Both players cruised home in the final six holes
September 22, 2023 by Kingsley Flett in Analysis, Recap with 0 comments
All course designers are in the business of risk and reward, trying to draw as fine a line as they can between pleasure and pain. At Maple Hill, this line is a razor’s edge. Hole after hole presents tantalizing spaces to fly discs through. Shots that clear the water and follow the fairways are as pleasing to watch as they must be satisfying to throw. But then there is also death by early tree on nearly every hole, sometimes death by middle and late tree too, followed by roll aways and death putts into the water on others.
It is not enough to play with skill at Maple Hill. Ricky Wysocki calls it momentum; others say it is about ‘going unconscious’ or being ‘in the zone,’ while the psychologists call it ‘flow’. Name it how you like, but whoever has won the MVP in recent years has done so on the back of a hot streak where they stopped over-thinking it and surrendered their game to the combination of instinct, skill, and luck that lifted them from the scrum into victory. With last year’s final round 10-under-par 50 from Simon Lizotte still on everyone’s mind, we wondered who would ride the razor’s edge this year.
After round one, we were no closer to finding out. Mathew Orum and Ben Callaway took a share of the lead at eight-under-par, with Kevin Jones one stroke adrift and the quartet of Bradley Williams, Eagle McMahon, Andrew Marwede and Luke Taylor sharing fourth place. As the wind rose during round two, it was this year’s best player Calvin Heimburg who looked like he might have found the flow as he tore up the course to be 11-under-par by hole 15, looking at an outside chance to give Paul McBeth’s 45 in 2013, one of the great rounds in the history of the sport, a run for its money. But Calvin had an upshot knocked down on hole 16 and threw OB on 18 to finish 9-under-par for the round, which was still good enough to lift him from 20th place to the lead. As we have seen all year in MPO, the lead card seems to swap out each round, and after round two, it was only Kevin Jones who kept his spot as Orum, Callaway, and Bradley Williams all slipped down the board.
Thanks to Hurricane Lee, round three was more a matter of survival and limiting the bleeding than going on a hot streak. On his local course, Simon Lizotte mastered the conditions better than most to shoot six-under-par and climb off the second card into a share of the lead with Heimburg. McMahon kept his spot in the top four while Wysocki and Jones lost their spots to Lizotte and Callaway. The chase card was a real threat, though, with Orum moving back up into fifth place and only two strokes back from the lead, while Aaron Gossage and Wysocki were still in striking distance.
As much as the romance of the idea that Lizotte might repeat the win in his home tournament appealed, it had been six years since the leader at Maple Hill heading into Sunday won the tournament. That was Ricky Wysocki over Paul McBeth and Eagle McMahon in 2017. Beware the chasers playing loose and riding their luck.
The two leaders, Lizotte and Heimburg, fell off the pace with early bogeys, letting McMahon take the lead by hole three. By the time the chase card had finished hole 9, it was Aaron Gossage who had surged to the lead, on the back of five straight birdies, while Orum had climbed a share of second place with McMahon, Lizotte, and Heimburg.
It was on the back nine, though, where someone found the flow. By the time the lead card was ready to start hole 10, the chase card had finished hole 12 with Gossage leading Orum by one stroke with six holes to play. Lizotte seemed like the only one who could catch them, three strokes off the lead but with the whole back nine to weave his magic. The stage was set for Lizotte: it’s just that nobody told Matty O.
On hole 13, Orum hit a 38-foot birdie putt to catch Gossage and share the lead at 19-under-par. On hole 14, he threw low over the lake, had his disc take a slight air bounce towards the water before checking up 16 feet from the pin to take a one throw lead over Gossage. Soon after, back on hole 11, Lizotte had a birdie putt roll outside circle two and he airmailed the comebacker to drop back to a share of third and to be four strokes adrift of Orum with seven holes to play.
On hole 15, Orum gave some early trees a shave before landing just inside the circle then hitting his fifth birdie putt in a row. It was a two stroke swing over Gossage, who had hit an early tree. On the 476-foot hole 16, Orum threw a low drive that wove its way through every tree to land at circle’s edge and give him his sixth birdie in a row and another two stroke swing on Gossage.
Then it dawned on everyone. Matty O was going to win. His lead over Gossage was five strokes with two holes to play. Barring a disaster on the relatively easy hole 17, Orum had given himself the luxury of being able to lay up on the dangerous hole 18. He was also forcing the lead card to birdie every remaining hole to even hope to catch him. The delight in the voices of DGN commentators Terry Miller, Nate Doss, and Nate Sexton was only matched by the delirious roar of the crowd with every Matty O drive and putt. This singular character, a true original from Alabama with the rhythmic speech of a beat poet who seems to talk through his fingertips, who has had 12 podium finishes and 60 top 10 finishes in elite series events over 20 years without a win, was going to take it down.
