Baldwin sophomore aims to defend WPIAL golf title

| Sunday, Aug. 19, 2012, 11:59 p.m.

Jim Stanko was surprised ... to a point.

So were many others when Baldwin freshman Zack Taylor won the Division I WPIAL boys golf title last fall.

“Anytime a freshman wins a championship, it's something of a surprise,” said Stanko, Taylor's coach. “Zack was not an unknown quantity. We knew about him when he came into the high school. He had been in our winter golf program, had played in a number of national kids tournaments and had played on the Plantation Tour. So him winning a championship was not a big surprise to us.”

The high school season teed off last week, and Taylor is one of the top returning players in the WPIAL. He joins Peters Township seniors Tommy Nettles and Trent McPherson; seniors Kirby Manown of Belle Vernon and Will Wears of Latrobe; and juniors Matt Barto of Leechburg and Matt Holuta of Indiana, among others.

For Taylor, now a 5-foot-10, 160-pound sophomore, this season brings an opportunity to realize personal and team goals.

“I want to try to do it again, but I definitely want to see the team go farther,” he said. “We won our section and were 17-1, then we didn't get past the first round of the WPIAL.”

Winning a district title at 14 “was definitely a surprise,” Taylor said. Again, to a point.

“I didn't think going in that I would win,” he said. “But I thought if I played well, I'd have a chance.”

His mastery of two major elements of the game, Stanko said, are why Taylor can prevail in any event.

“His biggest strengths are his approach and his short game,” Stanko said. “He is wonderful on and around the greens, and his mental approach is beyond his years.”

“I always try to keep a level head,” Taylor said. “My short game has gotten better. It was never a strong suit while I was growing up.”

Taylor has been playing since he was 7, learning at the nearby Cool Springs driving range. This isn't his only athletic pursuit, though. He also plays basketball and plans to go out for lacrosse.

“He's an athletic kid,” Stanko said. “I just hope he doesn't get hurt.”

Stanko was laughing when he said that — a little. He realizes his 15-year-old ace, with continued growth, “could be really good. Not that he isn't good now, but there are different levels of good.”

A number of returning players are on Taylor's level in WPIAL Class AAA. Nettles finished third last season, two strokes behind Taylor's 71. A back-nine 40 sabotaged him, but Nettles rebounded in the PIAA tournament to tie for second, a shot back of Garrett Browning of West Allegheny. Nettles captured medalist honors Friday at the Tri-County Championship at Village Green Golf Course.

Manown, McPherson, Holuta and Wears also were within six of Taylor at WPIALs. Barto was second in WPIAL Division II, his 74 a stroke behind the champion, Brad Thornton of Shenango.

Rick Shrum is a freelance writer.

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