The Fan Experience

So far, my USDGC experience has been from the player experience, although I’m stretching that definition a little bit. With rounds of 85 and 86, I’ve felt much more like the guy that got to play by helping run the Masters Cup than the guy who missed qualifying by a stroke three years in a row.

But after finishing my 8:00 AM round by Noon, then grabbing some good Carolina BBQ (actually, it’s OK but nothing special, in my opinion), I headed back to to the course to follow Nate around during his round.

I sheepishly admit to feeling a little bit of shame, thinking that everyone knew I was either a spectator and nothing else, or a player that sucked enough (relatively speaking, of course- this is the USDGC) to have a tee-time early enough to be done already. But I really enjoyed the spectator experience at this event, and the difference between the USDGC and any other event I’ve ever experienced is quite noticeable. Volunteers are everywhere, including a very impressive number of grey-haired, non-playing disc golf aficionados. It got me wondering- what is it about other part of the country I’ve been in where older generations seem to get it about the benefits of disc golf, even though they don’t play themselves? Are they simply more supportive of their younger relatives? Do they possess wisdom that their counterparts in California do not? Maybe tomorrow I’ll ask a few questions and get to the bottom of it.

Since I happened to be in South Carolina during the USDGC, with time on my hands, I decided to follow Nate’s group and support ol’ Bobby Hill (along with his Mom and Stepdad Mark K.) in his effort to defend his USDGC title. And being the narcissist that I am, my thoughts of these top-ranked players kept coming back to what a gap now exists between me and they world’s best. At first the thought is kind of a bummer, but then it sort of justifies spending three hours walking the same course I just played to watch someone else play. I mean, why would someone do that if not to see things done I can’t do myself?

Nate is in third place right now, 15 under par and five behind the lead. Some of the shots I saw him execute (and the others in the group) were simply amazing to me. The arm speed they generate makes it clear they are dealing with a whole different deck of cards. And that makes it quite fulfilling to be nothing more than a fan- for a while,anyway.

I was tied for the lead, and then the tournament started

The warm fuzzy feeling I got from being part of this event – the USDGC – was actually potent enough that it still hasn’t completely worn off, even after a first round where I nearly averaged a bogey per hole. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t really keeping track, and was shocked when I added it all up. It didn’t seem that bad! Feldberg and Schwebbee both shot -9 fifty-nines to grab the first round lead, but players are lined up behind them, including Nate at -5.

I got to play with a good mix of guys today- Kai from Finland, US Am champ this year Blayne, and Al ‘Sugar’ Shack, an acquaintance from my days hanging with Michigan dg-ers a decade ago. Everyone was upbeat and mellow, which made things more enjoyable for certain.

I wish I could blame my hideous +17 on the fact that the course is designed in such a way that it’s more difficult for people that can’t throw 400-plus feet. While this is true (as it is for any course with reasonably long holes), Winthrop Gold provides ample opportunity for a player to shoot par, as long as he/she can throw 300 feet. The design is great in that regard, and even somewhat friendlier to left-handers. So no excuse there.

I also wish that I could say that my injured shoulder is the cause of my high score, but that really isn’t true either. Only on the par 5 hole five, where I made the ill-fated decision to try unsuccessfully three times to throw over a large expanse of water in a way that my arm can’t handle right now, was it much of an issue. Every other time my feeble arm came into play, I had another option that I opted not to opt for. So no excuse there, either.

But tomorrow at 8 AM presents another opportunity, so we’ll see. But I’m running out of excuses.

The day before

As I type, it’s Tuesday night in Rock Hill and I just returned from the players’ welcome banquet. If I didn’t already have the sense that this is a special event, I do now. It feels pretty cool to be a part of it, and I’m surprised how many people I’ve met over the years that still remember me, despite the fact that my touring days days are mostly in the past.

Most notable from the meeting were a couple slight rule changes just for this tournament. For one, there is a bolder statement about displaying balance after a putt from 10 meters and in. At the USDGC this year, you need to demonstrate balance on BOTH FEET before advancing. Also, there are no warnings for falling putts. Instead, on the first instance the player has to re-throw, and take the worst of the two throws. After that, he/she incurs a stroke penalty, must re-throw, and then take the result of the re-throw.

I also liked Harold Duvall’s phrasing when he addressed the issue of calling penalties: “If you’re sure, always call it, and if you’re not sure, never call it.” I agree 100 percent.

On a (to me) comical note, I met a guy with the last name ‘Bachman,’ and it instantly occurred to me that his name lends itself to the best disc golf name-pun ever. It can take several forms, but if I was in his group and he turned over his drive, I’d say ‘Bachman turned over his drive,’ or call him the ‘Bachman drive turner-over.’ He got the joke right away, but said he’d never heard it before. I guess that, where he’s from – Utah – they’re not big BTO fans.