Orum’s drive on hole 17 turned over early and trimmed some leaves before making it to the edge of the fairway. Matty’s anhyzer approach didn’t turn enough and was headed out of bounds before hitting a rock and kicking back to just outside the circle. That lucky break, combined with his skip onto the green off the water on hole 8, proving that the disc golf gods wanted him to win too. With a car alarm blaring in the background, Orum hit the 38-footer for his seventh birdie in a row to seal the win. Back on hole 14, McMahon and Lizotte both needed a birdie to stay in the conversation and when their drives skipped wide into the gallery, that conversation was over.
Just as they chanted “Simon! Simon!” last year, the Maple Hill crowd serenade Matty O up on to the hole 18 green with “Matty! Matty!” where he tapped in for his par. The series of heartfelt hugs Orum received from other pros on the walk to the green suggested that Matty O isn’t just a fan favourite. It was a 35-minute wait before Orum got to host the trophy as the lead card played out their holes. But nobody was in any doubt who would win. Then came the post round interview we had all been waiting for.
“I hate saying this because I watch so much sports and everybody says this but I’m really at a loss for words,” Orum said. “I just turned into a different person out there. On hole 12, something came over me. I just felt so relaxed. I tried not to make eye to eye contact with nobody but my caddy and just tried to stay in the zone. I just think it all comes full circle because, like, everybody said, ‘you need to get that win,’ but people don’t realize how much sleep I lost when I could have won this tournament in 2010 when I first came here and I lost the tournament on the last hole. I could have easily got rid of it then. But I thought about it the whole way up this last fairway because nobody but Steve Dodge and Barsby remembers that I lost on the last hole of this tournament, and I said ‘I gotta change it. I gotta change it.'”
A teary Matty O then thanked everyone from his late father to Ken Climo, then a long list of names and everyone down to his dog before conducting the crowd in another rendition of “Matty! Matty!” It is hard to think of a more popular winner of a DGPT event in recent times.
Even at the start of Sunday, it seemed like something special was in the air for Matty O.
“I’m not gonna cry,” he said as he received the spirit award from MVP Open Tournament Director Steve Dodge early on Sunday at Maple Hill. “But I will tell you one thing. My Dad started the Southern Nationals. The first award he ever gave away was called the Wally Free award. Before he ever had the player of the year or the volunteer of the year, he had the Wally Free sportsmanship award, and it was the biggest deal to him. So, knowing that it comes full circle and that’s what my dad always loved. My Dad was a big Ken Climo and Crazy John Brooks fan, and he told me ‘Always be like crazy.’ Unfortunately, he kind of got his wish. So, this is for Dad.”
King Waits for Her Moment to Strike
In the parlance of wrestling entertainment, the rest of the FPO field in the Disc Golf Pro Tour have been trying to tag-team Kristin Tattar for most of 2023. The two-time World Champion has battled a revolving cast of rivals that have included Sai Ananda, Ella Hansen, Kat Mertsch, Ohn Scoggins, Hailey King, and Catrina Allen. Through the European swing and the World Championships, it was Missy Gannon; then at Maple Hill, Gannon tagged out for the trio of King, Eveliina Salonen, and Scoggins.
In round one, it was Salonen and King who made the early running, with Salonen slipping away to a two stroke lead late in the round on the strength of two booming drives on holes 17 and 18. Salonen’s six-under-par 54 was to be the hot FPO round of the tournament. The Finnish star was asked after the round what part of her game the Maple Hill course was testing. “I think everything,” she said. “You have to hit your lines and you have to have the touch, but you also have to throw far. Then also putting because there are a couple of scary greens.”
Winds from the outer edge of Hurricane Lee began to make their presence felt in round two. Although the lead card had begun to distance itself from the rest of the field, King threw one shot worse than round one, Scoggins four worse and Salonen five more strokes than the day before. Only Tattar seemed to cope well with the conditions. She improved on round one by four strokes to shoot a five-under-par 55 that was second best for the week and left her one stroke back from the co-leaders in Salonen and King. Despite sharing the lead, King was particularly frustrated with her round. “I felt like every opportunity I had to capitalize I couldn’t,” she said. “It’s getting really annoying.”
