Former David Leadbetter Golf Academy student Tommy Rymer feels a kinship with youngsters such as Chanin Puntawong and Gregor Slabe, co-medalists in Monday's U.S. Open Local Qualifying Tournament at Waterlefe Golf & River Club with course-record scores of 67.
But as the 21-year-old Florida State golfer walked up the first fairway during his sudden-death playoff against 17-year-old DLGA standout Arnond Vongvanij, who matched his 2-under par 70, Rymer's mood switched from sentimental to dead serious.
"I saw his AJGA (American Junior Golf Association) bag tag," Rymer said, "and I said to myself, 'Been there, done that.' "
Rymer, who transferred to FSU from Texas in January 2005, needed every ounce of resolve and focus - plus two birdies in three holes - to turn back Vongvanij, who last month won both the AJGA Ping Junior and the Terra Cotta Invitational in Naples.
Both made birdies on the par-5 first hole, with Rymer knocking in a 12-foot putt, and Vongvanij sinking a 6-footer. After saving par on No. 2 with a gutsy pitching wedge from 145 yards out of a fairway sand trap, Rymer hit his lob-wedge approach on the 353-yard third hole to four feet.
When Vongvanij missed his 20-foot birdie try, Rymer coolly stepped up and rolled in his birdie to claim the third qualifying berth, relegating Vongvanij to first-alternate status.
Rymer, who said he plans to join Puntawong and Slabe at the 36-hole U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying Tournament June 6 at Old Memorial Golf Club in Tampa, knew Vongvanij would be tough to beat.
"On No. 1, I knew he was going to stick his third shot close, and I left my chip a little short," said Rymer, a resident of Hastings, Minn., staying in Bradenton with his father. "I knew my putt was a 'must-make.'
"On the next hole, I couldn't see the pin from the bunker and had to catch it perfect to get it up and over the trees. If it was (in regulation), I might have laid up in front of the hazard."
Bradenton Prep senior Puntawong, who shot an 11-under 61 in the 2003 Thailand Open in front of his countrymen, made six birdies and an eagle in his 5-under round, making three birdies in a row after his double on the par-4 seventh.
"I missed two shots all day - a 7-iron on No. 7 and a 7-iron on No. 18," said Puntawong. "I ought to break that club in half and throw it in the trash.
"I played a practice round here Tuesday and Sunday, and I've been hitting the ball really well. And when the greens are rolling nice and smooth like this, I putt well," said Puntawong, who was using a new Scotty Cameron model.
While Puntawong was followed every step by his mother, Suphawadee, Slabe went one step further. Vesna Slabe served as Gregor's caddie.
The IMG Academy School junior from Slovenia made eight birdies, faltering slightly with a double bogey on 16 and a bogey on 18.
"He took me because I don't understand anything," Vesna Slabe said, "so I will just provide the golf clubs and the drinks."
But Mom provided a perspective check after the shaky finish.
"I told him, 'Don't worry. Just take what life has given you,' " she said.
Another DLGA student, Ajeetesh Sandhu from New Delhi, India, was second alternate with a 71 that included a quadruple-bogey 8 on No. 8.