UNLV golfers host star-studded event

UNLV men’s golf coach Dwaine Knight is convinced his team is talented enough to repeat as champion of its annual spring tournament.

The trouble is, Knight can’t predict which Rebels team will show up today for the start of the ultra-competitive Southern Highlands Collegiate Championship.

If it’s the Rebels who competed so well while finishing fourth in the Arizona Intercollegiate in early February, Knight likes their chances. If it’s the team that unraveled in the John Burns Intercollegiate on Feb. 23 in Hawaii and placed 12th out of 17 teams, forget it.

“We started out playing well in Tucson. We had the lead at one point in the final round,” Knight said. “But we played poorly in Hawaii, and that was disappointing. We had some health issues, but you have to overcome those, and we didn’t.”

UNLV hopes for a fresh start today at Southern Highlands Golf Club, but the 15-team, 54-hole tournament is loaded. Led by No. 1-ranked Georgia, the field includes the top four teams in the Golfweek/Sagarin poll, six of the top 10 and 11 of the top 25. UNLV is 21st.

“It’s the cream of the crop. We’ll have to be at our best to have a chance,” Knight said. “But this field is always strong, and we’ve won our share over the years. You have to play well to win this tournament.”

Knight concedes that his team will have a home-course advantage.

“Our advantage is we know where to put the ball in the right spot on the greens,” he said. “That’s going to be the key for us. Can we put the ball in the spot we need to?”

Knight hopes the steady play of junior Eddie Olson (team-leading 70.6 stroke average) and the progress of freshman Derek Ernst (71.0) will continue this weekend.

“Eddie has had a solid year, and Derek has played well as a freshman,” Knight said. “(Derek) had a tough time in Hawaii, but he had been competing well prior to that.”

Ernst struggled at the John Burns, finishing tied for 53rd at 3-over-par 219.

Brett Kanda, Ji Moon and Colby Smith round out UNLV’s tournament lineup. Johnny Pinjuv and Jerimiah Wooding will compete as individuals.

The event is co-sponsored by the Las Vegas Founders, and admission is free.

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.

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