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NeSmith making big plans heading into Web.com Tour season

January 12, 2019

Matt NeSmith is hopeful he can reschedule what’s become a traditional golf weekend with friends in early January.

That’s not because the trip to Awendaw’s Bulls Bay Golf Club, site of NeSmith’s first collegiate victory in 2015, hasn’t been fruitful – it’s grown each of the last three years and shows no signs of stopping.

It’s more because NeSmith already has plans to be somewhere else at that time in 2020.

The plan is to trade out the unpredictable weather of the Charleston area and casual golf with friends for a warmer, more high-stakes game in Hawaii.

The PGA Tour’s Sony Open in Honolulu, to be more specific.

He takes his first swing toward that Sunday when he tees off in the Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, his first of eight guaranteed starts on the Web.com Tour.

The last few weeks away from competitive golf have been a good refresher and decompresser for NeSmith, but now he’s ready to get back into a routine of playing and having an opportunity to tee it up on the big tour.

“Everything feels pretty good,” he said. “It’s been nice to kind of get away from it for a little while and just play some casual, fun golf, you know? It’s been a year full of grinding, so it’s been nice to get away from it for a little bit and play with friends, play with some people back home and have it not really mean a ton.”

NeSmith will start the first eight Web.com Tour events, then see what happens from there. He’s planning to play a full season, all the way through the tour finals at the end of the summer.

“Usually if you make one cut and finish, like, top 40 or so, you’re usually in the rest of the year,” he explained. “So I’m planning on playing all year.”

He’ll take his first shot at that in the Bahamas for back-to-back tournaments, both Sunday-through-Wednesday events. Then it’s off to Colombia, Panama, Florida, Mexico, Louisiana and finally Savannah, Georgia, at the end of March.

His starts beyond those are dictated by how much money he wins, so obviously there’s anxiety and pressure to play well. He saw it first hand last August in the Web.com Tour’s Winco Foods Portland Open when he played the final two rounds with Carlos Ortiz, who was on the brink of earning – and eventually did earn – his PGA Tour card.

“You go through four, five hours of that, and you’re just dead,” NeSmith said. “You need something to get you away from it, get you enthralled in something else, get you excited about something else.”

That something for NeSmith has been football. Bill McDonald, his coach at South Carolina, told him he needed to find a hobby beyond golf. So he keeps a close watch on Gamecocks football and has developed a new appreciation for the NFL, and he has a year-round fascination with recruiting inspired in large part by his own experience as a highly-coveted junior golfer at North Augusta High School.

“It can’t be all that serious all that time; it’ll run somebody mad,” he said. “You need that decompresser. For some people, it’s fishing or fishing trips or going to Vegas, or stuff like that. Everybody’s got their vice they like to dive into a little bit when things are going tough.

“And I’ve done it with football for the last few years. People make fun of me for keeping up with football recruiting and stuff like that, but I can’t sit there and watch golf all day every day. I needed a vice to get myself away from the game.”

So instead of spending hours after a round pounding range balls and rolling putts until he’s numb, NeSmith will likely be checking on the NFL playoffs or the latest recruiting rumors heading into National Signing Day.

He’ll also be putting time into his mental preparation, something NeSmith considers to be a high priority. A lot of that is having a plan for when things go wrong.

What could go wrong at the Bahamas Great Exuma Classic? Last year’s event was dominated by high winds that generated the birdie-friendly tour’s highest-ever cut: 11-over par. English pro Greg Eason claimed he lost 32 golf balls that week and missed the cut by 31 shots after rounds of 91 and 95.

There’s obviously no simulating that, but NeSmith has prepared – and received tips from Kyle Thompson, a fellow Gamecock and longtime pro who won the Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at 2-under par in 2017 – to where he feels confident about the state of his game.

“It feels good,” he said. “I’ve done a little bit of prep work before the Bahamas on what I would need to be successful down there, so I’ve been able to have a blueprint on what to work on and where things go from there.

“I need to work on the putting a little bit, get back into a routine of what to work on and how to work on it. Just let the golf come to me. This is a stressful game. It’s funny – you can’t force it. If you could force it, everybody would play good every week.”

NeSmith has learned through golf that he’s a little bit of a loner, a rebel, in that he usually keeps to himself on his big adventures to tournaments rather than bunking with other players to split costs. He chalks that up to his competitive nature and said the co-mingling of players has been an interesting and difficult dynamic of the game for him. It will take on a new dimension as he travels to new countries over the next several weeks.

“I’m actually a little nervous about all the food and stuff,” he said. “I got sick when I went to Mexico the first time (he played in the PGA Tour’s OHL Classic at Mayakoba in 2016, with his family along for the trip) ... It’s gonna be interesting going by myself. I don’t really know where to stay or what to do, where I can go, where you shouldn’t go – there’s a lot. ... That’s gonna be interesting, but I’m excited.”

And, because it always seems to come back to football, NeSmith pointed out that Tate Hoisington, his caddie for the first few weeks and an acquaintance from their junior golf days, is a South Carolina fan. Not that it’s a requirement, but the admitted pot-stirrer said it’s nice to have someone to talk to who’s on the same team.

“If you hire a Clemson fan, you’re like, ‘Oh, I can’t say anything to you.’ And if you hire a Pac-12 guy, I don’t even know half the teams. And then you’re gonna fight with the Big 12 guys saying they don’t have any defense, and they’re gonna get upset about it,” he joked. “You’ve got to pick and choose a little bit.”

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