Kanda taking the next step

Before the sun is all the way up, Brett Kanda is hard at work on the golf course. By the time the blazing mid-morning desert heat begins to scorch Las Vegas, he's already off the links and headed to the gym, a daily regimen that has become the norm after graduating from UNLV in the spring.

Since starring at Flintridge Prep and then going on to a standout four-year career at UNLV, golf has been at the forefront of Kanda's life as a student-athlete.

Now, it's his job.

"College golf's tough because it's an individual sport, obviously, but you're still playing for your team," Kanda says. "Instead of going right out, you're gonna take a little bit safer route because you know you have to play for your team.

"Now, you have to shoot so low, the mind frame changes a little bit. In college there wasn't a cut. There are cuts now and if you don't make the cut, you're not getting a paycheck."

Kanda more than proved himself as a Division I college player, recording a scoring average of 73.46 in 37 rounds of competition his senior year, turning in four top-20 finishes, including two top-10s and a top-five.

His consistent play, as well as his leadership as a team captain, helped the Rebels win four tournaments during the regular season, ascend to a No. 12 national ranking and qualify for the NCAA Division I Men's Golf Championship for the first time in four years.

"I think he has a really terrific, fundamentally sound swing and I think his overall competitiveness is what it takes to go to the next level," UNLV men's golf Coach Dwaine Knight says. "I always felt he had a tour type of game and swing."

But upon completing his senior year and college career, there was no draft-day signing for Kanda. No media fanfare or training camp ushered him from the amateur ranks to the next level.

And, in an arduous and competitive individual sport where profitability is tied directly to your performance event by event, the difficult process of achieving the status of a professional golfer basically began from Square One this summer.

It didn't stay there long, however.

Kanda has already competed in several pro tournaments over the last couple months, including a Golden State Golf Tour event and the Sierra Nevada Open July 6-8 in Reno, and he's set to play in the Long Beach Open beginning on Thursday.

He also tried his hand at a Nationwide Monday qualifier on June 14, the Fort Smith Classic in Fort Smith, Ark., which is more of a precursor to his immediate plans.

The Nationwide Tour is a developmental circuit of 72-hole stroke play events, with a cut made after 36 holes, where golfers are usually vying to play well enough to gain status on the PGA Tour.

There are several ways to achieve this, including finishing in the top-25 on the Nationwide Tour money list at year's end, or winning three Nationwide tournaments in one year, which results in immediate promotion to the PGA Tour for the remainder of the year and for the entire following year.

But, as Kanda's discovered firsthand, the competition is intense in a world where low scores directly correspond to one's livelihood.

"Now that golf is my job, I'm treating it like my job," Kanda says. "The only two responsibilities I have are winning tournaments and going to the gym.

"I feel like it's a lot easier to be focused now, but the three tournaments I've played, it's definitely a grind out there. Everyone's playing for their living and you've gotta treat it that way and put in the time and work really hard."

Kanda will continue to play in Nationwide Monday qualifiers through the end of the summer in preparation for qualifying school, commonly referred to as "Q" School, which is the sturdiest stepping stone to Nationwide Tour status and ultimately a PGA Tour card.

Beginning with prequalification on Sept. 14, the 2010 "Q" School has three progressive stages, culminating in the Final Stage Dec. 1-6 at Orange County Nat'l Golf Center and Lodge. Those who advance to the Final Stage are rewarded with guaranteed conditional status on the Nationwide Tour and the top 25 players earn a coveted PGA Tour card for the following season. The next 35 receive full Nationwide Tour status.

"I know he's excited about it, he's anxious. This has been a big dream of his," Knight says. "I think he has the game for it, it's just putting it all together. It's a tough game to play professionally, but if that's your dream, it's worth giving it a shot and giving it your all."

Kanda says while he'll certainly be trying to do well enough to get a PGA card this year, he wouldn't mind spending a year on the Nationwide Tour just to further hone his game.

"That's' my goal, to have Nationwide status by next year somehow," Kanda says. "There's lots of ways to do it, but "Q" School is definitely the easiest.

"Getting to the PGA Tour is the ultimate goal and, to be perfectly honest, my goal for the next year is to be on the Nationwide Tour because I think getting thrown into the PGA Tour right away is a tough transition. I feel like if I could get my game ready on the Nationwide Tour, it would be more beneficial in the long run."

Kanda's former coach at Flintridge Prep, Bob Loughrie, cites two reasons besides his innate talent for Kanda's success as a student-athlete.

The first is the support of his family. Referred to as "Brett's Brigade" by Loughrie, a rooting gallery of his parents, grandparents and extended family has been known to follow him to tournaments since his days as an All-Area standout with the Flintridge Prep Rebels.

"[His family] is really an uncommon group," Loughrie says. "It's an extended family. …It's really a strong cheering section and that's helped him too. He's got a lot of support from his family."

Loughrie was also impressed by the 2005 graduate's work ethic and devotion to the tedious repetition necessary to master the fundamentals of golf.

"When I first met Brett, he was just a little fellow, a seventh grader, and he was good then," Loughrie says. "He's been a good player for a really long time. Certainly, he's improved, but he was really good when he was young. He always had a lot of confidence.

"The other thing I remember about him is that he loved to practice. You have to pay those dues and he was happy to do it. He loved to hit balls and to practice."

That dedication followed Kanda to UNLV, where he not only leaves with the 17th-best stroke average in program history, but was also a four-time Academic All-Mountain West Conference team selection and a two-time Cleveland Golf/Srixon All-America Scholar his junior and senior years.

"He was a key person, obviously, for our program because he was our captain this last year," Knight says. "He's a terrific student, he was just outstanding in school, and to take on a leadership role and be part of the team that got us back to the National Championships … he was quite a big factor in that."

The Rebels finished tied for 21st in Division I on June 3 at The Honors Course in Ooltewah, Tenn., where Kanda tied for 103rd, and the team finished third at the conference championships at the Catalina Course at OMNI Tucson National Golf Club on May 8, where Kanda was tied for 39th.

"We had a real good season," Kanda says. "I was really disappointed to not get a conference championship while I was here because I thought we were definitely the best team in our conference and had the best chance to win that tournament, but it didn't happen.

"Nationals was really fun, that was my first National Championships. The golf course we played was incredible. That was a fun way to end my career for sure."

Kanda and the Rebels were at their best early in the spring season and Loughrie was on hand to watch his former pupil at the Rebels' host tournament, the Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters, which was played at Southern Highlands Golf Club March 12-14.

UNLV rallied on the final day to share the title with UCLA and Kanda was on his game, as well, finishing 15th at three-over-par.

"I only got to see him play one day, but he was really, really good," Loughrie said. "He had that short game so well honed. Southern Highlands is a killer course and he had a 73 the day I saw him. It was because his short game was so good.

"He has really nice touch. He can hit the ball a long way, like all the rest of those guys, but I think the thing that's going to carry him a long way in the pro ranks is his short game and his confidence."

Knight says Kanda's college scores shouldn't be seen as a high-water mark, but rather as a starting point for what he could accomplish as a pro.

Without having to balance his time between full-time academics or adjust his approach on the course as part of a team, Kanda can finally explore his full potential as a golfer.

"Now that he can just really concentrate on playing the game and not worry about also succeeding in school, I think he can really see where he can go," Knight says. "I think he's had a plan all along. He's had good people around him, he's got sponsors, he worked through that this last year in school and kind of set himself up for when it was time to get out there."

That time is now.

"It would mean the world to me," Kanda says of the opportunity to have a career in golf. "That's what I've always dreamed of. When I go put in those five or six hours at the golf course, I'm not doing it for no reason."

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