Mars duo heads to PIAA golf championship

| Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013, 8:12 p.m.

Josh Bartley and Bridget Merten didn't let a little rain dampen their day.

The two Mars golfers advanced to the PIAA Class AAA championship at a rain-soaked qualifier Wednesday at Tom's Run Golf Course in Blairsville.

Bartley became the Planets' first male golfer to advance to the PIAA championship meet. The senior was among the top 12 qualifiers on the boys' side.

Merten, a sophomore, finished among the top six on the girls' side and advanced as well. She is the school's first female player to reach the state championship since sisters Marisa and Lauren Glew in 2006.

The PIAA championship is set for Heritage Hills Golf Resort and Conference Center in York. It is a two-day event with rounds Monday and Tuesday.

“It's going to be awesome,” Bartley said. “It's like a golf trip you'd take, pretty much. So that's cool.”

Bartley and Merten headed to York this weekend to get some practice time on the course.

“I am looking forward to that a lot,” Merten said. “It should be a lot of fun. It's definitely a new experience.”

Bartley advanced to the PIAA qualifier when he shot a 76 to tie for 11th at the WPIAL Class AAA championship on Oct. 2 at Diamond Run Golf Club in Sewickley. He shot a 77 at the PIAA qualifier.

“I played well enough to get to the next round,” he said. “Advancing was the goal. It's an awesome feeling. I am saving my good rounds for states.”

Merten was one of seven WPIAL golfers to advance from the district championship at Hillcrest Country Club in Lower Burrell on Sept. 30. She fired an 82 to tie for fourth. At the PIAA qualifier, she finished third with a 79. The top six girls advanced.

“It's an amazing feeling,” she said. “I am absolutely thrilled to be going on to the next round. I only made it to qualifiers last year. To achieve so much now is a great feeling”

A steady rain Wednesday only intensified the pressure for both golfers.

“For the most part, it was an annoying drizzle, but it rained sort of hard other times,” Bartley said. “It wasn't very fun. Everything was soaked. The bunkers had puddles. The fairways were soggy. It was a different kind of golf. It was a long day, but it ended pretty well. ... It didn't affect me too much. I just had to be a little more focused. My game is based off hitting it farther off the tee than most. My average drive is around 295 yards. I just had to rely on other things since I wasn't able to hit it as far in bad weather.”

Likewise, Merten thrived with her short game. She birdied three of the course's four par-3s.

“It was pretty much the concept that the greens were getting slower and the ball wasn't going to go as far when it bounced and knowing when to club up, knowing where to chip and where to place the ball,” she said. “The nice part was, I went out to my home course (last Monday) and played in the rain the whole day for practice. It came in very handy.

“There was a lot of pressure just because there were only 10 girls in our group. I have previously played in tournaments against them. I knew what I was up against. These girls are good golfers. I was just hoping I could have a decent day.”

Bartley credits a little luck for a birdie on the last hole he played Wednesday.

“I was 6-over going into the last hole. I knew I wasn't playing well and I knew I had to try my best to shave one more stroke off to better my position because, at the time, I had no idea who had what score,” he said. “Just to me, 77 looks better than 78. My tee shot went way left. I got angry, but it hit a tree and bounced back into play. I hit a shot that I left short of the green in really thick rough. I had about 20 yards to the pin. I pulled the pin, chipped it and holed it out. For all I knew at that point, that might have been the one stroke that saved me. I wouldn't be able to do that again.”

Merten hopes to have luck on her side this week.

“This is a place where colleges look at you,” she said. “To get a college scholarship and try to get somewhere like that, I think I will put a lot of pressure on myself to show the colleges that I have the potential and I am willing to work hard and I deserve to be considered for a scholarship. This is definitely going to help me set higher goals and achieve them and try to be the best I can be out there for the next couple years.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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