ORLANDO — Matthew NeSmith’s favorite piece of Augusta National’s famed property? Not Amen Corner. It’s the practice range. His family lives five minutes from the club. He attends the Masters annually, and much of his time inside the gates during the event is spent in the practice area.
“He loves the driving range, the chipping area, the putting green,” NeSmith’s father, Darren, said. “He’ll spend most of the day on the driving range, just watching those guys hit balls and see what they’re working on. I think that’s his strength. He’s really observant and he learns a lot from playing with better players and watching better players.”
NeSmith (pronounced NEE-smith), now a freshman at South Carolina, was arguably the top prospect among this year’s incoming college freshmen, in part because of an obsession with the intricacies of the golf swing. He watches slow-motion YouTube videos of Tiger Woods and Hunter Mahan. NeSmith is quick to give swing tips to struggling friends.
“I’m very visual,” Matthew NeSmith said. “I feel like if you watch good players, you naturally pick up things that feed into your game.”
Darren NeSmith estimates that 95 percent of his son’s television viewing has been golf-related. Darren, who caddied part time at Augusta National from 1998 to 2003, has been an integral part of his son’s career, as well. Darren was a 4-handicap but gave up the game when his son began to play at age 5. He would pick up Matthew from North Augusta (S.C.) Elementary School, then take him to a nearby course. He’d watch his son hit balls to help ensure proper fundamentals.
“He’s been the biggest influence in my life,” Matthew NeSmith said.
He had a chance to closely observe some of the world’s best when he played the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, N.C. He earned that start by winning the AJGA’s FootJoy Boys Invitational, also at Sedgefield. It was NeSmith’s third victory in an AJGA
major, his second this season. He also won one of the country’s top amateur events, the Azalea Invitational, earlier this year. He chose to play the Wyndham Championship over the U.S. Amateur, which is held the same week at Cherry Hills Country Club in Colorado.
“My ultimate goal is to play on Tour,” he said. “Amateurs like us, we don’t get a chance to do it very often, so you have to take advantage of every opportunity you get.”