March 5, 2008–According to Golfweek Magazine collegiate golf guru Lance Ringler, this week's "Masters of College Golf" could be the scene of a showdown of last year's NCAA Champion–USC's Jamie Lovemark–and this year's baddest player on the block, true freshman Rickie Fowler (pictured) from Oklahoma State. Both are scheduled to tee it up March 7-9 at UNLV's home track, the private Las Vegas golf course Southern Highlands for the Southern Highlands Collegiate. On paper, Fowler is ranked number one by Golfweek, while Lovemark is ranked sixth, but is considered by most to be one of the best, if not THE best, player in the college game. Ringler says that much like last year, Lovemark, a sophomore, is off to a slow start but he came on very strong and won the NCAA title, the Pac 10 title and finished second in the NCAA West Regional. He has yet to win this season, but Fowler won the Fighting Illini Invitational and leads OSU in scoring through February at 69.89. Overall, 14 of the top 30 players and seven of the top 10 teams are in Las Vegas this week. UNLV has won the event six times in the last 13 years
This prestigious event annually lures the country's best to compete in the desert. In fact, from 2004-06, the event was ranked as the No. 1 tournament in all of collegiate golf in strength of schedule by Golfweek. Ringler says that the new .500 rule has affected the overall strength of the field, but that it is still a very strong event. The new rule enacted decrees that in order for teams to qualify for the NCAA playoffs, they must have at least a .500 record head-to-head. As such, coaches have been scheduling a little differently this season to ensure a winning record.
The event is open to the public.
There are several UNLV Rebel players in the field, however, who expect to get in the way of the Lovemark/Fowler duel. The five Rebels playing this week are Seung-Su Han, Eddie Olson, Matt Kinsinger, Brett Kanda and Ji Moon. Han is ranked 45th by Golweek and is on the prestigious Ben Hogan Award watch list. Moon is the next highest-ranked Rebel at 86th.
Ringler also says that UNLV–as a team–is still searching for that one player to step up and be the go-to guy, and that this home event is very important for UNLV and could go a long way in how they finish down the stretch.
"UNLV doesn't have a stud yet," says Ringler, who hosts a daily online television show about college golf at offcampuswithlanceringler.com for Golfweek TV. "They don't have that guy like a Fowler or a Horschel. They have five guys that can get it done, but if one slips they are in trouble.
"… (as a whole) UNLV is a mystery, but they always seem to play well at home at Southern Highlands. This is a chance for them to break through and gain a lot of confidence for the rest of the season. They need to play well in this event or it could be a rough spring."
UNLV is coming off a second-place finish at the Ping Arizona Intercollegiate and a third-place at the John Burns Intercollegiate in Hawaii. Head Coach Dwaine Knight says that senior Jarred Texter is struggling, and took himself out of the Ping event, a "very unselfish move on Jarred's part to put the team first" according to Knight. Freshman Ji Moon finished fifth, good for a career best. Texter will be playing as an individual in this event along with teammates CJ Gatto, Johnny Pinjuv, Jeremiah Wooding and Brandon Loska.
Knight has been pleased that his team is putting itself in position to win, but now is searching for the magic that will get the team back into the winner's circle.
The 2008 version of the Southern Highlands Collegiate Championship will feature seven of the top-10 teams in the country, according to the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, as well as six of the top-10 individuals. Additionally, the event will feature 14 of the nation's top-30 collegiate players and four U.S. Walker Cup team members (2005 – Brian Harman, Georgia, 2007 – Rickie Fowler, Oklahoma State; Billy Horschel, Florida; Jamie Lovemark, USC).
Participating teams include Air Force, Arizona, Arizona State, No. 10 Florida, No. 3 Charlotte, No. 1 Georgia, No. 6 Georgia Tech, Hawaii, Minnesota, No. 4 Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M, No. 5 UCLA, No. 22 UNLV (No. 21 in the coaches' poll) and No. 7 USC.
The 54-hole tournament will be played over three days, with tee times beginning at 8 a.m. each morning. On Thursday, March 6, a practice round will be conducted beginning at 9 a.m.
Last year's tournament was won by UCLA with a 10-over-par score of 874, with medalist honors captured by UCLA's Lucas Lee with a 3-under 213. UNLV finished fourth at last year's event.
The Southern Highlands Collegiate is organized by UNLV and the Las Vegas Founders, a charitable group that has raised more than $15 million for Las Vegas organizations.