The Times West Virginian

Sports

July 10, 2014

New WVU golf coach faces ‘challenge’

The Greenbrier just one stop as Covich builds team from scratch

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — When new West Virginia University golf coach Sean Covich looked out over The Old White TPC last Saturday during his first visit to The Greenbrier, he couldn’t help but notice all the Big 12 flavor participating in The Greenbrier Classic.

Jimmy Walker (Baylor) was an early favorite before struggling in his second round and missing the cut. Morgan Hoffman (Oklahoma State) also missed the cut, but Jeff Maggert (Oklahoma State), Gary Woodland (Kansas) and Justin Leonard (Texas) were all around for Sunday’s final round.

For Covich, who will enter the Big 12 ranks in 2015 when the Mountaineers field a golf team for the first time since 1982, that’s a little bit of a wake-up call about what he’ll be facing.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” Covich admitted. “But I’m coming from the SEC, where it’s the same thing. Alabama won back-to-back national championships, and look at how many guys are from Georgia. The Pac 12 is good, Big 12 is good and SEC is good. But you want to play against the best. I would rather have that challenge and see what happens.”

On the other hand, as Covich looked out on the 18th fairway Saturday at all those Big 12 alums — as well as guys like Brendon de Jonge from nearby Virginia Tech — it was easy to dream.

“That’s your dream, to coach a guy who makes it on Tour and plays professionally,” said Covich. “You see guys from Georgia, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, St. John’s — they’re from all over. There’s talent everywhere, and hopefully we can get those guys to Morgantown.”

That’s been the coach’s focus since taking the job in late May. He’s been tearing up the roads, trying to start a team from scratch. He said he’s spent every day doing one of three things — scouting prospects at junior events, hosting prospects in Morgantown or looking for courses to play and practice.

He’s stayed busy, but the response has been great.

“Everybody is excited,” said the former Mississippi State assistant. “The big story is that Mountaineer golf is back, and everybody is pumped about that. Obviously, we’ve got a long way to go building from scratch — getting equipment, getting players, finding a place to play — but everybody is excited, and that’s been the best part for me.”

Turning that excitement into wins won’t be an easy assignment.

“We don’t have the tradition, because we’re starting again,” said Covich. “We haven’t played in 32 years. So everybody’s excited, but there are a lot of question marks. I’ve told the guys that have committed or that we are recruiting that we’ll be going through this together. That’s part of the adventure. In 10 years, you can look back and say, ‘I helped build that program.’ I’m looking for guys with that Mountaineer spirit that want to blaze a new trail.”

Covich promised the recruiting trail will include the winding roads of the Mountain State. With homegrown talent like Woody Woodward (Wake Forest), Thadd Obecny II (Coastal Carolina) and Jay Woodward (Penn State) out there playing college golf, it’s clear that there are prospects within West Virginia’s jagged borders.

“Some years a grad class might produce one player and another may produce four,” said Covich. “But every year West Virginia is going to produce Division I talent. Whether they go to Wake, Coastal Carolina, Penn State or Marshall, there’s been Division I talent. To have any chance to be successful, we have to get the best players from West Virginia.”

Covich was in awe of his first trip to The Greenbrier, calling it “a classic American resort.” Walking around the property, he couldn’t help but imagine playing an event on The Old White TPC.

“It’s a great golf course,” he said. “I love classic golf courses. Hopefully we can get the team down here and play. I’d love to come down here and practice or maybe do a one-day deal with Virginia Tech. But it’s awesome to have this asset in our state.”

If Covich doesn’t make it as a golf coach, he may make some cash putting odds on professional golf events. Asked to pick a winner for The Greenbrier Classic, Covich casually shrugged his shoulders before blurting out, “Angel Cabrera.”

At the time, Cabrera was at 8-under for the tournament and he soon picked up two birdies over the final three holes to move up the leaderboard at 10-under en route to eventual victory in the tournament.

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