Pair of birdies highlight Oakmont experience for Hampton’s Arianna Erka

Sunday, October 25, 2020 | 11:01 AM

There was a time when back-to-back triple bogeys at the WPIAL golf championships would have ruined Arianna Erka.

But when the once-temperamental Hampton senior carded consecutive 7s on Nos. 2 and 3 at historic Oakmont Country Club, she instead settled down and finished in style what was likely her final round of competitive golf.

“I used to hang on to bad holes, bad shots and then my round would just go downhill from there,” she said. “But over the years I’ve learned you’ve got to put that behind or else you’re not going to enjoy the rest of a round.”

Erka distanced herself from the forgettable start on Oct. 8 with a 15-foot birdie putt on the par-3 No. 6. She added a chip-in birdie from the sand on No. 11 to shoot 18-over 93 at the course that has hosted nine U.S. Opens. The late surge moved Erka into a 10th-place finish in the 35-golfer Class AAA field after she had struggled to 29th at the WPIAL finals as a junior.

Only the top five finishers at the WPIALs advanced to the PIAA championships this year in the covid-abbreviated postseason.

In the first-ever WPIAL girls golf championship held at Oakmont, Erka was the only golfer in the field to birdie No. 11, a 271-yard par 4. Only seven of the 35 golfers managed par and 15 carded double bogey or worse on the hole. After her second shot landed in a green-side sand trap, she holed out for the memorable 3.

“That was definitely a relief because the sand traps are not easy to get out of, and I had been in a lot of them,” she said. “I was not having the best day regarding the sand traps.”

An out-of-bounds drive led to a triple bogey on No. 2, and a fairway sand trap that took two shots to escape wrecked No. 3. But Erka regrouped to record one of only two birdies on the 143-yard par 3 No. 6 at the WPIAL finals.

“Before No. 6, I hadn’t been playing very well,” she said. “It gave me a boost of confidence. I could put the past holes behind me and move on.”

Borche Erka followed his daughter around the Oakmont layout and said he was proud of how she kept her composure. He recalled a memorable moment years ago in a U.S. Kids event that had tested the young golfer’s resolve. Little Arianna had overshot the green into the thick rough at Shannopin Country Club. Her next shot sailed the green into a sand trap. Then out of the sand, back into the weeds. Back and forth.

“It was probably five or six shots before she was even able to get it onto the green,” her father said. “She was doing well up until that point. It just sort of ruined her round. That’s something I remember because I think that was probably the first time she was brought to tears by playing golf. It was not fun for her.”

But Arianna stuck with it. She became the only girl starter on the Hampton boys varsity team, winning the girls section title as a junior and tying for second at Blackhawk Golf Course last month as a senior. She carried a nine-hole average in the low 40s this year for coach Bruce Steckel’s Talbots. Indeed, she came a long way from those emotional early days.

“When I was younger, my parents would enter me into those U.S. Kids golf tournaments,” she said. “I was not a fan of them. I would get really frustrated if I hit a bad shot, and I did not enjoy being out there. But that’s definitely changed over time. I’ve learned to keep things together and become more mentally strong in the game.”

Erka, who also plays outfield for the Hampton softball team, doesn’t expect to play competitive golf in college. A straight-A student, she is looking at Pitt, Penn State, Clemson, Miami (Fla.) and Florida.

“I’ll definitely be going out to golf with my family and friends, but I don’t think I’ll be entering any tournaments,” she said. “It’s sad, to think how far I’ve come from when I started when I was real young. It’s just crazy to think that this whole thing is kind of coming to an end.”


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