October 10, 2017 by Charlie Eisenhood in Analysis with 1 comments
Ultiworld Disc Golf’s coverage of the 2017 United States Disc Golf Championship is presented by Savage Apparel Co.; all opinions are those of the authors. Please support the brands that make Ultiworld Disc Golf possible and shop at Savage!
The walk from the 16th green to the 17th tee is the longest at Winthrop Gold, the annual home of the United States Disc Golf Championship. The solemn path up the hill allows for plenty of time to think about your plan for the 250 foot downhill par 3. It’s perhaps the most iconic hole in disc golf: a seemingly simple shot — a forehand to the wide right side of the island green — that plays frightfully difficult.
Nate Sexton, holding strong to a five-shot lead in the final round of the 2017 USDGC, might have seen ghosts on that walk on Saturday. Too many USDGC contenders to count have walked that path, only to watch the tournament slip from their hands into the OB. Just two years prior, Sexton entered the final day at the USDGC with a three-shot lead over Ricky Wysocki. He was out of contention by the time the lead card trekked to 17, but it didn’t make the hole any easier. His first shot found water. His second shot didn’t make it across the hay bales. Finally, mercifully, he made the green.
He watched Wysocki, too, crumble there. Tied with Paul McBeth heading into the hole, Wysocki went OB twice and took a 7 as McBeth iced the tournament with a birdie 2. A five-stroke swing in one hole. The stuff of nightmares.
It would be impossible for anyone to silence the pernicious voice in the back of their head that warns of the possibility of total collapse, of blowing a five-shot lead. But for Sexton, there was also the weight of never having won before.
“I was thinking about the Minnesota Majestic,” he said. “I was thinking about times when I have come up short.”
But on this day, there wasn’t just a fear of failure. There was a resolve to bury the past; you could see it in his intense focus throughout the final round. You could see it when he stepped to the first hole and threw a perfect tee shot. And you could see it on 17.
“There was no way I was gonna let this one get away,” he said.
He had the box. With a five-shot lead, might he lay up? He had gone OB on his first shot in the third round; the safe play would have made sense. Instead, he pulled out a Sexton Firebird and confidently sent a forehand to the right hand side of the green. The crowd erupted.
He reacted with only a single fist pump, even though he had effectively clinched the title. There was no creeping smile. There was still business to attend to.
While all of the photos and video of him dropping in his final putt on 18, embracing his wife, and kissing his newborn daughter will be preserved as the moment to remember from his first-ever Major victory, the tournament was truly won in the trenches. With Wysocki breathing down his neck in the middle of the round, he made clutch shot after clutch shot; none was bigger than the tee shot on 17.
“I’m way too good to be scared of that hole,” he said, after soaking in the win.
And, really, after 14 years as a pro, he’s way too good to have only just won his first tournament more prestigious than an A-Tier. His 1038 rating is fifth best in the world. He’s long had the tools to win but, until this weekend, just couldn’t seem to put all the pieces together.
“That’s a hump he’s been working to get over for a long time,” said Philo Brathwaite after the final round. “His game has been elevating year by year, and he’s been up in that top 10 in the world for a minute. He was long overdue. It was just a matter of time. It was just his week — you can’t be mad at that. He earned it.”
He’ll surely have many more opportunities to make it his week. After committing to full-time life on the road with his family this summer, he won’t feel the same tug of home that he might otherwise. And perhaps this victory will open the floodgates — no more will he be defined by being the best golfer without a National Tour or Major win. Now he’s the United States Champion.