Tommy Barbato definitely saved his best for last Monday at the Class 3A Prospect Sectional golf tournament.
The Evanston senior punched a ticket to the Illinois High School Association state finals for the first time with a sizzling 5-over-par 75 at Mount Prospect Golf Club.
Barbato’s birdies on the 15th and 16th holes were part of a stretch drive that kept his season alive for another week. He’ll play in the Class 3A IHSA tournament on Friday and Saturday at The Den at Fox Creek Golf Course in Bloomington.
Teammates Leo Lynk (39-39-78), Jack Skidmore (41-39-80) and Henry Goodman (48-40-88) all fell short of the qualifying cut for individuals. Lynk’s score was one stroke off what he needed to participate in a playoff for the last individual qualifying berth, after the disappointed senior finished with a double bogey on the 18th hole.
Loyola Academy (287), Fenwick (304) and New Trier (306) all advanced in the team competition. Christopher Lee of Loyola won a two-hole playoff for medalist honors, carding an even-par 70.
Barbato? He was at his best with a 39 on the front and a 1-over-par 36 on the back 9.
“It took some career-best type shots for Tommy to pull this off,” pointed out ETHS assistant coach Sean Bostrom. “On the 16th hole (a par 5) he flushed a 5-iron 225 yards within 20 feet of the pin, then putted out. That made him 4 over with 3 holes to go.
“On the next hole he stuck a 7-iron to within 15 feet of the pin. He really played his best golf coming down the stretch today. He’s one of the top competitors we’ve ever had since I’ve been here.”
“On No. 15, I talked with Coach and he said just throw it to the right side of the green and maybe you can 2-putt from there,” Barbato said. “I pulled my drive a little to the left, but it drew back to within 20 feet to give me a chance for an eagle.
“I ended up tapping in the putt (for a birdie). That shot gave me a great feeling and it really lifted my spirits. I started thinking I might be in at that point.”
Barbato’s score was a career best for 18 holes and might have lifted him out of the considerable shadow cast by his older brother Matthew, who was ETHS’ No. 1 golfer the past two seasons.
“Matthew had 3 cracks at getting to State to get there, and couldn’t, and what’s great for me is that I knew this was the biggest tournament I’ve ever played in, and the pressure was really on,” Barbato admitted. “I really don’t have any expectations now for State.
“Today I was so excited and I had a lot of fun. With every shot I was building confidence, and my swing got locked in as I went along. Everything I’m doing is getting closer and closer to perfect. My swing feels so much better and I knew getting to State was possible. I just had to put the shots together.”
Lynk wasn’t able to end the year on a high note, foiled by an errant tee shot at No. 9 that led to a score of 6 on his last hole. Prior to that, he seemed poised to play for another week with birdies on No. 3 and No. 8.
“If my chip goes in or the ball doesn’t go out of bounds on my drive on that last hole, who knows?” asked Lynk. “Today was a long, hard grind for me. A couple of things went my way and a couple of putts didn’t fall — that’s golf.
“On that tee shot I just got a little too quick. I hadn’t hooked a ball all day before that happened. I think the bunker there on the right got into my head. I came into that hole thinking I need a birdie to move on (qualify for State), but as it turned out, a par or a bogey would have done the job. It’s a shame, but it just didn’t work out.”
“It’s always an incredible feeling when we get someone from the program to State,” Bostrom added. “It’s a huge accomplishment for the program and it helps create a legacy for those who come after them. We came here with four talented golfers this year and they all played great. We certainly felt like this could be our day.
“All four guys did a great job the last couple of weeks in the practice rounds here. They took notes and really scouted it well, I thought. They did their homework. This is a tough course and it showed its teeth today. When the wind picked up, the scores tightened up and made it tougher to get through.”