UNLV takes NCAA Men's National Championship Lead
Individual Leader Scottie Scheffler of Texas
Individual Leader Scottie Scheffler of Texas

by Kevin Casey, Golfweek

SUGAR GROVE, Ill. – The UNLV Rebels appeared to have a short day at Rich Harvest Farms, leaving the course before 3 p.m. Central after they finished their second round and took the lead at the NCAA Championship. But they had been at the course by 5 a.m. to warm up for the restart of their first round.

The official wake-up call time for Saturday: 3:45 a.m.

“For our West Coast time, that’s 1:45 a.m.,” said Shintaro Ban, a UNLV junior. “It was brutal.”

But UNLV brushed off the early call time to finish off a strong opening round, moving from an overnight score of 3 under to 5-under 283.

The No. 16 Rebels then made the quick turnaround for Round 2 and fired a 9-under 279 – good enough for the second-best score of Saturday’s morning wave and a one-shot lead in the championship. At 14 under, UNLV leads No. 14 Oklahoma by one shot.

Winners of the 1998 NCAA Championship, UNLV captured the Gene Miranda Falcon Invitational, its opening tournament of 2016-17, and has finished in the top three in nine of 13 tournaments.

The Rebels won the Mountain West Championship and the NCAA West Lafayette Regional.

UNLV was part of the Friday afternoon wave that had to endure roughly three hours of delays due to inclement weather. Playing until dark, the Rebels couldn’t leave the course until well past 8 p.m. Central.

With an early day arriving Saturday, the frustration could’ve mounted. It didn’t.

“I told them (last night) how proud I was of them (in) how they handled all of the delays,” said Dwaine Knight, UNLV’s head coach. “They didn’t let it get to them.”

Not much does, as this group has already been put through the ringer – and it sometimes has nothing to do with golf.

Some 35 years ago, Knight was the head coach at New Mexico and was up at the U.S. Air Force Academy for a tournament. His team was invited to dinner with Air Force cadets. At that gathering, Knight saw something that struck him immediately. At one point during the dinner, the plebes – first-year cadets – had to sing in front of everyone.

“I thought, ‘Wow, that’s kind of a cool tradition,'” Knight said. ” ‘We’ll just do it on a plane.’ ”

He wasn’t kidding. First implemented at New Mexico and then at UNLV when he arrived in the fall of 1987, Knight has made it a tradition that each player of his must sing on an airplane.

Yes, sing on a commercial flight in front of an entire plane of people. Over the intercom. With no background music (it’s a cappella, not karaoke) and no looking at lyrics. So you better have the words down by heart.

“It’s more pressure than playing in an actual college event,” said senior Taylor Montgomery, T-27 at 2 under at Rich Harvest Farms.

And as Knight notes, nobody is exempt. Each player must step up on the return flight from the first time he travels to an event with the team.

Sometimes other factors get in the way of that – asking flight attendants to do this on a red-eye usually elicits a rejection – but all eventually must take part.

The singing talent isn’t high, but that’s not the point.

“It’s a rite of passage to be a full member of the team,” Knight said.

It’s certainly a nerve-racking one. Most players don’t learn about the tradition until they get on campus. John Oda, ranked 24th in the country and tied for sixth at 6 under alongside Ban, fortunately knew of it months before his freshman year.

But it didn’t calm his nerves. The players do get to choose their own songs for this initiation, with Oda going for ‘Do You Want to Build a Snowman?’ from Frozen.

During the final round of his first tournament at UNLV, the 2014 Gene Miranda, Oda hummed the song to himself between shots in order to remember the lyrics.

“I was so nervous, it was all I could think about throughout the whole round,” Oda said.

What were the other NCAA starters’ song choices? Montgomery sang ‘Rockstar’ by Nickelback, Harry Hall (T-48, even par) went for ‘Hey, Soul Sister’ by Train, Ban did ‘When I’m Gone’ from Pitch Perfect and Justin Kim (T-103, 5 over) had ‘You Belong With Me’ by Taylor Swift.

None of them bombed (some past UNLV players have), and few performances over the years are instant classics. But it’s a cool initiation.

Just be careful in your song choice: ‘Happy Birthday’ doesn’t count.

“We cut that song out after Charley Hoffman did that,” Knight said, with a laugh. “You had to sing a real song.”

The tune is strong this week, though, and the Rebels are rolling.

Results: NCAA Division I Championship
1MSBraden ThornberryOlive Branch, MS150066-71-69-71=277
2OKMason OverstreetKingfisher, OK120070-68-72-71=281
T3AustriaMatthias SchwabAustria90067-70-70-75=282
T3TXScottie SchefflerDallas, TX90068-68-68-78=282
T3CTTheo HumphreyGreenwich, CT90071-72-69-70=282

View full results for NCAA Division I Championship

ABOUT THE NCAA Division I Championship

30 teams and 6 individuals not on a qualifying team make up the field for the championship of NCAA Division I women's golf.

After 72 holes of stroke play, the individual champion is crowned, and the low 8 teams advance to match play to determine the team champion.

View Complete Tournament Information

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