In March of this year, spring sports were unable to continue due to the outbreak of COVID-19. With the initial panic winding down by the summer, the country began reopening their recreational activities, with the primary candidate for reopening being golf.
Golf is the ideal sport to challenge COVID-19; it is socially-distant and played in the open air, which are two incredibly key factors to being safe during the pandemic. At Fairfield University, the situation is no different, with both the men’s and women’s golf programs continuing in a modified practice and play format.
Doug Holub has been the head coach of the Fairfield University golf teams for five years, and although some of his plans have shifted due to safety concerns, he is still extremely hopeful and excited that this year will repeat past successes. According to coach Holub, the busiest time of the year for the golf team is always fall, even though the golf season is in the spring.
A normal, pre-COVID-19 fall consists of practicing on the courses mostly every day, with players having the occasional day off to rest. This work is in preparation for tournaments that take place in the spring, in which each of the eighteen players on the team participates in about five or six. The tournaments normally take place within the confines of the New England region, but occasionally stretch as far as Florida.
This upcoming spring, some challenges present themselves. The teams will have to work with travel limitations; if they return back from a state on the travel advisory list, then they will need to quarantine for two weeks before getting back out onto the course.
Coach Holub has stated that he wants to try to avoid crowded places at all costs, his prime example being airports. Although it is quick and relatively easy for his teams to travel by air, airports and airplanes are crowded and can possibly present health threats to his players. To work around this, he said that he would be willing to investigate ways to drive to tournaments or events so that he can better ensure the health and safety of the golfers.
As they say, practice makes perfect, and this is all too familiar to coach Holub and his teams who have been brushing up on skills after a long break from hitting the links. In normal practice sessions, players are split up into four groups of four and play rounds to keep their skills sharp.
The golf teams typically practiced at the same course so that they could all work together as a team, but now, with COVID-19 restrictions, it is difficult for them to do so. They instead go to different courses so as to not break rules about gathering sizes. When I spoke with Coach Holub, he was headed to Tashua Knolls Golf Course in Trumbull, one town over from Fairfield. Aside from convenience, the location of practice courses are important because this has to do with limiting travel and exposure to the virus.
When the outbreak initially hit and courses were closed indefinitely, coach Holub had some incredibly interesting techniques to overcome challenges and keep team morale up at the same time. One of his main efforts to unify the team during the difficult time was Zoom yoga, which involved all of his players tuning into a Zoom call and doing yoga together. He expressed that the months of March, April and May were especially hard on him and his players, as there was not much information about when they could get back on the courses.
While they waited patiently to return, his athletes worked online with trainers to develop workout routines that would help make them stronger and get in better shape for the golf season.
On top of physical strength, coach Holub preached the importance of mental strength on the course as well, teaching his players meditation techniques that improve focus and concentration. Holub said he saw the time off as somewhat of an advantage because he had the opportunity to work on the mental side of golf, something athletes normally ignore during the busy season.
The program has a lot to look forward to. “We have a young men’s team, so the future is definitely bright,” Coach Holub said. “For the women’s team, we have returning seniors, so I’m hoping for big things this year.”
Although the Fairfield University golf program has had to overcome a significant amount of unprecedented challenges throughout the last few months, this fall has proved to be the light at the end of the tunnel. In the coming days and weeks, the Stags will continue to polish up their game so that when spring rolls around, they will be “on par” for a terrific tournament season.