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Issue of travel may keep them from NCAA tournament play

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Three golfers putting on the green, on Jan. 22, 2021. Western golf recently to practice on Jan. 19. // Courtesy of Jeff Evans

By Nathan Schumock

On paper, golf is one of the sports that could play through a global pandemic, according to the Texas Medical Association. Golf is naturally distanced and does not require person-to-person contact.

But there are more roadblocks that Western’s men and women’s golf teams will have to overcome before they can get back to competition, said Jeff Evans, Western’s director of athletic communications.

In order to qualify for the NCAA tournament in May, the golf teams need to compete in four 36-hole events, said Luke Bennett, the head coach for the men and women’s teams. Ordinarily, this would not be a problem, but due to the travel restrictions placed on the university, the teams will not be able to compete out of state until February, Bennett said.

“The trickiest part we’ve run into is so many of our competitors are out of the state of Washington,” Bennett said. “We’re hopeful that we’ll be allowed out of the state to compete.”

If they are not able to leave the state, they could be at risk of losing out on a spot in the NCAA regional conference championships, Bennet said.

Dr. Andrew Shuman, an associate professor of head and neck surgery at the University of Michigan, contributed to a paper about the medical, ethical and legal return of college sports. He touched on the travel aspect of the return.

“It is not only the risk of the individuals who are traveling, but also the potential for spreading disease from one region that may be more or less affected than another,” Shuman said.

Golf is a spread-out sport and courses have been open for play throughout the pandemic, Megan Billeter, a senior on the women's golf team, said. This has made it easy for the players to practice outside of school.

“They definitely have goals and individual things they want to achieve with their games and their abilities,” Bennett said. “So I know they are putting in the work, even on their own.”

Billeter said they are fortunate to play a sport that allows the athletes to be by themselves and safely do something they love. 

This has given golfers a slight edge as far as practicing in the offseason goes, because of the restrictions on and off-campus.

“A runner can go out on Chuckanut and run 20 miles, a golfer can go out and play 36 holes, but a basketball player can’t go into Carver Gym and shoot hoops,” Evans said.

Shuman added that if the athletes stay distanced from each other, their likelihood of infection goes down.

“Sports that by definition require less close contact are safer than sports that require closer contact,” Shuman said. “So, while sports like golf are likely much safer than others, they are not completely devoid of risk.”

Competition play is still a couple months away, but getting the team back together has kept them motivated, Bennett said.

Billeter said they are a motivated squad who want to do as well as possible.

“We want to go to regionals and we want to go to nationals,” Billeter said. “We’re a team that really wants to win.”


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