West Virginia, Notre Dame relishing being back at NCAA Men’s Golf Championship after long postseason droughts

CARLSBAD, Calif. — It has been nearly 10 years to the day since Sean Covich took over the head men’s golf coaching job at West Virginia. The position the program was in then compared to now couldn’t have been more polar opposites.

Covich was hired May 22, 2014, to be the Mountaineers’ head coach. West Virginia was reinstating its golf team, and Covich was tasked with growing the program from nothing.

“They handed me a sheet of paper and said, ‘You’re the golf coach,'” Covich said. “I didn’t have an office. Didn’t have any players. Nowhere to practice.”

West Virginia last competed in men’s golf in 1982. Covich took over, and the team began playing in the 2015-16 season. However, this year, the Mountaineers reached a new peak: making the NCAA Championship.

West Virginia made the NCAA Men’s Golf Championship this year for the first time in 77 years and only the second time in program history. In addition, Notre Dame also made NCAAs for the first time since 1966, breaking a drought older than the coach’s at each school.

The response for Covich and Notre Dame coach John Handrigan have been incredible.

“It’s been wild, like gosh, I didn’t even know this many people paid attention,” Covich said. “My phone blew up.”

West Virginia shot 22 over during a difficult morning wave of scoring Friday in the opening round, but Covich said the start was easier to process considering all of the family and friends who were walking the canyons of Carlsbad sporting Mountaineer colors.

After advancing through regionals, Covich said the alumni and donors showed incredible support, but it was the messages from his coaching fraternity that meant the most. Messages from national championship winning coaches, top-ranked teams and conference foes came in.

“Those are the kind of messages that really mean a ton to me,” Covich said.

Handrigan said he wasn’t aware of how long it had been since Notre Dame had made nationals. He said John Anthony, a former player, pulled parents aside after the Fighting Irish punched their ticket to Omni La Costa, and told them that the team hadn’t been to the national championship since most of them had been alive.

“I didn’t know that at the time,” Handrigan said. “That’s when I knew we did something special.”

The Fighting Irish sit at 8 over after the opening round, having the second-best performance of teams who teed off in the morning wave.

Handrigan said his team, which features two freshmen in the starting lineup, has embraced playing on the biggest stage.

Even he had a hard time keeping up with messages from alums, boosters and fans. Notre Dame athletic director Peter Bevacqua is the former CEO of the PGA of America, so there’s plenty of love for the golf team’s success back in South Bend.

“He’s at the lacrosse final four right now,” Handrigan said. “He told me he really wants to see us out here competing next week.

“I look forward to seeing him here.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek