This past week, 312 of the world’s best amateur players converged in Denver for the U.S. Amateur. Matt NeSmith, No. 1 in Golfweek’s Junior Rankings, was nowhere to be found.
He had bigger fish to fry.
By virtue of his victory at the AJGA FootJoy Invitational in June, NeSmith earned a spot in the Wyndham Championship, his first PGA Tour start. The Wyndham fell on the same week as the U.S. Amateur, a tournament into which NeSmith was exempt because of his spot among the top 50 (he’s No. 19) in the World Amateur Golf Rankings. Though his decision to skip the country’s biggest amateur tournament may seem controversial, he had no qualms about his choice.
“The Am is a wonderful event,” NeSmith said. “I was privileged enough to get exempt, but there’s no better experience than playing at the show. It’s all I ever could have wanted. Hopefully I’ll have a couple U.S. Am tries later in my career, but I would never miss the Wyndham.”
NeSmith drew a pairing with Garth Mulroy and Alexandre Rocha at Sedgefield Country Club, and had his fair share of cool stories and exciting encounters after 36 holes.
“Meeting the Ryder Cup captain [Davis Love III] was pretty cool,” reflected NeSmith. “We were talking on the range and he had to cut off our conversation because Steve Stricker was calling him.”
As for his play at the tournament, NeSmith shot 70-71 for a 1-over 141 and a T-94 finish. He missed the cut by two shots.
NeSmith made the turn Friday on the projected cut line, but he felt it would be a stroke lower than expected, so he played aggressive. Needing a birdie on the last to have a chance at making the weekend, he missed the green and could not make his birdie chip to finish at 139. Still, he felt good about the experience.
“I didn’t play great, I didn’t give myself as many opportunities as some other guys did at the tournament,” he explained. “But I feel like I learned a lot, and that’s what I was there for.”
His eventful week is not over, however. He moved into his dorm at the University of South Carolina on Sunday, and practice with the team starts Thursday.
After wins at the AJGA Rolex Tournament of Champions, the Azalea Invitational and a start on the PGA Tour this summer, his goals for his first season at South Carolina might be more lofty than most incoming freshmen.
“I want to be First Team All-American,” said NeSmith. “I want to get the Haskins Award as well, that would be a wonderful honor, and I really want to win the national championship with the team. That would be a dream come true.”
Perhaps a return to the Wyndham someday could be the cherry on top.