Seminoles’ secret at NCAAs? ‘Huge visors’

Drew Kittleson

Drew Kittleson

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OOLTEWAH, Tenn. – Rule No. 1 when covering a tournament in which Florida State is playing: Find out what’s different with the Seminoles.

They’re college golf’s version of the back cover of Highlights magazine, so to speak.

For example, at the season-opening Golfweek Conference Challenge last fall, every Florida State player had untucked the back straps of their golf hats, in somewhat of a mock-tribute to PGA Tour player Anthony Kim.

This week at the NCAA Championship, the difference was a little easier to spot. Most of the Seminoles are wearing brand-new large Imperial visors, with “Florida State” written across the front in maroon ‘script.

“You like it? Player’s request,” said coach Trey Jones, laughing, from underneath his own large visor.

Indeed, sophomore Wesley Graham thought the team needed a little southern karma this week in Tennessee, so he asked coach to put in the order.

“We had to get a little bit more southern,” said Graham, of Port Orange, Fla. FSU’s lineup this week consists of three Floridians (Graham, Michael Hebert, Brooks Koepka) an Arizonan (Drew Kittleson) and a Hoosier (Seath Lauer).

On the driving range Monday afternoon after teams had completed their only practice round of the week, a tournament volunteer approached the Seminoles wearing a similar style visor with the Honors Course logo stitched in the front.

“See,” said Kittleson. “We know what we’re doing.”

“I’d wear one of those if you had one for me,” the volunteer said. “It’s necessary.”

Fun is also a necessity for this streaking Florida State team, which comes into the NCAA finals at No. 19 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, and fresh off a runner-up finish at the NCAA Central Regional.

Kittleson, who won the Central’s individual title with rounds 69-67-68, is known to provide the team with a “Song of the Week” and joked last week that Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” would be a good one this week “because it’s so corny it’s good.”

So, of course, Kittleson, of Scottsdale, Ariz., was an ardent supporter of the new visors, throwing out such names as Tommy Armour III and Fred Couples as inspiration.

Kittleson, a runner-up at the 2008 U.S. Amateur in Pinehurst, said the team sometimes likes to head up to Sea Island Golf Club on free weekends, where “you’re like not allowed to play there unless you have (FootJoy) Classics, short khaki shorts, a polo and a huge visor.”

“So we said if we were playing in the South, you have to have a huge visor.”

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Florida State won the Gary Koch Intercollegiate in October.

Huge game also comes in handy this week, of course, which is more or less what the Seminoles plan to bring.

FSU, making its first NCAA finals appearance since 2007, hasn’t finished worse than seventh place since the Gator Invitational in the middle of February. Koepka, No. 53 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, was recently named ACC Player of the Year, and joined Lauer on the All-ACC Team. Kittleson has been up-and-down this season but made a small change to his driver (switching heads from a Titleist 909D3 to a 909D2) that he said has helped his confidence, which showed at the Central Regional.

The Seminoles’ biggest boost, however, has come from Graham, one of the best junior golfers in the country just a couple years back. Graham struggled his freshman year, but has rebounded this spring, dropping his stroke average (72.52) over two shots from the fall. He is currently ranked 131st.

“We have a lot of firepower if we can get to match play,” said Kittleson. “We make a lot of birdies.”

The confidence is there, and it has been for at least a few weeks, according to at least one receipt.

That order for the huge visors? It was placed before regionals.

“Maybe,” Graham said, “we should buy those woven belts, too.”

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