West Xtra: Senior grows as talented golfer

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Hunter Lecker always had the swing. He just didn't have the body to drive it.

As a 5-foot-5 freshman at Burgettstown, Lecker showed a lot of promise for a program that has long been one of the best in WPIAL Class AA.

Then something fortunate happened to Lecker -- he grew.

Now heading into his senior season, Lecker is again flashing his talent, and the fact that he's about a head taller than he was three years ago has him thinking big.

A growth spurt that began last summer has Lecker standing 5-11. The increased height has led to increased weight and increased power. His drives used to travel about 200 yards. Now they cover more than 250. The new look has played a big role in Lecker taking his game to a new level.

"For sure, because now I can hit all the greens in two [shots]. I would always have to chip on the third shot and it was hard to hit birdies," Lecker said.

Jon Vallina, one of the most accomplished coaches in WPIAL history, coached Lecker his first three seasons before retiring after 29 years. Vallina, who guided the Blue Devils to five WPIAL titles, agreed that Lecker's literal growth has been huge for his game.

"He always had a pretty decent swing, but he was a bit small. He's probably about a foot taller now," Vallina said. "He's worked hard this spring and at the driving range. He's really worked hard at his game."

The hard work is paying dividends this summer. Competing June 17 in the Southwest Pennsylvania Junior Golf Tour, Lecker fired a 1-over 71 at Chippewa Golf Course in Bentleyville. The sizzling round earned Lecker a six-stroke win. Heading into this week, Lecker's score was the lowest of any player in the SPJGT 15-17 age group. Lecker is in the "First Flight" division, one notch below the top group, "Championship Flight."

And Lecker didn't even think he played that well in what tied for his best round since he began playing the sport when he was 11. Perhaps most frustrating to Lecker was that he went into the final hole 1 under, before an errant drive made him settle for a double bogey and a 1 over.

"I only hit, like, eight greens," Lecker said. "I hit four birdies. I was putting pretty well. My short game was pretty good. I pulled that last drive. If it wasn't for that, I might have been in the 60s."

Lecker estimates he'll play about 40 or 50 rounds this summer. He was scheduled to compete Tuesday in an SPJGT tournament at Fort Cherry Golf Course and has another on tap for Monday at Valley Brook Country Club.

At Burgettstown, Lecker was in the No. 6 position his sophomore season, but his play in the WPIAL team final was instrumental in the Blue Devils claiming the title with a four-stroke triumph against runner-up Sewickley Academy. Some of Burgettstown's top golfers didn't play their best that day. Lecker, though, came up with a much-needed 82 to push the Blue Devils to the win.

"It was awesome," said Lecker, who is also a starter on the basketball team. "It was one of the best feelings ever."

"That was the key to us winning the WPIALs," Vallina said. "He's a solid player, a good athlete. He started last season playing well and then hit a little slump going into the WPIAL finals. If not, he probably would have been another guy that made it to states. I expect him to make it to states this year. He'll be one of the top players in the WPIAL."

Lecker was in the No. 3 position last season and will elevate to No. 2 after the graduation of Owen Miller, who finished third in last season's PIAA championships. Lecker and No. 1 player Cody Dobbin -- the third-place finisher in the WPIAL championships -- will form an excellent duo for new coach Ben Froats.

Said Lecker: "I want to try to make it to states this year and I want our team to win WPIALs and maybe states. I think we're going to be pretty solid."

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