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Redshirt senior Walker Cress follows through on his shot.

JMU men’s and women’s golf tournaments might be suspended for the fall season because of COVID-19, but that didn’t stop these Dukes from improving their game in the offseason and in their practices now.

Redshirt sophomore Kate Owens continued on as normal with her practice on the greens during the offseason with the necessary precautions followed as she prepared for the hopeful fall season. During the offseason, Owens said she played in four tournaments, saw her swing coach and practiced at her home course in Georgia just about every day. 

“I had all of April, May, June, July to work with my team at home and get better in certain aspects that I knew I needed to get better,” Owens said. “Honestly, over the summer I had some not great rounds, but I also had probably my lowest round consistently that I’ve had, ever.”

Owens said that golf is a great sport to play in a pandemic.

“[It was] probably the only time in my life there wasn’t any distractions and really all there was to do was golf,” Owens said. “I’m lucky enough to play a sport that basically embodies social distancing naturally.”  

Over the offseason, her first tournament was at the Georgia Women’s Open in June. Owens experienced precautions because of the pandemic that she hadn’t before, including a rule that players couldn’t touch the flagstick in the hole, while pre-COVID-19 that was standard. After that tournament, she said she could ask for the flagstick to be removed from the hole, but the flagstick would need to be sprayed with a disinfectant by a designated person.

“I don’t mind putting with the flagstick in when it’s far away, but when I can see the flagstick out of my peripheral vision ... probably inside 12 feet, it really bothers me,” Owens said. 

Now, Owens said she’s practicing on the greens with her teammates 20 hours a week, lifting twice a week at 6:45 a.m. and participating in an in-team golf competition called “The Top Dog Challenge.” Owens and her teammates are now preparing to make a run at the conference championship for the upcoming spring season.

“It’s a really, like, great time to focus on what we can get better at and just focusing on controlling what we can, to ultimately get to that conference championship that we’ve all been dreaming about [and] that we missed out in the spring,” Owens said.

A new addition to the Dukes Women’s Golf team is freshman Amelia Williams. She said that playing golf in the offseason during COVID-19 wasn’t “huge” but rather “minor.”

“There [weren’t] many huge impacts on tournaments because golf is an easy social distanced sport,” Williams said.

Williams played in a few tournaments during the offseason, and a few restrictions were enforced at these tournaments. She said there was limited space on the range and practice greens, and with sanitary precautions, the rakes for sand bunkers weren’t allowed to be touched. She had to have her temperature taken before any of her tournaments, too.

“They had limited spaces on the range where you practice, so not everyone was on top of each other,” Williams said. “Practice greens are kind of small, so they [had a limited number] of people that could be on the greens at a time.”

Williams is from Florida, so she’s used to playing on bermuda grass. In Virginia, she’s playing on bent grass, a type of green she’s not used to.

 “I’m struggling with my chipping, but I go out to the short game area with the team and we work on our chipping,” Williams said.

Redshirt senior Walker Cress continued to put in the work on his golf game during the offseason in preparation for the fall season.

“It does stink a little bit,” Cress said about not being able to play in the fall. “The only thing is we’re not traveling, which is the tough part to follow.”

He said that from when he left school last semester all the way to when school started this semester, he didn’t play golf for 15 days total. 

“I was fortunate enough ... [that] all the golf courses in ... the Charlotte greater area for the most part remained open,” Cress said.

Cress said, like Owens, he wasn’t allowed to touch the flagstick during his tournaments in the offseason because of COVID-19 precautions.

“If you touch the flag they give you a warning, but after the second time it was an automatic disqualification,” Cress said. “They took things really seriously.”

Cress said that the men’s team was inner-team tournaments at practice and that he’s pretty excited to compete.

“Our coach has a great system for us with, like, point systems with incentives for us to play well,” Cress said. “He came up with this idea of poker chips. The winner will get a poker chip, and by a certain date, whoever has the most poker chips gets a workout miss.”

The men’s golf team is working on their short game and putting, Cress said.

“As long as we keep that competitive edge every single day,” Cress said. “I think we’ll be fine.”

JMU men’s and women’s golf look to prepare for their next opportunity to play competitive golf with other college programs.

Contact Andrew Oliveros at oliverab@dukes.jmu.edu. For more sports coverage, follow the sports desk