Desert Register: A Tale Of Two Deserts

Because we're still thinking about the cultural start to the season

Photo: Jamie Thomas – UWDG

It was the best of play for some, it was the worst of play for others. It was gutting it out in the final round as a lead collapsed, it was heroic never-say-die effort by those chasing the pack leaders. It was a morning of sudden death, it was an afternoon of near assassinations.

Sunday in Las Vegas showed that we know nothing about how this season will play out, but Thursday in Fountain Hills reminded us of everything the weary veterans from just a few days ago are capable of. Eagle McMahon’s consistent play defies this narrative of dichotomy that I’m trying to illustrate, so let’s project him soaring above everybody else in the early morning sky like we just did mushrooms all night and conceptualized our album cover.

Eagle McMahon putts as Simon Lizotte looks on. Photo: Jamie Thomas – UWDG

References that are too old for my generation aside, my experiences in Las Vegas and Scottsdale were as different as the landscapes themselves. The transition from the Mojave to the Sonoran was the thaw-out, not only because the tour caravan barreled down Highway 93 out of the subfreezing Vegas nights into the warmth, but also because the players had whetted their appetite for competition and many were left hungry by failing to live up to personal expectations. Hundreds of miles of driving through landscapes you won’t see again until the 2020 season can serve as sobering, and motivating, sights.

I left Vegas on Monday around lunchtime, having finally done one evening on the eponymous Boulevard properly, not really sure what to expect from the impending Memorial Championship experience. It wasn’t that I expected the event on-site to be different from normal, but because my LVC experience shook my concept of what “normal” really was.

Normal, however, turned out to be exactly as I remembered it. Like the memory of a crisp $5 stuffed hurriedly into a jacket pocket, forgotten about completely until zapping back into the forefront of the mind the next time that coat is worn, I’m awash with nostalgia. This is where the season “feels” like it’s fully begun. There are better venues, there are better courses, but this one is ours. Pro Tour, National Tour, or no tour at all, this birdiefest, this deuce-or-die, this glorified putting contest that the Memorial Championship has turned out to be is our official cultural start to the party.

Maybe it was the stunningly perfect weather, like the kind you play in when you close your eyes and daydream about disc golf, or maybe it was due to the buzz in the air surrounding spring training, either way it felt great to be back in AZ.

Caddy duty. KJ Nybo’s caddy applies sunscreen to Nybo’s leg to keep the Dane’s grip intact. Photo: Jamie Thomas – UWDG

The Memorial Championship made some very smart schedule decisions for 2019, if I may be so bold. Pushing the start back to Thursday was a welcome, though overdue, change from the touring pros’ perspective. Additionally, getting both Fountain rounds done on the weekdays and transitioning to Vista XL for the weekend had the rounds flowing smoothly and allowed for magic hour finishes for both moving day and the grand finale.

The Crush Boyz delivered massively on their reputation, playing their own game of catch-me-if-you-can at Fountain Hills. It’s a beautiful love-hate relationship on the course, a mixture of genuinely being impressed by each others’ abilities, while at the same time voraciously scrapping for pecking order at a brand whose goals match the larger-than-life style of its feature players.

Eagle’s stellar play surged where Simon’s waned as the weekend matured, but nearly as many eyes were on the dogged focus of McBeth and Wysocki on the chase card during the final round. Despite neither having a realistic chance of winning the event outright, the heavyweights were out for blood given that they were both dangerously close to finishing outside of the top 10 the prior week. It was a different vibe between the two than we typically see, confirmed by McBeth post-round, in which each player was inwardly focused. The resulting play was spectacular, both were at least within Circle 2 after every drive. Every. Single. Hole.

Paul McBeth watches a putt fall short of the pyramid basket. Photo: Jamie Thomas – UWDG

Even with the heroic efforts such as those of the World Champs, despite Finn-nominal and show-stealing play by Jalle Stoor, despite the Sky God himself pressuring as the defending champ, Eagle was unstoppable to the point of walking it in on the last three holes. Two weeks into the season, and we’ve already been treated to a first time NT-winner, the first stop on the Crush Boy reunion tour, and on the same day given a reminder of how large the shadows of those six world titles loom.

