Standing on the side of the first tee at the Houston Oaks Golf Course in Hockley, Texas, West Virginia golf head coach Sean Covich reminded his young team that this was a learning experience to build off for the future.
In a year ravaged by the pandemic, Big 12 Conference golf has continued on, albeit with a condensed schedule for each program. One that saw the Mountaineers, a squad who has experienced a major shakeup in the last month, open their season with two of the biggest tournaments of the year.
“We’re grateful to even be playing college golf this year,” Covich said. “I told the guys, whatever happens to us, it’s to our advantage.”
In September, the team received devastating news that senior captain Etienne Papineau was going to miss his final season with an ACL injury that required surgery. Just a few weeks out from the opening round of the tournament, it was up to the three upperclassmen to fill that role.
"[Redshirt junior golfer] Mark [Goetz] for sure, he’s really stepped into that role,” Covich said. “Pap [Papineau] was definitely our leader, he was for the last two or three years. He’s still going to play a large role, being around the guys at practice, but it’s just not the same without him competing.”
Despite the injury to Papineau, three freshmen — Oliver Menard, Jackson Davenport and Will Stakel — joined the West Virginia program.
“This season, we basically are starting over,” Covich said. “Half of our roster are true freshmen.”
The WVU freshmen usually play the first tournaments of their young collegiate careers in the Mountaineers’ typical yearly season opener at VCU. In 2020, the plans changed. The young freshmen had to play their first tournaments against some of the best in the entire country, among the likes of Oklahoma State, Baylor, Oklahoma and TCU.
“They definitely got thrown into the deep end,” Covich said of the freshmen. “I am really encouraged and impressed with just their raw talent, they definitely have the talent and the skills to play and be successful at this level.”
With this early tournament experience, Covich knows there is still a lot to learn for his young golfers.
“There’s so many things that they will have to learn,” said Covich. “From preparation every day to how to manage their attitude, expectations and their game.”
In Covich’s eyes, this squad is only getting started. Without Papineau, that means the current team of Goetz, Logan Perkins, Kurtis Grant, Menard, Davenport and Stakel will all return next season and for years ahead. For the upperclassmen, they all received another year of eligibility last spring.
“In 365 days, from right now, we will be a much better team,” Covich said.
As for the current fall season, it is no secret that the Mountaineers struggled in the first two tournaments. Last weekend, at the aforementioned Big 12 match play tournament and the weekend prior, at the Colonial Collegiate College Invitational, WVU finished last at ninth and 10th, respectively.
“I told the guys, we were playing a tough tournament in tough conditions, at a course we had never played before,”Covich said. “We were disappointed for sure, but we have to use this disappointment to get better for our home tournament and for the future.”
WVU will close out the fall season with its home event, the annual Mountaineer Health Plan Invitational at Pete Dye Golf Club. This tournament is where the Mountaineers have found recent success, including a win last year where they shot even-par as a team.
“Just to be even able to host our own tournament is huge,” Covich said. “Whether there is one other team, or ten other teams, we are just excited to be playing at home.”
The tournament will take place from Oct. 19-20 and will feature 10 teams from various conferences. The first tee time is set for 9 a.m.