Monday Qualifying

The United States Disc Golf Championship is molded after ball golf’s US Open in several ways, but today’s news relates to a difference rather than a similarity. Ironically, neither event is ‘open’ to anyone who wants to participate. You have to either qualify or get in on some type of exemption, of which there is an extremely limited supply. For example, former champions get in for life, and in the USDGC if you finished in the top 20 the year before, you’re in.

To determine the rest of the field, both events have a series of qualifier tournaments around the country. But the USDGC reserves five slots for anyone willing to show up at the course and pay $20 per attempt to post one of the five lowest scores. Right now, according to usdgc.com, the five best scores today among hopeful qualifiers range from 63 (5 under) to 67. That is proof that there are plenty of capable golfers that would like to play this event every year but do not get in.

Here is the part I find really interesting. You can try as many times as you like on Monday to qualify, as long as you have the cash. And if you encounter disaster on the first hole, or anywhere else, you can abandon that round and get back in line to plunk down another $20 and start again. I asked the starter why they allow that kind of disruption to the other players in the group (kinda annoying when the other members of your foursome suddenly call it quits mid-round). His polite reply (because everyone is so very polite in the South): “Monday qualifi-uhs generate a lot of money for the purse.” That makes sense, I guess.

If you are interested in seeing some pictures of the course in sequential order (for the most part), click here. I accidentally had a weird effect set on my camera, but you can still get a sense of each hole.

To see pictures of the wet and rainy Monday qualifying action, click here.

Winthrop is Golden

This morning I finally got to see the course for myself, and this afternoon I finally got to play it. And it wasn’t until playing it myself that I was able to fully appreciate it. This course really is the result of some great course design.

Winthrop Gold is known to be long and exacting, with its “10,000 feet of OB.” But after playing all 18 holes, I’m happy to say that a player who can barely throw 350 feet could break par here. Can break par here.

I’m not saying it’s easy, no, no-o-o-o-o-o. Even though the terrain is mostly manicured grassy, many of the holes have just enough slope to complicate shot choices. OB lines don’t just run more or less parallel to the left and right of the hole. Often, they are used to define a hole, transforming a wide-open area into a vicious, narrow, 90 degree dogleg right (hole 10). And don’t even get me started on the the bunkr! However, this course is quite fair.

Using myself as a good yardmark to prove (or disprove) the bold assertion above (about weenie-arms being able to break par at Winthrop Gold) I’d have to say that only holes 5 ( a 1000-foot par 5 with a large stretch of water to cross at the end of the hole) and 13 (the famous ‘888‘ hole) are tough to par mostly because of length. On the rest of the holes, if you can throw a 250-foot upshot close enough to get up-and-down – and if you have the discipline to throw to spots rather than follow the instinct to huck it as hard as possible on a 900-foot hole – you can break par. I’m telling you, you can.

Now, all that being said, practice is different than tournament play and it’s always easier said than done when it comes to doing the logical thing in golf. But still, it’s a great course and great tournament that requires precision shots, consistent putting AND 500-foot drive potential to win, yet requires only the first two to break par and finish in the cash.

Like a polite – but devestating – right cross

Finally, after 11 years of speculation, stories, pictures, and video, I got to see the Winthrop Gold course for myself. And as is usually the case, the reality didn’t match up perfectly with my preconceived notions. Pretty close, but not exactly. Here are a couple things that surprised me a little:

  • Based on the online caddy book (course map), I expected more of the holes to be ‘wooded’. In reality, almost the entire course is nice, mowed grass, and most of the trees you need to play through have high canopies that make it so you’re just dealing with the trunks.
  • On the other side of the coin, the OB on most of the holes increases the degree of difficulty much more than I thought it would. In some spots, my feeble arm forces me to advance my disc 200 feet or less (when I need much more) to ensure I don’t stray across an OB line.

By way of analogy, I can compare Winthrop Gold to a heavyweight boxer that uncharacteristically doesn’t look, sound, or act imposing. So you go into the fight thinking you’ve got a shot, that maybe you won’t get as seriously mauled as your opponent’s 52-0 record with 45 knockouts would indicate. Then the bell rings and you get hit with that first devastating – but polite – right cross. That’s the first impression I got from Winthrop Gold. Now, the question is, will this insight help me at all?

USDGC- Be careful what you wish for

Since it debuted 11 years ago, playing in the USDGC has been first a wish, then a dream, then a goal, and finally an obsession of mine.

