Hamption golfer Ruzomberka on quest for redemption

Saturday, September 26, 2020 | 11:01 AM

Hampton senior Matt Ruzomberka has played thousands of holes of golf since his father introduced him to the sport growing up in England a decade ago.

One hole, one shot, is scalded into his memory.

“The tee shot on No. 18 at (last year’s) WPIAL finals,” he said. “I went into the hazard and ended up making six. I remember it because it was the dealbreaker.”

That wayward drive at Fox Chapel Golf Club — during a five-player playoff for the final spot to the PIAA Western Regionals — effectively ended Ruzomberka’s bid to reach the state tournament for the first time.

“It’s very tough,” he said after shooting 40 in a 206-263 win over Highlands on Sept. 18 at Pittsburgh North. “I could have moved on to states. I had quite a few chances.

“Making states is the only focus right now. It’s the be-all, end-all.”

Ruzomberka, whose family moved to Pittsburgh when he was 10 years old, started lifting weights in the offseason to add strength to his 6-foot-1, 150-pound frame. He has buttressed a solid short game with drives that now average about 280 yards, he said, up from 265-270 yards. He kept busy during the pandemic-reduced junior golf schedule by playing in a handful of tournaments and working on his ball-striking and putting.

The effort is paying off as he fired a season-best 33 in a 202-242 victory over Freeport on Sept. 21 at Buffalo Golf Course and followed with an 82 at the Section 8-AAA tournament Sept. 22 at Pittsburgh Field Club to advance to the WPIAL Class AAA semifinals Sept. 29. Hampton senior Robert Leppert also shot an 82 to move one step closer to the WPIAL Class AAA individual finals Oct. 6 at South Hills Country Club.

Ruzomberka carries a team-best 38 nine-hole average for the Talbots, who improved to 8-3 with a 203-224 victory over Knoch on Sept. 23 and are on the verge of securing their eighth consecutive WPIAL playoff berth.

“He’s confident,” coach Bruce Steckel said. “He knows what he’s doing out there.”

The Talbots were scheduled to close out the regular season against Kiski Area (Sept. 24), North Allegheny (Sept. 28) and Mars (Sept. 30).

The highlight of the season is a 213-214 victory over Shady Side Academy on Sept. 15 at Wildwood C.C., avenging a 186-216 loss to the rival Indians five day earlier.

“It was a good match,” Steckel said of the Talbots’ win. “The kids played well … and Shady Side didn’t have a very good day. That makes a lot of difference, but we take what we can.”

Other top golfers for the Talbots are seniors Ryan Beranek and Arianna Erka, junior Jake Twerdok and promising sophomore Dan Venture, who shot 37 to pace the Talbots over Highlands in the Sept. 18 match.

“Danny Venture,” Steckel said, “is going to be our future here.”

The WPIAL Class AAA team semifinals are scheduled for Oct. 12 at a site to be determined followed by the WPIAL team championships Oct. 15 at Cedarbrook Golf Club.

Last year’s WPIAL finals was the latest near-miss for Ruzomberka. One stroke also cost him a share of the section title last year and, as a sophomore, he missed the WPIAL finals by one stroke after shooting 10-over 82 at Youghiogheny in the WPIAL semifinals with a double-bogey on No. 18. He had to settle for being an alternate for the WPIALs and didn’t get to play.

Erka, the only girl on the team, has qualified for the WPIAL championships the past two years. But, like her classmate Ruzomberka, she is hoping to improve from a WPIAL disappointment. Last year, she won the Section 4-AAA title with a 73 at Hiland Golf Course — seven shots better than the runner-up and the best score of the four sectional qualifiers — but struggled to a 98 at the WPIAL championships at Diamond Run and finished 29th out of 32 golfers.

“I didn’t do well,” said Erka, who is averaging about 44 per nine holes this year. “I would like to qualify for state this year, for sure.”

Steckel has stressed to Ruzomberka to avoid dwelling on the inevitable highs and lows and instead concentrate on his game. His ace golfer is taking the advice.

“I don’t try to focus on that stuff anymore,” Ruzomberka said. “I try to work on what aspect of my game was bad that day. My putting was really bad (at the ’19 WPIAL finals), but right now my putting is the best part of my game.”


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