NeSmith (left) and Cloninger (Golfweek photos)
IRMO, S.C. — For the second consecutive year (and fourth time in the last nine years), a University of South Carolina Gamecock has won South Carolina Golf Association Player of the Year honors. This year, Matt NeSmith of North Augusta claims the award for his outstanding play in both college and nationally recognized amateur events.
While a junior, NeSmith earned his first points of the year in early February with a top 5 finish against an international field in the Jones Cup Invitational contested at Ocean Forest Golf Club in Sea Island, GA. Just a few months later he won the Southeastern Conference Championship held at Sea Island Club in St. Simon Island, GA. The SEC victory propelled NeSmith to #1 in the Player of the Year rankings and he never looked back; going on to finish in the top 10 at the NCAA Division 1 Regionals, qualifying for the US Open Championship, then in July winning the esteemed Players Amateur at Berkeley Hall Club in Bluffton, SC.
A week after his victory in the Players Am, NeSmith posted a fourth place finish in the Southern Amateur held at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point, MS. In early August, the then rising senior made the 36-hole cut at the Western Amateur. Just a couple of weeks later, Nesmith played his way into the second round of match play at the US Amateur Championship held at Olympia Fields Country Club in Olympia Fields, IL. Nesmith earned his last points of the year in August, but over the course of eight months had built a big enough lead to ensure Player of the Year victory.
He joins former teammate and tour pro Will Murphy (2014), tour professional Mark Anderson (2009), and Florida club professional Patrick Rada (2007) as players who’ve recently won SCGA Player of the Year while an active member of the South Carolina Gamecocks golf team.
Rick Cloninger of Fort Mill joined the senior amateur ranks in 2012 and has now captured South Carolina Golf Association Senior Player of the Year honors in every year since, adding his fourth consecutive award in 2015. Cloninger excelled in team (as well as individual) events, earning his first points of the year with a third place finish at the SCGA Senior Four Ball Championship in March. Then with a victory in the Carolinas Senior Four Ball Championship in April, the SCGA board member was off to a solid start in 2015. In late May, Cloninger narrowly missed out on his first individual victory of the year, finishing second at the Chanticleer National Senior Invitational at Greenville Country Club.
The next month, Cloninger did claim that first victory, winning the National Senior Hall of Fame championship at Willow Creek GC in High Point, NC. The four-time Senior Player of the Year then posted a top 20 finish in the SCGA Amateur Championship, second place finishes at the SCGA Senior Better Ball Championship in Santee and Carolinas Senior Amateur Championship at Dataw Island Club; and capped off his year in October by making it to the Round of 16 in match play at the US Senior Amateur Championship, and posting a top 10 finish at the SCGA Mid Amateur Championship at Green Valley Country Club. With his fourth award, Cloninger has now eclipsed South Carolina Golf Hall of Famer Frank Ford, III for most all time SCGA Senior Player of the Year honors.
Both NeSmith and Cloninger will receive their respective Player of the Year awards at the SCGA’s 13th Annual Golf Day Awards Dinner and Banquet, to be held January 9th, 2016 at Columbia Country Club in Blythewood, SC. The ceremony will also include the South Carolina Golf Hall of Fame induction of former junior and college golf standout and current Golf Channel analyst / personality Charlie Rymer.