Presnell Wins His First Major, Salonen Her Second, at Champions Cup

Presnell and Salonen grind out tough wins at Northwood.

Andrew Presnell wins the 2024 Champions Cup. Photo: DGPT

“It’s not how many times you get knocked down. It’s how many times you get back up again.”

The above quote has been attributed to a range of historical figures from George Custer to Vince Lombardi and Rocky Balboa. Regardless of who said it, it remains true that how we bounce back from adversity, not adversity itself, which often determines our fate.

It’s fair to say that the two crowned champions in the PDGA Champions Cup this weekend in Peoria, Illinois, earned this wisdom–and their titles–the hard way. Both Andrew Presnell and Eveliina Salonen came from a long way back, held off a chasing pack on the final day, endured inhospitable weather, and had to overcome the Northwood Park course that was a test of skill, will, and resilience.

For Presnell, it was not just his first major title after 10 years on the tour, it was his first top 10 finish ever at a major; he became, at 1029, the lowest-rated MPO major champion since a 1020-rated Gregg Barsby won the 2018 World Championships. Meanwhile, it’s been six years between Salonen’s first and second career major wins.

Eveliina stays patient

Eveliina Salonen wins the 2024 Champions Cup, her second major. Photo: DGPT

Watching Eveliina Salonen fearlessly throw down the corridors of a tight, wooded course is one of the more thrilling sights in disc golf. As she clawed back from being eight strokes behind the lead in the middle of the second round, Salonen threw too many long drives to name, all at full power and threading their way through the woods. Yet it was a completely different style of shot, on the cusp of championship Sunday, that defined her tournament.

Salonen had surged to a four stroke lead over Kristen Tattar on the back of eight birdies and only one bogey by the final hole of round three. But Eveliina’s drive on the 18th took a vicious kick left off an early tree and flew so deep into the rough that DGN commentator Terry Miller quipped, “She’ll need to get her passport stamped to get back again.” It was her fourth fairway miss for the day but each other time she was able to scramble to save par. Given that Tattar had eagled the same hole in the first two rounds, Salonen was looking likely to lose most, if not all, of her lead on the last hole.

There was a noticeable agitation in the body language of players who had kicked deep into the rough throughout the tournament. Defending champion Kristin Tattar herself had failed to take the time to fully settle over a couple of scramble shots that led to double bogeys in the early rounds. One might have expected to see Salonen flustered. Instead, Eveliina smiled, spied a tiny window in the tree canopy and, kneeling under an overhanging branch with one foot in the flowing creek, pitched back out to the fairway then proceeded to save par. It was this ability to stay patient and calm under adversity that underlined her victory.

Starting the final round with a two stroke lead over Tattar, Salonen gave a few early opportunities for Kristin to close the gap, starting with a missed 28-foot putt for par in hole one, only for Kristin to miss her 20 foot par save on the same hole. It was the first of several times that Eveliina left herself open but for Kristin to fail to bring the fight. Kristin’s Instagram post following the tournament started with a telling “8 weeks of tournaments are finally over and I’ll be heading home.” It seemed like Tattar found the well of will empty when she went to draw on it during the final round as she fell away to a 5th place finish. After a strong showing and being the overnight leader after round two, Great Britain’s Rachel Turton also faded to a 6th place finish.

Instead, it was Silva Saarinen and Henna Blomroos on the chase card who came flying home and almost snatched the victory from Salonen in the final holes. Saarinen hit a partially obstructed 40-foot putt on hole 11 to draw within two strokes, but then failed to make some crucial putts late and fell from contention after a bogey on hole 17. Blomroos, who started the day eight strokes behind the lead, made sure there was plenty of pressure on Salonen’s final tee shot by carding an eagle on the final hole to finish 5-under-par for the day and only one stroke behind Salonen. Lurking two strokes back was also Ohn Scoggins. In an almost identical misfire as the day before, Salonen early released left and took a kick into the rough. This time, though, it was a 12-foot pitch out back to the fairway and she was able to get up and down for her par to claim victory.

