In Las Vegas everybody loves a winner, which explains why the
UNLV golf team might be taking over from the basketball team as
the top act in town. A perennial doormat that was turned into a
powerhouse by coach Dwaine Knight, who took over in 1988, the
Rebel program could be ready for a celebratory Knightcap. UNLV,
ranked third nationally, has an excellent chance to win its
first NCAA team title, in Chattanooga in June.
Before Knight came to town from New Mexico, UNLV had never
finished better than third in the Big West or come close to
qualifying for the NCAAs. All that has changed. UNLV has won
three of the last four conference titles and made it to the big
dance seven straight years, four times finishing in the top
eight. The Rebels' best finish was fourth in 1992 (though Warren
Schutte won the individual trophy in '91).
With arguably the finest freshman class in the nation to
complement a solid cast of upperclassmen, the 1995-96 Rebels are
Knight's deepest, most exquisitely assembled team. UNLV already
has three wins and two seconds. Last week at the Golf Digest
Collegiate Invitational at The Woodlands, near Houston, the
Rebels came from 11 strokes back on the final day to beat
Oklahoma State, the defending national champion, by three shots.
The Rebels are anchored by seniors Chris Riley, a former
All-America who finished third in the NCAAs as a freshman, and
Chad Campbell. The team is so deep that junior Mike Ruiz, whose
73.83 stroke average was third-lowest on the team last year, and
1992 Junior World champion Gilberto Morales didn't make the trip
But unquestionably the Rebels' brightest lights are freshmen
Ted Oh and Charley Hoffman, who were the nation's most coveted
schoolboy players a year ago. In 1993 Oh, whose Q-rating is
second only to Tiger Woods's in the college ranks, became the
second-youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Open. And last
month Hoffman, the only two-time California high school
champion, made the cut at the PGA Tour's Buick Invitational,
becoming the third amateur to accomplish that feat.
Occasionally Oh and Hoffman carry the team. During the Rebel
Classic in the fall, Hoffman shot a team-low 69 on the final day
to help UNLV rally from a 14-stroke deficit to a playoff win
over Texas Christian. Oh had forced the playoff when he drained
a six-foot putt on the final hole of regulation. "By being ready
to play right away, Charley and Ted give us depth that we
haven't had before," says Rebel assistant coach J.T. Higgins.