March 13, 2009 (Updated March 15) –What Las Vegas golf tournament has the best field of any other? It's easy to answer that it is the PGA Tour's Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, but the other answer might be the Southern Highlands Collegiate Championship, the UNLV Men's Golf home event. The a tournament has the reputation as being the best college event of the season. "It is very important to be the very best not only for the UNLV program but also because we introduce a lot of young golfers to Las Vegas as a quality golf destination," says Garry Goett, owner of Southern Highlands, the host course. After Oklahoma State went seriously low in the second round–18-under par to be exact, to take a 12-stroke lead, but UNLV fought back to win. UNLV fired a 6-under par total in the third, the low team round of the day to defeat Oklahoma State by a single stroke.
The field annually includes a who's who of college golf, and looking back, many of the players now visit a golf course near you when the PGA Tour hits town. Just a few of the PGA Tour players that have played in UNLV's home golf event (some previous tournaments were held at other Las Vegas golf courses) include Camillo Villegas, Phil Mickelson, Charley Hoffman, former Las Vegas PGA Tour winner Troy Matteson, DJ Trahan, Jeff Quinney, Billy Mayfair, David Duval, Stewart Cink, Chris Riley, Ryan Moore and many others. Villegas, who played for the Florida Gators is a two-time champion in Las Vegas as was Phil Mickelson, who played at Arizona State. The tournament has called the prestigious Southern Highlands home since 2002, and both of Villegas' wins came at the Robert Trent Jones, Jr. and Sr. co-design.
UNLV, as a team, has won this Las Vegas golf event seven times, including in 2008, and produced four individual champions. From 2004-06, the tournament was ranked by Golfweek as having the toughest field of teams and players of any college golf event, including the NCAA Finals. This year's field brought to Las Vegas the top four teams in the country–Georgia, USC, Oklahoma State, and Clemson–and six of the top 10 teams (Flordia, 7; and Arizona State, 9) as ranked in the Golfworld coach's poll. UNLV entered the event in 30th, not familiar position for the team that is still searching for an identity after losing Seung-Su Han to the Nationwide Tour last fall.
Plus, eight of the nation's top 10 individual players came to Las Vegas, and nine of the top 10 would have traveled here had USC's Jamie Lovemark, the nation's number two player behind top-ranked teammate Matthew Giles, not been out with a broken hand. The other top 10 players who came to Las Vegas are: Hudson Swafford, 4, Georgia; Trent Leon, 5, Oklahoma State; Kyle Stanley, 6, Clemson; Ricky Fowler, 7, Oklahoma State; Russell Henley, 8, Georgia; Cameron Tringale, 9, Georgia Tech; and Bronson Bragoon, 10, Texas A&M.
In other tournament news: For the first time in the event's history, a special skills challenge, hosted by Southern Highlands and the Las Vegas Founders, was held. Three players from each team in the tournament competed in the challenge, with one each hitting a 100-yard shot, a 200-yard shot, and then hitting a drive for distance. Oklahoma State walked away with the overall title that was based on a points system. Competing for Oklahoma State were Fowler, second in the short iron, Leon, second in the long iron, Kevin Tway, son of former Las Vegas Invitational PGA Tour champion Bob Tway, who hit a drive 306 yards to clinch the victory for OSU. Clemson's David May won the 100-yard shot as the final player when he stuck a wedge to 14 inches. UCLA's Gregor Main won the 200-yard shot with a 6-iron to about six feet. And James Byrne of Arizona State won the long drive with a blast of 325 yards.
The line of the week: Skills competition emcee Jack Sheehan, commenting on the flowing locks of All-American Fowler: "We're lucky he is taking a break from touring with New Kids on the Block to take some swings." Sightings: Taking in some of the action was Las Vegas resident and current PGA Tour star Scott Piercy, who spent some time talking with Fowler on the range before the competition. Also on property was Las Vegas LPGA Tour player Erica Blasberg, getting in some practice before heading out for the LPGA Tour season.