The Top 10 Storylines of the 2023 Jonesboro Open

From the desk of Owl P. Jackson, Esq.

Kat Mertsch after winning the 2023 Jonesboro Open. Photo: DGPT

After a pair of Champions Cup blowouts, fans were longing for a jolt of energy, a bit of excitement, and some wire-to-wire competition. We found all that and more at the Disc Side of Heaven. In my opinion, these are the top 10 storylines of the 2023 Jonesbo…sorry, the 2023 Play It Again Sports Jonesboro Open, presented by Prodigy.

1. Calvin Heimburg wins his third Jonesboro Open

“Took a Nine Eleven ’bout a hundred and seven down a back road…”

The year of Vinny continues. Heimburg led the tournament wire-to-wire, with two 13-under rounds on Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, things were much slower (and windier), but Calvin never stopped playing aggressive. The moment of the tournament was Calvin’s eagle putt on hole 16 to tie the lead. After the round, Nate Perkins asked Calvin what it feels like when you’re staring down a 50-foot eagle putt, straight downhill with O.B. behind the basket, and Eagle McMahon is right there for birdie. Calvin casually responded, “It’s kinda just like most of the other putts, ya know?” He has won in Arkansas three out of the last four years. Heimburg is absolutely unflappable right now. That’s bad news for the rest of the field.

2. Eagle vs. Calvin

“…where the white river runs, and the southern sun makes the kudzu grow.”

This tournament was a two-man race in MPO. Eagle McMahon was able to match Calvin’s -13 scores on the first two days of the tournament. On the final day, the two went back and forth as they struggled to maintain the small leads they had built over each other. With one hole to go, it was still all knotted up at the top. Eagle ended up taking a triple bogey after going O.B. twice and murdering his Whale Sac once, finding himself out of contention and tied for 2nd place. But Eagle is back and so is his effortless forehand (even if it looks a little bit different). I believe we were given a glimpse into the next 5-10 years of MPO this weekend. I think these two will be at the top more often than anyone else.

3. Kat Mertsch gets her first Elite win

“And what I found in the Ozark mountains I ain’t ever seen.”

“We did it!” This was Kat Mertsch’s tournament from jump. Jonesboro was Kat’s breakout tournament last year, and much of the attention was placed on her as she made her return to her home state. You quickly learn that they are many sides to Kat. There is the corny goofball, who impersonates “Macho Man” Randy Savage during Thursday’s press conference. There is the girl who has seen true darkness in her youth (do yourself a favor and watch the R1F9 Jomez profile). There is the fun-loving competitor who finds animals on the course and dances at the possibility of a playoff. There is the screaming, roaring, weeping first-time champion. They’re all unapologetically Kat Mertsch.

4. Hailey King takes it to a playoff

“It sure does feel like you’re sittin’ on top of the world to me.”

Hailey King looks like she should be the best player in FPO. No one throws it as beautifully smooth as she does and few can match her power, forehand or backhand. She was able to fight her way back on the final day and even took Kat Mertsch to a playoff. In the end, she got caught up in some branches and fell short. But Hailey has looked incredible over the past two weekends—mentally and physically. Don’t be surprised if this becomes more of the norm. She is just a few good decisions away from being at the top week in and week out.

5. James Conrad’s -17

“Well, we burned through the one light towns like a scalded dog.”

Conditions were perfect on day two and James Conrad took full advantage. 2 pars. 1 eagle. 15 birdies. Conrad put together a scorching 17 under, as well as one of the greatest rounds of all time. I’m sure there will be all sorts of debate over the round rating (unofficially 1101), but just use your eyes and apply common sense. You can’t play the course much better than that, other than ringing up a couple aces. It must be pretty awesome to shoot one of the all-time great rounds and have that not even be close to the best thing you’ve done on a disc golf course.

6. McBeth’s European vacation

“When we lit out of Fayetteville, they were callin’ the hogs.”

This was Paul’s last tournament in the States before he heads to Europe. He won’t be back until Ledgestone! That’s in August! It has been a lackluster year for McBeth, finishing 6th, 13th, 10th, 25th, 20th, and 15th in Elite events. Paul currently sits in 8th place in the Pro Tour standings. It will be hard for him to finish much better than that. Players will be shoring up their best Elite series scores while he is winning his 5th straight on the Eurotour. I’m calling it: He finishes the year outside of the top 10. I’ll be wrong somehow.

7. Course thoughts

“We made a pit stop in Little Rock for some barbecue.”

What a difference a little bit of wind can make! It was a birdie fest on the first two days, with pars on some holes feeling like bogeys. But anyone who has watched this tournament over the years knows that should not be expected. I worry that adding more O.B., length, or any other challenges to fix the calm days will make the windy days impossible. Credit where credit is due: this tournament always ends up exciting, even though I’m never excited for its return. But let’s get rid of those Prodigy baskets. They are the one basket that is clearly a different design, they catch differently, and no one likes them.

8. Kristin Tattar is human

“And when we hit West Memphis there were blue lights in our rear view.”

Fine, I admit it. 7 days ago, I wondered if Kristin would ever lose again. The answer came quickly as Kristin seemed to be suffering from a Major hangover. She admitted that she was completely worn out from being so focused during Champions Cup. That, plus anyone who has traveled to a foreign country has experienced how exhausting it can be to travel in a place that is not your home. She is heading back to Estonia for the next month to spend time with her family and enjoy some much-earned rest. Look out when she returns.

9. The also-rans

“Gotta get down, gotta get down to Arkansas. Havin’ so much fun that it’s probably a little bit against the law.”

As always, the story of this tournament can’t be told without a couple of shoutouts. In MPO, Isaac Robinson followed his win with a T-2nd on a completely different style of course. Ben Callaway (T-2nd), Andrew Presnell (T-5th), and Corey Ellis (T-5th) put together their best tournaments of the season so far. Gannon Buhr (10th) and Kyle Klein (T-5th) added another top 10 finish to their resumes. In FPO, Aria Castruita (3rd) looked like she might have a chance to take this one down. Holyn Handley (4th) and Ella Hansen (7th) continued their hot starts to the season. And check out the European contingent: Eveliina Salonen (5th), Henna Blomroos (8th), and Heidi Laine (9th) joined Kristin in the top 10!

10. Headed west

“All the boys and the girls down there sure do know how to have a ball. If you wanna get down, gotta get down to Arkansas.”

The tour takes a one week break as competitors make the long drive out west to Stockton, California. The west coast swing will feature OTB Open and Portland Open, two tournaments that tend to favor the big arms. Keep an eye on Holyn and Ella as they look to track down their first Elite wins. In MPO, look for the players who have already won this year to try and add another one. Calvin, Kyle, Gannon, Simon, Isaac…it’s gonna be a good time!

Thanks for reading, everyone! Let me know the storylines you think I missed. In the immortal words of Nikko Locastro, “Here’s your flowers. I gotta make my tee time.” See you in California.

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