If Tattar’s four birdies in the back nine of round two seemed ominous, then the way she began round three seemed to come from the pages of an eerily familiar script. As winds ripped across the course, Tattar moved to a share of the lead by taking a stroke on the card with par on hole one. Then Tattar shot three birdies in the next five holes, Salonen and King threw four-over-par in the same stretch, and in what seemed like the blink of an eye, Kristin’s lead was out to six strokes. King’s triple-bogey on hole five seemed especially crushing. Spectators and commentators alike settled in for another Tattar victory parade.
Then it was like someone took that script, tore it up, and scattered it in the wind that was wreaking havoc around Maple Hill. Tattar bogeyed the difficult hole 7 after hitting an early tree. Then on hole 8, the across the water shot that has troubled Tattar every time she has played at Maple Hill, her disc kicked the tree guarding the left side of the island and rolled into the water. Trying to save par from the drop zone, Kristin’s putt skipped off the top of the basket and again rolled OB. The double bogey kicked off a run of seven over par in nine holes, dropping her back to where she started the round, one throw behind the two leaders.
“I feel like the wind wasn’t as big of a factor, at least for me,” said Tattar after the round. “It didn’t really bother me that much, but it was just a couple of holes broke me. Right now, I’m happy I’m still in the mix. It’s unexpected.”
Salonen’s 6-over-par 66 dropped her back to fourth place. It was Ohn Scoggins though who seemed impervious to the conditions, shooting a three-under-par 57, one of only four players, including Holly Finley (-2), Valerie Mandujano (-2), and Kat Mertsch (-1) to shoot under par on the day. While the wind seemed to make others withdrawn, Scoggins instead became more extroverted: playing to the crowd, sharing wisecracks, and asking for their input on whether she should run putts or not. Symbolic of that confidence was Scoggins edge-of-circle death putt for birdie on hole 14, looking straight at the water.
Mercifully, Sunday at Maple Hill dawned fine, mild, and calm. The friendlier conditions produced some fireworks as King, Scoggins, and Tattar all drained birdie long birdie putts to keep the pressure on each other. Yet again, Tattar shot to an early lead that looked like it would be decisive. By hole eight, she had a one stroke lead over Scoggins and a four stroke lead over King. A double bogey on hole 9 slowed Tattar’s momentum slightly and briefly gave Scoggins the outright lead. Then a Scoggins triple-bogey on hole 11 seemed to end her run for the title. The tournament looked to be down to a battle between Tattar and King. When Kristin sank a 16-foot birdie putt towards the water on hole 14 to go three ahead with four holes to play, it seemed that she’d bag one of the few big titles that have eluded her.
But as big tournaments often do, this one came down to three decisive moments. The first was on hole 15 when Hailey hit a 60-foot birdie putt to show that she wasn’t going down without a fight.
“On the tee of 15 I had a look at the scores because Kristin had picked up another birdie on 14 and I knew that I had to run it,” said King. “I knew that if I was running it, it was going to go far, so I just put everything I had into it and committed.”
The lead was down to two strokes. Then on hole 16, jump putting from the rough to save par, Tattar inexplicably caught some branches right in front of her. Tattar’s bogey reduced the lead to one stroke with two holes to play. All players cleared the tight gap off tee 17, but, crucially, King’s drive was twenty feet longer, giving her a straight look down the slope to the elevated basket. Tattar was forced to shape a hyzer forehand approach that finished to the right and left her with a slightly cramped putting stance against a tree. Then everyone was left scratching their heads as Kristin’s 25-foot putt barely flicked the right-side chains before rolling down to circle’s edge below the basket. Tattar missed the comebacker and suddenly it was King with the one throw lead going into hole 18. We had all written off Scoggins too soon as well: her birdies on holes 14, 15 and 17 brought Ohn back to a share of second place with Tattar.
Scoggins and Tattar brought the pressure on the final hole. Both players got off the tee clean and then landed forehand upshots near the bullseye, leaving King, the closest to the pin and the last to throw, with no option but to go for the green. Like she had on hole 17 though, Hailey had thrown her drive wide, with a relatively straight path to the basket. She parked her forehand upshot on the woodchips to the roar of the gallery, a tap-in birdie and a first time win at Maple Hill.
“I am extremely proud of myself,” King said when reflecting on her win. “I held to a game plan that I generally don’t like – playing boring golf – then I forced myself (to think) every day, ‘par is fine, let other people mess up and move on,’ and I feel really good that I stuck with that.”
King couldn’t have asked for a better warm up for her title defense at the United States Women’s Disc Golf Championships in Charlotte this weekend.
With that, Maple Hill had delivered yet another fable to weave into the rich mythology of disc golf at this end of the season.