It’s not the NCAA Championships, but several of the nation’s best men’s golf teams will be competing in Las Vegas this weekend when UNLV hosts the Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters.
California will return to defend its tournament title, and No. 1-ranked Alabama also is included in the 15-team field that begins play Friday at Southern Highlands Golf Club.
The Rebels, ranked No. 33 by Golfweek Collegiate Poll, won’t be at full strength when they tee off at 8 a.m. alongside Cal and Alabama in the 54-hole event. Sophomore AJ McInerney (back) and junior Nicholas Maruri (broken ankle) won’t be able to play, so coach Dwaine Knight will field a starting five of juniors Kurt Kitayama and Carl Jonson, sophomore Zane Thomas and freshmen Taylor Montgomery and Redford Bobbitt.
“It’s a great opportunity for some of our guys to show what they can do,” Knight said. “Taylor and Redford are very capable players, and what they may lack in experience, they certainly have the talent to compete.”
UNLV finished ninth in last year’s event, and if the Rebels are to improve, they’ll need consistent play throughout their lineup. Yes, they enjoy a home-course advantage, but Knight said unless they execute, all that knowledge won’t matter.
“We know where to hit it,” he said. “We just have to go out and do it.
“We want to play well. This is our home course, and this is a big tournament. Last year, we didn’t have a good result. But even though we’re short-handed, I expect us to go out and compete.”
UNLV is coming off a disappointing performance at the John Burns Intercollegiate in Hawaii, tying for eighth place after inclement weather forced the cancellation of the final round on Feb. 21. McInerney did not make the trip, and UNLV played three freshmen in Kauai.
But the Rebels had played well during the four-event fall schedule, finishing in the top 10 in each event, including a win in the Carmel Cup in early September.
“I still think it’s a good team,” Knight said. “We’re going through a bit of a rough stretch with the injuries, but there’s a long way to go and a lot of golf still to be played. We just need to get off to a good start, get some of our confidence back and see what happens.
“I think playing with Cal and Alabama will bring out the best in our guys. We didn’t compete with them when we played with Cal in Hawaii, and that was disappointing. But I expect with us being home and this being our home tournament, that we’ll step up and play well.”
Admission is free. The tournament can be followed at Golfstat.com and UNLVRebels.com.
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.