After securing his first Korn Ferry Tour victory and earning a ticket to the PGA Tour, Matthew NeSmith struggled to maintain his composure as he thanked his family and his fiancée, Abigail, for their support.
“It’s been a long road,” said the 25-year-old from North Augusta, S.C., his voice quivering after he shot a final-round seven-under-par 64 Sunday to rally from a four-stroke deficit and win the Albertsons Boise Open, the second of three events in the Korn Ferry Finals. “I’m really excited to get it done and go out there and play a great round of golf.”
A rookie on the Korn Ferry Tour, NeSmith had posted just three top-10 finishes before edging Viktor Hovland and Brandon Hagy by one stroke with a 19-under 265 total. His 15-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole at Hillcrest Country Club in Boise, Idaho, proved the difference — and also proved that he had been working on the right things after finishing 45th in the regular season. He pocketed $180,000 after having earned just $111,261 previously in his career.
NeSmith credited a newfound putting proficiency for propelling him to victory after working with Robert Merrill, a Louisiana-based instructor, and Marcus Potter, another putting instructor who played for San Jose State University. “I knew with the way I was hitting it I just needed to putt a little bit better,” said NeSmith, who leads the Korn Ferry Tour in greens in regulation but came in ranked 133rd in strokes gained–putting. “Finally this week it all clicked together.”
Now the University of South Carolina product is assured of a PGA Tour card in the upcoming season as he owns the top spot in the Korn Ferry Finals standings with one event remaining. He has played in five tour events previously without making a cut.
“It’s a huge dream,” NeSmith said. “I’ve been hanging around on mini-tours for a couple of years and I played in Canada until finally getting out here to the Korn Ferry Tour. I played solid all year long, but I started playing really well towards the end of the year, got into the Finals and then anything can happen.”
Hovland, the Oklahoma State standout and 2018 U.S. Amateur champion, birdied two of his last three holes to tie Hagy for second place at 18-under 266. Hovland, 21, closed with a three-under 68 after beginning the final round with a one-stroke lead over veteran Rob Oppenheim.
Hovland, third in the Korn Ferry Finals, is assured of gaining his PGA Tour card, joining fellow All-Americans Matthew Wolff, a teammate at OSU, and Collin Morikawa, each whom won a tour event this season after entering the pro ranks after the U.S. Open.
“I was trying to win the golf tournament. I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t perform better today,” Hovlande said. “There were some guys that went low today and played well, but I felt like I left some shots out there. That’s always a little disappointing, but I think in a couple of days I will refresh and be happy about going to the tour.”
In addition to NeSmith and Hovland, other players who earned tour cards by passing the projected threshold of 200 points in The Finals include former Presidents Cup player Anirban Lahiri, Tom Hoge, Cameron Percy, Bronson Burgoon and Kramer Hickok.
Hagy, who was playing on the PGA Tour on a medical exemption because of a wrist injury, also is assured of returning to the tour after also posting a T-5 finish at the first Finals event, the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship.
Next week’s Korn Ferry Tour Championship at Victoria National Golf Club in Newburgh, Ind., not only will determine the 25 berths on the PGA Tour via the Finals, but also will establish the priority ranking of those 25 players and the 25 who earned tour cards in the regular season.