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Playing through: UVa golfers hone their games during COVID-19 pandemic

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Virginia golfer Riley Smyth has continued to play on her home course in North Carolina during the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 drastically altered the sports world.

The NBA shut down its season in March, and it doesn’t anticipate taking the court again until late July. Collegiate sports were halted for the spring season, and those programs are hopeful to compete in the fall.

While professional, collegiate and high school sports were all dramatically changed by the virus, one sport has returned to action in the U.S. quicker than many others.

The sport almost perfectly designed to withstand COVID-19 restrictions is golf.

Given the ability to social distance while playing, some courses across the country never closed. Others opened up after a brief closure. For some members of the University of Virginia men’s and women’s golf teams, the pandemic has offered what feels like an extra offseason to hone their games.

“Being down in North Carolina, all of the golf courses stayed open,” Riley Smyth, a member of the UVa women’s golf team, said. “Also, we have a little home gym in our garage, so I’ve been able to work out and practice every day basically.”

Smyth even competed in the Golfweek Myrtle Beach Collegiate last week, finishing in a tie for 22nd in a field with 41 competitors. Despite shooting a combined 18-over-par in the three-day event, Smyth tallied eight birdies and an eagle over the three rounds.

She wanted to use the tournament as a chance to adjust to competitive golf again, which has been just about the only thing lacking from her recent preparation.

Even with a lack of summer tournaments on the schedule, Smyth is grateful that her course is open and she’s had a chance to spend months developing her game.

Typically, college golfers compete for their teams in the fall and spring, and they use the summers to play in various amateur tournaments.

“We don’t ever really get a time to just practice and work on our games and just really focus on developing mechanics and different kind of shot-making skills,” Smyth said.

Basketball players can perform individual drills during this time, which allows for development, but it’s not the same as playing against an opponent or in a team setting. Football players likely haven’t been able to simulate game action against opponents.

Golfers, however, can play rounds of golf amid the pandemic. While it’s hard to simulate the feelings of competition, for those who can still access their home courses, the pandemic shouldn’t halt their development.

Andrew Orischak, a senior men’s golfer who will use eligibility relief to compete again for the Cavaliers, says he’s used the time to work on his short game and wedge play. The South Carolina native still has access to his home course, and he’s enjoyed the chance to improve weaknesses in his game.

“I’ve always enjoyed the development side of golf, so if I can practice and work on weaknesses and try and get them better and see improvement, I find a lot of joy out of that,” Orischak said. “I mean it hasn’t really been tedious for me. I think it’s been a lot of fun.”

One of golf’s perks is the game is played in nature, usually in a fairly quiet environment lacking a lot of people.

A collegiate golf tournament looks much different than a UVa basketball home game at John Paul Jones Arena.

An individual sport played outside, golf finds itself in a unique position to thrive amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Virginia’s golfers hope they can take advantage of the opportunity their sport sees during this unusual time.

When they’re able to return to grounds, they’re most looking forward to the chance to compete against other people, which is just about the only thing some players are missing out on at the moment.

“Even though it was a great time to get to practice and be home and play, I really miss competing,” Smyth said. “The competition brings out a different side of my game.”

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