UNLV men’s golf squad Knight’s youngest in years

The faces change, but the goal of the UNLV men’s golf program doesn’t.

Simply put, it’s all or nothing. Win the national championship.

The Rebels last year tied for 21st at the NCAA Championships. With the loss of seniors Eddie Olson and Brett Kanda, it might be tough for UNLV to return to the NCAAs, much less contend for the title.

“It’s a team that’s going to have to grow,” said coach Dwaine Knight, whose squad opens the season Sunday at Colorado Springs in the 54-hole Gene Miranda Falcon Invitational. “It’s our youngest team in years, but our returning guys have played at nationals and they understand what it takes to get there.”

Juniors Derek Ernst and Colby Smith are the Rebels’ top returnees. Ernst was a third-team All-American and the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year in 2010, when he won two tournaments. Smith found consistency in his game last year, particularly off the tee, where he did a better job of keeping the ball in the fairway.

Sophomore Kevin Penner figures to improve now that he’ll be playing in the No. 3 spot on a regular basis after being the No. 5 man as a freshman.

“We’ve got a good core to build from,” Knight said. “Kevin’s game has come a long way since he got here, and if Derek competes like he did last year and Colby continues to be more consistent, we should be able to compete.”

Competing for the final two spots will be senior Jeremiah Wooding; sophomore Arthur Kim, a transfer from Purdue; freshmen Blake Biddle of St. Charles, Ill., and Nicholas Maruri of Mexico City; and redshirt freshmen Max Kraemer and Karsten Majors.

Biddle and Wooding will fill out the starting five for the Falcon Invitational, which will be contested over 36 holes Sunday and 18 Monday.

“It’s a young bunch,” Knight said. “But the neat thing is you get to coach a lot.”

The Rebels will be tested early in the Ping/Golfweek Invitational at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., from Sept. 26 to 28.

The 54-hole event serves as a preview for the 2011 NCAA Tournament there from May 31 to June 5.

“We’ll find out a lot about ourselves,” Knight said. “Karsten Creek is a very tough course, but it will be a huge benefit for our guys to play it in the fall so we’ll know what to expect come June.”

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

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