May 25, 2016
By Brad Muller | More Features
Matt NeSmith is one of the most decorated men’s golfers in South Carolina history, but as he and the Gamecocks play in the NCAA Championships later this week in Eugene, Ore., the senior has his own ideas as to how he would like to be remembered.
“I want to be remembered that I finished, and that I was a good player,” NeSmith said. “I was good enough to probably leave after three years (to play professionally), but I stayed and got my degree. There is nothing more important to me than finishing school. It was tough, but I finished, and I really enjoyed it.”
NeSmith graduated with a degree in sociology earlier this month, was named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll each year, and was named a Cleveland Golf/Srixon All-America Scholar last year. On the course, he is a two-time All-American, he earned All-Region and All-SEC honors every year of his career, and he was the first Gamecock in history to earn a spot on the Ben Hogan Award Watch List, progressing to become one of 10 semifinalists. He became Carolina's all-time leader in top-10 finishes with 25 heading into the NCAA Championship, and he now ranks second in school history with four career medalist honors. For NeSmith, there are no big secrets to his success.
“It’s just fundamentals, sticking to a game plan, and believing in yourself,” NeSmith said of his golf game. “That’s the fun part about it, just going out there and seeing if you can execute the way you want to, competing and sticking to a game plan. I grew up loving the game. I’m just a student of the game. I love competing. I love playing, and I love trying to win.”
Coach McDonald has been a fantastic help to me. He is one of the main reasons I went here. He has helped me develop along the way as a man and as a golfer.
A lot was expected of NeSmith coming out of North Augusta (S.C.) High School four years ago as he was the No. 1 ranked junior in the nation, and he didn’t disappoint. Still, NeSmith credits the South Carolina program and head coach Bill McDonald for helping him to take more than just his game to a higher level.
“Coach McDonald has been a fantastic help to me,” NeSmith said. “He is one of the main reasons I went here. He has helped me develop along the way as a man and as a golfer. It’s been really great. We talk all the time. We don’t even talk about golf a lot. We talk about all sorts of things like pranks to pull on people and stuff that he did when he was younger. We just talk about really funny things.”
His even keel keeps him calm on the course, but just when you think you have him pegged, you might be surprised that the mild-mannered striker is a big fan of rap music. Even though he is known to enjoy being a “chatter” to anyone who will speak with him while he plays, whether it’s a coach or opposing players with whom he is matched up with, NeSmith won’t be dropping any beats on the golf course.
“I have a best friend from high school who loved rap,” NeSmith said. “I used to ride with him in his car before I could drive, and it’s always what he had on, so I just got used to it and started to enjoy it. (Freshman teammate) Ryan Stachler is in to it, which is pretty funny, but nobody on our trips really listens to it. It’s a lot of country music when we go on road trips.”
The mix of personalities on the South Carolina golf team has made for a fun dynamic, including fellow senior Sean Kelly, whose much ballyhooed mustache brought to light some fun superstitions supported by golfers. Staying in character, NeSmith enjoys a good gag, but he doesn’t buy in to any personal mythos.
“I’m not superstitious; I’m just a little ‘stitious,’ ” NeSmith quipped. “I love Kelly’s mustache. I’ve been trying to get him to grow it forever. We’re roommates on the road. I love it, but no, I’m not superstitious.”
Although he is not looking past the NCAA Championships, NeSmith is excited about the opportunity to begin a professional golf career.
“My goal is to get a PGA Tour card in the next 18 months,” NeSmith said. “That would be pretty phenomenal. If it happens before that, great. If it happens after that, great.”
NeSmith got a taste of what it’s like compete at the highest level last year when he played at the U.S. Open Championship at Chambers Bay as an amateur.
“It was fantastic,” NeSmith said. “I got to play with some of the best players in the world. I got to play with Jason Day, and I learned a lot from him. Hopefully, I just keep getting better over time.”
While his days swinging the clubs for the Garnet and Black will soon be over, NeSmith’s remarkable playing career, and his memories of South Carolina won’t be fading away anytime soon.
“I’m going to miss a lot of things about South Carolina,” NeSmith said. “I’m going to miss having the guys around all of the time. I’m going to miss football games a lot. I’ll miss all of it. I hope to come back and still be around the program more.”
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