University of South Carolina senior and North Augusta native Matt NeSmith didn't enter Sunday's final round of the Players Amateur thinking he'd win.
Not with the three guys ahead of him also ranked in Golfweek's Top 100 amateurs in America. The leader, NeSmith's friend Chase Koepka, entered the day five shots ahead of him.
"I haven't done something like that in a really long time," the 21-year-old NeSmith, who played in last month's U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, said of his sizzling 6-under-par 65 to win one of golf's most prestigious amateur events at 13 under.
"To come out and play a flawless round of golf like that with no bogeys and to birdie 18. It was fantastic. I loved every second of it."
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That birdie, a 20-footer which, upon finding the hole, elicited a fist pump from NeSmith and an eruption of cheers from a large contingent of fans, including his parents, Beth and Darren.
"The percentage of those, you don't make a whole lot of those," Darren NeSmith said of his son's clutch, ultimately tournament-winning birdie, which gave him a one-shot lead on Koepka.
"You're just trying to tell yourself, 'I hope he just makes two good putts and we'll see where it goes from there.' And then when he put the roll on it and he was holding his finish up, I knew it was going to be close. And then when it went in, it was just elation."
NeSmith's excitement was tempered by the fact that his friend Koepka, who led by a shot after the 14th hole, lost the lead after a frustrating bogey on 15 dropped him into a tie with NeSmith, who birdied the hole.
An animated Koepka made clear he felt he had struck perfectly, the putt missing because of a mark on the green. It was Koepka's only bogey on a day in which he shot even-par 71, finishing the tournament 12 under.
Shotaro Ban finished third, at 10 under.
After his birdie on 18, NeSmith, who was not scoreboard watching down the stretch, said he had no idea he was going to win if Koepka didn't also birdie 18.
"I thought I had to birdie 18 just to tie," an ambivalent NeSmith said minutes after Koepka's par on 18 gave Matt the title. "I was hopefully going to go into a playoff. And then to get in to see (Koepka) was at 12 (under par, not 13 under). That kind of sucks. You don't want to beat someone because they made a bogey."
With his victory, NeSmith, a winner locally at the Sea Pines Junior Heritage in 2011, will get to tee it up at next April's RBC Heritage -- marking at least his fourth PGA Tour event. NeSmith has also played in the Wyndham Championship in N.C., and the St. Jude Classic in Memphis.
"It'll be great, I'm excited," he said of his exemption into the Heritage, as family beckoned for hugs and congratulations.
NeSmith's excitement about the RBC Heritage is not just for the literal and figurative home cooking he gets when playing in the Palmetto State.
"Basically the two amateurs I've ever won were the Azalea, which is in Charleston, and this one down here, so it's kind of cool. I guess I'm a home player," said NeSmith, who ws competing in the Players Amateur for the fifth time.
"I like being at home. I like the heat and the Bermuda grass, so it's good."
Matt's mother, Beth, also enduring the temperatures nicely, said Matt's win Sunday felt even more special than the SEC championship he claimed on St. Simon's Island, Ga., in April.
"Just to win here in South Carolina ... the meaning of that is more than I can express," she said, a tear streaming down her face.