Leechburg's Barto defends WPIAL Class AA golf title
His round complete, a fidgety Matt Barto stood on the patio at sun-splashed Sewickley Heights Golf Club and twisted open a cool drink.
His beverage of choice? An Arnold Palmer Iced Tea. Most appropriate for the Leechburg senior, who defended his WPIAL Class AA championship Wednesday to join an elite group of repeat champions that includes Palmer.
Latrobe's finest, Palmer won titles in 1946 and '47.
“That's stupid silly to think of me in the same category as him,” said Barto, who secured his second title with a birdie putt on the first sudden-death playoff hole against Charleroi senior Gunnar Riley. “My iron play was horrible today, but I putted great. It was like I was in a weird trance on the greens. I don't think I have ever rolled it this good. That's probably the reason I broke 80.”
Barto is the first WPIAL repeat winner since Pine-Richland's Mike Van Sickle in 2003-04 and the first in Class AA since the league began awarding champs in each class in 2010. He matched early clubhouse leader Riley with a 3-over-par 75, and the pair headed to the 10th tee shortly after their rounds for the playoff.
Barto hit the left side of the fairway on the 390-yard par 4, knocked his 118-yard approach with a 52-degree wedge to 7 feet and holed the putt.
Riley's approach went slightly over the green, forcing him to chip on for his third. He missed his par putt.
Barto was greeted with hugs and high-fives from family members and his coach when he circled back on No. 10.
“I was 0 for 7 in playoffs coming in, so I didn't know what to expect,” said Barto, who had nine one-putts in his round. “The fact that I won with a birdie really sits well with me. I hit a 50-yard pull off the tee but hit an incredible wedge shot.”
Barto helped to start a golf program at Leechburg and will leave an indelible mark.
“It's a credit to how hard he works and how competitive he is,” Leechburg coach Heath Shimer said. “He'll hit a ton of golf balls each day and then send me pictures of all of his divots.”
Riley gave credit to Barto, the ninth repeat champ.
“He's a tough player,” Riley said. “Once he hit it to 7 feet, I knew I had to chip in. I came in second, so I can't complain.”
Barto, known for his accuracy, missed fairways and found bunkers but limited the damage with his putter.
The putter couldn't save him, however, from a bee that stung him on the back of the neck.
“It was a little of everything out there,” Barto said. “A bee flew into my collar on No. 15, and when I went to swat it away, it stung me. That's the second time that's happened to me in a round. Crazy.”
Burgettstown sophomore Cody Dobbin was third with a 77, and his teammate, senior Owen Miller, tied Sewickley Academy senior Keenan Hickton for fourth at 78.
Serra Catholic senior Max Kaminsky and junior Will Robinson of Winchester-Thurston were sixth at 79.
Kaminsky, a WPIAL champion as a freshman, played in Barto's threesome and shot 43-36.
“All the bees go to Barto, I guess, because he's the best player and they want to watch him play or attack him,” Kaminsky said with a laugh. “His putter really fired him up out there.”
The top 16 advance to the PIAA West Regional Tournament Oct. 16 at Tom's Run Golf Course. That event feeds into the PIAA tournament, where Barto finished second last fall.
Bill Beckner Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com.