After a long three months away from the fairways and greens of the golf course, the West Virginia men’s golf team will be back in action this weekend in Florida for the Gators Invitational at the Mark Bostick Golf Course in Gainesville, Florida.
Coming off a fall season in 2020 that felt the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, head coach Sean Covich and the Mountaineers look to further build a program in its sixth full season since starting over in the Big 12 in 2016.
"We are excited to get the spring underway in Florida," Covich said. "The Gators Invitational will once again feature a very strong field, and it's always nice to start the spring in the Sunshine State."
The shortened fall season saw the Mountaineers compete in two different tournaments: the Collegiate Invitational and the Big 12 match play tournament.
WVU saw each aforementioned competition without the services of senior captain Etienne Papineau, who was sidelined in late August with knee surgery. Papineau is currently still recovering from the injury, but there is some hope that he will be back for his final season as a Mountaineer.
“I hope that I can be ready to play at some point this spring,” Papineau said in a December interview. “Maybe not right away, but I really need to focus on my game off the tee. Everything else won’t be as affected, but my drives will be.”
In the absence of Papineau, junior Mark Goetz filled the role of team captain during the two matchups in the fall, despite both tournaments producing disappointing results that included bottom-three finishes.
“Mark [Goetz] has for sure stepped into that role,” Covich said. “It hasn’t been the same without Pap [Papineau].”
The Mountaineers came into last season with their youngest roster ever; including freshmen Oliver Menard, Jackson Davenport and Will Stakel. A goal for Covich was to get his youngest members of the team some valuable experience over the offseason in exhibition competitions over the winter.
"Our guys played well over the break in several amateur tournaments, and I think the freshmen really learned a lot from the Big 12 Conference Fall Series events last semester," Covich said. "The guys really get along and help each other out, more so than any other team we've had at WVU. It's really a lot of fun to be around this group."
Both Davenport and sophomore Trent Tipton qualified for the Gators Invitational and the Seminole Collegiate, completing a starting lineup for the weekend that also consists of Goetz, senior Logan Perkins and junior Kurtis Grant.
To make up for the shortened fall season, the spring season is a loaded schedule; West Virginia will travel to Austin, Texas, from March 15-16 to compete at the George Hannon Intercollegiate at the University of Texas Golf Club.
Then the Mountaineers will compete at the Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate from March 28-30 at the Bulls Bay Golf Club in Charleston, South Carolina.
The squad returns home to host the Mountaineer Invitational at Pete Dye Golf Club in Bridgeport, West Virginia, on April 12-13. The event was originally scheduled for last October but was postponed until the spring due to COVID-19. In 2019, the Mountaineers took home the win in the event with an overall team score of even-par.
To close out the season, the Big 12 Men's Golf Championship will take place from April 26-28 at the Prairie Dunes Golf Club in Hutchinson, Kansas, and the 2021 NCAA Regionals will be hosted at various sites from May 17-19 with teams advancing to the 2021 NCAA Championship at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, from May 28-June 3.
“Our philosophy has never changed,” Covich said. “We have to go out there and play the best we possibly can. We need to be playing at the highest level possible. We’re lucky to even be playing, and we can’t take advantage of that opportunity.”