2nd Place, whether it matters or not

I play in the ‘Pro’ divisions, and in NorCal that means stiff competition no matter how big or small the event, whether I’m playing Open or Masters. It’s also dawned on me that in tourneys my distance is now a little less than the average competitor. I can barely throw 400 feet, and it seems almost everyone I play against can throw further. The only way I can be competitive is to play really clean golf and hit lots of putts, and both require a great deal of focus. For this reason, I find the important tournaments a little stressful, or at least mentally taxing. How do I define important? If a tourney is PDGA sanctioned, affects my player rating, costs more than $75 to enter, spans two or more days, or all of the above- it’s important.

The Faultine Classic, which is one of two annual PDGA events at my home course, DeLaveaga DGC in Santa Cruz, was played last week and it’s what I consider an important event. Not only does it meet all of the above criteria, how well I do in that event factors into whether I get to represent Team Santa Cruz in San Diego in December- a match play event that has been going on for more than 25 years. So at least in the context of my personal world of disc golf, it’s important.

For events like the Faultline, I’ve conditioned myself to try to make fun, socializing, imbibing, and even enjoyment secondary to score. My casual rounds provide me with plenty of time to indulge those visceral benefits, and I guess I’m one who feels compelled to feed the need to test (prove) himself from time to time. Then there is that whole different kind of disc golfer, and my friend Gregory is in that second group. We use DeLa bag-tags and occasional small monetary bets to inject a competitive element into our weekly rounds, but Gregory feels no need to take his competitive jones any further than that. He hasn’t played any kind of tournament for years, even though he’s pretty good and has been getting better and better over the past few years.

I somehow convinced Gregory to be my partner in a worst-shot doubles event at San Jose’s La Raza and Hellyer 9-hole courses, part of a celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the installation of Hellyer’s course (one of the courses I’ve helped to install). Part of my logic in convincing Gregory to play was the fact that the 18-hole tourney would be a low-key, fun-first event. Indeed, it was just that, and as a good contrast to the Faultline, it served as an example of what I’d consider a competitively non-important event. Following is a summary of both events, and why I enjoyed each immensely for what they had to offer.

The 2007 Faultline Classic

The Faultline is a pro-only event, meaning no amateur divisions are offered. Either play with the big boys and girls, or don’t play. It’s also billed as the California State Championships, but this year it had a bit more local flavor due to a conflict with one of disc golf’s majors, the US Disc Golf Championships in South Carolina. For that reason current World Champ and lifelong local Nate Doss, among many others that usually attend, were absent. Add to that the fact that the club was a little lax in getting the word out, and the divisions were wide open for locals to win. And win they did.

Jon Baldwin won the open mens division, Jim Hagen won Masters, Kristi King won women’s open, and the final nine was all locals- Jon, Don Smith, Stan Pratt, and quasi-local J. Michael Barry. Usually, when I follow along as part of the final nine gallery, there is maybe one local participant in the top four and I root for him. This time all four were friends of mine, so I felt conflicted. In the end, I’m glad Jon held onto his four-stroke lead (barely) to capture a win that will hopefully (and deservedly) put him on the map. He’s a disc golfer that makes the most of his abilities and does everything well, on the physical as well as mental side. Plus he’s a truly good guy. But the other three are, too- hence the ‘conflicted’?

Side Notes:

  • It was especially gratifying to see Stan gets results in a tournament equal to his abilities. In my opinion it was only a matter of time, so hopefully he can use this as a springboard to continued success.
  • J Michael Barry qualifies for the age-protected Grandmasters division, but he now often chooses to play Open. No wonder! He won the SF Safari, and finished 2nd in the Faultline, with only a spit-out birdie putt preventing him from tying Jon on the last hole of the final 9 (hole 27). Michael provides inspiration for those of us trying to play their best golf after 40.
  • Prior to this event, Jon Baldwin and I tied at the last three major events at Dela (two Masters Cups and a Faultline). Thanks to his -14 in the first round this year compared to my (ugh) par, that streak ended rather abruptly
  • I ultimately finished 2nd in the Masters division, one stroke behind Jim Hagen, and after that horrid first round 2nd place tasted pretty good. My gameplan worked out for me, as I minimized mistakes and hit the birdie putts when I had them (after the first round). The last two rounds I had only three total bogey strokes, and had the best score both rounds. Jim has been playing great golf this Summer and was bound to get me sooner or later.
  • I played all three rounds with Doug Werner, a great guy and excellent golfer who I think is still getting better. Thanks to Doug I found out about the Hellyer/LaRaza event, and got the chance to play him on his turf for once.

Hellyer and La Raza worst-throw doubles

There are several things I want to comment on here, but I’ll first summarize by saying that the entire experience was positive for me and for Gregory. Sure, we finished 2nd in Open and won a little cash, which will help the next time I try to convince Gregory to play in a tourney, but I think that factor was minimal. After all, this was what I consider a ‘non-competitively important’ event. Translation: I was able to make having fun a priority. So here are some observations:

  • Hellyer- The course is basically the same layout as the last time I played it, years ago, and even locals will admit it’s just so-so in terms of challenge and variety of shots. But they’ve really made the most of the land they have there. The whole course seemed so much more developed and groomed, and, dare I say, landscaped.
  • LaRaza- This was my first time ever playing the 9-hole LaRaza, and I was impressed! For a flat course (again, you work with what you got) the length and numerous trees and other foliage made for a good test of disc golf skills. This course is seasonal and will soon shut down for the Winter, so if you want to check it out, do it now. They have a tourney coming up soon (see http://www.svdgc.org for details) which can make for a great way to play the course with locals.
  • Worst-shot doubles-If you’ve never played worst-shot doubles before, it’s completely different than anything else. The best shots count for nothing, long putts are even bigger than normal, and part of the strategy is selecting which of your companion twosome’s throws are worst each hole. Gregory and I shot a +2, and the winners (Stick and Manny, with whom we played), shot a par. Those guys were great, by the way, and very helpful considering neither G or I had ever played LaRaza.
  • The South Bay Disc Golf Scene- I was pleased and impressed to see the turnout and cameraderie, and felt very welcomed as a representative of Santa Cruz. several people made a point to express their appreciation of us coming over the hill, and I will for sure be back for another event. I also got the chance to see my old friend Sean Hager, a regular playing partner from a decade ago and fellow Hellyer course installer.

In the future I’ll try to treat this space more as a blog, with more frequent, less lengthy entries. If you read this entire post at one sitting, I’m impressed!

Keep on Chuckin’!

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