Beaufort News

North Augusta's NeSmith, Talbert take home Junior Heritage titles

Matthew NeSmith's golf game reached bottom this past summer.

He wasn't sure what his swing thoughts should be, wasn't sure how he should act on the course and, as a result, hit the ball poorly. NeSmth, a junior at North Augusta High School, credits friend Stephen Behr for helping him transform his golf game.

Behr, who is from Florence, told NeSmith during a tournament this past fall that these in-state tournaments were just like playing with friends at home.

"Stephen takes that (mentality) to South Carolina events, and I take it to every single one," NeSmith said. "I've figured out who I am as a player."

NeSmith loosened up and let his natural, chatty demeanor take over. He hasn't finished out of the top-five since, including his victory Sunday at the Sea Pines Junior Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links.

"I don't even hardly care anymore, about winning," NeSmith said after Sunday's final-round 71. "I just play golf like I'm at home."

McKenzie Talbert, also from North Augusta and a sophomore at Strom Thurmond, won the girls division with a 146 total.

Talbert said she grew up attending the PGA Tour's Heritage at Harbour Town. And she finished third in the junior tournament in 2010.

At Harbour Town, the emphasis is not just on hitting the fairway, but on hitting the correct half of the fairway, Talbert said. She bogeyed Nos. 11, 16 and 17 -- her front nine -- and bogeyed two more on her final nine. But birdies on her final two par 3s helped on the way to a closing 74.

She credited her putting for keeping her in the tournament.

"It was an up-and-down day, could have gone either way," Talbert said. "It was a good round for Harbour Town."

The putts didn't always fall for NeSmith, but that didn't affect his demeanor. He chatted up playing partners between shots and talked his shots while they were in the air.

He said his talkative nature might annoy some, but that it would only provide a competitive advantage. Plus, he's tried the other way, and the stoic, stiff approach wasn't working.

NeSmith made the turn at 6 under for the tournament and was cruising. He posted birdies at Nos. 2 and 6 and left several more on the course. Standing at the tee on No. 14, NeSmith said he recalled Behr's words about the hole.

Behr finished third in this tournament in 2010. He had the lead entering the par-3 14th but made double bogey. He told NeSmith the approach at No. 14 with the lead would be one of the more difficult shots he might ever face.

NeSmith, who did not play the tournament last year and had only Friday's practice round to draw on, pulled his approach on 14 into the pot bunker left, flew his pitch shot into the lateral hazard over the green and made double bogey.

But unlike Behr, who finished third again in 2011, NeSmith's mistake did not cost him. He finished 4 under, 139, to beat playing partner Trey Valentine by three shots.

NeSmith, who has committed to play golf at South Carolina, and Talbert earned invitations to play the tournament again in 2012.