June 17, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
South Carolina All-American Matt NeSmith has another notch in his belt after what has already been a historic year. The rising senior qualified for the U.S. Open Championship at Chambers Bay which begins Thursday in University Place, Washington, and he's enjoying a Wednesday practice round with 2014 British Open and PGA Champion Rory McIlroy.
"I just want to get off the first tee right now," NeSmith said. "Making the cut would be a good goal for me to set right now. I just want to keep playing. This is going to be fun. Playing here is probably the coolest thing I've ever done, besides winning the SEC. That was pretty fantastic too. This is a big deal for me."
Joining NeSmith and McIlroy for Wednesday's practice round are PGA Tour professionals Justin Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open champion, and Hunter Mahan. The North Augusta, South Carolina, native played Tuesday's practice round with Jason Day, who was the 2011 runner-up at the Masters and the U.S. Open. NeSmith, who is known to talk quite a bit to anyone he is matched up with on the course, said he hasn't been nervous about playing with the professionals and sees it as a great opportunity.
"I want to learn as much as possible," NeSmith said. "I want to pick their brains a little bit, so talking is a huge part of that. The only person I have ever been star-struck by is Tiger (Woods), and that's only because I've always been a huge Tiger fan. The only time I ever had a chance to see him is when he would come to Augusta. When I was little I used to go and watch him hit balls."
It doesn't get any bigger from here. I think it will make everything else seem a little bit easier or maybe a little bit smaller. That's always kind of helped me, when I can downplay things and just keep it simple. Hopefully this will help my college career excel a little more.
NeSmith finished with a season stroke average of 70.51 for the Gamecocks, which ranks second in program history for a single season. In addition to All-America honors, he was a first-team All-SEC and PING All-Southeast Region selection. He finished in the top 20 in eight of 12 tournaments, including a pair of tournament wins. He was the second Gamecock to win an SEC title as he claimed a six-stroke victory at the SEC Championship with a school-record 54-hole total of 196 (-14). NeSmith posted 18 rounds under par, including 14 rounds in the 60s this past year. Having played in a lot of pressure situations, he's ready to test his skills at the U.S. Open.
"I'm extremely excited," NeSmith said. "I was thrilled when I found out who I would be paired up with. Hopefully everything will work out the right way, and I'll learn a few things."
NeSmith said his cell phone has been "blowing up" ever since he qualified for the U.S. Open championships, and he's been taking a lot of photos from the course.
"Just getting inside the ropes and being able to play on a professional course has been really cool," NeSmith said. "It's been awesome to see where your game is compared to theirs and what sort of things you need to work on."
As he prepares for his final season with the Gamecocks, NeSmith sees this opportunity as a great way to continue his education for what he hopes will be a professional career.
"I'm on the biggest stage there is right now," NeSmith said. "It doesn't get any bigger from here. I think it will make everything else seem a little bit easier or maybe a little bit smaller. That's always kind of helped me, when I can downplay things and just keep it simple. Hopefully this will help my college career excel a little more."
NeSmith will tee off in the first round on Thursday at 12:01 p.m. EDT. Former Gamecock All-American Mark Silvers is also in the field and is slated to tee off at 6:01 p.m. Fox Sports will provide live coverage of every round of the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. Below is the viewing schedule:
Thursday, June 18
- Women's Sports
- Fan Zone
- Gamecock Club
- Academic Services
- Active Gamecocks
- Annual Reports
- Brag Points
- Communications and Public Relations
- Community Outreach
- Compliance Services
- Facility Rentals
- Facility Projects
- Football Strength & Conditioning
- Gamecock Gala
- All Access