AIKEN — Pendleton’s Austin Langdale and North Augusta’s Matt NeSmith were paired together for Friday’s first round of the Southern Cross Invitational.
The two high school golfers will go different routes – Langdale to Clemson, NeSmith to South Carolina – but the two shared stories and engaged in friendly conversation as they played Palmetto Golf Club.
Langdale won the overall battle Friday, shooting 3-under-par 68 to NeSmith’s 1-under 70. Both are chasing Riverside’s Jonathan Hardee, who shot 67 to take the first-round lead.
But NeSmith won a small victory on Palmetto’s 18th hole. Both laid up off the tee on the short par-4, and both hit excellent pitches that settled close to the hole. NeSmith’s putt was downhill and right to left, and he rolled it in for a closing birdie.
Langdale’s putt was closer, but it caught the lip and spun out. He tapped in for par.
“Matt’s stayed pretty straight and mine dove near the hole,” Langdale said. “It would have been nice for that one to fall in and shoot 67.”
NeSmith said he struggled Friday as he reverted to some old habits.
“It was a good way to end it,” NeSmith said of the final hole. “I didn’t play all that well today. I chipped it well, got it up and down a few times today. I’m pretty happy with it.”
Riverside and Hardee are leading the 38th annual event, which finishes today. Led by Hardee’s 67, the Warriors posted a team total of 220 to lead Fort Dorchester by two shots. South Aiken, paced by Ryan Carpenter’s 1-under 70, is just four shots behind and tied for third place.
Hardee posted birdies at Nos. 4, 5, 6, 14, 16 and 18 in his round. Like Langdale and NeSmith, he is one of the top-rated players in South Carolina.
Langdale and NeSmith both competed in last week’s Junior Invitational at Sage Valley. Langdale started strong but closed with 80, and that led to some adjustments this week.
“I didn’t finish too good,” Langdale said. “I was looking forward to coming here and redeeming myself.”
Langdale posted five birdies against two bogeys in his first round.
“(Friday) morning on range I still wasn’t feeling confident,” he said. “Out there I just didn’t worry about, I trusted it.”
NeSmith said he wasn’t “anywhere close” to having his best stuff, and it showed as he stood 2-over after just four holes. But he rallied to play the last 14 in 3-under fashion.
Coming off a runner-up finish at the Junior Invitational, NeSmith knows his high school career is winding down.
“It’d be a nice way to end, with the Southern Cross,” said NeSmith, who added he also would like to win the Palmetto Amateur. “It has a special place in my heart.”