Des Moines Challenge 2024: Barela’s Back, 18-Year-Old Weatherman Clutches Up

A rare 4-win season already locked up for AB; Weatherman becomes fifth first-time FPO winner this season

Anthony Barela wins the 2024 Des Moines Challenge. Photo: DGPT

For a relatively young sport, disc golf already has a rich mythology filled with terrifying tales of closing holes. The Des Moines Challenge in Iowa, however, with the addition of the new hole 17, might just have crafted the most daunting closing gauntlet in disc golf — and all without a haybale in sight. In the last DGPT tournament stateside before we dive fully into the European Swing, Emily Weatherman and Anthony Barela both survived the final holes and hit the big putts when they mattered to claim victory.

The 18-year-old Weatherman completed, at 122 days, the fastest graduation from touring pro to Disc Golf Pro Tour winner in the sport so far, with her three stroke win over Eliezra Midtlyng and Natalie Ryan. Weatherman also became the first FPO winner from the chase card at a DGPT event since Paige Pierce at the Green Mountain Championships in 2017; Weatherman began the day five strokes back from leader Ohn Scoggins. Along with Anniken Steen, Ella Hansen, Holyn Handley, and Silva Saarinen, Emily Weatherman is the fifth first-time FPO winner on the DGPT this year.

Meanwhile, with his fourth DGPT win for the year, Barela joins a select group with 4+ MPO Major or Elite Series wins in a year: Barry Schultz, Ken Climo, Dave Feldberg, Paul McBeth, Eagle McMahon, Simon Lizotte, and Ricky Wysocki.

Barela Runs the Gauntlet

After finishing round one a pair of strokes behind leader Matt Orum, Barela improved by five strokes in round two. Playing from the chase card, he shot a bogey free, 12-under-par, 1077-rated 52 to climb in to second place. In Barela’s way, though, was cardmate and close friend Adam Hammes, whose 1090-rated round is the third-best of the year at a tour event. The scorching 14-under-par 50 saw Hammes climb three places into a two stroke lead.

“He got off to a great start,” said Barela of Hammes’ performance after the round. “I felt like I was playing catchup and I had to keep pace with him. He was showing me the lines all day. It was so much fun today battling with two of my best buddies in the whole world. Adam and I have been touring together since 2017.”

Most of the final round was a battle between the leading pair. Barela caught Hammes on hole 5, then took an outright lead on hole 6 as he strung together seven birdies in a row to kick off the round. Barela then gave the lead back to Hammes on hole 9 with a rare circle-one miss, before reclaiming it for good on hole 11. An overshot drive and an obstructed circle’s edge miss on the putting green from Hammes on hole 12 opened Barela’s lead to two strokes.

Ahead on hole 17, Gannon Buhr was delivering a record-setting pace and had briefly climbed into second place from the chase card before he was bitten by the very hole he designed. “I was a big part of designing the holes,” Buhr said. “The goal was to trip some people up, and it happened to be me.” Gannon failed to clear the gap off the tee, then missed the Iowa-shaped island hole and carded a double bogey that dropped him from contention for the win.

On hole 15, Hammes missed a partially obstructed birdie putt from just outside circle’s edge while Barela canned his 28 foot birdie putt to stretch his lead over Hammes and Buhr to three strokes. Barela and Hammes both missed their drives on hole 16, but Hammes’s disc kicked off a tree and out of bounds. A four stroke lead for Barela with two holes to play would be ample on most courses, but given the amount of double and triple bogeys that hole 17 had served up – there was still doubt.

When Barela split the gap on hole 17, he made the victory almost certain, especially after Hammes hit an early tree, kicked into the rough and was still pitching out from the wooded opening tunnel four strokes later. Although Barela over-threw the island and took his first bogey of the tournament, the contest with Hammes was over. Barela now had a three stroke lead over a fast-finishing Orum. Matty O was on his way to second place, birdieing the last four holes to be the only player in the tournament with a clean sheet.

Barela was clean off the tee on hole 18 and was able to pitch up then lay up for the win. He spoke afterwards of the battle with his good friend. “It was a dream come true,” he said. “We’ve been talking about doing this for years and years. I just know this isn’t going to be the last one. We are probably going to be 100 and 100 [wins each] one day.”

Barela was also planning his revenge on the European Open and another famous closing hole. “I’m just ready for the next one. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to go into Europe and I’m just ready for the European Open, that’s all that’s been on my mind,” he said.

Weatherman hits the clutch putts that matter

Emily Weatherman wins the 2024 Des Moines Challenge. Photo: DGPT

The story of the first two rounds in FPO was undoubtedly Holyn Handley. The Beaver State Fling champion got off to a hot start, birdieing five out of the first six holes. Holyn was six down for the round, putting for birdie and a two stroke lead on hole 16. But when the putt on hole 16 missed, Handley showed more frustration than usual. That exasperation seemed to carry over onto hole 17, where she missed the island twice and carded a triple bogey. This was followed by a bogey on hole 18 that dropped Handley to four strokes off the pace and in a tie for sixth.

In round two, Handley again charged out of the gate: a streak of nine straight birdies had Holyn sharing the lead with Ohn Scoggins by hole 16 after opening round leader Hailey King had dropped away. Hole 17 struck again, though, as Handley again missed the island twice for a triple bogey that dropped her to share of third place with Midtlyng and bumping Ryan into second place.

It was Ryan who seemed to take charge in the final round. With six holes to play, Natalie had caught Ohn Scoggins and gone ahead by one stroke. Both Scoggins and Ryan bogeyed the next two holes, though, bringing Emily Weatherman into a share of the lead from the chase card. On holes 14 & 15, after getting lucky breaks with kicks back into play from errant drives, Ryan failed to capitalize, missing putts that would have stretched her lead over Weatherman. While the teenaged, first year pro, was able to hit clutch, edge of circle putts for birdie on holes 17 & 18 that saw her in the clubhouse with a two stroke lead. Ryan’s hopes faded when she threw her drive on 18 long and out of bounds. The celebrations around the hole 18 green began. Ryan also missed another inside circle putt on 18 to bring Midtlyng into a share of second place.

Like her putting in the home stretch, Weatherman was cool in victory. “I don’t have many emotions right now,” Weatherman said after her win. “I’m not there yet. I said that I thought that I’d cry the first time that this happened and I’m not crying yet. I’m sure I’ll cry later, but I’m just happy and feeling really proud of myself.”

Reflecting on her slow start on the feature card of two under par, followed by back-to-back eight-under-par rounds to close out the tournament, Weatherman said, “I think I just got more comfortable, and there was less wind today and Saturday. Also, I fixed my putting. I didn’t feel like my putting was very good in the first round (71% C1X) but yesterday and today it was really solid (90% C1X in rounds 2 and 3).

“I didn’t look at scores until I was on the hole 16 tee box,” she added. “Just to see what I had to do on the last couple of holes because 17 & 18 are pretty difficult holes. I knew that by getting par I’d probably be ok, but I wanted to just push my limits and guarantee a win.”

Weatherman is skipping the European swing and is aiming for the Ledgestone Open next, where she is on the waitlist — she does not yet have a Tour Card in her first year playing on the DGPT, though she’s now locked one up for 2025.

Is this the beginning of the European age?

All eyes turn to Europe in the coming weeks. The European swing as going to be a test of how far the game across the Atlantic has come. Given the growth in participation in disc golf in Europe, especially in Scandinavia, it is inevitable that the age of American dominance must eventually end. Will 2024 be the year?

  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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