UNLV golfer Shintaro Ban enjoys banner senior season

Shintaro Ban is putting together one of the best senior years in the history of the UNLV men’s golf program, and it’s coming as somewhat of a surprise even to him.

Ban has won three individual titles, finished in the top 10 seven times and in the top five five times. He tied for low medalist at the Arizona State Thunderbird Invitational last week, his fourth career victory.

The team finished second at Arizona State and has won two tournaments. The Rebels have finished in the top five in six straight tournaments.

Ban credits an improvement in his short game, better course management and observing the determined work ethic of former Rebels John Oda and Kurt Kitayama as reasons for his breakout year.

Because of his stellar play, Ban was named to the U.S. Arnold Palmer Cup team and is the third golfer in program history to be named a semifinalist for the Ben Hogan Award, the highest honor in college golf.

Ryan Moore was nominated in 2003 and 2004 and won the award in 2005. Andres Gonzales was nominated in 2006.

“It’s an honor, but it’s something I never thought I would be on,” Ban said. “In my freshman year, I didn’t travel (to play in tournaments) at all my first semester. To think that in four years this would happen is amazing.

“I never thought I would make the Palmer Cup. I never thought I would be a semifinalist for the Hogan Award. To now be recognized as one of the top guys is pretty humbling.”

Ban said he thinks the Rebels are ready to make a solid run in the postseason, which begins Friday at the Mountain West Championship at Gold Mountain Golf Club in Bremerton, Washington. UNLV has a strong five-player rotation featuring Ban, junior Harry Hall, sophomore Justin Kim, and freshmen Garrick Higo and Jack Trent.

“We have definitely progressed well with the addition of Garrick, and we’ll carry on the momentum to conference, then regionals and then to the finals,” Ban said. “There are some things we need to work on, but more so we need to focus on school and take care of that part of it and then it’s game time.”

Clowning around

The PGA Tour-owned TPC Las Vegas will host its free and public kickoff of the annual PGA Junior League season at 10 a.m. Saturday. A highlight will be a performance by Divot the Clown and a free barbecue.

Divot, dubbed the “world’s greatest golfing clown,” will hit trick shots. There also will be representatives from Drive, Chip and Putt, the Southern Nevada Junior Golf Association, Recruit Look Tour, the Golden Knights and City National Arena, and Cobra/Puma Golf.

Stars on, off course

The Golden Knights have a large legion of fans within the Las Vegas golf industry, from Ryan Moore to Scott Piercy to Natalie Gulbis to area PGA of America professionals and many others. Moore recently wrote on Instagram, “this team is making history in all sorts of ways and it’s so fun to watch. Playoffs baby!”

The golf notebook appears Wednesdays. Freelance writer Brian Hurlburt is a two-time author who has covered golf in Las Vegas for more than two decades. He can be reached at bhurlburt5@gmail.com or @LVGolfInsider.

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