The Top 10 Storylines of the 2024 Invitational

From the desk of Owl P. Jackson, Esq.

Magnus Carlsen, widely considered the best chess player of all time, took in the action at the Invitational. Photo: DGPT

In the immortal words of Steven Spielberg’s second-most popular dinosaur movie from 1993, “We’re back!”

We’ve got first-time winners, drought-enders, and raptor legs in the rearview mirror. So, strap in for 7-10 hours of commercial-free* disc golf! In my opinion, these are the top 10 storylines of the 2024 Invitational.

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1. Anthony Barela wins his first Elite event.

“Toad style is immensely strong and immune to nearly any weapon. When it’s properly used it’s almost invincible.”

Did you think about it? With Barela in contention on the final day, was it running through your mind? When A.B. went O.B. (and then almost did it again), did you get that sinking feeling in your stomach? When Ricky hit a putt from distance and turned to scream before running it down, did you scooch forward to the edge of your seat? It was only a matter of time before the broadcast turned to replays of European Open, hole 16.

But there was something different about A.B. this weekend. You might’ve been thinking about last year, but he wasn’t. Disc golf’s coolest player seemed even cooler. He was the best player, hands down, from start to finish this tournament. The first sign of emotion didn’t appear until his final approach up the hill on hole 18—“Go baby, c’mon!” Barela told Brian Earhart after securing his first Elite victory. “It got a little shaky down the stretch—but that comes with the nerves—and if you’re not feeling them, you’re not loving what you’re doing. And I love disc golf. Just makes me happy.”

A.B. has always had the raw athleticism and almost unrivaled power. Now that he has a win to match, who knows what’s next?

2. Eveliina Salonen back on top

“I’m pushing force; my force you’re doubting.”

“If Eveliina could just find even a mediocre putt, she could win.”

Who hasn’t thought that over the past few years? She throws both sides with so much power; it’s like her body explodes into each shot. But the putting has been weak, and sometimes atrocious. She was a player highly capable of being first in tee-to-green and dead last in putting statistics. That type of disparity in statistics makes for a lot of good finishes and not a lot of winning. As a matter of fact, it had been almost four years since Eveliina’s last Elite win at WACO.

That drought ended in Florida. Eveliina went 89% from C1X (including a final hole layup) on her way to a stellar 8-under final round. After the round, she thanked her family and friends that believed in her, even when she didn’t believe in herself. If she can continue to keep it close and keep it clean, that shouldn’t be a problem anymore.

3. New course, who dis?

“The flow changes like a chameleon; Plays like a friend, and stabs you like a dagger.”

It is always fun to see a new course on tour and Olympus did not disappoint. The Paul McBeth (re)design was a major upgrade from the Las Vegas Challenge’s Wildhorse courses. Like a swampy Toboggan, players trekked up and down the varied terrain that featured low ceilings and specific landing zones. But, if you like birdie-or-die disc golf, this isn’t the course for you. The average 3-round score for the top 10 was -13.6 (MPO) and -5.9 (FPO). For comparison, those same averages for the 2023 LVC were -27.3 and -10.6, respectively.

4. New Tech

“So if you wanna come sweating, stressing, contesting…”

You know when a new iOS is released, and everyone loses their mind? That’s where we are right now. With a new streaming platform and a new live scoring app, there was more discourse about how people were watching than what they were watching. Of course, the negative feedback is always the loudest. And much of it was justified. Live scoring went down on day 2, along with the entire PDGA Live interface. The new DGN performed differently depending on the device you were using. I’ll admit—more than a few times, I swiped up without hitting the PiP button. And even after remembering to tap the PiP, I instinctively opened up UDisc to check scores.

But let’s be honest. With every iPhone update, you get used to the new way almost immediately and will someday complain when the next change comes. That will happen here too. The kinks will be worked out. The picture itself is already better than it has ever been. The standard subscription is no more expensive than before.

TL;DR: calm down.

5. FPO Contenders

“My peoples are you with me, where you at? In the front, in the back, killa-bees on attack.”

Missy Gannon was in the lead going into the final 9 holes on the final day, but it was the rest of the contenders that showed you the type of golf that Olympus demands. Eveliina Salonen, Ella Hansen, Holyn Handley, Henna Blomroos, and Natalie Ryan were the only players within realistic striking distance—all power throwers. I know, Ella and Holyn fell behind early. And yes—Missy, Henna, and Natalie bogeyed their way through the back nine. But, it still felt good to have so many people in legitimate contention going into FPO final day. Let’s see if we can keep that up when Kristin returns.

6. MPO Top 10

“In his own iniquity, it’s the Master of the Mantis Rapture coming at ya.”

The MPO gave us a nice mix on the leaderboard throughout the tournament. We ended up with many familiar faces in the top 10 like Anthony Barela, Ricky Wysocki, Aaron Gossage, Gannon Buhr, Kyle Klein, Isaac Robinson (seriously, where did he come from?), Matty O, and Niklas Anttila. However, it’s the more surprising finishes I want to mention.

Jesse Nieminen was able to finish T-9th, as was Joseph “Buckets” Anderson. Joey Buckets was even able to enjoy multiple days of lead card action. And shout out to Gavin Rathbun, who finished T-6th, returning from a rollercoaster recovery process. Please, somebody find a manufacturer sponsor for ya boy!

7. No-shows

“And then you thought I was bugged out and crazy; Strapped for nonsense, after me became lazy.”

It’s almost certainly a product of the continued march towards parity, but it still catches you off guard when you see perennial contenders way down the leaderboard. Calvin Heimburg finished outside of the top 5 for the first time in ages, ending T-34th with a pedestrian -3. The resurgent Paul Ulibarri and world-traveling fashion icon, Ezra Aderhold, both missed the top 60. Brodie Smith finished in 107th! Yikes! In FPO, the struggle continues for Catrina Allen, who finished in 26th. She did, however, still manage to finish ahead of Valerie Mandujano.

Bonus injury watch: Paige Pierce and Paul McBeth looked fine, but largely “meh.” They finished in T-10th and T-52nd, respectively. Both were 19 strokes back from the leader and were entirely inconsequential.

8. Hailey King DNFs

“I’m mad vexed, it’s what the projects made me; Rebel to the grain, there’s no way to barricade me.”

Welcome to conspiracy corner. Hailey King—who seems like the perfect player for this course—DNF’d. Some have mentioned a lingering injury that has been bothering her. That’s too simple. I prefer to read into the Instagram story that she posted, lamenting, “Finally I hate to have to say this, but here we are. If you are seen urinating somewhere in the neighbors yard you will receive a tournament warning and a second offense will subject a player to disqualification. Should be an automatic DQ (shrug emoji) @pdga”.

9. Overreactions

“Raw I’ma give it to ya, with no trivia.”

You’d have to be a fool to make season predictions based off one event. Here are some of mine:

  • Next first-time winner: Aaron Gossage. He looked great in the final round.
  • Next big drought to end: Wysocki gets a major.
  • People who won’t win this year, but did last year: McBeth, Lizotte, Welck, Keith
  • Most wins: Tattar, Heimburg
  • We will grow to love the chessboard trophy.
  • This will be a top-5 favorite course in the fan survey.
  • Only two of these predictions will be correct. And in that case, three.

10. Cynthia Ricciotti throws disc in huge puddle

“Here I go, deep type flow; Jacques Cousteau could never get this low.”

Legend has it that Ricciotti is still out there, wandering Olympus, looking for her disc. But…if a disc falls in the woods and there is no one there to start the timer, is it ever truly lost?

Thanks for reading, everyone! Let me know the storylines you think I missed. See you at WACO.

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