March 16, 2009–The setting sun was hitting UNLV Hall-of-Fame Golf Coach Dwaine Knight's Rolex just perfectly, in essence, making it glow as he stood just feet from where his golfer, Brett Kanda (pictured), had helped clinch another victory. Kanda's up-and-down par from a bunker adjacent to Southern Highlands Golf Club's 18th green, was the clinching stroke in the Rebels' come-from-behind victory over powerhouse Oklahoma State in the Rebels' home event, the Southern Highlands Collegiate Championship. The flickering Rolex carried special meaning, as Knight tells it, because in 1996, his Rebels also overcame a large deficit against Oklahoma State. Besides the trophy, the winning coach was rewarded with a time piece.
"We were playing at the TPC Woodlands in Texas and we were about 14 shots down in the last round," remembered Knight, while enjoying this current win. "Before that final round those guys asked, 'Coach, can we win this?' But OSU always played well down there so I said, 'it's going to be a tough battle, but we have a chance'. Then they said, 'Well, if we win, can we shave your head?' I said 'sure'. So as they were playing the round they were saying 'buzz, buzz, buzz' because they were playing so well. And sure enough, they ended up winning it. And I was given this Rolex watch right here that I am wearing today, and I am so proud to wear it. So then we got back to town and we went to the office and they shaved my head. It was one of the best haircuts I've ever had." Click now for a tournament video recap from GolfweekTV.com Off Campus host and Las Vegas resident Lance Ringler.
Kanda said that Knight had discussed the previous comeback with the team before the final round in an attempt to motivate the current players, but left out the part about the former team being rewarded with the opportunity to shave the coach's head. Kanda, who smiled when told about the shaved head part of the story, was the fourth of five Rebels to finish the final round, and while he didn't know the specifics of the situation, he knew what he did on the final hole would prove very meaningful.
"(Assistant Coach) Andy (Bischel) told me on 17 that we were tied as a team, but then (OSU player) Trent Leon bogeyed and I made par so I knew I was one up at that time," said Kanda, a junior. "I was just focused on him, really, and when he stuck it tight in there on 18 I knew I had to get up and down. But coach has put us in that bunker lots of times so that wasn't the first time I had hit that shot. So I guess practice makes perfect." Leon made birdie on 18 but when OSU freshman Morgan Hoffman made a bogey on 18 in the final group, the Rebels were the champs.
A major turning point in the tournament took place on the par 4, 16th hole that plays from the tee box to a double-fairway that is guarded by a waste area filled with native vegation. Rebel sophomore Ji Moon, playing with Oklahoma State sophomore and 2008 NCAA Player of the Year Rickie Fowler, pulled his tee shot into the waste, forcing him to play a provisional tee ball. Moon, along with players, coaches and rules officials, then looke for his original tee shot for several minutes before Fowler, who helped in the search for the entire time, found it. Fortunately for Moon, the ball was playable and he hit his penalty-free second shot onto the green. From there, he made a very long putt for a huge birdie that added to the Rebels momentum. But no matter the result, Fowler was happy to lend a hand, even if it gave a huge advantage to a rival player and team.
"Well, I mean, I would expect someone else to come over and help me find my ball," said Fowler, who has known Moon since the two played junior golf together. "I dont care if it's a team that is contending with us or is in last place. It's just what you do out here. It's an honest game and you call penaly shots on yourself. It just happened to be me that found the ball but that's just how it goes and then he knocks it up there and makes a 50-footer for birdie. That could have been a momentum changer for them, but I'm not sure the guys behind him knew he made it. I think it jumpstarted him for the final few holes because he made a great putt for par on 17 and then made birdie at 18."
Fowler also said that his team knew it was going to be tough to follow up their 18-under par round from the second day. OSU freshman Morgan Hoffman fired a course-record 62 during that round, but OSU struggled to a 7-over par total in the final round, while Hoffman fired a 4-over par 76. "Yesterday was one of the best rounds I've seen in college golf, but we knew going into today it would be a challenge," said Fowler, who finished in a tie for 29th. "We knew we had a good lead but we still needed to play well and we just couldn't get it done."
The Rebels, ranked 31st in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, shot a final-round-low, 6-under-par 282 on Sunday. The Rebels finished the tournament, which was hosted by UNLV, the Las Vegas Founders and Southern Highlands Golf Club (par 72, 7,510 yards), with a 54-hole total of 9-under 855, one shot better than third-ranked Oklahoma State. No. 1 Georgia was third at 6-over, No. 6 Florida was fourth at 8-over, while No. 2 USC rounded out the top five at 15-over. Georgia Tech's Cameron Tringale won low medalist with a total of 11-under par, besting USC's Matthew Giles by five shots. Giles is the top-ranked player in the nation. OSU's Hoffman was third.
It was UNLV's second team title of the season (they also won the William H. Tucker Invitational in Albuquerque, N.M., in September), was its sixth top-five finish in seven outings this year, and was its eighth Southern Highlands Collegiate Championship title in the last 15 years. The tournament featured six of the top-10 teams in the country and 11 of the top 25.
The Rebels were led by Kanda and Eddie Olson, who finished fourth and fifth, respectively. Kanda was 4-under for the tournament after a final-round 3-under, while Olson finished at 3-under after a final-round 3-under. Colby Smith and Jeremiah Wooding, who was competing as an individual, both tied for ninth at 1-over. Smith finished up play Sunday with a 5-over, while Wooding carded a 4-over during the final round. Derek Ernst finished tied for 14th for UNLV at 3-over, after shooting a final-round 1-over, Ji Moon tied for 19th at 5-over after a final-round of 1-under and Johnny Pinjuv, playing as an individual, finished 80th.