Matt NeSmith Sets the Pace With First-Round 65 August 17, 2015 | OLYMPIA FIELDS, ILL. By Pete Kowalski, USGA

NeSmith, the 2015 SEC individual champion, carded six birdies against one bogey on a day when just 29 players in the field broke par. (USGA/Jeff Haynes)

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Matt NeSmith, 21, of North Augusta, S.C., shot a 5-under-par 65 Monday to lead the field of 312 competitors in the 2015 U.S. Amateur Championship after the first day of stroke play at Olympia Fields Country Club.

NeSmith, a senior at the University of South Carolina who won The Players Amateur earlier this year, posted six birdies, including four in his first nine holes, and one bogey on the South Course for a one-stroke lead over four players.

“I got off to a good start, birdied 11,” said NeSmith, a third-team All-America selection in 2015 who won the Southeastern Conference Championship. “It was a birdie pin and I hit a good tee shot, so I kind of expected that after being in the middle of the fairway. And then hit it really close on 13 and got on a little bit of a run.”

NeSmith, who qualified for the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay and is playing in his third consecutive U.S. Amateur, leads a group of four players at 66: Lee McCoy, 21, of Athens, Ga., a 2015 USA Walker Cup Team member, and Nathan Yankovich, 21, of Blacklick, Ohio, who both played the South Course; and Ryan Ruffels, 17, of Australia, and Kenta Kinoshi, 21, of Japan, who played the North Course, host to two previous U.S. Opens in 1928 and 2003.

“I think it helped playing the Open,” said NeSmith. “It kind of made this not as big – I mean, big, but I’m not as nervous, I’m not as fidgety. I was able to relax a little bit more and play a great round of golf.”

The 2015 U.S. Amateur Championship consists of 36 holes of stroke play (18 holes on each of Olympia Fields’ North and South Courses), followed by six rounds of match play (all on the North Course), with the championship scheduled to conclude with a 36-hole final on Sunday.

Ruffels, the son of two tennis professionals who played with 2015 PGA champion and fellow Aussie Jason Day in a practice round for the 2015 Canadian Open, admitted that his putting positioned him for his four-birdie, no-bogey round.

“I made a lot of 10- to 12-foot par putts, which is big just to keep a bit of momentum going,” said Ruffels, whose birdie putts ranged from 10 to 35 feet. “Around the North Course, which is so hard, if you drop [a shot], it's very easy to drop one on the next, too, and it kind of just rolls on from there. So the more you can save, the better.”

McCoy, who qualified for the 2015 U.S. Open and was co-medalist at the 2014 U.S. Amateur, tallied six birdies and two bogeys.

“I was hitting it about as crooked as I ever have, and honestly it was one of the best scoring nines I've ever had,” said McCoy, a first-team All-American at the University of Georgia, of his outward nine of 35. “I left a shot in a bunker on 1 and got up-and-down for bogey, and then, I was hitting it everywhere and just scraping pars like I've hardly ever done before. If I would have shot 3 or 4 over on the front, I don't think I would have gone and made as many birdies on the back. It was definitely a good mental test today.”

Trailing NeSmith by two at 3-under-par 67 are David Oraee, of Greeley, Colo.; Brett Coletta, of Australia; and Sepp Straka of Valdosta, Ga.

Among nine players at 2-under 68 are 2014 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Scott Harvey, of Greensboro, N.C.; Nick Hardy, a University of Illinois player from Northbrook, Ill.; and Robby Shelton, a first-team All-American at the University of Alabama from Wilmer, Ala., who finished third in the PGA Tour’s Barbasol Championship in July, the first top-three Tour finish for an amateur since Phil Mickelson in 1991.

Defending champion Gunn Yang of the Republic of Korea shot a 3-over 73 on the North Course as he starts his bid to become the first repeat U.S. Amateur champion since Tiger Woods in 1996.

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