PSAC golfers set for NCAA finals
When golf season began in the fall, Gannon freshman Matt Barto had modest goals: a couple of top-10 finishes, maybe even contend in a tournament or two.
A victory at the PSAC Championship in October started his mind wandering toward bigger accomplishments. And after opening the spring portion of the schedule with a win at the St. James Plantation Invitational in North Carolina, he dreamed bigger still.
Like NCAA Tournament big.
Barto, a Leechburg graduate and two-time WPIAL Class AA champion, gets his shot beginning Monday when the Division II championship tees off at Rock Barn Golf & Spa in Conover, N.C.
“It's really fulfilling for me to prove at the Division II level I can play against some of the best players in that division,” he said.
Barto will be in some familiar company next week as the team from IUP also qualified for the NCAA event. The Crimson Hawks placed second at the Atlantic/East regional, led by medalist Kenny Sames, who shot 4-under-par 68 in the final round.
It will be his second trip to the NCAAs. He tied for 11th in 2014.
“I had kind of a rough fall semester and didn't really play to my ability,” said Sames, who sports a 74.3 stroke average. “But this semester, I have been playing similar to what I was last year.”
Freshman Josh Bartley (Mars) aided the Crimson Hawks' cause at regionals with rounds of 76 and 75 during the final two days. Only Sames was better for IUP during that stretch.
While Sames and IUP were on solid footing heading into the final round of regionals, Barto endured some drama.
The top four teams and top two individuals not part of those teams earn NCAA berths. Gannon was lagging in the team competition, and after a second-round 79, Barto appeared to have little chance of qualifying.
But he finished with a 70, playing his final five holes 2-under, while two of the leaders faltered. That vaulted him into a tie for fifth and into one of the individual qualifying spots.
Barto's clutch final round can be attributed, in part, to the new approach he's taken. Although mechanically he hasn't changed since entering Gannon, he said he has matured mentally on the course.
Not a long hitter, he always has needed to “outthink” a course rather than try to overpower it. But now he thinks more conservatively, taking less risky lines off the tee and being content to put his approach shots within 15 to 20 feet of flags rather than firing at the pin every time.
Sames took the opposite path to success.
“I don't like to think too much on the golf course,” he said. “I'm an aggressive player.”
It's a style that has served him well, and his game seems to be shaping up in time for the biggest tournament of the year. Plus, he said he believes he is better prepared for the finals after being there last year.
“It's all about keeping yourself in the tournament the first couple rounds and then going out there and going after it in the last round,” he said.
Barto can't draw on the same type of experience, but given how he has progressed, he's thinking big.
“The course we played at NCAA regionals was hard … and I shot two good rounds out of my three,” he said, “so there's no reason I won't be able to translate that to the national championship.”