By UNLV’s standards, four years is a long time to have been away from the NCAA Golf Championships.
The Rebels last played in the nationals in 2006. But thanks to consistent and gritty play at the San Diego Regional two weeks ago, the Rebels will be in the 30-team field when play begins Tuesday at The Honors Course at Chattanooga, Tenn.
"We really wanted it for so long," said senior Eddie Olson, finally getting a chance to play for a national title. "We weren’t going to let anything deter us."
The Rebels tied for third place at Carlton Oaks Golf Club to earn the program’s 17th appearance at the nationals. They did so without head coach Dwaine Knight, who was attending a family funeral in Texas and missed his first NCAA event in 33 years of coaching. Now, he gets to coach his team one more time this season and attempt to win the school’s second national title (UNLV won in 1998).
"That was really special for me to see them compete the way they did at the regional," Knight said. "We’re a good ball-striking team and good ball-striking teams do well there."
This year there will be 54 holes of stroke play beginning Tuesday with the top eight teams advancing to match play. The final two teams go head-to-head Sunday for the championship.
"It makes things more exciting," Knight said of the format change, now in its second year.
Knight said his lineup will remain the same with sophomores Derek Ernst and Colby Smith joining Olson and fellow senior Brett Kanda along with freshman Kevin Penner.
"Our goal is always to win the national championship," he said. "So the first thing we had to do was get to nationals. Now that we’re there, we want to make it to match play. If we’re in the final eight, anything can happen."
Knight said Penner’s recent play over the past month was good enough not to go back to junior Jeremiah Wooding, who had played well earlier in the season.
The key to success will be keeping the ball in the fairway. Knight said if the course setup is similar to when the Rebels played it in 1996, the last place a player wants to be is in the rough.
"It was like a U.S. Open course," Knight said. "In some places, the rough was knee-high.
"We’ve been a good putting team all year I think if we can get through the medal play and not have that one bad hole that can knock you out of the national championship, we have a good chance to make a run."
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913.