When I first opened the curtains of my hotel room window this morning I saw something that I knew was going to make the second day of the Brent Hambrick Memorial Open much more interesting than the day prior. Rain. I currently live in Indianapolis and due to this summer's drought I had almost forgetten what it looks like, much less how it could affect a professional level round of disc golf. As I pulled into the park I saw a field of players carrying umbrellas, wearing waterproof warm-up jackets, and bags that had extra towels hanging out of them. I missed conditions like this, and I was excited to see how the pros would respond to the 180 degree swing in climate from the day before.
The first round was to be played on the standard BHMO course, AKA the east course, with the same layout as the first round. 27 holes of lefty, righty, long, short, and everything in between. The MPO lead card consisted of Paul McBeth, who made a late run on day 1 to take the lead by a stroke, Gregg Barsby, Brad Schick, and Paul Ulibarri. My personal instinct was that McBeth would maintain his lead and widen the gap between himself and second place by playing consistent and amazing golf. As usual, my gut instinct was way off. The women's lead card started on hole 15, with Sarah Cunningham, Paige Pierce, and Valarie Jenkins. The ladies were all within a few strokes of each other and would remain that way from the start of the first hole of round 1 to the end of the final round on the 9 hole showcase/safari course.
The card incuded one relatively fresh face on tour. Melynda Apton shot her first 1000+ rated round on Saturday afternoon to join the three Sarah, Paige and Val. The rain in the morning did little to affect play for the world champions, but may have played into Apton’s slow start. Melynda would bounce back later in the round, but most of the drama and high stakes play came from the other three. Sarah and Paige couldn’t keep a lead on each other while Val stayed steady and was always within striking distance. Sarah would birdie and grab the lead, then, Paige would answer on the next hole. There were several two stroke swings where one carded the two and the other faltered for bogey. The trading continued throughout the 27-hole round and, going into the last two holes, Sarah held a one throw lead. Then, Paige let go of a huge bomb that screamed down the 407’ fairway and almost reached out and grabbed the chains. She landed three feet from the pin and would tap in for two. They would both par the last hole of the round for the tie and Paige would have first tee honors in the Final 9 by besting Sarah by one throw in that round. Val remained two strokes back to round out the ladies’ final 3.
The rain really started coming down on hole 2. There are few things worse than a heavy downfall with a low quality umbrella when your job for the day is to have your iPhone out at all times. Regardless, I was glad to see it and was excited to see how the rain would affect players of the highest caliber. Unfortunately for me, after only a few minutes the rain let up and never really came back again. The players did their best to deal with the slick teepads. Some of them were laying a towel at the end of the pad to prevent from slipping, and others just slowed down their run-ups and backed off on the power. I'm sure at some point it affected everyone, but the real story of the day (at least on the men's card) wasn't rain. It was putting.
Never in my life have I seen so many great looking putts find a way to not stay in the basket after slamming more than enough chains than any putt on any other day would need. Every player had to deal with this multiple times, and I can only imagine the toll it must take on them mentally. When most of us miss putts out on the course, it doesn't mean much. When a touring pro gets cheated out of a great birdie or a great par save, it means they are losing money. The players took it well, and showed their great sportsmanship throughout the round. McBeth had a series of bogeys that quickly moved him from the lead to the bottom of the card. Ulibarri had some unfortunate OB's and chained-out putts that ended up preventing him from being on the lead card as well. Barsby and Schick played consistent and smart, and it paid off, as they both ended up on the final round with Dave Feldberg and Ricky Wysocki.
Speaking of Ricky Wysocki....
16 under par? What?! If you've never seen or played this course, believe me when I tell you that 16 under is simply insane. He was in the 2nd group to start the day and I sprinted over to them with 9 or so holes to go to snap a pic of their scorecard for tweeting purposes. McBeth was curious and asked me what they were shooting. I couldn't believe what I saw when I started counting. He was already at 12 under and on his way to an unofficially rated round of 1104. The next best score on the card was Feldberg at 6 under. He was shredding the course, the other players on his card, and all of the players on the lead card. To add to the madness of his round, he was doing all of this while wearing his warm-up jacket, which he never took off the entire round despite the significant spike in temperature and humidity. At the end of the round he had easily jumped to first place overall, with a 7 stroke difference between him and the second place man, Gregg Barsby.
The final 9 holes brought back what the players were used to from the day before. Lots of wind, and lots of heat. The rain from the hours before made it absurdly humid. The players and gallery alike were soaked in sweat. The final 9 at the BHMO is a safari round of 9 holes. The same 3 women players that started the day together would finish the day together, and the 4 best scores from the MPO division round would join them. The holes were played as a 7-some, with the women teeing off first and the men second, regardless of scores.
Paige and Sarah were tied up going into the final round, with Val Jenkins being only two strokes behind. Paige took back-to-back bogeys to start the final 9 which quickly put Val back in the running, now tied for 2nd. Paige redeemed herself by being the only player of the 7 to birdie the infamous hole 3, a huge downhill hyzer that plays from the east dam tower down to hole 5's basket which most people know as the basket elevated on the stone pyramid. She crushed a hyzer out of the tower window and the gallery down by the basket roared. She carded back to back 6's on hole 7 and 8, and ended up finishing in third despite her best efforts. Sarah played consistent golf the entire final round and Val simply couldn't catch the breaks she needed to make a run at the lead.
The men's card final round started off with a bang as Barsby parked a flat hyzer down the long slanted fairway of hole 2 to take the only birdie of the entire field. Barsby was on a mission and gained 3 strokes on Ricky through the first 4 holes to put him only 4 strokes back on the lead. Ricky gained a stroke back by taking the only birdied of the entire field on hole 6, and he never really looked back from there. With a 5 stroke lead and only 3 holes to go, there wasn't much that could be done. Ricky finished the round to win by a 6 stroke margin over Gregg and it was well deserved. He takes home his first PDGA National Tour title and a new course record that will be tough for anyone to beat in the years to come.
Congratulations to Sarah and Ricky on a great tournament. The next and final National Tour event is The Vibram Open. We'll see you there!