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Thursday, February 27, 2014

UNLV Golf Rocks!

Rebel Golfdom

Both Rebel golf teams have big dreams, big-time players and unique ways of getting things done

Story by Brian Hurlburt

 

Keep Smilin'

She’s smiling. And she’s laughing. And she’s giggling. And so on and so on.

It became very clear, very quickly to this writer that the 2014 UNLV Women’s Golf team likes to have fun and is a close-knit bunch. The first clue came from Head Coach Amy Bush who said the theme of the article about her team should be that they love to have fun, joke around and be around each other. The second clue was witnessing the group—including Bush and her assistant Erin Andrews—interacting with each other during a photo shoot at DragonRidge Country Club.

There was more fun and joking taking place on the putting green of the private club than at a Jerry Seinfeld show at Caesars Palace.

“I think you can tell that this team is all about having fun, liking each other and solving problems,” says Bush, a former president of the Southern Nevada Chapter, Southwest Section, PGA of America. “The closeness of the team is very important for us and translates to better golf. They cheer for each other. What’s fun for us is to see how when one player makes a birdie, the teammate behind them is cheering. But don’t let the fun and games fool you; this team is very competitive and they know when to be serious.”

Team golf is an interesting sport because, for the most part, only five players get to travel to each tournament, and the inter-team competition for the coveted tournament spots is always fierce. Keeping team chemistry positive can be difficult, but Bush believes her players embrace a team-first attitude.

“We talked about everything at the beginning of the year and they know that on any given day any one of them could be playing,” says Bush. “The ones not playing try to help out the ones that are playing. They all know their roles. For example, Kiley (Billew) has been out injured so she assumed the role of cheerleader and is the one that pushes everyone behind the scenes to be the best they can be. They all know what they need to do to be good and the work that it takes.”

The Lady Rebels are led by the diminutive and dynamic Dana Finkelstein, a 5’2” junior who is a proven winner. Shortly after the photo day at DragonRidge, Finkelstein earned her second career victory when she won the Peg Barnard Invitational at Stanford University. She then earned the Mountain West Conference Golfer of the Week award for the fifth time (and counting). Last year Finkelstein helped lead the team to the conference tournament title and was named Mountain West Conference Golfer of the Year. Finkelstein also led the conference with a scoring average of 74.28.

This year Finkelstein has shaved an almost unimaginable three strokes off of her scoring average. “I feel like I have improved every year, and it was great to get my first win and also help the team win our conference last year,” says Finkelstein who was picked to represent the United States in the World University Games in June of this year. “It has been a lot of hard work in the gym and on the golf course. I come to practice early and stay late. I have been very consistent and I hit a lot of fairways and greens. When I make putts I usually go pretty low.”

SIDEBAR

Keep Smilin’
The players reveal a little about themselves and the team.

Kiley Bellew
Freshman

How did you choose UNLV, your hometown school?
“I didn’t know what I was going to do after high school but then I met Erin and Amy and they told me I should play for them so I said okay. Then everybody accepted me and made me feel like a part of the family even though I haven’t been able to play because of foot surgery. My best memory was my first day of practice. All of my new teammates ran up to me and made me feel very welcome.”

Vivian Hsuan Chen
Freshman

What have you learned as a Rebel?
“Our team chemistry is very good and the juniors and seniors always take care of us. I don’t know what I’m doing sometimes so they teach me. One of the biggest things is they tell us that we all need to help each other. On the course they have taught me patience and to have fun.”

Dana Finkelstein
Junior

What are your personal goals?
“One of my goals was to get my first win so that is already taken care of, but I want to repeat as Player of the Year and also become an All-American.”

What does playing at UNLV mean to you?

“I’m loving college right now and wouldn’t trade any of it. I love my teammates and I love UNLV. We are like one big, happy family. We all get along great. We are good friends outside of golf and we all hang out. All of these players will be my friends for the rest of my life and I will keep in touch with them forever.”

Avery French
Freshman

What does playing at UNLV mean to you?
“It’s been a great experience so far. I think I got really lucky on where I chose to go to school. Everyone is so nice and we are like a big family. It’s a great environment to be around.  I just knew in talking with Erin and Amy, and meeting some of the players that it would be perfect for me.”

Demi Mak
Senior

What has to be a part of the Lady Rebels Golf story?
“We care for each other a lot and I really like the team chemistry. If anything happens we call each other and ask what happened so nobody ever feels left out. I definitely would write about the team chemistry because it hasn’t always been this good. We have three new players this year and we are playing at a higher level. And I also believe our minds are at a different level as well.”

How does golf compare to other sports?
“I am very mentally tough on the course because I played other sports growing up. I played ice hockey and also was a boxer. And much like boxing, golf is a game of duration. If you knock somebody out, a boxing match can be over quickly but you have to be prepared to go the distance. In hockey, there is a lot of handling with sticks and a lot of timing is involved so that gives me an advantage.”

Katerina Prorokova
Senior

What is your best memory?
“Every year has been very special. When I was a freshman I had a lot of great teammates including Therese Koelbaek who is now doing well on the Cactus Tour and she was great to me. I also remember swimming with the dolphins and also jumping in the lake when we won the conference tournament. That was amazing.”

