Official PGA TOUR Headshots

Matt NeSmith current official PGA TOUR headshot. (Photo by Jennifer Perez/PGA TOUR)

Matt NeSmith's immediate golfing fate is now exactly where he wants it to be – in his own hands.

Where he'll tee it up in 2019 is up to him now. This week is his chance to set his own schedule, to eliminate the need for any special exemptions into tournaments.

In short, this week is his chance to make his future. The North Augusta product played his way into the Final Stage of the Tour Qualifying Tournament, where he'll have the opportunity to earn guaranteed starts on the developmental circuit for the PGA Tour. 

"It's been really, really nice just to know that I've got a chance to play for my card instead of just trying to get to finals, you know?" he said. "... I don't have to leave it up to somebody else to pick me to play. I can play my way in there and play some good golf, and it's all up to me now. It's not up to anybody else, which is what you want in this game. Everybody wants their shot at it."

NeSmith gets his shot starting Thursday at Whirlwind Golf Club at Wild Horse Pass in Chandler, Arizona. How he plays over 72 holes will dictate what his status is on the Tour for 2019.

This week's medalist is fully exempt for the 2019 regular season; second place through 10th guarantees starts in the first 12 events; and 11th place through 40th gets into the field for the first eight events. Everyone else receives conditional status and can better that status during the season based on cumulative earnings at each reshuffling of the priority order to get into tournaments.

NeSmith has a good idea of what it will take – birdies, and lots of them – to earn the best status possible, because he and others in the field got to play a preview of it a little more than a week ago in the Pepsi Tour's Q-School Final Stage Warm-Up at Whirlwind.

Players who keep the ball in play can go low at Whirlwind. NeSmith said the ball flies a lot farther in Arizona, leaving lots of short irons and wedges into soft greens. Those are the kind of conditions that create a jam-packed leaderboard – at the warm-up tournament, NeSmith was 13 under through 54 holes and finished in 10th place and out of the money, four back of the winner.

"I feel good, especially after playing the golf course and kind of figuring out where you can make them and how to make them," he said, "and the greens – even when you play practice rounds and stuff, you never really know kind of what it's gonna be like.

"Like, 'OK, it's kind of easy,' but you never really actually know what you're gonna get until you play it. It was really nice to get a vibe of what you're gonna see and how to go and say, 'I can make eight or nine birdies a round out here.'"

Eight or nine birdies sounds plenty possible given how NeSmith has been playing as of late, a hot streak of made cuts and cashed checks that's gotten him to this point.

Two wins in the spring on the GProTour, plus three made cuts this summer on each the Tour and Canada's Mackenzie Tour all contributed to a rise in confidence that bled into his advancement this fall past the first two stages of qualifying.

"It's good to finally get over the hump, you know?," he said, referring to past shortcomings in qualifying. "... It's kind of sucky when you come home and you're like, 'Well, I'm back to mini tour golf' or hoping you do what I did last year and get into an event, play well and work your way up somehow."

He's glad to have weathered the earlier low points, valleys that just didn't seem possible after he dominated the junior golf scene on his way to a No. 1 ranking and became arguably the best golfer in the history of the University of South Carolina's men's program – that included an SEC championship in 2015 during his junior year before qualifying for the U.S. Open.

But golf's a cutthroat business, and he found out in Canada that he didn't yet know how to play professional golf. He didn't know how to cope with 36-hole cuts, and he wasn't used to having anxiety over poor results on the golf course – because, quite simply, he hadn't had to deal with many before.

The game humbled him some, and that made him appreciate the journey even more rather than thinking he should be on a different trajectory, that he should've been playing for millions of dollars right out of college instead of having to learn how to exchange currency from Canadian to American. 

"It makes me enjoy having the chance to go play instead of being nervous, anxious about not getting through or not getting status," he said. "I've been there. I've done that. I know what that's like. It's not the end of the world. It's not fun, but it's not the end of the world. I really do appreciate having a chance to step up the ranks."

It's that kind of perspective that can help a golfer come unglued from the flypaper struggling can be, especially when it's in unfamiliar territory. Missing the weekend in Thunder Bay, Lethbridge or Caledon wasn't part of the plan, but it isn't a lifelong sentence for golf's minor leagues.

"You've just got to keep telling yourself that there's a lot of these guys that have made from a lot less than what I've had. It's just a matter of time, you know? I've played golf at the highest level (five career PGA Tour starts, including that U.S. Open), and not as a fluke" he said, laughing.

"So that kind of gives you some confidence, too. You've got to continue to believe that you're the best out there," he said. "When you struggle the way I had for about a year and a half, it was hard. Those college days felt like they were so far gone. You almost feel like you're never gonna play good again."

On his bag this week is former USC teammate Will Murphy, who also carried the sticks in the first two stages of qualifying and at the BMW Charity Pro-Am back in May.

It makes sense to keep that train rolling. Not only does NeSmith have good memories from their playing days as Gamecocks, but Murphy brings a level of expertise as a very accomplished player and will know what NeSmith is feeling no matter what kind of situation arises on the course.

NeSmith's results-based goal this week is to win and secure full Tour status. More important to him, though, are goals he's set that don't relate to his score:

• Get away from the golf course during the week. It's easy to over-obsess over preparations and spend too much time at the course, and then the energy is zapped by Thursday morning.

• Don't panic. If NeSmith gets off to a bad start Thursday, he'll remind himself that there's still four days of golf to play.

• Play his game and enjoy being out there. "I think that gets lost a little bit. We play this game because we enjoy it and we love it, not because it's our jobs. Some people do, I don't," he said with a laugh. "I enjoy it enough to not really worry about the job aspect of it."

With all of that out of the way, it now just comes down to NeSmith and how he dictates his own future – and that's exactly how he wants it.

"I'm excited about it," he said. "Got some confidence going in. Just four more good days, and we'll be good to go."

Kyle Dawson covers sports for the Aiken Standard. Follow him on Twitter @ItsKyleDawson.