Leo Lynk wasn’t ready for the high school golf season to end yet. The Evanston junior bounced back from what he termed a “disappointing’’ round of 85 and won a 2-hole playoff with Taft’s Andrew Plucinski at Tuesday’s Class 3A Loyola Academy Regional tournament for the final individual qualifying spot for next week’s sectional tourney.
Lynk’s 2-foot putt on the No. 11 hole earned a par and enabled him to join teammates Matt and Tommy Barbato at the New Trier Sectional next Monday at Winnetka Golf Course. According to Illinois High School Association standards, the top 10 scorers who were not members of qualifying teams earned the right to advance, and Evanston claimed three of those spots Tuesday at Glencoe Golf Club.
Matt Barbato, a senior, qualified for the sectional for the third straight year, with a score of 81, and Tommy Barbato fired an 82 to keep his season alive. Evanston also counted an 88 from Caleb Spalding and 96s by both Henry Goodman and Owen Shapiro to place 5th in the team standings with a score of 336 behind qualifiers Loyola (302), New Trier (308) and Glenbrook North (314), plus non-qualifier Glenbrook South (321) in the 9-team field.
“I was so disappointed with that 85, I didn’t think I’d even get to a playoff,” admitted Lynk. “My putting wasn’t that great today (total of 39) and that’s what usually holds me back. And even though I did get a lot of pars, that was frustrating because I never got the boost of confidence you get from a birdie or two.
“I was disappointed that today might be the end of my season, and I wanted to at least get past the regional as a junior. I’ve never been in a playoff before and I was pretty nervous. I knew I had to put the round behind me even though there was a lot of pressure. I just tried to stick to my routine, and tried to knock down the shots I knew I could knock down.”
Both Lynk and Plucinski bogeyed the first playoff hole, No. 10, but Lynk’s second shot reached the fringe of the green on the next hole and it only took him 2 more putts to keep his season alive with a par.
“Leo leaked a little oil on his last two holes and he thought he was done,” said ETHS head coach Jed Curtis. “But he played brilliant golf in the playoff, and he seemed like he was as cool as a cucumber. I told him before the playoff just to make pars, and that even a bogey might be good enough.
“I’m super excited to have 3 qualifiers for the sectional. When (assistant coach) Sean Bostrom and I studied the course, we thought that the right way to play today (off the tee) was a lot of 4-irons and maybe hybrids. We really didn’t hit any drivers today, and the players bought into that and really executed the game plan well.
“I couldn’t be happier for Matt to make it for the third year in a row. He’s been brilliant at times this season, and other times he’s had to grind it out when he was without his best stuff. And I’m excited for Tommy because he was close to making it last year and now he’s broken through.”
Matt Barbato’s ability to grind paid off on Tuesday, making him one of the few ETHS golfers to qualify for a sectional three straight years against the North Shore’s elite competition since the IHSA went to three different stages of postseason tests . Only Jackson Mihevc — who advanced all four years he played for the Wildkits — has made more sectional appearances, qualifying in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.
“We told Matt and the other guys that they didn’t have to put up really low numbers today, that it was a qualifying meet,” Curtis pointed out. “And when we saw how windy it was today, we knew the scores would creep a little higher.”
“Today I just tried to walk slow between every hole and stay super calm, just thinking about the next shot,” Barbato said. “I missed a couple of short putts on 17 and 18 to add a little extra drama. This is the windiest postseason round I’ve ever played, and it was important for me to remember that it would make the scores a little higher for everyone.
“On the front nine I was just grinding through the whole time (after a double bogey on the first hole), and I started to string together some pars on the back. I had a birdie on No. 12, a 20-footer (putt) from just off the green, so that helped. I finished with 8 pars, 1 double and the rest were all bogeys.
“I think it’s a great accomplishment to make it to the sectional three years in a row. Because of that experience I know how to play on the big stage now. My expectation is certainly to get through the sectional, but I won’t look at the season — or my career — as a failure if I don’t. I’m proud of this.”
For younger brother Tommy Barbato, the score of 82 will help him wipe out the memory of last year’s regional when he was a near-miss as a qualifier.
“This is a pretty big deal for me, because I didn’t shoot a great round last year at the regional,” he said. “I knew it would be tough to get a good score today and I didn’t expect a wind like this. It was a big adjustment for me, because I like to hit the ball high off the tee and that affects the shot. It was tough to keep the ball low, but I managed it pretty well.”
Barbato notched 10 pars, and nailed some crucial putts on No. 16 and No. 17 to give him some breathing room to advance.
“Both of those putts were about 12 feet so that made it a good closing stretch for me,” he added. “I shot an 80 here the other day in a practice round playing the same boring golf. My short game has been pretty consistent this year, but I’ve been struggling to reach the greens more than I’d like.
“My goals for the season have been centered around playing well at the end of the year. Part 1 was getting through the regional, and now the harder part comes at the sectional. But I feel good about where I’m at, and I think I’m ready.”
“Today was a mental hurdle for us to get over, I think. I have a feeling we’ll play a lot looser at the sectional,” Curtis said.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.