When Tampa's Doug Letson was a freshman at Florida State, he was the sixth man on a five-man team that finished a school-best third at the NCAA tournament. He never got to tee it up at the biggest tournament of the season, but he swore he would if the Seminoles ever returned.
"Obviously I wanted to be out there playing,'' Letson said. "But it was really interesting to watch how everybody fed off each other. It was cool to be part of the experience.''
Two years later, the Seminoles have returned.
What's in question is whether Letson will play. He is solidly in the Seminoles' top five, usually playing at No. 3 or 4. But just days before leaving for the national tournament in Pacific Palisades, Calif., Letson had a mishap in the weight room.
While lifting weights a barbell landed on his right hand, spraining two of his fingers. He is said to be day-to-day, so whether he plays today will be a last-second decision.
"I know he thinks he can play and he wants to play,'' FSU coach Trey Jones said. "But we'll have to see. If he can't grip the club he can't play.''
Letson's absence would be a big blow to the Seminoles, ranked 19th in the 30-team NCAA field. They join state schools Florida, North Florida and Central Florida in the tournament.
Letson has played in nine spring tournaments and has four top-10 finishes. His low round was 68 at the Florida Atlantic Spring Break Invitational. He has played 27 rounds, 11 at par or better.
"It's had its ups and downs,'' Letson said. "But this has been my most consistent year. I've had my most top 10s.''
Letson came to FSU after a stellar career at Plant High School and on the junior circuit. He grew up playing at Palma Ceia Golf & Country Club in south Tampa. It was at the historic course where he said he learned how to drive on the narrow fairways and hone his short game.
Letson, who is majoring in economics, chose Tallahassee over USF and UCF.
Jones said Letson is the kind of player he wanted on his team.
"He wants to play golf so badly; he's a golf junkie,'' he said. "He was willing to make all the sacrifices. He didn't care if he had to drive a half an hour to the practice facilities. Sometimes I would call him at 10 at night and he'd be out on the range beating balls. I knew he would be the right fit.''
Letson made an immediate impact. He played in 10 tournaments as a freshman and had a 74.6 stroke average, impressing even himself.
"I was supposed to just learn my first year," he said. "But I qualified for my first tournament and just played well from the start. I think that came as a surprise to some people.''
Letson slumped during his sophomore year. He played in only one spring event, the Seminole Intercollegiate. But he played his way back into the starting five this spring, getting his stroke average down to 72.8. In the NCAA region tournament at the University of Oklahoma, Letson tied for 31st as the Seminoles placed third to qualify for the NCAA tournament.
Letson is hopeful he'll be able to play in California, a place he hasn't played since he was 9 years old. But he had a way to get ready for Riviera Country Club.
"I've played it on the video game a bunch of times,'' he said.