Two years ago, Baldwin High School golfer Zack Taylor shocked the WPIAL when he won the 2011 boys Division I individual championship as a freshman with a 1-under 71 at Treesdale Golf and Country Club in Pine.
Any thoughts of a four-year dynasty for Taylor quickly dissipated a year ago at the 2012 Class AAA championship where he finished 20th with a 9-over 79 at Fox Chapel Golf Club and saw his sophomore season come to an end.
But Taylor wasn't demoralized. If anything, his play this summer is quickly approaching the title form he displayed two years ago. The 16-year-old Baldwin Borough resident displayed his prowess July 16 in a Kings Restaurant junior golf tournament at Cedarbrook Golf Club outside of Belle Vernon.
Playing the back nine first on the par-71 Red Course, Taylor had matching nine-hole scores of 34 to win the 15-and-16-year-old grouping with a 3-under 68. His score could have approached the mid-60s, but he recorded a double bogey on the final hole. His score matched the totals posted by Greensburg's Arnie Cutrell and Ruffsdale's Alex Patricio in the 17-18 grouping.
Taylor said he knew early in his round that he was going to play well.
"All of my wedge [shots] were landing within 10 feet of the pin," said Taylor, who started playing golf when he was 2. "Those shots were pretty consistent throughout the round."
In all, Taylor's round consisted of seven birdies, two bogeys, the double bogey on the final hole and eight pars.
It was Taylor's best effort in the Kings event, which consists of one-day tournaments played several days a week throughout the summer in Western Pennsylvania. It also was his third win of the summer. He shot a 3-over 75 to win a tournament July 11 at Pittsburgh North Golf Club. Three days earlier, he shot a 2-over 74 to win a tournament at the Tam O'Shanter Club in Hermitage.
Taylor thinks this summer is a precursor to what can be expected when he and his Baldwin teammates compete next season.
"My play right now has a lot to do with what I'm doing off the tee," he said. "Two years ago, I was using my driver a lot. But now I'm going with my 2-iron and my 2-hybrid. Using those clubs has helped keep the ball in play."
The driver is still in the bag, but Taylor has learned to be more selective with its use.
"You don't have to use the driver with every tee shot," he said. "Learning that comes with experience. The more you mess up, the more things you learn."
Just because he doesn't use the driver as much as he used to doesn't mean Taylor has sacrificed distance off the tee.
"I'm averaging between 280 to 285 yards off the tee, and have been able to hit past 300 once in a while. But now, I'm hitting the ball straighter," he said.
Taylor's efforts attracted the attention of the U.S. Kids Golf Teen World Championship held July 25-27 in Pinehurst, N.C.
Taylor shot rounds of 80, 76 and 82 to finish with a 22-over-par total of 238 in the 15-18 Boys A grouping at the Teen World Championship. The three-day tournament ended July 27. He finished in a five-way tie for 62nd place, 25 strokes behind the 3 under winning total of 213 posted by David Snyder of McAllen, Texas. There were 77 golfers in the field that included golfers from the United States and 16 other countries.
Taylor now has just a few weeks to get ready for the high school season that consists of nine-hole matches in the regular season.
"I wish we played 18 holes during the regular season," he said. "If you make a mistake on an early hole, you don't have much time to correct it."
And against the competition he will face in the regular season, there will be plenty of pressure.
Of the 36 golfers who competed in the Class AAA individual championship a year ago, 18 are back this season -- including Central Catholic's Brent Rodgers, who will be a senior.
"There will be lots of good competition, and I feed off that," Taylor said. "It's going to make the season a lot more interesting, and it will make it a great year for golf."