Ella Hansen Wins First DGPT Event, Heimburg Goes B2B at OTB

The West Coast swing kicked off in a big way.

Ella Hansen and friends celebrate her 2024 OTB Open victory. Photo: DGPT.

Does your chance of success decrease the more that you try and fail? It might seem so, but it is not that simple. Research shows that it comes down to how we respond to defeat, not defeat itself, that influences our fate the most. Let pessimism take root and our performance will drop. But persist and stay positive and the odds can eventually turn our way.

This past weekend at the OTB Open in Stockton, California, gave some notable examples of the value of persistence. Ella Hansen broke through for the first Elite Series victory of her four-year career after 16 top five finishes in 50 starts, while Calvin Heimburg’s first back-to-back wins on the DGPT came after a year-long victory drought where he stood on the podium eight times in 18 starts (including majors).

The tournament kicked off the west coast swing of the DGPT. After a tour that has so far been impacted by rain, cold, lightning delays, and storms, the central valley of California laid on bright sunshine, 80-degree days, low humidity, and fresh breezes to go with our first large, loud galleries for the year.

Ella does the next right thing

Teeing off on Championship Sunday at Swenson Park, Ella Hansen and Holyn Handley collectively shared 33 top five finishes in 82 elite series starts without a win (Holyn’s win in the 2023 Throw Pink Women’s Championships, technically an A-Tier, notwithstanding). Given that the pair had broken away in round two to share a seven stroke lead over third placed Kat Mertsch, it seemed that either way we were headed for a breakthrough win.

Handley had taken the lead in round one with a nine-under-par 58 and then backed it up with an eleven-under-par 57. Hansen had a blistering round two, though, shooting a 12-under-par 56 to leap from a share of second into a share of first place. “I was just feeling really connected to the basket and knew where I was aiming,” said Hansen prior to the final round. “We had a little bit of a wind, and it is kind of interesting putting from the different angles on this course. The direction of the holes change a lot in the middle of the course and I was trying to not let that get in my head and just spin it flat at the basket.”

Both Holyn and Ella can be mercurial, but both have also stolen defeat from the jaws of victory in recent times so the only confident prediction was that there would be some drama. Holyn and Ella are best friends too.

“It’ll be interesting tomorrow, “Hansen said after round two. “We’ll be bringing some intense but friendly vibes. We practice together all the time, and we think very similarly about holes.”

“I hope we both come out really hot and just battle all the way to the finish,” said Handley.

Much of Handley’s showing was down to her improved putting. Holyn was a tournament leading 90% from inside the circle, compared to 75% from C1X in her fourth place finish in the DDO and 61% during her 10th placing in the Champions Cup. Handley described how a recent putting drill to improve her alignment had made its way into her routine in competition.

“I’m really confident that I’m lined up correctly and then I just let it go,” Holyn said when asked about the increased tempo of her routine. “It eliminates the time to over think it.”

It was Hansen, though, who came out hot and continued her round two form. By hole 5, she had surged to a four stroke lead, only for that lead to leak down to one stroke over the next two holes.

“There was two holes,” Hansen said after her win. “Parring on six and then the three putt on seven, I went from a four stroke lead to a one stroke lead. But, not to quote Frozen [the Disney film] — but to do the next right thing — that’s what I was thinking. Trying to focus on throwing the next good shot and keep focusing on what was in front of me. I was pretty nervous for parts of it. But one of the things I like out here is I know what I want to do on every shot. I don’t feel like I have to question it; I have an aiming point and knowing that helped keep me focused.”

Hansen then gained five strokes on Handley in the next three holes to effectively put an end to the contest. Handley dropped away, shooting four over par on the back nine and allowing Kat Mertsch to take second place.

Hansen checked the scores on hole 16 and allowed herself to lay up on the last two holes for a clear seven stroke win in the tournament where she recorded her first DGPT top 10 finish in 2021. She was showered in drinks, mobbed by a scrum of hugging well wishers, and may just have been the first pro disc golfer to have a crowd chant their name after a win.

