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Leechburg's Barto out to defend WPIAL Class AA title

| Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, 11:52 p.m.
Matt Grubba | Leader Times
Leechburg senior and defending WPIAL Class AA champ Matt Barto hits an approach during his round in the Section 1-AA qualifier on Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, at Deertrak Golf Club in Rural Valley.

In the 60-plus years the WPIAL has been staging boys golf championships, only eight players have repeated as champions.

If Matt Barto wins Wednesday, he'll become the ninth. The Leechburg senior will try to defend his title at Sewickley Heights Golf Club.

Repeat champs include Mike Van Sickle (Pine-Richland, 2003-04), Jeff Dickson (Knoch, 1991-92), Frank Fuhrer III (Fox Chapel, 1974-76), Bob O'Block (Plum, 1960-61) — and don't forget Arnold Palmer (Latrobe, 1946-47).

Fuhrer and Brentwood's Ron Schwarzel (1952-54) won three straight.

Barto's second title, which he knows won't come easy, is for him, not the history books.

“The only reason I am putting pressure on myself is because that's what I always do,” said Barto, the PIAA runner-up last season. “That (repeating) doesn't bother me. It's not something I am thinking about.

“Tiger always says he plays against the golf course, not the players. It's you vs. the golf course and that's how I am thinking.”

Barto just capped a four-peat at the Section 1-AA tournament. His 1-over-par 73 at Deertrak Golf Course gave him a 9-shot victory.

His game appears primed for the finals. His coach thinks the engraver can start chiseling.

“I'm betting the house,” Leechburg coach Heath Shimer said. “If he's my horse in the race, I'm taking him. I think he'll be disappointed if he doesn't win. I don't think he'll consider himself a failure, it's just that his bar is set right up there.”

A consistent driver and iron player, Barto always is looking for ways to carve up lower scores.

Lately, he's been working on his 50-yards-and-in shot, trying to develop a low, spinning approach that checks up.

“I am not comfortable landing the high, soft shot that needs 8-10 feet to bounce,” he said. “You need a lot of green to have it roll out on. The farther away you are from the hole, the more room you have for error. You're more likely to hit it close from 50 yards in.”

Barto thinks he will be able to negotiate a number of the doglegs at Sewickley.

“For me, any way you can make the course more challenging, the better,” he said. “I feel I can handle quirky courses better. I want a real test so you can really highlight the better players and the best one can come out on top.”

Barto hasn't shot worse than 39 in any match this season for a Leechburg team that's struggled to break 230.

That said, he's posted five rounds in the 60s across the last three weeks, including a 66 with two chip-in eagles at his home course of Willowbrook Country Club.

The score was one shot off the course record set by former Kiski Area golf coach and amateur Rich Mottura.

Two players that threaten Barto's championship chase will be playing with him, in the first group, scheduled to go off at 9 a.m.

Serra Catholic senior Max Kaminsky, who won the then-Division II title when he was a freshman, and Burgettstown senior Owen Miller, also are among the contenders. Barto believes the winner will come out of his threesome.

“Keenan Hickton and Sam Duerr (both of Sewickley Academy) also are good players,” Barto said.

The top 16 finishers advance to the PIAA Western Regional Tournament Oct. 15 at Tom's Run Golf Course in Blairsville.

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