“I was so nervous the whole round,” Eveliina said afterwards. “The last four holes I was shaking. Watching the scores, seeing Silva and Henna putting the pressure on from the chase card, it was a crazy round. I feel like I have to know what’s happening there. On hole 17, I was sending messages to my little sister to tell me what is going on with them on hole 18. At least I am proving to myself that I can do it. That’s maybe the biggest thing.”

Presnell grinds it out

Andrew Presnell’s first major title win of his 10-year career had some similarity with Salonen’s. Presnell too came from a long way back. After round one, he was in 18th place and with a six stroke gap from Casey White’s lead. The weather system that was to impact the rest of the tournament caused play to be postponed early on the second afternoon due to the proximity of lightning. Most of the field had to return early the next morning to complete the round. In the 12 holes he played to complete round two, Presnell’s gap from the lead drifted out to 10 strokes before a late birdie run brought him back to six strokes down and a share of fourth place.

Presnell’s grind of a touring schedule may have helped him in round three, which started later that day.

“It reminded me of Mid-America last year when we had to come back for the final day, playing at 7 AM, and I played really well that whole day,” Presnell said. “I feel like playing all those small tournaments, where you’re waking up early and driving for a 9 AM round – I’m just a morning person so I feel like being up that early didn’t faze me at all.”

Presnell shot the best round 3 of the top 10 to slip into a one throw lead over Ezra Robinson and Joseph Anderson, with Niklas Anttila three strokes back.

“I know when I make the lead card if I don’t get off to a good start, I’m kinda shaky, but I got off to a decent start and I got my confidence up and then I was just lacing some of those back nine shots,” Presnell said after round three.

His ability to shake off adversity was tested early in the final round, though. On hole 5, he lifted what looked like a simple 20-foot birdie putt over the top of the basket, into the water, and out of bounds. An opportunity to create a four stroke lead early was instead the gap closing to two strokes and a lost favorite putter. His nearest chasers couldn’t take advantage. Anderson fell off the pace over the next few holes while Robinson bogeyed the same hole. Presnell then steadied the ship and did enough to create a three stroke gap over Robinson and Niklas Anttila in the front nine.

The next big tests for Presnell came on the greens of hole 13 and 16. After dropping a stroke to Antilla on the 12th, Presnell threw to the edge of Circle 1 on hole 13 while Antilla laid his upshot at the base of the basket. Presnell hit the 30 foot tester putt to maintain his two stroke lead. Then, three holes later, Presnell stared down another edge-of-circle birdie putt that was partially obstructed and from an awkward sloped stance. His anhyzer putt curved around a tree, dropped in, and maintained his two stroke lead. An early tree hit by Antilla on hole 17 led to a two throw swing and allowed Presnell the luxury of walking the 18th fairway with a four stroke lead.

“It feels amazing,” Presnell said afterwards. “It hasn’t really set in yet to be honest. This is one of the best tournaments in the sport to win and having a major title is incredible. I think it helped going to a wooded course where I throw my mids – I’m really comfortable throwing my midranges and my putting was working well mostly for the week. Being from the Midwest and playing in the wind definitely helped a little too. I was actually very calm this whole round, way calmer than I was when I woke up at five in the morning. I think all those wins in smaller tournaments helped. They aren’t the same pressure as tournaments like this, but they are still some pressure.”

The revolution is here

We have now had five first-time major winners in the past six events (the one that wasn’t a first-time winner? Isaac Robinson, at Worlds). The new guard continues to take over MPO, despite some improved showings from Ricky Wysocki, who again had a strong finish to make the podium for the second week in a row, and Paul McBeth, who made the podium last week and the top 10 this week. The chances of some of our past champions adding to their tally of major wins are getting slimmer by the year as the field grows in quality and depth.

In FPO the top six finishers were born outside the USA, with only one of those players, Laos-born Ohn Scoggins, making their lives in the States. Has the balance of power in FPO shifted to Europe? Where are the talented young American players to match the likes of Salonen and Blomroos?

2024 is going to be a fascinating year in disc golf as we see some of these questions answered.

  1. Kingsley Flett
    Kingsley Flett

    Kingsley Flett is a writer, photographer, and disc golfer who lives in Western Australia. You can find some more of his work on Instagram. He told us that he rides a Kangaroo to work every day, but we don’t believe him.


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