December 9, 2008–With proper credit to UNLV Head Basketball coach, and Las Vegas golfer himself, Lon Kruger, the headline to this article steals the catch phrase from his Runnin' Rebel hoops team: "The Rebelution has begun." But the same could be said about the PGA Tour and LPGA Tour. The PGA Tour and LPGA Tour qualifying events are done and three more former UNLV Rebels earned exempt status on the world's biggest tours. Chris Riley (pictured) and James Oh earned full PGA Tour status, while Sunny Oh earned partial LPGA Tour status. Las Vegas' Charlotte Mayorkas earned full status. Read on for Riley's story and the results of other Las Vegas pros.
Riley, who is a past champion on the PGA Tour and Nationwide Tour and a member of the 2004 Ryder Cup team, said all week during the Q School experience that he had never felt such intense pressure. Riley recorded a 19-under par total during the six rounds of the event to finish right on the number and among the 28 players who earned exempt status for the 2009 PGA Tour season. Riley made a dazzling par save from a greenside bunker during the final round on his 18th hole to closeout a 3-under par 69 on the Nicklaus course at PGA West. "This was the most pressure-packed day ever,” Riley told San Diego Union-Tribune writer Tod Leonard following the round. “Even in the majors I've played in, the nerves go away after the first few holes. They never went away today."
The result ends a long journey for Riley, the 2002 Reno-Tahoe champion, who earned a reputation as one of the best players on the PGA Tour from about 2000-04. But he endured a slump that continued for several years, save for a few top 10 PGA Tour finishes and a win on the Nationwide Tour in 2007. Riley, who never sees a putt he doesn't think he can make, said after Q School that earning back full-time status is huge but there is plenty of work left to do. “This is just a steppingstone to get back,” Riley, whi finished tied for 18th, said. “It's hard when you've been in my position and you're calling tournaments asking for spots. You've got to suck up your pride.”
Oh, who came to UNLV as the top-ranked junior golfer, played for UNLV during the 2000-01 season and recorded four top 10 finishes during his brief career. He then turned pro and had earned $116,027 on the Nationwide Tour where he played from 2003-06. He won the 2003 Mark Christopher Charity Classic on that tour as well. Oh was labeled a can't-miss kid coming out of the junior ranks when he was a two-time American Junior Golf Association first-team All-American and two-time medalist at the Rolex Tournament of Champions. He also won the 1998 U.S. Junior Championship and was a quarterfinalist at the 1999 U.S. Amateur, Junior Amateur and Public Links. James is probably one of the most accomplished players I've ever been around at this point in his life," UNLV Head Coach Knight said about Oh while he was at UNLV. "He has a real knack for playing each shot no matter what kind of round it is. He gets more out of every shot than anybody I've ever seen and really enjoys that challenge." Oh finished tied for 7th at Q School.
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Riley and Oh now join a long list of former UNLV Rebel golfers who will be exempt on the 2009 PGA Tour. The other Rebels include PGA Tour champions Adam Scott, Chad Campbell, and Charley Hoffman, exempt player Ryan Moore, and new qualifier Bill Lunde, who earned his status with a 4th-place finish on the 2008 Nationwide Tour money list. Other golfers with ties to Las Vegas that will compete on the PGA Tour include residents Alex Cejka, Nick Watney, Dean Wilson, and Scott Piercy. Robert Gamez finished tied for 87th at Q School but is a former PGA Tour champ will play events on both the Nationwide and PGA Tour as will Craig Barlow. Barlow, injured for much of the 2008 season, will compete regularly on the Nationwide Tour along with Las Vegas residents Jeff Gallagher and John Riegger, who made final-round rallies to finish in a tie for 40th to earn full exempt status. Rich Barcelo (t53) and another Rebel, Seung-Su Han (t70), also earned status while Bob May (t107), and former Rebel Ted Oh (130) earned conditional status.
Sunny Oh is one of the best Lady Rebel golfers in the history of the relatively new program, and to our knowledge, becomes the first former Lady Rebel to earn some status on the LPGA Tour. While Oh finished out of the Top 20 at the LPGA Tour Q School, her 34th-place finish was good enough to earn partial status for 2009. She was listed among the official 2009 rookie class in an LPGA Tour press release. Earlier this season, Oh won the Bright House Networks Open on the LPGA Tour's Duramed Futures Tour, becoming the first Rebel to win on the that tour. She finished 19th on the Duramed Futures Tour money list in 2008. "She was one of the most talented players I have had the pleasure of coaching here at UNLV," said UNLV Head Coach Missy Ringler. Oh will be a Category 20 member of the LPGA Tour and will get in tournaments only after those in categories above her (exempt players and others plus finishers before her at Q School) have elected to not play in particular tournaments. Oh will be around the 150th or so player into the tournament fields that typically are made up of 144 players.
Mayorkas has lived in Las Vegas for several years and plays and practices at Las Vegas golf course TPC Las Vegas. She was a five-time winner during an All-American career at UCLA and then tore up the Duramed Futures Tour in 2006, earning two wins and a second-place finish on the money list to earn full status for the 2007 LPGA Tour season. Mayorkas finished 10th at Q School. She earned $107,556 to finish 97th on the 2007 LPGA Tour money list. Mayorkas was the 2004 PAC 10 Player of the Year as a senior. Other Las Vegas golfers attempting to gain status on the LPGA Tour were former Rebels Elena Kurokawa and Hwanhee Lee. Both golfers missed the cut following the fourth round.