UNLV men’s golf coach Dwaine Knight always has been cautiously optimistic when it comes to injuries and his players’ ability to recover in time to compete.
It was no different in the case of John Oda. The freshman injured his right wrist during the Mountain West championship May 1-3 and he missed the NCAA regional May 14-16 in Noblesville, Ind. But the two weeks between the regional and this week’s national championship gave Oda enough time to recover and show Knight he could play.
Oda was able to do that during Saturday’s team qualifying round and will be in the lineup Friday when the Rebels begin play in the NCAA championship at Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Fla.
“It really helps having him back,” Knight said of Oda, the Mountain West Freshman of the Year who has been playing in the No. 3 spot all season and has a stroke average of 71.6 per round. “I wasn’t sure if he’d be ready but when he played well in the team qualifying I knew he was fine. He feels good and he’s ready to go.”
UNLV’s lineup will consist of Oda, seniors Kurt Kitayama, Carl Jonson and Nicholas Maruri and freshman Shintaro Ban. Maruri was sensational in the final round of the regionals, posting a 5-under-par 67 to help UNLV secure third place and a spot in the nationals, which will crown a champion June 3.
Ban maintained his place in the lineup by edging junior AJ McInerney in a four-way playoff during the qualifying.
“Our qualifying rounds get pretty intense,” Knight said. “Shintaro was able to hold on to his spot. It’s tough for AJ. He was playing well. But that’s the hard part. Someone had to be left home.”
The team left for Florida on Monday and Knight said the Rebels will get in a couple of practice rounds before the tournament.
“There’s a lot of adjustments you have to make,” he said. “The grass is Bermuda, something we’re not used to playing on. That’s why we played back East a couple of times earlier in the year so we could acclimate ourselves to it.
“The weather is a factor. It’s more humid (in Florida) and the ball doesn’t carry as well as we’re used to it when we’re home. The course is very long so club selection is going to be important. Plus, we have to adjust to the (Eastern) time and be prepared for weather delays.”
The men’s championship is being played at the same location as the NCAA women’s championship. The women’s event has been hampered by weather delays due to lightning in each of the first four days. But Knight said with three seniors, having to sit around the clubhouse during any kind of weather delay won’t be a problem should play be suspended.
“They’ve been through it,” Knight said. “They can handle it.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.