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Smith honing his game at UNLV

Campus Canvass
By: Ray Hacke Journal Sports Writer
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“Grip it and rip it.” “Let the big dog eat.” The mottos espoused by the golf pro Kevin Costner played in the 1996 movie “Tin Cup” could just as well have been Colby Smith’s before he joined the University of Nevada-Las Vegas men’s golf team. The mottos describe the practice of whipping out one’s driver – a.k.a. “the big dog” – and whacking the ball as far as it can go, without much regard for the thinking and strategy required to get the ball to the hole in as few strokes as possible. Trouble was, while Smith’s “big dog” ate, the Colfax High graduate was going hungry – for low rounds, that is. “We call it ‘bomb and gouge,’” Smith said. “It doesn’t really matter what hole you’re on – you just pull out your driver and see where (the ball) ends up. There are days when you do it well and it really works, but those days are few and far between.” Now a sophomore at UNLV, Smith has learned to play a much more controlled game and the results are paying off. As of Monday Smith was second on the 18th-ranked Rebels in fewest total strokes (1,584 in 22 rounds) and fewest strokes per 18-hole round (72.00). At UNLV’s first tournament of the season back in September, Smith posted a three-round score of 208 – including his lowest round of the season, a 64 – to tie for first place. He’s only had one other top-10 finish since then – at the Arizona Intercollegiate in February, where he shot a 207 to tie for seventh – but he’s currently 56th in the national individual rankings and aiming to be in the top 50 by the season’s end. “I’m learning to manage the game, and it’s allowing me to play well on a much more consistent basis,” Smith said. “He’s got incredible strength and terrific touch, a combination that doesn’t always go with someone that strong,” Rebels coach Dwaine Knight said. “He’s learning to control the spin on the ball. He’s getting better at going onto greens. He hits a lot of elevated shots, but he’s starting to bring their trajectory down and control his shots better. He’s controlling his length off the tee a little better. “He’s really starting to grasp some things.” A self-described small-town boy attending school just minutes from the bright lights of the Las Vegas Strip, Smith escapes by pursuing his other favorite sport – rock climbing. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, one of the United States’ top destinations for rock climbers, is nearby, one of the biggest reasons Smith was attracted to UNLV. “Without some sort of park or conservation area like that, I couldn’t have come here,” Smith said. “I’m not used to the big city. I need to get away from all the people.” Getting away has helped Smith maintain focus on the golf course as well as in the classroom. Majoring in entrepreneurship – which Smith describes as “liberal arts with a business emphasis” – he’s got a 3.64 grade-point average and was an All-Mountain West Conference academic selection last season. Smith has yet to choose a career path. He’s not even sure he wants to turn professional after his collegiate golf career is over. “I’m up in the air over whether I want to play golf as a career to earn money,” Smith said. “I enjoy golf, but I’d be making it my job, in a sense. I’ve got a couple of years to decide. “That’s not to say it wouldn’t be cool to make a good living playing a sport,” he added. Knight, however, believes that if Smith wants to turn pro, “he might have a real chance.” “It’s fun to see him making progress in the areas he needs to keep improving in,” the UNLV coach said. “If he keeps working hard to get there, he can get there.”