Updated June 15, 2021 - 6:59 pm
Dwaine Knight said he knew almost from the minute Garrick Higgo stepped off the airplane on his UNLV visit that the South African was in love with the sport.
“He was really tired … from flying from that far,” the Rebels’ longtime golf coach recalled. “Anyway, he wanted to play a few holes.”
It takes almost 21 hours to get from Johannesburg to Las Vegas. If the in-flight movie was “Tin Cup,” you could watch it 10 times.
Yet the first thing Higgo wanted to do after the captain finally turned off the fasten seat belt sign was play golf.
“He changed his shirt, put on some shorts and we took him out to Southern Highlands right off the plane,” Knight said. “He played 11 holes and he was 7 under. My eyes were pretty wide, you know? That was my introduction to him.”
The rest of the golf world was introduced to the former Rebel on Sunday. He won the Palmetto Championship despite trailing before leader Chesson Hadley played the closing holes like a duffer at the local muni.
The victory in his first regular-season PGA Tour event — Higgo finished in a tie for 64th place at the PGA Championship in which Phil Mickelson shocked the world in May — earned him $1.314 million, PGA Tour status through 2023 and a fairway full of confidence heading into this week’s U.S. Open at Torrey Pines near San Diego.
Higgo’s victory was the 31st on the PGA Tour by a former UNLV golfer, which Knight seemed genuinely surprised to learn.
“He was a highly prized recruit. We’ve had a few over the years,” Knight said in what was the leader in the clubhouse for understatement of the week.
Higgo’s from-out-of-nowhere victory rekindled memories of another of Knight’s prized recruits from South Africa who could hit a dimpled ball a long, straight distance.
As a UNLV sophomore in 1991, Warren Schutte became the first foreign-born player to win the NCAA individual golf championship when he beat David Duval, the 2001 British Open champion but then of Georgia Tech, by three strokes at Poppy Hills in Pebble Beach, California.
But whereas Schutte played four years for the Rebels, Knight said it became apparent by those 11 holes at Southern Highlands after getting off the airplane that Higgo’s UNLV stay would be temporary. He played two seasons, including helping UNLV return to the NCAA championship tournament at Karsten Creek in Oklahoma in 2018, before turning pro.
“I can remember when Warren came, he had a lot of homesickness,” Knight said. “But he got more acclimated (over time). Garrick didn’t have that.”
Knight said Higgo was receiving pressure from those back home who did not see the value in falling back on a college degree if golf didn’t pan out. He was almost gone before he could adjust to the time difference. “His nights were his days, and his days were his nights,” Knight said.
But if you don’t think the Rebels benefited from his overnight stay, a perfunctory Google search on Tuesday turned up “Garrick Higgo UNLV” right off the tee box.
To recruits who haven’t yet gottten off the airplane, that impresses almost as much as shooting 7 under during an 11-hole walkabout at Southern Highlands.
CONGRATULATIONS @garrick_higgo ‼️The first player since 1998 to win their first regular season PGA Tour start. Simply amazing the run this young STUD is on 🔥🎰🚀 #REBELS This is the 31st Win on the @PGATOUR by a UNLV Rebel Golf alum. Let’s keep it going 😤 pic.twitter.com/lKIUYAQ4m8
— UNLV Men's Golf (@UNLVGolf) June 13, 2021
Garrick Higo file
Born: May 12, 1999, Johannesburg, South Africa (age 22)
Turned pro: 2019
Professional wins: 7
PGA wins: 1 (2021 Palmetto Championship)