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UNLV eyeing men’s golf title as NCAA tournament opens

Updated May 23, 2019 - 11:25 pm

Getting into the NCAA championship was the first part.

Now it’s a matter of reaching the top eight.

If UNLV can do that, the Rebels believe they have as good a chance as any other team to win the men’s national golf title.

“Once you make it to match play, you know anything can happen in match play,” UNLV junior Justin Kim said.

The 30-team field begins play Friday at Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville, Arkansas. There is no home-course advantage this year after Arkansas failed to qualify. Oklahoma State won the championship last season on its home course.

The course is unfamiliar to the Rebels. But they know at 7,501 yards that it’s a long, difficult test.

“It’s a real shotmaker’s course,” UNLV coach Dwaine Knight said. “You’ve got to be on the right side of the greens. It’s a lot like Augusta (National) — huge slopes. A lot of penalty is just off the greens. You’ve got to have a lot of patience off the tee to be able to control the ball into the greens and to have a chance for some birdies now and then. You want to avoid disaster. It’s that kind of golf course. It’s going to be very hard.”

UNLV is making its third consecutive NCAA appearance and 23rd overall. The Rebels tied for 19th last season and tied for fifth the year before.

Stroke play is Friday through Monday, which determines the top eight teams for match play on Tuesday and Wednesday.

UNLV qualified by finishing fifth in the Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, regional on May 15. The Rebels shot 8 under par for the tournament, six strokes behind fourth-place California and 17 behind winner Illinois.

But senior Harry Hall, who shot 2 under in regionals to tie for 14th, said the gap is actually much smaller, and the Rebels were than capable of closing it in Arkansas.

“I think if we can get 15 shots better between all of us, which is only half a shot a round, then that would be fantastic,” Hall said. “I think we can do it. Just a few little tweaks here and there.”

Kim, who finished eighth at 7 under, helped put the Rebels into the NCAAs.

“Justin Kim became a big factor for us coming down the line,” Knight said. “What he did down at Myrtle Beach was really exciting. The shots he hit were some unbelievable ones, over 70-foot trees, and he made the putts coming down the line. We were kind of on the outside looking in, and all of the sudden, we were in.”

Kim said his strong play at the regional should help him going into this tournament.

“Although it is different courses and different conditions, the fact that we made it out of such a tough regional site, it’s more of a confidence booster,” Kim said. “I think momentum carrying off Myrtle Beach is going to propel us to another spot for sure.”

Contact Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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