Man’s best friend. This spectator dog would help keep McBeth’s drive on hole 18 inbounds. Photo: Jamie Thomas – UWDG

Meanwhile over in FPO the story was more of an ensemble than a duel. Six players turned in a score of even par on day one, and that group included none of the world titles in the field. There was due enjoyment of the 969-rated efforts, but it also seemed that none of the women expected that score to hold as the hot round, though hold it did.

Given a second opportunity to attack Fountain Hills, Paige Pierce broke through to deliver her first 1000-rated performance of the season, featuring an eye-popping 8-of-9 birdie stretch which included back-to-back long range C2 deliveries. That round would hold as the only 1000-rated showing until the last scorecard was turned in on Sunday, and Pierce would be the only player in the division to fish an under par round out of Fountain. By contrast the 2018 field’s catch yielded 11 such rounds by seven different players.

Maybe the sunrise tee-times were to blame, maybe the unfortunate result of being the guinea pig for the livestream production, maybe it’s just plain ol’ regular ol’ getting your tour legs under you for the season, but the overall performance left something to be desired as Friday evening rolled around. Far from bad, but the division’s overall performance just lacked luster relative to MPO. With only 18 holes to find a groove before the cut, and many players in position to make moves, uncertainty abounded.

At Vista, however, the script was flipped. FPO provided more entertaining storylines on moving day, such as the Red Rover match around the cut line that lasted the better part of the morning. Despite birdie percentages for the field increasing every round, by the time the UDisc Live boxes were filled in it was another rather flat scoring curve. Madison Walker strolled in with the feelgood story, tying the hot round at 2-under par, a birthday present for her dad.

On Sunday, the gallery was finally treated to the big thaw out. Pierce vs. Salonen, two of the hardest throwers in the game, round two. Salonen carded a 1015-rated, 8-under by way of birdieing half the course. Pierce struggled with the driver early, and the putter late, but strung enough great holes together to also deserve to win in any other circumstance. Eveliina, however, false-started only once before steadily and methodically marching further under par. When it was all said and done, perched with poise atop the standings was the Finnish phenom, the lone contestant in FPO to dip to the double-digit depths.

Memorial winner Eveliina Salonen. Photo: Jamie Thomas – UWDG

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Paige’s deficit at 6-under could be entirely attributed to her relentless aggression on hole 18 the previous day. You can take that 20/20 hindsight with a grain of salt, however, because given the opportunity Paige would bet and double down every time. Evidence of this derives from her second place speech – she not only thanked Eveliina for the battle, but also commented that the major reason she registered to compete at this year’s European Open was to have an additional opportunity to square-off this year. Two words crossed my mind in that moment — President’s Cup.

One last meal at Duke’s, and one last tip of the cap as the caravan heads eastward down the dusty trail and I make to the airport. The faint sound of a rattle carries on the wind, emanating from Waco, where our heroes will look to strongarm the venomous Brazos East fairways. I’ll catch them as they boomerang back westward to California to face the hardpan, hillside National Tour stop at DeLaveaga, and the toughest course on the DGPT circuit last season, Gleneagles in San Francisco. With Texas, Arkansas, and Kansas still to conquer, everyone will be nice and sharp for the West Coast swing.

…and I, for one, will be impatiently waiting.

  1. Jamie Thomas
    Jamie Thomas

    Jamie is the co-host of Ultiworld Disc Golf's The Upshot podcast, a course designer for DiscGolfPark, and a producer whose goal is to tell the story of the Disc Golf Community. He has produced content for SpinTV, DGWT, DGPT, and the PDGA, among others. He and his wife live in the San Francisco Bay Area, though if you ask them to call home they'll be Callin' Baton Rouge!

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