Sean Covich will be the first person to say that there are more important things going on than West Virginia’s golf season — but that doesn’t much take away the sting of disappointment in its cancellation.
The Mountaineers were off to another strong start to the spring both at the team and individual levels, picking up respective 6th and 7th place finishes at the Florida Gators Invitational and Seminole Intercollegiate meet. Junior Logan Perkins shot the all-time low round for WVU with a 62 at Mark Bostick Golf Course in at the Gators Invitational, finishing second among all golfers for the event.
“Guys were playing with some good momentum, some good confidence, and unfortunately the season came to an end,” said Sean Covich, WVU’s head golf coach. “But I’ve been telling everbody, there’s bigger things in the world than our golf season, but when you do invest a lot of time and effort into it, it’s kind of disheartening to see it taken away. But hey, whatever keeps everybody safe, I’m all for it.”
The disappointment was compounded by the fact he received the news on March 13, Covich’s 40th birthday. Luckily (or, at least, somewhat luckily), he says, it didn’t come as a surprise.
“I think our guys had a pulse on the whole situation,” he said. “They kind of knew, looking at March Madness and all those things that were being canceled, that it was probably going to happen.”
The sudden stoppage has allowed Covich to do a little reflection on his team’s short history since their reinstatement in 2015. The Mountaineers made their first NCAA Regional last season and were on track for another, while cracking the national top 25 this season and sticking it out to stay in the top 50, finishing at No. 43.
“It’s just fun going to tournaments where you’ve got all these traditional powers and southern schools that have great facilities and weather, and here comes West Virginia and they don’t know anything about us. And we’ve been beating them,” Covich explained. “To be in the final pairing with Vanderbilt and Florida at the Gator Invitational, I mean, there’s really no reason we should be there.”
For much of that, he attributes his luck in recruiting and the guys he has been able to bring aboard.
“It’s just been a fun ride, but it’s really about the quality of the guys that we have,” he said. “You can get lucky and you can get unlucky in recruiting, and I’ve been able to be very lucky and we’ve had guys that handle their business at school, they handle working out and practicing the right way, and they’re also a lot of fun to be around.”
With the recent ruling by the NCAA on eligibility relief, Covich has the opportunity to keep his seniors around for another season. While most teams across the country fill out all 10 of their roster spots, the Mountaineers, with only eight players on the roster, have the luxury of absorbing some extra players without worrying about a logjam down the road.
They have their own unique question marks, however. Since both of WVU’s seniors, Etienne Papineau and Philipp Matlari, hail from Quebec and Germany respectively, bringing them back might not be as simple as it is for Mountaineers in other sports.
“I would love to have them back,” Covich said. “Now whether it works out or not, I don’t know, we’re still working through that….They’ve sort of made life plans based on they’re going to graduate in May, try to turn professional, Philipp lives in Germany, Etienne lives in Montreal, so it’s just not as easy as it sounds.”
Another advantage that Covich’s team has is the sport of golf itself, which is somewhat of a social distancing technique. Many states, like West Virginia, have deemed golf courses essential businesses, so it isn’t difficult to hit the links and keep swinging. Sophomore Kurtis Grant is so fortunate, having moved with his family to Pinehurst, North Carolina, a golf hub itself which allows him to play every day.
But for players like Papineau in Montreal, where most everything is closed, they have to get a little creative to stay in competitive shape. The senior is in contact with Covich, and periodically sends him clips of himself hitting balls into a net in his yard.
“If you are able to play, it’s good to stay sharp but I think it’s more of a mental relief for the guys just to go out and play something for three or four hours and just kind of get away and turn the cell phone off, don’t check the news.” Covich said. “So we are lucky to have a sport that’s played outdoors and you can play by yourself, and it’s still available to some of the guys.”