Ernst gives UNLV golf hope for future

There was no fourth straight Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters title for UNLV's golf team. But the Rebels didn't leave Southern Highlands empty-handed.

Their best player might have rediscovered his game.

And if Derek Ernst can play the rest of the spring the way he did Sunday in carding a 2-under par 70, he and the Rebels could have something to celebrate in the weeks ahead.

"I got out of my own way and didn't listen to the little voices inside my head," said Ernst, a junior from Clovis, Calif., who had started the weekend with rounds of 74 and 75. "All I did was go out and play golf. I didn't over-analyze things. I wasn't trying to be perfect. I just stayed relaxed and played."

That UNLV wasn't in contention probably took some pressure off Ernst. The Rebels finished in seventh place in the 15-team field with a three-day total of 891, 28 strokes behind champion Oklahoma State, which finished at 863. And while coach Dwaine Knight was disappointed his team was unable to put it all together over three days, the notion that his best player could be back on track wasn't lost on him.

"Derek is so talented, he's capable of carrying the team," Knight said. "We're trying to get him to relax and just play and that's what he did (Sunday)."

Ernst carded four birdies and had he not made double-bogey at the par-3 No.12, his round would have been even better.

"Today was a good learning day," Ernst said. "I'm hoping I can build some momentum off this."

Unfortunately, Ernst's teammates were unable to replicate his effort Sunday. Jeremiah Wooding, Blake Biddle and Kevin Penner all shot 3-over 75 for their final round and Colby Smith had a 5-over 77.

"My biggest concern coming into this weekend was our consistency," Knight said. "We've struggled with that all season and we weren't as solid over three days as we needed to be to win this tournament."

There won't be much time to dwell on the disappointment of the weekend as the Rebels are back on the course a week from today at the National Invitational Tournament in Tucson, Ariz.

"We want to put this behind us as quickly as we can," Ernst said.

Oklahoma State, led by medalist Morgan Hoffman, trailed second-round leader California by 10 shots at the turn Sunday. But the Bears were unable to hold it together over the back nine and faded to third as both Oklahoma State and Texas A&M passed them.

The Aggies finished seven shots behind Oklahoma State at 870 and three ahead of Cal's 873.

Hoffman shot a 3-under 69 to win the individual title with a 206, two shots ahead of A&M's Jordan Russell.

Contact reporter Steve Carp at or at 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.