Matt NeSmith is on his way to the PGA Tour, and he's doing it as a Korn Ferry Tour champion.
NeSmith, a Korn Ferry Tour rookie, shot a final-round 64 to win the Albertsons Boise Open on Sunday. The North Augusta High and University of South Carolina grad finished a shot ahead of Brandon Hagy and Viktor Hovland.
Playing ahead of NeSmith, Hagy birdied the 18th to get into the clubhouse at 18-under par. NeSmith birdied the par-5 16th to tie Hagy, then poured in a birdie putt through the shadows after driving into the rough on the 18th.
"I was just happy to have a look, in all honesty. I didn't really know what I was gonna have from down there (in the rough)," he said. "I was just trying to hit something kind of on the green somewhere to have a look at anything. Ended up hitting a really – I just kind of got it right and had a nice uphill look, a little right to left. I just wanted to give it a chance. I didn't know exactly where I stood, didn't know what it meant. I just wanted to give it a nice chance, and luckily it went right in the middle."
That gave him the solo lead at 19 under, but he still had to wait on Hovland.
NeSmith stayed loose, hitting balls on the driving range while periodically glancing over to the 18th green to see if a playoff would be necessary. Hovland, the low amateur this year at both the Masters and U.S. Open, birdied the 16th to get to 16 under but went long on the par-3 17th and had to settle for a par.
He needed to hole out for eagle on the 18th from just over 100 yards away – and he nearly did it. His short birdie gave him a share of second place, and it made NeSmith a Korn Ferry Tour champion.
NeSmith said early this year that he was hoping to reschedule an annual January golf weekend with friends at Awendaw's Bulls Bay Golf Club, because the traditional date would clash with the PGA Tour schedule.
He's spent the last eight months grinding toward that goal, earning three top-10 finishes: one in January in the Bahamas, one in May in Nashville, and one in early August near San Francisco when he held the 54-hole lead.
He got off to a hot start Sunday with birdies on holes 2-4 to get within one of the lead. He turned in 32, then made birdie on the 11th to reach 5 under for the day. At that point, he knew it could be a special day.
Another birdie at the 12th put him in a tie with Hovland at 18 under. NeSmith dropped a shot with a bogey on 14, but he got it back with a birdie at the par-5 16th. His approach came up short, but he put perfect speed on his long putt from off the green to leave an easy birdie look.
His tee shot into the par-3 17th flew long into the bunker. He nearly jarred it from there and saved par, meaning he had a chance to take the solo lead with a birdie on 18.
The drive went left into the rough, and he said the ball could've gone anywhere from there.
It went right to the center of the green.
With that, a PGA Tour dream came true.
"It's a huge dream. I've been around a lot of (PGA pros) for a few years," said NeSmith. "I mean, Kevin Kisner I've known since he was in high school. Scott Brown, same way. It was time to do something. I had been kind of hanging around mini-tours for a couple years, in Canada, and finally got out here. I've played solid all year round, just never really could figure it out. Then I started playing well toward the end of the year, got in the finals. Anything can happen in this thing."
NeSmith needed to finish in a tie for sixth or better to earn his PGA Tour card. Sunday's victory is the immediate bonus, joining high-profile victories from his junior and collegiate days, but the big payoff for the 25-year old will come when he's teeing it up alongside the best players in the world.
"It's right up there with everything," said NeSmith, who recently bought a house in Aiken and will marry fiancée Abigail Pait in November. "I've done some really cool stuff throughout my career, but this definitely – going to the PGA Tour next year – it definitely hasn't set in yet, for sure. But I can't wait, man. It's gonna be so cool. It's gonna be awesome."