in a row. “I’m really excited. I learned a lot last year, a lot about myself. I’m going to try to apply it this year.”
In the U.S. Amateur, NeSmith will face two rounds of stroke play just to get to match play. Should he advance that far – something he wasn’t able to do last year when the U.S. Amateur was held at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts – NeSmith would be in match play. He’d be among the top 64 amateur golfers in the field, facing off in a bracket, with the championship match consisting of 36 holes.
NeSmith wasn’t the only player from the Aiken area to participate in the qualifier, but he was the only one to advance. His longtime junior rival and current member of the Clemson golf team Cody Proveaux just missed making the cut, shooting 72-68–140 to finish 2-under. Other area players at the qualifier included three former South Aiken stars – Chandler Brazeal, as well as Ryan Carpenter and Hayden Ploeger, who helped guide the Thoroughbreds to the Class AAAA state championship in 2013. Brazeal (73-73–146) and Carpenter (71-75–146) were part of a group tied for 39th place at 4-over, while Ploeger (74-73–147) was another stroke behind. Another area player tied for 47th with Ploeger was recent Aiken High grad Spencer Skiff, who shot 75-72–147.
Gaines Milliner, a former USC Aiken Pacer golfer, was a little further back after shooting 75-77–152, while former South Aiken golfer Alex Handy – who was also part of the state championship team and will play for South Carolina – participated in the event but only played Monday when he shot 80.
Several other players who have participated in significant tournaments in Aiken or the CSRA were also in the field, but none qualified, or came close to NeSmith. Before he heads to Georgia, NeSmith will be busy. He’s playing in the Players Am in Hilton Head, followed by a trip to Chattanooga, Tennessee for the Southern Am. He’ll shoot up to Buffalo for the Porter Cup before heading out to Chicago for the Western Am. Now he can add the U.S. Am to his playing card. Should he win that tournament, he’ll get to add another prestigious event to his schedule – the winner of the U.S. Amateur will get a spot in the 2015 Masters Tournament.
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 15 years after graduating from Syracuse University.