Season's first event brings talk about Europe's new touring system
April 5, 2017 by Dean Schaub in Recap with 0 comments
In a 2017 team promotional video, Raimo Sokka’s stated goal is to secure a spot on Team Finland for The European Championships. A wire-to-wire win at the Dutch Discgolf Championships, the first stop on the 2017 EuroTour, is a pretty good way to start.
Sokka came out of the gate with the hot round of the tournament on Saturday morning, shooting a blistering 6-under par 54, good for a 1027 unofficial rating. Second place finisher Mikael Hakala, also from Finland, finished the first round with a 3-under par 57 but could not cut into the lead as he and Sokka matched scores in round two (4-under 56) and three (2-under 58) as the latter cruised to a six-shot victory.
With the two highest rated players in the tournament, Juho Parviainen and Tony Ferro, struggling, the door was open for a fresh face to visit the top of the podium. Sokka and Hakala were the only two golfers that stayed under par in each of their three rounds, creating a two-man race for the win.
“I’ve been playing a lot in the winter season and I had high expectations going to my first PDGA tournament of the year”, Sokka said. “My putting game wasn’t ready for the wind, but my shots were there and my trusty D2s were flying great.”
Norwegian pro Lars Somby dramatically leapfrogged Finn Jere Rosenqvist in the final 9 to take third place, while Estonian Ralf Rogov rounded out the top 5.
Sokka, interestingly enough, also works for Prodigy and serves as Team Manager for the company’s European outpost. It has been said in a few places that working for a disc golf company is a surefire way to hurt your game or sink your rating, but Sokka doesn’t see it this way at all.
“We have a basket in our office and now I’m able to do my putting practices right after work, and that’s something which helps me a lot,” Sokka said. “I’m really liking my job and it doesn’t bother me if everything spins around disc golf.”
Coming off a 2016 season full of accolades in the Juniors division, Hakala handled himself like a veteran throughout the weekend. In his second season sponsored by Latitude 64, the young pro peppered the course with both accuracy and distance and showed why keeping it simple can often lead to success; most of his shots were from the same three discs — a Fuzion Enforcer, Fuzion Felon, or VIP Harp. Hakala and Sokka both showed the importance of mastering the forehand and backhand, and the pair employed both shots to climb the leaderboard.
Despite his younger age compared to his fellow competitors, Hakala said he was not intimidated or nervous playing with the older pros on the card.
“I think no,” Hakala said. “It was a competition just like the other ones. When I started disc golf at the age of 13 I played with older players because there were only MJ1 or the Open divisions in the tournaments.”
In a final nine that was decidedly lacking drama, Somby stepped up to the last hole and provided the moment of the tournament with an ace that already has over 5,500 views on YouTube.
“That ace was crazy — 140 meters and slightly downhill with an anhyzer flex shot with my beat in Bio Enforcer,” Somby said. “I had major goosebumps all the way from the teepad to the basket. I had not played my best final, and was set on fourth place, or maybe even fifth. My only focus was to try and park the hole and get my birdie.” The resulting score swing saw Somby take four strokes on Rosenqvist to jump into third place.
Only three women turned up for the first EuroTour event this year, down from 12 in 2016. Even with many of Europe’s top women absent, the competition was solid, with only 8 strokes separating first from third place. Norwegian Lydie Helgren withstood a charge in the finals from Natalie Holloköi to capture her 48th career victory. The veteran played steady golf throughout the weekend, averaging a 10-over par 70 over the three rounds to top Holloköi by three shots. Estonia’s Kaidi Allsalu showed promise during her third place effort, and with more consistency could become a player on the Euro scene sooner rather than later.
The temporary course in Rijswijk is as unforgiving as they come. Players throughout the weekend commented about needing every disc in their bag, as almost every hole on the course contains OB, mandos, or both. Plus, there is a disc-eating lake in the middle of it all. Each year at the Dutch Disc Golf Championships — formerly the Dutch Open — the course dominates the conversation.
“I like that the course is well balanced between distance and placement shots,” Somby said. “It’s not enough to just crank out the huge hyzers for the big arms. If you don’t hit your line, a bogey is almost instant on every hole.”
Helgren said the track makes players earn every stroke.
