Skyler Fox didn’t make it easy on himself at the WPIAL Class AA boys golf championship on Thursday.
But the Riverside junior is confident in his game and knows how to accomplish big shots in clutch situations.
Fox was in a tight battle with Sewickley Academy junior J.F. Aber through 14 holes at Allegheny Country Club.
But a miraculous birdie on No. 16 propelled Fox to his third WPIAL title as he finished with a 2-under par 68.
He’s the first golfer since Fox Chapel’s Frank Fuhrer III (1974-76) and third boys player in WPIAL history to accomplish the three-peat. The first was Brentwood’s Ron Schwarzel (1952-54).
Fox birdied Nos. 15 and 16 to push ahead of Aber and fend off a late charge by Elizabeth Forward’s Angus McHolme, who finished second with a 1-under par 69 by birding two of his final three holes.
Fox called his sand shot from 180 yards and his 25-foot curling birdie putt two of the biggest shots of his life.
“This is an awesome feeling,” Fox said. “I can’t get it through my head that I did this. I definitely played well.”
Fox said his approach was to hit greens in regulation and two-putt and hopefully get a putt to fall for birdie. But his driver made things a little more challenging.
To preserve the victory, he was forced to make a 5-foot par put on No. 17 and a 2-foot knee-knocker on No. 18.
On No. 16, Fox was trying to avoid trouble off the tee to the right but overcompensated and hooked his drive into the left bunker.
“I definitely didn’t hit my driver well, but my putter and wedge saved me,” Fox said. “I told myself don’t go right and hit it into the bunker. All I was trying to do was get it near the green. I hit it to the left side and then made the putt.”
He said playing in tournaments takes the pressure off him, though he didn’t play much tournament golf this past summer. He was trying to figure out his swing flaw.
McHolme said he liked that everyone was talking about Fox and Aber. He just went out and did his best.
“No one really knew about me,” McHolme said. “That’s how I wanted it, and I almost got it done.
“The front nine was a little rough, a couple three putts. The back nine started slowly, and then I got it going on No. 12 with a birdie.”
McHolme had a birdie putt lip out on No. 17.
Quaker Valley junior Aiden Bulger was third at 1-over, Chartiers-Houston junior Jack Hritsko was fourth at 2-over, while Aber, South Park junior Stone Ellis and North Catholic senior Trey Bartony were tied for fifth at 3-over.
“It was nice to play with Skyler because it was almost like playing match play with him,” Aber said. “I worked hard, and I got better over the summer.”
The top 18 finishers advanced to the PIAA West Regional on Oct. 15 at Tom’s Run Golf Course in Blairsville.
Others to advance included Burrell senior Tiger Hubbard, who shot a 4-over 74 and tied for eighth, and Greensburg Central Catholic senior Zach Boote, who shot an 8-over 78 and tied for 15 th .
Boote and Hubbard both missed advancing as juniors. Boote had a 5-over 9 on No. 7 in 2017 that forced him to miss the cut, and Hubbard finished 18 th after shooting an 82.
“I just tried to stay in it and not get nervous,” Boote said. “I had three straight bogeys on the back nine, which made it rough, and I doubled 16. Didn’t know where I stood, I just wanted to finish strong. There was a lot of relief once I pared No. 7.”
Boote said now he’s looking forward to playing well at Tom’s Run.
Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Schofield_Trib.