“I’m a little in disbelief,” she said immediately after her win. “But it’s awesome to be loved by my friends. I’ve had a lot of really close ones. I’ve had a lot of top five and top two finishes and I think for me I just wanted to keep playing my own game and having good rounds and throwing good shots. I feel really happy with the result of those process goals.”

Heimburg goes back-to-back

Calvin Heimburg (left) and Gavin Rathbun shake hands after a final round battle at the OTB Open. Photo: DGPT

Calvin Heimburg’s recent successes have started to redress a glaring imbalance between his consistent performance and his results. Fresh from a win two weeks ago at the DDO and a third place the previous weekend in the Las Vegas Challenge, Heimburg was two strokes back from Paul McBeth after round one and then one throw back from Gavin Rathbun heading into championship Sunday.

Rathbun’s story is another one of the rewards of persistence. The 2016 US amateur champion had a breakout season in 2021 with a podium finish at the Des Moines Challenge. Rathbun was then forced to end his season after Ledgestone that year and undergo labrum repair surgery on his right shoulder. His recovery the following year was interrupted by an injured hand late in the season, and in 2023, he only had one top 10 finish, missed the tour championship, and lost his primary sponsor. In 2024, though, Rathbun, with a new sponsor on board, has a handful of top 10 finishes and was fresh off the podium at the DDO. Rathbun shot a clean, 10-under-par 57 to leap 5 places and claim the lead. It was a round where, despite some wind, he relied heavily on his rollers.

“I don’t think the best is yet,” Said Rathbun after round two. “I think there’s a better round coming tomorrow. I pretty much count on my rollers out here, and I don’t think I threw any exactly as I wanted to. I see that tomorrow is going to be a little less windy so hopefully those work out.”

Heimburg was satisfied with his position going into the final round, despite three putting a birdie chance on the final hole. “Nine [under]’s really not bad,” he said after the round. “Finishing with a bogey kinda sucks when you are in prime position to birdie but nine felt pretty good minus a couple of missed circle-one putts and a couple of approaches.”

It was Rathbun’s first lead of his career and only his second lead card after the Dynamic Discs Open. Joining him and Calvin was Ezra Aderhold, who had climbed 47 places with a provisionally rated 1083, 13-under-par 54. Sharing third place with Aderhold, three strokes off the lead, was Sullivan Tipton.

Rathbun’s inexperience may have showed when he missed a makeable putt on hole 4 to allow Heimburg to grab a share of the lead. The two remained neck and neck over the front nine, never more than two strokes apart, before Heimburg grabbed a one stroke lead on hole 9 and never relinquished it.

An early tree strike on hole 16 by Rathbun led to a bogey and opened a two stroke gap with just the final two holes to play. In the context of the tight, tense round they had played, it was a substantial buffer for Heimburg, and he pressed home the advantage on the next hole, hitting a circle two death putt with water behind the basket for birdie after Rathbun had parked the hole.

“I think most of the time you walk up to a putt and if you don’t think you can make it you lay up,” said Calvin after the round. “I got up there, I felt the wind, I felt I could make it, so I ran it. I feel like that’s how you should always play – feel like you can do it? Do it.”

A two-throw advantage on hole-18 was all Heimburg needed. When Rathbun hit an early tree to cancel any chance of a birdie, Heimburg was able to lay up for the win.

“I feels great after the win at DDO,” said Heimburg after the win. “I’ve never really won tournaments this close. It feels awesome. It’s tough to win out here. Everything has to be clicking on the right week. It was fortunate for me that this week it was clicking.”

Multi World Champion Watch

Those still yearning for another flare from the fading fire of world champions past got their hopes up again this week as Paige Pierce, Paul McBeth, and Ricky Wysocki all gave improved showings and looked at different times headed for podium finishes. All three showed signs that their games are back physically but were let down by mistakes at crucial moments. Tightening up the game to the point where mistakes are few and far between (and only small when they are made) looks like the final frontier for the three on the comeback trail.

Pierce finished in fifth, her best placing this year, while Wysocki finished strongly with a second-best final round of 11-under-par to tie for sixth. McBeth finished tied for 18th after sharing the round one lead. The three champions know all too well about persistence and staying positive.

  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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