Fox Chapel's Sheerer devours course in victory
Pat Sheerer usually starts his mornings before a golf tournament with a cream-cheese covered bagel from Panera Bread. It's a simple practice — not one that rises to the level of obsessed baseball-player superstition — but the Fox Chapel senior likes to make it part of his itinerary.
With no Panera Breads close to Blairsville's Chestnut Ridge Resort, he had to settle on a measley granola bar Wednesday morning — before he ate the course for breakfast.
Sheerer qualified for his first PIAA championship in style, firing a 1-under-par 71 to win the Class AAA West Regional Tournament under gray skies and steady drizzle at Tom's Run.
“The rain kind of separates the field a little bit,” Sheerer said. “When you play a lot of tournament golf, you learn to deal with (the conditions). I had my rain gloves so I was good.”
As in 12 of 14 fairways good; as in 13 of 18 greens good. Sheerer canned four birdies, relying on a pin-point wedge game that allowed him to fire from near-perfect lies with lift-clean-and-place rules in effect.
With the shotgun start, Sheerer started on No. 3. But it was his finish that earned him the one-shot win over Hunter Shields of Hollidaysburg. Sheerer played his last five holes in 2-under. He birdied Nos. 17 and 18, laying up to lob-wedge range on the par-5 18th and almost spinning in his approach for eagle.
“I played a practice round here with Patrick,” Fox Chapel coach Bryan Deal said. “He was bogey-free and that was some of the best ball-striking I'd ever seen from him.”
Sheerer, who tied for fifth in the WPIAL tournament, is the first Fox Chapel player to qualify for the boys state tournament since Adam Hoffman in 2006. He
said he did not feel pressure to advance.
“Not at all, although I like playing with pressure,” said Sheerer, who had two three-putts and made three bogeys. “It makes me focus better.”
Leechburg senior Matt Barto, meantime, continued his strong play in the regional round, carding his third straight top-7 finish in the event to qualify for another trip to the finals, where he was the runner-up as a junior.
Admittedly a inclement-weather technician, the two-time WPIAL Class AA champion dodged rain drops to shoot even-par 72 — with a new club in the bag. He played with a new driver after the one he'd been using for more than two years cracked during a range session Tuesday at Willowbrook Country Club. He was lent a new driver by Willowbrook head pro Brian Dunaway and used it for an evening practice round Tuesday and at the regional.
“I hit it so much it broke,” Barto said of his old club. “I split the crown on it. I was going crazy and wasn't sure what I was going to do. But I hit the new one great. I mean, I hooked it a few times, but killed it when I needed to.”
The new driver, a TaylorMade R1, was set to nearly the exact specifications as his R11, which he plays at 11.5 degrees. He made three birdies and three bogeys, playing the final eight holes in 2-under. He finished three behind Class AA medalist Keenan Hickton of Sewickley Academy, who shot a 5-under 31 on the back nine en route to a 69. He eagled the par-4 12th.
“I was 2-over through four and livid,” Barto said. “But I kind of got into a groove on the last eight holes.
“Obviously, I want to come here and win. But I also want to do better than I did last year.”
Freeport sophomore Audrey Clawson made it 2 for 2 in state-finals appearances after a 9-over 81 put in her in a tie for seventh in the girls' Class AA regional and allowed her to move on.
The girls played Chestnut Ridge, the resort's other course.
“I'm not a big fan of playing in the rain; I'd rather it be sunny and nice,” Clawson said. “You just have to be as cool as you can and not get upset that it's raining.
You just want to focus on shooting your best score.”
Clawson, who shot 39 on the front side, continues to recover from a broken left ring finger.
“It's still tough to hit it hard from the rough,” she said of the injury, which didn't stop her from taking seventh place in the WPIAL. “Every time I hit the ball from there I feel it.”
The state finals will be Oct. 21-22 at Heritage Hills Resort in York.
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at email@example.com.