Marguerite Swearingen
Junior

What does it mean to be a Rebel?
“The team is amazing and I consider them all my best friends. They are like the sisters I never had. And I love everything about Las Vegas. This is my home away from home.”

What is your best memory?
“When we won our conference tournament last year at Mission Hills we all jumped in the lake just like they do on the LPGA Tour when they win the Kraft Nabisco tournament. I’ll never forget that. It felt pretty real.”

Mayko Chwen Wang
Junior

State of the Rebels
“The overall attitude of the team is to stay focused on what we need to be doing but to balance that out we also love each other as much as possible and we stick together and we will always be together. That’s part of our team spirit. We also love to have fun together.”

What does it mean to be a Rebel?
“I am very proud to play Rebel golf. It is an honor to wear the team gear around campus, and a lot of people look up to us.”

 

Rebel Lessons

Dwaine Knight’s phone was blowing up with texts and calls on April 14, 2013. One of his former Rebels, Adam Scott, was about to win The Masters. By doing so he would become the first former UNLV golfer to ever win a major. The calls and texts kept pouring in with just about everybody close to the program wanting to offer congratulations to the coach.

Then soon after the victory was sealed, the text came. Scott, who played for UNLV during the 1998-99 season, sent Knight a message and a thank you. At the time, The Masters was the 9th PGA Tour win for Scott and the 19th overall by a former Rebel.

“That was a great text to receive from him,” remembers Knight. “One of the things we have done in the past is that if a Rebel played the final three holes in par or better he would get what is called lap credits. But if he played them over par then he would have to run some laps. In other words, if a player was 3-under he would have credits for the next time, but if he was 3-over par on the last three he would have to run three laps. It just puts a little extra emphasis on the final three holes and hopefully helps a player relax and focus. In his text Adam wrote that when he made the birdie on 18 he thought to himself, ‘I got a couple lap credits for that one’. He certainly remembered that lesson to finish like a Rebel. It’s very rewarding to now have a major champion look back and remember what we talked about while he was at UNLV and mention that it made a difference.”

Finishing like a Rebel has been the team’s mantra ever since Knight took over the program in 1987. “I think ‘finish like a rebel’ has been a big part of who we are, and we always say the last three holes belong to the Rebels,” says Knight. “We work on it all of the time. It’s more of a mindset than anything. I hope that the tradition is carried on because that’s what won us the national championship. It was so tight in 1998 in New Mexico and how we played the last three holes made the difference in us beating Clemson that year. But a couple years earlier we made the good run at The Honors Course in Tennessee and with three holes to go we were dead even with Arizona State. They ended up finishing it off and we didn’t, and they won the national championship. Those are the kind of stories that we tell the team at the start of each season to make sure they know that playing well down the stretch can make or break a tournament or even a season.”

The 2013-14 Rebels learning lessons are Redford Bobbitt, James Feutz, David Flynn, Carl Jonson, Kurt Kitayama, Nicholas Maruri, AJ McInerney, Taylor Montgomery, Kenden Slattery, Zane Thomas, and Chris Tuulik. The assistant coach is JC Deacon.

More lessons from Knight

Commitment

“The mindset we want the players to have is to be very committed to what they decide to do. For example, when they get to the 17th at Southern Highlands for the Collegiate Masters there is normally quite a bit of wind into the face. We know that going in so we tell them that it’s important that whatever club they pick to give it 100 percent and not lay off it or doubt whether they have the correct club. They need to have the determination on every shot. We prepare all year long for those situations. We go out and put something on it when we are practicing and see if the guys can finish. It’s something that we talk about all of the time.”

Academics and athletics

“We have tried to build consistency. It’s important to have high goals both in academics and in golf. It’s important for the players self-esteem that they do the very best they can in both areas. At some point we’ve had guys that haven’t given their all in the class room and missed some big trips on the road. We want them to realize that school is important and know that they are just one injury away from never playing golf again. We want them to value how important an education is and to understand that some people would give anything to have the opportunity that they do. We don’t want them to take anything for granted.”

Lessons learned
Three players on the men’s team share their most meaningful Rebel lessons

Carl Jonson
Junior

“There are so many little lessons that contribute to the whole deal. The big thing is that the coaches want us to grow up as a person and they expect a lot out of us. They expect us to be mature. There’s just so much that is expected like wearing a coat and tie when we are traveling to keeping our hair trimmed above the ears to always wearing pants whenever we go to a course to practice. All of that teaches us how to be a professional on and off the golf course. Coach Knight is also very honest with us and won’t sugarcoat anything. He will give it to us straight what we need to do to be successful and will let us know when we aren’t living up to expectations.”

AJ McInerney
Sophomore

“There are two things that stand out about the lessons I have learned playing for the Rebels. The first is to always ‘finish like a Rebel’. The second is to embrace the tough situations. It’s a mindset and coach tells us we should enjoy every moment even when things aren’t going very well. He makes sure we know that everything won’t be perfect all of the time but that we need to make the most out of every situation. He talks a lot about how giving your all is a state of mind.”

Taylor Montgomery
Freshman

“Coach Knight spends a lot of time focusing on our breathing and how to remain calm during a round. Our morning workouts with Keith Kleven help with that but coach also wants us to sometimes think about our breathing with every step we take up the fairway. We inhale and exhale in a certain way and it helps to keep us focused and relaxed.”

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