When It Rains, It Pours
Upon arrival at Fountain Hills Park early in the morning on Saturday, we knew we’d be in for an interesting final day of The Memorial Championship presented by Discraft. The greater area of Phoenix had gone nearly 11 weeks without a drop of rain and on Friday night, as most of the population slept, the much needed rainfall finally arrived. What better time to end the drought than the final round of one of the biggest events in disc golf?
Women's Open Division (FPO)
By the time the women’s open division started their rounds, the rain had cleared. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and it seemed as if the weather for the day would go back to what we are used to seeing from Arizona in March. The only consequences of the rain were the slick tee pads and occasional patches of water in the fairways.
Paige Pierce (#29190) started the final round with a 14 throw lead over Catrina Allen (#44184) and would end the day much the same, 13 throws ahead. It’s no secret that Paige can crush drives off the tee. It would’ve taken an extremely uncharacteristic round for her to give up 14 throws on a course where having a big arm is a bonus.
Paige took the lead from Catrina by the end of round 2 and was then able to pull away from the pack at Vista Del Camino during round 3 by combining long accurate drives with deadly putting. Val Jenkins (#17495) and Liz Dorries (#31162) joined them on the lead card each day, with Val in 3rd and Liz in 4th. Val played well every day but in the end she wouldn’t be able to catch Catrina. She would finish the tournament in 3rd and Liz would finish in 4th.
By the time the women were closing in on the final 6 holes, the rain was back in full force, but it wouldn't affect the overall scores by much. The back 9 of Fountain Hills Park has far fewer water hazards to deal with and safe play is all that was needed by Paige to take home the gold. Congratulations to Paige for her second straight win at The Memorial Championship.
Men's Open Division (MPO)
The lead cards of the men’s open division teed off in the same rain that was affecting the women’s lead card as they played through the back end of the course. Looking around, you would have thought that umbrellas and ponchos were part of the dress code. If you didn’t have one of the two, you were soaked. The rain would come and go throughout the round until the last few holes, but we’ll get to that later.
The lead card consisted of Paul McBeth (#27523), John McCray (#9852), Drew Gibson (#48346), and Jared Roan (#49210). It’s not often that the lead card on the final day of a National Tour Series Event has a 17 year old (Gibson) and a 42 year old (McCray). For the chase card and the cards below them, it was moving day. Playing well in the elements would be required to move up, but most players only needed to move up by a few throws to take a serious jump in the ranks. The scores from 1st place to 19th place were all within single digits of each other going in to the final 18 holes of the tournament.
By the time the lead card was putting on hole 7, the rain had stopped completely. Umbrellas became walking sticks and ponchos were removed as the sun started to heat up the course, the players, and the spectators. Everything was running smoothly and the competition was fierce.
By hole 13, McBeth had widened his lead to 5 throws over McCray, having birdied everything except for holes 1 and 9. The rain had partially flooded some of the fairway of hole 14 and 15, and the sky was once again taking a turn for the worse. Another storm was on the way.
As the clouds rolled in and the rain started coming down it quickly became apparent that this cell of clouds was much more serious than anything we'd seen in the hours prior. As we approached the tee pad of hole 15, the unmistakbale sound of an air-horn blast meant there would be a lightning delay. With only 4 holes to go, the lead card and everyone else on the course headed back to tournament central just beyond the green of hole 18.
What would ensue over the next half hour was like nothing I've ever seen at Fountain Hills Park. Inches of rain and strong gusts of wind pounded the course and the city that surrounds it. The fairway and eventually the tee pad of hole 15 would soon be completely covered by water as it streamed down from the surrounding mountains into the valley that is Fountain Hills Park.
The fairway drained almost as quickly as it filled up. After an hour or so without rain the teepad was playable and the tournament resumed. The fairway was still flooded as the players teed off on hole 15 and the rain resumed right along with the tournament. Spotters had to stand knee deep in water in the middle of the fairway to mark where the discs landed. The players threw from in the water as well, shoes and all. They could have taken casual relief in most cases, but everyone was already soaked and there wouldn’t have been much of a point.
The rain continued to pour down through the final few holes. McBeth had enough of a lead to play quickly and without much thought. He took a bogey on hole 16 and hole 18 and after laying up from out of bounds on hole 18, he quickly tapped in to take home the title at the first National Tour event of the year.
John McCray would finish in 2nd place and Drew Gibson would finish in 3rd place just a few throws off the lead. Jared Roan, Steve Rico (#4666), and Cale Leiviska (#24341) all finished the tournament at 28 under par, making 4th place a 3-way tie.
The next stop on the National Tour Elite Series is Round Rock, TX for the Texas State Championships. The tournament takes place from Friday March 21 thru Sunday March 23. To see the entire National Tour schedule, head over to the National Tour page.
And finally, on behalf of the staff of The Memorial Championship, the PDGA staff and board members, and disc golfers everywhere, we’d like to take a moment to help honor and remember 25 year old California disc golfer Daniel Boe, who passed away this weekend in a car crash while heading home from The Memorial Championship. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends during these difficult times.