May 6, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
Golf can be a quiet game. Matt NeSmith likes to talk when he plays. The junior on the South Carolina men's golf team is having one of the best seasons in school history, as are the No. 6 ranked Gamecocks, so NeSmith won't be clamming up any time soon.
"I can talk to a brick wall," NeSmith said. "It's just really nice to talk about everything, especially if you're playing well. It sort of mellows you out. It's nice to have someone there to keep you relaxed."
NeSmith will chat with Bill McDonald if the Gamecock head coach is walking with him for a round or a few holes at a tournament. If coach isn't there, then the student-athletes from other schools with whom he is paired should be prepared to talk about golf or anything else that's on his mind.
"We talk about anything," NeSmith said. "It could be anything that is going on in the world, the weather or anything. Coach calls it 'streaming consciousness' where I will just talk without even thinking about it. It's really nice to be able to walk the courses with the coaches. They can pick your brain a little bit, and they know exactly what's going on with you in school, in practice and everything else. They get to know you better than I think a lot of coaches in other sports. It's just really nice to have Coach McDonald and assistant coach (Alex) Hamilton here. They have a ton of experience and can lead you around in the right way. Talking about golf is my passion."
Growing up in North Augusta, South Carolina, NeSmith shared the passion for golf with his father, Darren, and was hooked on the game after his first trip to the Augusta National Golf Club when he was 10 years old.
"Augusta is my favorite place in the world, golf course wise," NeSmith said. "It's beautiful. I went to the Master's almost every year growing up. My dad caddied there part time when I was little, so he played there a bunch. It's cool to hear the stories he has. I've never played there, but I would really like to."
There was a lot of talk about NeSmith before he arrived on South Carolina's campus as he was ranked No. 1 in the Golfweek and Polo junior rankings coming out of high school. He was one of four junior golfers to receive the prestigious Byron Nelson International Junior Golf Award in 2012 and earned first team American Junior Golf Association All-American honors. NeSmith admits that having those accolades made it difficult for him early in his collegiate career.
"I felt a ton of pressure because you see people like (former Alabama and current PGA golfer) Justin Thomas or (former University of Texas golfer and recent Master's Champion) Jordan Spieth, and they'd come in and win their first tournament by two or three strokes," NeSmith said. "They were being what they were supposed to be in college. I'd come in and finish somewhere like 15th in my first event and struggled and put a lot of pressure on myself since. I finally just quit worrying about getting that first win and just tried to play good golf."
NeSmith didn't struggle too much after that and was one of the most decorated freshman in school history. He was the 2013 SEC Co-Freshman of the Year and earned PING Honorable Mention All-American honors as a rookie. He followed that up in by earning Second Team All-SEC and PING All-Southeast Region honors as a sophomore after recording 11 top-10 finishes and was named First Team All-SEC in 2015.
I want him to shoot as well as he can, and he wants me to shoot as well as I can because if we do that, we're probably going to do really well as a team.
Still, an individual tournament victory alluded him heading into the back end of this season before taking home medalist honors for the first time at the Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate in March at Awendaw, South Carolina, and helping the Gamecocks take the team tournament title for their school-record fifth tournament win of the season. He carded rounds of 69, 68 and 68 and won a three-way playoff to take the title.
"It was really nice to get that first win, especially somewhere my parents could be and a lot of people I grew up with," NeSmith said.
That momentum carried over to the SEC Championships in South Carolina's next tournament where NeSmith again took home medalist honors and helped the Gamecocks take second place. It was only the second time that a Gamecock had taken home top honors at the SEC Championship, joining Eric Ecker (1998) in the record book. He was 14 under par for a school-record 196 over 54 holes. He recorded just one bogey in the tournament, capped by a three-under par 67 in the final round. It marked the first time since 1993 that a Gamecock had won back to back tournaments, with South Carolina volunteer assistant coach Carl Paulson the last to take that honor.
"Yeah, Carl did it the year before I was born," NeSmith said. "I was pretty surprised. I was still pretty happy from the win at 'the Hootie.' It never crossed my mind to win two in a row. It's been really nice."
With some time off in between the SEC Championships and the NCAA Tournament beginning on May 14, NeSmith is anxious to get his school work and final exams finished so all of his focus can simply be on golf.
"Once school gets over with, everyone is going to be super-thrilled to go out and see what we can do," NeSmith said.
It doesn't appear that NeSmith has a problem focusing with a stroke average of 70.07, which is second on the team behind teammate Will Starke's 69.97 this year. If the season ended today, those two averages would be the top two in school history, but he and his teammates don't talk about records.
"We're roommates and we like competing with each other," NeSmith said. "I want him to shoot as well as he can, and he wants me to shoot as well as I can because if we do that, we're probably going to do really well as a team."
When he's not golfing NeSmith is a huge South Carolina football fan and enjoys talking about recruiting.
"Signing day for football in the offseason is a big day for me," NeSmith said. "I wish I could have gone to more spring football practices."
NeSmith wouldn't mind playing a round of golf with Gamecock football coach Steve Spurrier, as long as the Head Ball Coach didn't mind some chatter along the way.
"That would be great," NeSmith said. "He has played behind us a couple of times, and he seems like he'd be a trip."
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