After shooting an eye-catching score of 74 in Evanston’s season golf opener at The Den in Bloomington, Matthew Barbato has had a return trip to that course — site of the Illinois High School Association state tournament — in the back of his mind ever since then.
The Evanston sophomore is halfway there — but did it the hard way Tuesday at the Class 3A New Trier Regional tournament.
Barbato recovered from a horrific start, when he carded an 8 on the first hole, and joined teammate Nick Lydon as the only Wildkit qualifiers for the Conant Sectional next Monday. Both Barbato (80) and Lydon (81) advanced as at-large qualifiers.
New Trier (285), Loyola Academy (301) and Glenbrook North (303) earned the automatic team qualifying spots, followed in order by Glenbrook South (310), Niles West (328), Notre Dame (330), Evanston (334), Niles North (424), Lane Tech (430) and Taft in the 10-team field.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a quad (quadruple bogey) on the first hole ever before, and it was a shock to my system,” Barbato said. “In the past, at that point I probably would have felt it was a bad day and it was going to get worse.
“It was really a shock because the past couple of days I’ve been hitting the ball great in practice rounds. I knew I just had to forget it and keep grinding. When the team talked about what number you’d need today (to qualify) we thought an 83 or 84 would get in, so I didn’t feel as much pressure as I might have.
“I scored birdies on No. 2 and No. 4 and that’s what got me back on track. I was even through No. 16 on the back 9 and I had another birdie on 15.”
Barbato’s scorecard read 41-39-80, just three days after he shot a 90 on that same course under windy conditions in Winnetka at Saturday’s New Trier Invitational tournament.
In fact, although the Wildkits didn’t come close to qualifying as a team, head coach Jed Curtis pointed with pride a team score that was 27 strokes better than ETHS shot on Saturday.
“I think they all really benefited from the practice round we shot here, and I’m really proud of them,” Curtis said. “We were here Sunday afternoon and we talked a lot about where we gave up shots the day before, about tee shots and layup shots on the par 5s. We put ourselves in a lot better position today.
“Matthew fought his way back from that 8 on the first hole. He didn’t get down on himself, and talk about guts! And I’m really proud of Nick, too. He’s an emotional player and I think today showed his growth over the season. He kept it all together.”
Evanston also counted a career-low round of 43-41-84 from Daniel Nortz and a 48-41-89 from Jordan Wallace.
Lydon reached the sectional for the second year in a row after struggling all season. His 81 just made the cutoff for an at-large berth and the senior had a few nervous moments waiting for the rest of the field to finish Tuesday.
“I thought for sure with an 81 that I was in, but I got a little nervous and it was closer than I thought it would be,” Lydon said. “Overall I had a pretty good day. Last year I was able to move on to the sectional, but this year I really haven’t played well all season. I’ve had a lot of trouble getting off the tee, spraying the ball everywhere.
“Today I realized I just had to take my time and grind it out. I didn’t have a real good finish (bogey-double bogey-bogey) but I had back-to-back birdies on 14 and 15, so that helped. The important thing for me today was that I didn’t have a lot of doubles and triples.”
Both players will be aiming at top 10 finishes at the sectional with a date at The Den looming after that.
“Playing at The Den again has definitely started to cross my mind,” Barbato said. “This regional has a ton of talent in it, and the sectional will be even tougher. Today was about survival, about making pars and bogeys. At the sectional, you have to go for the pins and put up the best score you possibly can.”