Last June, Spencer Levin outdueled many of the world's best players on the game's most demanding stage.
What will Levin, a junior at New Mexico, do for an encore this June?
The answer will come soon, starting with today's opening round of the NCAA golf championship at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Md. The four-round tournament, which runs through Saturday, features 30 teams, and six individuals whose schools will not compete.
"We work all year for this national championship," said Levin, 21, who tied for 13th in the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, the best finish by an amateur in the Open in 33 years. "I'm looking forward to it."
The challenge will be formidable. The competition includes UNLV, which beat New Mexico by three strokes in the West Regional two weeks ago. UNLV is anchored by the No. 1 player in college golf, Ryan Moore, the defending NCAA champion who tied for 13th in this year's Masters. Other contenders include top-ranked Oklahoma State, Georgia, Georgia Tech and Florida.
Nonetheless, the Lobos, making their fourth straight appearance in the tournament, remain confident, even without injured sophomore Charlie Beljan.
"This [team] is definitely more talented than the other three we've had, and more experienced," said New Mexico Coach Glen Millican. "I feel better going into the week with this one than the last three years."
Levin, whose hole-in-one on No. 17 in the first round was one of the most memorable shots in last year's Open, has put together another outstanding season. He has three victories and seven other top 10 finishes, with a 69.75 stroke average over 36 rounds. Levin has come a long way since leaving UCLA after his freshman season.
"I think I might have been a little too young to go to college," Levin acknowledged. "Before, I would get frustrated and it would affect my next shot. Now I don't do that as much. I realized getting mad wasn't helping."
New Mexico, which knocked off UNLV for the Mountain West Conference title, has been ideal for him.
"I can practice what I want," he said, "and when I want, as opposed to getting up at 6 in the morning, rushing to play nine holes and rushing to class."
Levin, who captured the California State Amateur in 2004, claims that he has not made a final decision as to whether he will skip his senior year. The announcement likely will come after next week's Palmer Cup in Wisconsin. He believes he is ready for the professional ranks, though there are other factors to consider.
"It would be tough leaving the guys and my coach. It's been fun," Levin said.
In two weeks, Levin will tee it up in this year's Open at Pinehurst No. 2. If he decides to turn pro, he would try to receive as many sponsor exemptions as possible this year in hopes of securing his playing card for 2006.