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Leechburg's Barto takes analytical approach

For the Tribune-Review
Leechburg junior golfer Matt Barto hits out of the sand on the 16th hole during the WPIAL Class AA individual finals at Youghiogheny Country Club in McKeesport on Sept. 24, 2012.

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PIAA golf championships


Heritage Hills Resort and Conference Center, York

Local qualifiers:

Boys — Pat Sheerer, Sr., Fox Chapel (Class AAA); Matt Barto, Sr., Leechburg (Class AA); Girls — Audrey Clawson, So., Freeport (Class AA).

Top high school sports
Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

From classes to golf, the framework of Matt Barto's entire scholastic existence is based on structure.

The Leechburg senior keeps his room neat. He doesn't take his eye off his homework until it's methodically finished. He always arrives early for his tee times.

“I don't notice the way I am, it's just natural,” Barto said. “I love to play golf. I love to do well in school. I just really like to have things thought out. If you have the time to prepare, why waste it?

“To me, fun is success and success is fun.”

Always a thinker — he plans to major in mechanical engineering in college — Barto is known for plodding his way around the course. Which means his mind will be churning from the time he arrives in York for the PIAA Class AA golf championship at Heritage Hills Resort, until the final putt drops and the leaders are posted.

Barto, who has tied for 40th and finished runner-up in his previous two trips to the state championship, likes to post photos on Twitter of food he likes — chicken-wing bones and pizza crusts among them.

Even at the dinner table, he's analyzing. He even posted a “Man vs. Food” tweet after he conquered a considerable breakfast at a local restaurant.

He hopes a post-tournament meal will have a celebratory tone.

“I am not a flashy player,” Barto said. “I think about shots. Sometimes, you have to work with what you got.”

Barto's career has consisted of four section titles and and two WPIAL titles, but a state title is what's kept him hungry.

“There will be more really good players, but not the depth we've seen in the past,” Barto said. “If I go out and shoot 68-71 and don't win, there's nothing wrong with that. But my goal always is to win.”

Barto played a key role in getting a golf program started at Leechburg, and has become the face of it.

“I remember when I had him in school in the second grade,” Leechburg golf coach Heath Shimer said. “I asked him, ‘What do you want to do in high school? Play football? What?' He said, ‘No, I want to play golf.' I said, ‘We don't have a golf team.' He said, ‘We will.'

“Matt is both a physical and cerebral player. He doesn't have that prototypical golfer look to him, but when you see him play, you forget that.”

Another local player to watch at the state finals is Fox Chapel senior Pat Sheerer, his school's first boys PIAA qualifier in seven years. After winning a section title, he finished fifth at the WPIAL championship and took medalist honors at the PIAA West Regional, shooting 70, 71, 71, respectively — a combined 1-under-par for his postseason.

Sheerer has the all-around game to excel in his first state-finals appearance.

Countless hours of practice at Pittsburgh Field Club has helped Sheerer put together a career season. He hits drivers at the main range at his team's home course, but spends extra time at the short-game area.

“My driver has been more consistent and my short game has really come around,” Sheerer said. “I have been really solid from 100 yards and in.”

On the girls side, Freeport sophomore Audrey Clawson returns to Heritage Hills with much more confidence and much less tension. She finished tied for seventh in the Class AA state tournament as a wide-eyed freshman, new to the big stage and unsure of what to expect.

“I know I won't be as nervous this time,” said Clawson, the Section 1-AA medalist who finished tied for sixth at the WPIAL tournament and seventh at the regional. “I remember the second day being a little more settled and just having fun. I really wanted to do well. Nerves will always be there I guess, but I want to improve on last year.”

Clawson has played well despite breaking her left ring finger just before the WPIAL finals.

Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at

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