In a normal year, West Virginia’s golf team would already be well into the meat of its fall season, participating in a total of half dozen or so events from early September to early November.
At that point, all college golf takes a winter break and then picks back up with an even lengthier spring season that runs from February through the NCAA championships in May.
Obviously COVID-19 has made this a completely abnormal year. Many NCAA conferences have suspended golf for the fall and are not permitting their programs from playing in any events at this time.
The Big 12 and SEC, though, are allowing for limited play.
“We typically schedule a year or two years in advance, but that kind of came crashing down a couple months ago,” said WVU golf coach Sean Covich. “The Big 12 decided we were going to press on with college golf.
“We’ll have three tournaments this fall when normally we have five or six. We’re excited and grateful that we have any season.”
For West Virginia and other Big 12 men’s golf teams, their first opportunity for intercollegiate competition comes Sept. 28-29 at the famed Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas. The field for the Colonial Invitation this year will be comprised of only those 10 teams from the Big 12.
Those Big 12 schools will then move over to The Clubs at Houston Oaks in Hockley, Texas, for the Big 12 Fall Series, which is a match-play event held Oct. 2-4.
The fall portion of WVU’s schedule will conclude when it hosts The Health Plan Mountaineer Invitational at Pete Dye Golf Club in Bridgeport Oct. 19-20.
After that, Covich hopes to comprise a spring slate that is similar to what West Virginia has faced since 2015, when its golf program returned to varsity status after a 30-year hiatus.
“The Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 aren’t playing in the fall, but they are planning to play in the spring,” said Covich. “As long as they return to competition, our (spring) schedule is set. I’ve learned not to plan too far in advance, though, because things can change. But right now, our plan is to go back to many of the same tournaments we’ve played in the past.”
West Virginia is going to be fairly young this year. Its only senior, Etienne Papineau, will not be able to participate after recently undergoing knee surgery.
“We’re thinking of our fifth-year senior who unfortunately is not going to be able to play this year,” Covich said of the native of Quebec, Canada. “Our guys are going to play hard for him, and he’s still going to play a role on our team as a mentor. Hopefully he’ll be riding around in a golf cart with me soon.”
The Mountaineers have seven other golfers on their roster this year.
“We’re going to be young, and we’re not very deep, but that’s OK,” said Covich. “They’re going to get a lot of experience.”
WVU will field a lineup in the two tournaments in Texas that is comprised of a pair of juniors, Mark Goetz and Logan Perkins, a sophomore, Kurtis Grant, and three freshmen, Jackson Davenport, Olivier Menard and Will Stakel.
“We can normally take only five, but the Big 12 is allowing us to take six guys to the stroke play at The Colonial and the match play at Houston Oaks,” explained West Virginia’s coach.
Redshirt freshman Trent Tipton is also a member of the team, but won’t be participating in the tournaments at the Colonial or Houston Oaks.
Covich holds a series of 54-hole preseason intrasquad tournaments to determine who will be playing in the regular season events.
“We had way more time than we normally do to have competition,” said Covich of the lengthy, coronavirus-forced preseason.
“This year with the delay, we had about a month to do our qualifying, which is really good since we have three freshmen on campus, which is a large freshmen class. We were able to take our time and let them practice before our qualifying. I feel like it’s paid off with their development.”
Goetz won two and Davenport won one of WVU’s intrasquad qualifying tournaments. That earned each an automatic spot in the regular season rotation. From there, Covich picked the other participants from what he saw of their play.
West Virginia’s coach is leaning on his veterans to help his younger Mountaineers.
“We have some upperclassmen who are doing a great job helping coach the younger guys,” the coach noted. “I show up at the range and Mark Goetz is helping our freshmen. This is Mark’s fourth year, and he, Logan Perkins and Kurtis Grant are doing a really good coaching.”
Through it all, West Virginia’s golfers have been wary of COVID-19.
“We had been testing once a week, and this week we’ll be testing twice,” said Covich prior to traveling to Texas for the first tournaments of the year. “Fortunately with our sport, we can have a full team practice and not come within 10 yards of one another.
“Once everyone got on campus and we started testing, we made sure to keep our circle just the golf team,” he added. “We’re lucky we’re an outdoor sport, and we’ve always felt it was safe.”
Even the pairings at the tournaments this year will be done with social distancing in mind. For the stroke play events, the teams will only be grouped exclusively with their own team members, thus limiting contact with outsiders.
Before the global pandemic affected so much, including the economy, WVU was fast tracking the design and eventual construction of a $5 million golf training and develop center on the site of the former White Day Golf Course just south of Morgantown.
Because fundraising has become difficult in the current financial climate, the timeline for that practice facility will almost certainly have to be pushed back, though Covich says the plans are still moving forward, just at a slower pace.
“Shane (Lyons, WVU’s director of athletics) and our athletic department are doing everything they can with the restraints we have,” explained West Virginia’s golf coach. “They are trying to solve both issues – do it in a fiscally responsible way but still build a world class facility for our guys to train.
“Has it been delayed? Sure, that’s a given. But we’re still excited about it. Hopefully we’ll have more information later (this fall).”