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?

Level 20 in disc golf is usually Hole 13

Is it just me, or do a disproportionate amount of disc golf courses feature a design that makes the thirteenth hole the most difficult? My home course is DeLaveaga, and number 13 there is the legendary I-5. It’s probably why I’ve always noticed this odd . . . phenomenon . . . coincidence . . . or maybe it’s the opposite of a coincidence. Maybe it’s part of the course designer credo.

At my little local short course, Black Mouse, the longest hole by far is number 13. But before the course was reconfigured to pacify a science teacher, number 13 was the trickiest**. An uphill 290-footer that forces you to throw way around a gnarly tangle of Redwoods and brush, it’s still the toughest par for me on the relatively easy course. Go figure. I know I’ve made the same observation at countless other courses, too, but one in particular is on my mind.

Hole 13 at Winthrop Gold – site of the United States Disc Golf Championship next week – is known as 888. Because of the length. But it’s a par five, and the course includes a par four that is 900 feet. So length isn’t what makes this hole the toughest of what is a parade of challenging holes. Much like 13 at Black Mouse, this hole is hard because it barely gives a disc room to breath, from tee to basket.

Without yet seeing it in person (that’ll change next week), but based on the caddie book and descriptions by numerous people that have (including current chap Nate Doss), here’s an idea of how it plays:

A narrow strip of tree-studded fairway bends slowly to the right, eventually running into a dead-end 800 feet away. At that point, the basket is about 150 feet away in the middle of an island green. The hazard on this hole is called bunkr, and landing on the wrong side of the red bunkr line incurs no penalty stroke. However, you must throw again from the original lie. So if there is a shot that really gives you problems, you might pile up some strokes.

Standing on the tee, you see a wall of low-hanging trees on the left and a parking lot on the right, divided by a 3-inch curb and the aforementioned bunkr.

  • The first task is to break through or go over that line of trees, without crossing over the bunkr line that defines the other side of the fairway.
  • You then need to keep between the two roughly parallel bunkr lines that are maybe 50 feet apart, while dodging trees strategically placed throughout
  • Depending on your power and your risk-taking personality, there are numerous opportunities to reach the island green from between the trees, starting from around 400 feet away from the basket, 500 feet from the tee. I’ll most likely have to cover 600 feet of that skinny fairway before I can take a shot at that green.

I have a feeling that my respect will grow for this hole after I’ve actually played it.

**NOTE: I just contacted the designer of both Black Mouse and DeLa, HOFer Tom Schot, to ask him if there was some secret course designer rule involved, and he said there was no such rule, so that’s that. But now he’ll begin seeing tough 13’s everywhere too.

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.