LAKE MARY — The words in big, black letters above the exit at the Mike Bender Golf Academy are as difficult to miss as the 10 national flags flying next to the practice tees.
"How good do you want to be, and what are you willing to do to get there?"
When the two-day Class 1A and 2A state golf tournaments begin Tuesday at courses in Lake County, several high-school golfers who have received instruction or train at the Bender academy will compete.
Four will represent Lake Mary Prep's highly regarded boys team, which won its region last week by 50 shots: Austen Truslow, Linus Lo, Anton Serafini and Cristian Demarco. Griffins girls standouts Dree Fausnaugh and Anne Yu are taught there, as is Circle Christian's Abbey Carlson.
Andres Arango of Montverde Academy, who is entered in the 1A field, attends the Gary Gilchrist Golf Academy at Mission Inn in Howey-in-the-Hills.
"That quote symbolizes what the academy is," said Truslow, who shot an 8-under-par 64 and finished as the region runner-up behind DiMarco's 63. "I've always just known it's the right place for me, because I've gotten results."
In all, Bender, a former pro golfer who has been an instructor for more than two decades, has helped 12 golfers reached the 2013 state tournaments. The 3A tournaments will be next week.
"We train them like we train the tour pros," said Bender, 57. "It's nothing like you've ever seen before. The environment we create, it looks like a boot camp."
Only if that boot camp features top-flight practice areas, including a 9,000-square-foot putting green and undulating pitching fairway, and provides access to a dietician and personal trainer. Annual memberships for the academy, located at Magnolia Plantation Golf Club, range from $1,400-$1,750 for juniors.
Bender said more than 90 high-school students who attended the academy received a golf scholarship.
"Having such great players surrounding you every day makes you better in itself,'' Carlson said.
Truslow, 16, is not concerned about college now. Currently third in the Polo Golf Rankings, he has worked with Bender's staff for seven years.
"I definitely wouldn't be where I am now without him," Truslow said.
Said Fausnaugh: "It's not just the swing. They've dramatically helped my golf game in general, like the mental aspect and being a strong competitor.''
"It's really helpful for the wedges. You can be out there all day and practice that. It's fun.''
Truslow said he keeps videos of every lesson.
"I really knew nothing about the process of getting better before the academy," Truslow said. "I've looked back at my first lesson and just laughed about how bad I was."
And it all goes back to that question above the academy doors.
As the state tournaments loom, a better question, though, might be: Who's laughing now?