World champions return.
4 July 2023 by Kingsley Flett in Analysis, Recap with comments
Compared to the thunderclouds that darkened the sky over Des Moines last week, it was a different kind of shadow that shadowed the Airborn Disc Golf Preserve on the outskirts of Clearwater, Minnesota, in the few days leading up to the Preserve Championship.
After a Minnesota District Court judge granted Natalie Ryan a temporary injunction against the DGPT and PDGA’s eligibility policy that allowed the transgender athlete to play the tournament, emotions ran high. An unofficial press conference to speak against the ruling was called by a delegation of FPO and MPO players. Speakers included Catrina Allen, Sarah Hokom, Rebecca Cox, Jennifer Allen, Kat Mersch, Jessica Weese and Kona Montgomery. They pleaded, some through tears, for their voices to be heard and they asked for justice. There was also an appeal to the better nature of the disc golf community: to lead with love and not hate. However, many have come down hard on both sides of this issue: given the tone of the debate on the Internet, the appeal has yet to reach these people.
The unfailingly measured and thoughtful Kristin Tattar spoke on Brodie Smith’s podcast Tour life recently — about how heartbreaking it was for her to see the division in her disc golf family. Even watching the events unfold from afar, it was clear how heavy the atmosphere had become. But as Leonard Cohen wrote: “There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” It only takes a sliver of light to illuminate a dark room, and it only took a few holes of play from a couple of disc golf’s first round greats to shine a light back on disc golf.
Catrina Allen started the show. After a one-under par that opened eight holes, Allen reached down low and between the knees on a straddle putt, like a one-handed version of a 1950s basketball free throw, and launched a 50-foot uphill that jumped in. from the front of the cage on par 9. Then on hole 11, she hit another long straddle putt after her drive over Victoria’s Creek was released late and short of the green’s retaining wall. Those birdies were in the middle of a streak of six in a row, three of which were scored with outside the circle putts that propelled the two-time world champion into a 4-stroke lead over Kristin Tattar.
“I’m in shock,” Allen said after the 10-under-par first round. “The course just gives some birdies and I thought ‘we’ve got a lot of heavy hitters here’ and I might be in the chase or even the lead, so I’m really happy to be where I am. .”
The first part of Ricky Wysocki’s season has been derailed with a wrist injury that has become chronic and unpredictable. “The wrist is not 100%,” he said before the tournament. “Playing a long season ebbs and flows. It’s certainly not great right now, but it’s never been an overuse injury. So it’s just about playing through a bit of pain.”
Any doubt about the damage was removed when Wysocki drove his card, including known big arms in Gannon Buhr and Calvin Heimburg, onto the long fairway of the 700-foot hole 1. Wysocki drained the first of six circle putts for a birdie on this one. hole en route to a 15-under-par 52 and a two-stroke lead. Wysocki’s putting looked machine-like during the round: he was 100% inside the circle and missed just one putt for the entire round, from circle 2 when he scored one of his two bogeys for the round on hole-3. We even saw the raptor legs on hole 18 when Wysocki hit his circles-edge putt for eagle.
Allen had also been perfect inside the circle in his round and 50% from circle two. “I’ve actually had a lot of putt rounds like this, but I just haven’t been throwing the disc as well as I did today, so you guys probably didn’t see them,” she said. “I finally found a way to putt well enough that I’m giving myself the opportunity for birdie instead of making those putts for par.”
It is of course exciting to see the influx of new names on DGPT podiums and leaderboards: Parker Welck, Cole Redalen, Isaac Robinson, Niklas Anttila, Evan Scott, Kat Mertsch, Macie Velediaz, Sai Ananda and Hanna Huynh to name a few few . But too much novelty can feel destabilizing. There was something reassuring about watching Allen and Wysocki lead the way at The Preserve. Both champions held their leads in round two, Wysocki extending his lead to four over James Conrad, while Allen dropped a stroke to Kristen Tattar but still led by three.
Wysocki provided some theater on the 335-foot hole 11: he pulled his drive high and right, the drive sailed high into the trees along the right side of the fairway and headed for trouble before it was deflected back into the fairway and miraculously, . on an inlet area on the near side of Victoria’s Creek. With the bleachers full of spectators behind the green roaring the drive home, Wysocki put in the basket from 95 feet, and as he ran his raptor leg along the path to the green, there was a sense that momentum, for a player who thrives on it, built.
Allen had a slow start to his second round, shooting even par up to hole 7, while Tattar erased his lead with four birdies. Tattar and Allen then had a see-saw battle in the middle part of the round, highlighted by Tattar’s two circle putts for birdie on holes 10 and 11 and Allen’s 50-foot par save on 14.
Tattar and Allen arrived at hole-16 with the score level before Allen parked it and Tattar showed the underside of his disc to the right-left crosswind and sailed 50 feet wide. Then, on hole 17, Tattar’s strategy of stalling off the tee backfired when the drive slipped out of her grasp early and hit the fourth row of trees along the left side of the narrow fairway. Allen’s second consecutive birdie stretched the lead back to three before both players bogeyed the 18th hole.
