For the first time since 2019, West Virginia senior golfer Etienne Papineau returned to the links for the Mountaineers with his most recent appearance at the Mountaineer Invitational on Monday and Tuesday in Bridgeport.
Following the cancellation of the second half of his senior year in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Papineau — a resident of Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, Quebec, Canada — was due to hit the Pro Amateur Tour in the fall of 2020.
A common theme for Papineau in his career has been change, whether that be moving to an entirely new country at 18 or the rollercoaster that was his senior season. After the cancellation in early 2020, the NCAA granted all players an extra year of eligibility. Papineau, disappointed that he missed out on the last season swinging clubs for the Mountaineers, knew the decision from that point was easy.
“I think after everything that happened, all I really wanted to do was truly finish out my career for (WVU head) coach (Sean) Covich and everyone who’s helped me get to this point at WVU,” Papineau said.
Papineau elected to return for his fifth season of eligibility and was preparing harder than ever until more adversity got in his way. During practice for the season, Papineau noticed soreness in his left knee. In a doctor's visit that was initially just precautionary, Etienne was informed that he had to have knee surgery, an operation that would potentially sideline him for the entire 2020-21 season.
“I don’t know if I’ll be coming back,” Papineau said in a November 2020 interview. “I’ll rehab as much as I can to hopefully be back in the spring, but that’s entirely up in the air.”
After seven months of rehab, it paid off. Covich announced that Papineau would be returning to the links for WVU for the first time since 2019. He even announced it on Twitter with a hype video and the hashtag “#PapIsBack.” The return of the team's captain for the home tournament in Bridgeport this past week was just the confidence boost the team needed.
The Mountaineers ended up taking home the Mountaineer Health Plan Invitational on Tuesday, their third straight victory at Pete Dye Golf Club, dating back to 2017. Papineau recorded a top-25 finish with rounds of 75, 80 and 73 (12-over-par). A solid round after being out of competition for well over a year.
"We were so excited to get Pap back in the lineup," Covich said in a statement. "He is an amazing teammate. The guys love being around him, and now to have him back in the lineup, it's just awesome to see. We have competed in six seasons since reinstating golf at WVU, and Pap will now have played on five of those six teams.”
Papineau also holds the program record low round, which was in 2019 at the Old Town Club Collegiate. Papineau is one of the most accomplished players in program history, having played in 42 tournaments (second in school history) and 123 rounds (second in school history). Papineau has shot 46 rounds of even par or lower (second most in school history) and has a career scoring average of 73.41 (fourth best in school history).
"A lot of credit goes to Pap and our medical staff for getting him healthy and back to competition," Covich said. "Since his knee surgery in September, Pap has worked hard in rehabilitation just to be able to play golf again. Once he was cleared to start practice, he was determined to make the starting lineup again. I hope that his journey these past few months shows our guys what it means to work hard, not make excuses and find a way to get better every day."
Rehab is never easy for any athlete, but in golf it is extremely difficult to overcome. Swing mechanics are the most important part of the game, and surgery to any part of the body can affect that swing.
“I was most worried about my game off the tee,” said Papineau. “I knew my short and mid-stuff would be OK, but so much of your drive is from the legs, I want to make sure that’s still good.”
Even with a late start to his final season as a Mountaineer, Papineau will finish off his WVU career when he leads the program into the Big 12 Championship in Hutchinson, Kansas, from April 26-28.
After he officially tees off for the final time for West Virginia, Papineau has huge goals set for himself as he continues his golfing career in the immediate future.
“When I was seven or eight, my teacher had us do a vision board, and I said I wanted to be a pro golfer,” Papineau said. “I still am chasing that dream, that vision. I’ll play on the amateur tour, and then I’ll go play on the PGA tour.”