For the first few years, I wasn’t even cashing in Masters Cups and Faultlines regularly, and my scores were usually 20 strokes off what I’d need to qualify for USDGC. So it was kind of a ‘maybe someday’ kind of thing. Then I began to figure things out on the course, and eventually I’d make getting one of those five qualifier spots in the Masters Cup one of my objectives. By the time my player rating peaked at 999 (arg!), I had missed qualifying by either one spot or one stroke (or both) three years in a row. So last year, as my age hit 42 and my distance seemed to diminish a bit, I decided to bite the bullet and find another way to get in. I served as an assistant tournament director for the Masters Cup this year, and Daviar graciously gave me his spot.

Be careful what you wish for.

Tee off in Rock Hill, South Carolina is now nine days away, and my throwing arm is not just sore and feeble, like usual. It’s got something seriously wrong with it, and I don’t know what it is because I won’t see a doctor until after I return (because he/she might tell me not to play, and obsessed people always play).

So now I’m committed to playing this course that is long, exacting and, according to all the stories, potentially demoralizing- without my ‘A’ game. And everything being relative, my ‘A’ game in the USDGC is realistically a ‘B-minus’ game at best. But I do have a plan, and if I can pull it off I might even make the cut or even beat more than half the field. Hey, a guy can dream!

I’m going to try to post some entries in the coming week, but they’ll most likely be about things other than me and my game (we’ve heard that before, you say).

Wish me luck. Or better yet, wish me endorphins.

Masters Cup 2009: after 56 holes

First of all, we’re down to the last 28 holes. One more round, and so far no aspect of the tourney has been a disappointment. The weather continues to warm (if anything it’s been too warm), with wind a non-factor today. The course – despite the gorgeous conditions – isn’t giving up outrageously low scores (less than 20 percent of the Open division is under par). And the final round features a top group of Greg Barsby, Nate Doss, Nikko Locastro, and Ken Climo, all either -12 or -11. Within striking distance are Josh Anton, Kyle Crabtree, Stevie Rico, John Child, and Dave Feldberg.

I’t be great to see Nate Finally win on the course where he grew up, but more than anything I’m looking forward to a close finish no matter who wins. Now on to what really matters. Me! : )
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I’m at +6, tied for 8th in the Masters division (35 players), 12 strokes outta the lead.

I can play better, but with only three birdies and nine single bogeys I’m at least sticking to the gameplan and not giving strokes away. Not too many, anyway. What’s hurt me more than anything else is not birdying the three shorts holes on the course (8a, 17, and 21) except for one on 21. But all in all, considering the game I’ve showed up with Friday and Today, +6 ain’t too bad. I’ve hit every putt inside 30 feet except one, so now all I have to do is get a few of those looks for birdie rather than par! Now it’s time for a hot tub, another beer, sleep . . . then 28 more holes.

Masters Cup 2009:

The pro Masters Cup starts tomorrow, and I feel like I have two persona’s this year. While I’ve played in the event for many, many years, this is the first year I’ve been involved in running it in a major way. After all this time, and finally seeing what’s involved in pulling off a major tournament like the Masters Cup, I felt guilty.

For those that don’t know, some serious volunteer hours get put in to pull off an event that spans two 3-day weekends and includes more than 300 players. Unlike other courses, we get no assistance from the city or county when it comes to course maintenance, so all those lumpy hillsides that get mowed and weed-whacked are mowed and weed-whacked by volunteer disc golfers! Add to that the coordination with sponsors and the PDGA, communication to players, assembly of the players packs . . . . . I could go on and on, but you get the picture. People like Daviar, Stan Pratt, Marty Hapner, Katie Beckett, the guys at DGA . . . they deserve tons of credit.

Anyway, it makes this year feel different than years past. But it’s Thursday night, and my volunteer work should be done now. From now until my last putt on Sunday, I’m just another competitor. And like all the past years, I have a strategy to get my best game to show up for three straight 4.5 hour rounds on three straight days. Here it is, in a nutshell:

  1. As always, focus on nothing but what it takes to execute the next shot. All the other stuff – the score, the magintude of the event, what the other guys are doing – only detracts from the shot at hand.
  2. Stick to my gameplan of settling for par on most holes, picking up birdies where they present themselves. No matter how things start, or what unforseen disasters occur, I’ll stick to the plan. Last year I was cold for three straight rounds, and by sticking to the plan I still cashed.
  3. Treat my old bones with care. Ice the arm right after the round, soak in the hot tub Friday and Saturday nights, limit the alcohol, and get enough sleep.

We’ll see how it goes, but the key is #1 above. I play my best when I’m totally absorbed in the moment, in the shot. I need to play disc golf in a vaccuum.