Both Allen and Wysocki had shaky starts in their final rounds. In the MPO, the entire leading card struggled to score in the early holes as news filtered through from the 5th card of Cole Redalen shooting a hot round. The leading card of Wysocki, Heimburg, James Conrad and Nicholas Gill had combined to shoot 3-under par on the first three holes compared to 8-under par the day before. Conrad’s struggle was primarily tee to green: the 2021 world champion hit just 68% of the fairways. Heimburg’s games were on the green where he putts only 50% inside the circle, most of which went low into the cage. “I felt like I had a weight attached to my arm today,” he said after the round.
After shooting 27 under par in the first two rounds, Wysocki struggled to find the same flow in the first half of Sunday. “It happens when there’s pressure and nerves on the last day and driver’s license,” Wysocki said after the round. “There’s like two separate tournaments going on; there’s the main card and then everyone else. When you’re on the third or fourth card, it’s almost like a walk in the park. There’s not as much pressure and expectations and the players are able to throw more freely.”
Wysocki got it going on hole 6. After pulling his drive to the right of the dogleg on the 695-foot par-4, he threw a high stalling backhand straight to the basket above the trees and found the chip filtered down into a spot that gave him a channel to hit the birdie putt right from the edge of the circle. “Come on Rick!” he shouted as he got a shot at the card and became the only player in the top 20 to birdie the hole apart from Anthony Barela.
“It was a huge momentum for my round,” he said. “I felt like I got the momentum shots when I needed to get them to keep Calvin and everyone behind me. I do really well when I have a lead and I was happy to control the tournament today . I feel like that’s when I play my best.”
There was a strain on hole 8 where he pitched out of bounds and failed to save par from the drop zone. The two-putt swing allowed Calvin to within 3 strokes and Redalen, who was up on hole 13, within two. But then a 50-foot putt for birdie on hole 12 got a roll, and a cruel roll-away after another circle-1 putting miss by Heimburg on hole 13 opened the hole back up to five strokes with five to go.
Wysocki punctuated the victory with a 38-foot birdie putt on hole 16 and then an exclamation point with another eagle on hole 18. The only disappointment for the fans who gathered to shout “yeah Rick!” when the winning putt fell, the lack of raptor leg running room Wysocki had left by parking his second shot within five feet of the basket.
Heimburg finished with three birdies to climb back into a share of second place with Redalen, another of the teenagers destined to shape the course of MPO play for years to come. Redalen spoke with a wisdom that belied his age after the round.
“Any golfer will tell you it’s up or down whether you play well one week or bad the next week,” he said. “For anyone who’s playing bad right now, one week and you can play so much better. I’m just so thankful to be able to come back strong after a rough couple of weeks and feel my game again, just like everybody else. That’s it continuous work and the confidence that you will come back stronger next week.”
Prior to his 15-under par 52 from the 5th card, Redalen had caddied for teammate Catrina Allen in the morning. Allen credited Redalen’s sense for helping her navigate a crunch time on the front nine. Starting the championship Sunday with a three-stroke lead on Tattar, Allen stretched it to 5-stroke after a 2-stroke swing on hole 3. Then. Despite birdieing the difficult dogleg hole 6, where the FPO field used the same tee as the MPO, Allen hit back as Tattar became one of 15 players on both fields to score a 3 on the hole at the day. However, Allen’s 4-stroke lead would evaporate in the next two holes: starting with a 4-putt double bogey on hole 7 to birdie Tattar, then a par on hole 8, which Tattar birdied after hitting a 50-foot putt.
“I knew what had happened in the last two holes,” Allen said after the round. “But Cole and I do a great job of staying in the moment. When he’s there and we’re just talking about my game in the moment, I don’t go into panic mode. We talked about how my putting routine was a little slow on one putt and a little quick on the next one and how we’re just going to adjust on the next tee instead of thinking about how I just dropped three shots.”
The leading pair traded birdies on the next two holes before Allen steadily pulled away and gained strokes on the next four holes as Tattar lost his rhythm: carded from the retaining wall on hole 11 and landed in Victoria’s creek, pitching into a tree 40 feet. off the fairway on hole 12, just missed the must-birdie putt on hole 13, then leaked a 20-foot comeback putt for par left on hole 14. After matching Tattar’s score over the next three holes, Allen was able to putt up to bogey on hole 18 to secure a comfortable 3 stroke victory.
In her post-round interview, Allen revealed that, like MPO winner Ricky Wysocki, she had entered the tournament with some adversity. “Last week I lost my best friend from college, then I had emergency surgery on my mouth on Monday,” she said before returning to the question of the week before the tournament. “Not to bring up a touchy subject, but the whole fight for justice in our division. It felt like after the press conference that after two years of fighting for justice in our division, I felt like I was finally able to speak my truth, and it was the calmest I have felt on the course since 2021.”
The end of the Preserve Championship marks a point in the tour. Most of the professional tournaments cross the European swing before returning to the US for the Worlds, followed by the final events, the USDGC and the Tour Championship. It is therefore fitting that this tournament was played on the banks of the mighty Mississippi that bisects the eastern part of the continent.
A few kudos have been made in this first part of DGPT, but as we get to the business end, it’s time to leave a legacy. Something tells me the performance in this first part of the tour is going to count for very little in the final chapter.