“The course is a delight because, at first, it seems so easy,” Helgren said. “But playing, the wind is a big factor, as always. So the course gives you nothing, unless you play good. But hole 10 is quite boring and a bottleneck. Always one or two groups waiting.”
Indeed, hole 10, or the U-Turn Hole, was the least favorite — and most talked about — of the tournament. The par 4 measures 200-plus meters and features a large mando tree that each player must pass on the right, and then proceed back towards the tee pad to reach the basket. This design sets up most of the field for a very boring second shot, even with a good drive, and leaves them with a 70-plus meter third shot. Even the most positive players had few nice things to say about the hole, with Australian Chris Ronalds quipping that he “liked the social aspect of it” – referring to the tendency to run into so many other groups waiting to tee off as players hole out.
Tournament Director Peter Buijsrogge has heard the concerns.
“I intend to change the infamous hole 10 next edition of the Dutch Disc Golf Championship,” Buijsrogge said. “This year I actually saw that there were some groups stacked up. In previous years I asked players about that hole, and some were OK with it and some were not. So this year I decided that changing this hole is the best thing to do.”
Players will also be happy to hear that Buijsrogge is working hard to make Elsenburgerbos Park a permanent course.
“For the future, we are still talking with the municipality about putting this course permanently in the ground,” Buijsrogge said. “This will help us greatly so that we can focus more on the growth of disc golf in this area and automatically get some more volunteers.”
While the course garnered generally positive reviews, other aspects of the tournament – such as teepads and course maintenance — showed the stark contrast between large events in Scandinavia — with their corporate sponsors and huge disc golf clubs — and tournaments in countries where growth is not on such an explosive scale. The consensus around tournament headquarters was that the small staff did a fine job, but that more would be needed for this to be a true top flight event. This, more than anything else, could explain why there needed to be a delineation between the EuroTour (ET) and EuroProTour (EPT).
“The course was the same as previous years, but the bushes had grown a lot and the staff should have done something to them,” Sokka said. “The teepads were lazy and not even, which made everything much harder, and I hope they fix this to next Dutch Open if it’s possible.”
Buijsrogge summed it up best.
“I think that the EuroTour suits countries like The Netherlands and Belgium because there is only a small community playing disc golf,” he said. “The EuroProTour standards are way too high for the smaller countries in Europe.”
Players across the continent are indeed anxious to see the effects of the ET and EPT formats. EPT Director Hans Nagtegaal thinks that while the gap between top level and lower tier events is indeed widening, that may not be a huge issue.
“With more events being backed by big clubs with hundreds of players — of whom many take pride in volunteering (I attended the Finnish Nationals last summer, and I think there may have been almost as many volunteers as there were players) — corporate money, and sponsors, the level of events — and what players should expect from a top level event — there will be an even starker contrast between the better and not-as-good events,” Nagtegaal said. “For the EuroTour itself, this may or may not be an issue, as it all depends on what the players expect from an event. Until last year, the EuroTour was the pinnacle of European disc golf tour (even if at a modest level compared to today’s much-increased standards, thanks to the DGWT and DGPT). This year, it seems that the EuroProTour will now take over the box from the EuroTour.”
One of the storylines to follow this year will be the impact that the two tour system will have on the traditional ET events. If the Dutch Disc Golf Championships is a sign of things to come, then it seems that we will see fewer high rated players on the EuroTour.
Nagtegaal is keeping a close eye on things.
“With the arrival of the EuroProTour, which is focused exclusively on MPO and FPO, these two divisions seem to suffer a bit under the sheer amount of events they — especially the best players — could play,” Nagtegaal said. “Between Majors, the NT, the players’ national tours, DGWT, DGPT, and the EuroProTour, it seems that the EuroTour is the first to suffer be[ing] considered superfluous when it comes to which event to sign up for and which not. Six out of 10 EuroTour events have active registrations running, and across the board, participation is OK to good in quantity, but lacking in quality (especially in the MPO division).”
Somby, though, takes a more optimistic approach to the new system.
“The majority of the top pros in Europe didn’t show probably due to fear of losing rating points to fresh and up and coming PDGA players, and due to the early start of the tournament,” Somby said. “I think the new set-up is fantastic. New players get the chance to go abroad and compete and get experience, and I also think more of the absolute top pros will come when they see that it’s possible to get a good rating — as long as you play quality golf.”