Can Eagle McMahon and Paige Pierce repeat in the desert?
February 20, 2019 by Christopher Wiklund and Jacob Wilkins in Coverage, Preview with 0 comments
Ultiworld Disc Golf’s coverage of the 2019 Las Vegas Challenge is presented by Innova Discs; all opinions are those of the authors.
Minutes away from the bright lights of the Strip, the PDGA National Tour once again kicks off its season with the Las Vegas Challenge at the Wildhorse Golf Club in Henderson, Nevada, Thursday through Sunday.
This tournament will be the first time we will see most, if not all, of the top touring pros in one place in 2019. Many fans are still eager to see how well some players have adjusted to new plastic after sponsorships over the offseason, and to watch the big arms air it out in the desert.
Same Archers, New Arrows
If you’ve been following the offseason you are well aware that several major players switched manufacturer sponsors, most notably Paul McBeth, Ricky Wysocki, Paul Ulibarri, Kevin Jones, Sarah Hokom, and Vanessa Van Dyken. And that doesn’t even begin to include the gaggle of tier two pros who also made switches.
There are adages a plenty that tell us in myriad ways that it’s the talent, not the tool, that makes a person successful in their craft. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to watch players who have made their names on certain discs and shots have to try new approaches to scoring.
Some players have already taken the opportunity to put their new gear to use. McBeth didn’t seem to miss much of a beat at the Wintertime Open, and his new Team Discraft captain Paul Ulibarri has already put together a 1040-rated round with his new bag. For Jones, Wysocki, Hokom, and Van Dyken, this will be the first sanctioned rounds with their new plastic. One could argue that if there was an event to work out the kinks and iron out a bag, the mostly open and forgiving fairways at Vegas would be the place.
Last year’s winners, Eagle McMahon and Paige Pierce, will be throwing familiar plastic and should be feeling confident going into the event. For both, the 2018 LVC marked the start of dominant first halves to their respective seasons. Las Vegas was McMahon’s first win on the National Tour, and Pierce won every event she entered until late May.
“I’m feeling confident, the course really suits my style and type of game,” McMahon told Ultiworld.
This weekend marks the first time Jennifer Allen will be playing in an elite event since the 2018 Masters Cup. She finished fourth in last year’s Las Vegas Challenge and has been keeping her game sharp. Allen’s dominated the women’s scene in the southwest — she recorded a 1038-rated round, her highest ever, in October — and with her world record distance, should be considered a major threat to take the W at Wildhorse.
The Open divisions will alternate between three courses over the four-round tournament. First round Thursday starts on the Infinite Discs Course, moving Friday to the Innova Course. The weekend starts Saturday on the Innova Factory Store Course, before returning to the Innova Course on Sunday to conclude the tournament.
Infinite Discs Course: Described as the most forgiving of the three courses, Infinite Discs Course checks in as a 7,202-foot par 59. There is OB on most holes, especially near the baskets, but top players should be able to find safety more often than not. Infinite is home to the island hopper hole 6, a 315-foot par 4 that requires players to make a decision: layup on the middle islands and take the par, or go for the very tight landing zone on the green for a chance at an eagle two? Changes have been made to holes 1,2, 8, 9, 14, 16, and 17.
Innova Course: This track will get most of the attention for the event. Weighing in at 8,625 feet, the par 61 Innova Course is OB-heavy and features six holes where water can come into play. Most baskets or tee pads have seen “minor” changes from the 2018 layout. Only hole 14 is described as having undergone major alterations. In 2018, hole 14 played 555 feet, which has been lengthened to 798 feet, with an OB golf green guarding the approach to the basket. Changes have been made to holes 3, 4, 7-10, and 14-18.
Innova Factory Store Course: The Factory Store Course is the longest of the three. The 8,836-foot par 61 track features a 937-foot par 5 on hole 12, and plenty of OB guarding fairways, landing zones, and greens. Water comes into play on three holes, but should not pose a major threat to the top players in each division. Changes have been made to holes 1-5, 9, 11-14, 16, and 18.
Nate Perkins joins us for this installment of Crucial Shots:
“Distance off the tee comes into play at Vegas more so than almost any other course; you need 400 feet off the tee to score on par 4s. Ground play is very important. You’re going to be skipping around a lot. Wild Horse has short dead grass that acts almost like ice. You have to get the shots and skips dialed down.
“A lot of the baskets are on top of mounds, and you’ve got to find the right approach disc, so the green placements are crucial. There isn’t a ton of danger off the tees but a lot near the greens. When I visualize Vegas I’m imagining the upshot, locking in my MD5, my putters, and reminding myself to throw flat and avoid rollaways. Discs don’t stop spinning, they curl and hook up differently.
“On the Innova course, hole 7 carries water and you have to decide whether to attack the green or lay-up. That one causes a lot of trouble.”
“Finishing on hole 18 too, those two are good difficult holes and what I think about when I think about Vegas. They call for big shots swinging back inbounds. They’re good holes; those two are big time holes.”
Last year, it was strong wind that dominated the first round. However, this year the story will be about the cold conditions for the first couple of days. An anomalously strong upper-level, low-pressure system will bring cold air from the north as well as a chance of snow!
- Thursday: Early tee times will see temperatures in the mid 30s. Scattered snow showers will be likely with a west wind around 5-10 mph. The wind won’t change much throughout the day, but as temperatures slowly rise into the mid 40s, we’ll see that snow change to cold rain.
- Friday: Early tee times will see temperatures in the upper 30s. Northwest winds around 10 mph will keep temperatures from warming much through the day as the high will only top out around 46°. No rain is in the forecast as dry air settles into the region.
- Saturday: Cool starts to each round will continue as early tee times once again will see temperatures in the upper 30s. Wind speeds should calm as an upper-level ridge moves into the region. Highs will top out in the low 50s.
- Sunday: A rinse and repeat forecast of Saturday is expected on Sunday as upper-level flow remains north of the region. Temperatures in the upper 30s to start the day will warm into the low 50s as wind conditions remain relatively calm.
We saw Eagle McMahon get his first NT win under some brutal wind conditions last year. Who can brave the cold, and even some snow, to snag the first NT win of this season?
How to Follow
JomezPro and Central Coast Disc Golf will be on site filming and releasing post-produced, next day coverage as quickly as they can, so calm down, people. Jomez will cover lead cards for both MPO and FPO, CCDG will feature MPO chase card. Gatekeeper Media and the Disc Golf Guy will also be producing next-week coverage of MPO second chase and FPO chase, respectively. The PDGA will be posting after round recaps, and Johnny Discgolf has already begun posting interviews with players.
UDisc Live will be in use to provide live scoring updates. Alyssa Van Lanen will be on site providing photography as well. As always, check in with us here at Ultiworld Disc Golf and on our Instagram for all the latest.