WVU golf went from nothing to a national championship appearance in just 9 years

MORGANTOWN — For just the second time in program history, the WVU golf team will compete for a national championship.

The Mountaineers punched their ticket to next week’s NCAA Championship with a third-place finish at the Rancho Santa Fe Regional on Wednesday. WVU’s only other appearance in the NCAA Championship came back in 1947.

The top five teams from the regional advance as WVU shot a team score of 845 to tie with Oklahoma State, behind Oklahoma (837) and California (843).

“Hopefully it’s something that the school, athletic department and maybe even the state can take pride in,” WVU coach Sean Covich said. “We just sent five golfers from Morgantown down there and beat some really good teams.”

The Mountaineers finished 10 shots clear of sixth place, but Covich knew not to celebrate until everything was official..

“You never know until everyone signs their scorecards and the other teams behind you finish,” Covich said during a Zoom call on Thursday. “Technically, they could make hole-in-ones on every hole and golf is crazy.”

Covich did do something he normally never does, however. He told his team where they were in the standings with three holes to play. 

“As a coach, you don’t want to go ‘oh we’re in’ until it’s officially official, but realistically, with about three holes to go…we had about a seven or eight-shot buffer and I wanted them to know to just play golf,” he said. “We didn’t have to do anything, we didn’t have to fire at any flags, just hit quality golf shots.”

Covich said he finally let himself celebrate when junior Max Greene made a 20-foot put on hole 18.

“I probably still get a little emotional about it,” Covich said. “I go back to coming here and not having a golf ball, not having a player, not having an office. Just having a sheet of paper saying ‘you’re the golf coach.’”

Covich restarted WVU’s golf program in 2015, quite literally from scratch. 

“Having to go through all of that — finishing dead last in tournaments and not even being invited to tournaments because we started from scratch — to advancing to the national championship, I think it all hit me when Max’s putt went in,” Covich said.

Green finished sixth overall in the regional with a three-day score of 209. West Virginia native Todd Duncan finished tied for 13 at 213. Kaleb Wilson tied for 22 at 214, Jackson Davenport was tied for 31 at 217 and Pierce Grieve shot 222 to tie for 47.

“I think there’s something special about this group,” Covich said. “We’ve almost gotten to this point before in 2019. That was a heck of a team and we almost got through. It was two shots and we were that sixth-place team and our season was over.”

The team came two shots short of making the national championship in 2019 and finally cleared that hurdle this year.

Covich said he knew there was a lot of talent on this year’s team — they won their first tournament of the season —  but there were small things that would fall through the cracks at time. Things that were away from the golf course like being on time or acting like good teammates.

Something changed when the calendar flipped to 2024 and the team got into its spring schedule, however.

“Something clicked this spring and it’s been a special run,” Covich said. “It’s hard to describe because the five that made it to regionals all have different strengths and weaknesses with their game but really all 12 of our guys played a role at some point. Everyone had at least one moment that helped us even get into the regional. That part has been unique, that everyone has contributed to get us to this point.”

Qualifying for the national championship is a clear achievement for a program that still isn’t even a decade old yet. However, there are still some ways in which not all that much has changed since Covich got things started in 2015.

“I just feel like our success is really about kids that aren’t here because of all the bells and whistles or things that are easy,” he said. “They’re here because things are hard and that makes them better. I think as long as we keep that identity, we’ll be fine.”

Even as this national championship appearance will surely raise the profile of WVU golf, Covich said he’s still going to go after the same kinds of recruits who have a chip on their shoulder and want to work hard.

“The reason we’re here is because we developed kids that showed up when they’re freshmen and they’re a lot better now,” Covic said. “I don’t think that is ever going to change.”

The Mountaineers will get about four days in Morgantown before they fly back out west to Carlsbad, Calif. The National Championship begins Friday, May 24, at 11:30 a.m. at La Costa Resort.