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15 New Am & Jr World Champions Crowned at West Lake Park

For the last seven days, 600+ men, women, boys, and girls from around the world have been gathered in Quad Cities for disc golf’s annual “family reunion”, the PDGA Amateur & Junior Disc Golf World Championships. After six full regulation rounds, and a 7th for those divisions with semifinal rounds on Saturday morning, 15 new Amateur & Junior World Champions were crowned during the Final 9 playoffs at West Lake Park.

It was incredible to see that somehow, after 108 or 120 or 138 holes of disc golf, there were still several Final 9 showdowns with scores at the top of the leaderboards that were still extremely close races, or even tied. It just goes to show that despite the ups and downs of the week that every single competitor had to deal with, no one was giving up. Everyone was fighting tooth and nail to the bitter end.

Running an event of this size is a task that very few teams/clubs/organizations can handle. But the team here in Quad Cities pulled it off without a hitch. Even when Mother Nature decided to flood two of the courses that were scheduled to be used for Saturday morning’s semifinals, the tournament staff stayed calm, looked at their options, decided on a plan and rolled it out to the competitors and spectators with ease. On behalf of the competitors, we cannot thank them enough.

The semifinal rounds, played by the eight largest divisions took place on Saturday morning while the seven smaller divisions took to the tees at West Lake for their Final 9 showdowns. The semifinals are always much less of a race for first place as they are for 4th, as only the top four advance on to the finals. In many of the divisions, there were 3-5 competitors right on the bubble. In the Advanced Women’s division specifically, it took a playoff to determine who would move on to the finals, and it was Iowa’s Sarah Gilpin that edged out Minnesota’s Lauren Butler to make the cut.

The Finals ran smoothly during a beautiful day at West Lake. The course was still a bit soggy from the downpour the area saw the night before, and the 100+ degree temperatures made for an exhausting and sweat-soaked run of nine holes, but it’s not quite fair to complain about sunshine and a little heat knowing that the same storms that flooded the area could have just as easily come through a few hours later and caused delays or even cancellations of the Finals.

By mid-day, there were new World Champions tapping in on the 9th hole every 15-30 minutes. As the day progressed, so did the intensity of the Final 9 showdowns. When the last group of the day teed off, Advanced, we all knew that just a few holes ahead there were several close battles being fought.

The Advanced Masters division was one that we could only expect would come down to the last hole, as even with just a few to go there were two men tied for the lead with the other two tied just one stroke back. As the Advanced men made their way to the green of hole 7, the rumblings of a playoff were heard in the gallery.

It was a three-way playoff between California’s Roy Quilantan, Florida’s Ben Champion, and Colorado’s Noah Zeller. The playoff was resolved in a dramatic fashion on hole 2, where Roy Quilantan hit a blind putt from 80 feet to force Noah Zeller to make a 35-foot putt if he wanted the playoff to continue on. Noah’s putt hit chains, and then fell to the ground. Roy’s incredibly clutch putt is what earned him the title of Advanced Masters World Champion.


Roy Quilantan making his up the hill to where he could actually see that his putt went in!

While that was happening, North Carolina’s Heather Zimmerman was marching her way to victory on the 9th. By the end of round 6 on Friday she had put herself five strokes or more ahead of the field. By the end of the semifinal round on Saturday morning, she had added two more to that cushion. With only the Final 9 remaining, Wisconsin’s Hailey King and Colorado’s Missy Gannon, joined by the aforementioned semifinal round playoff winner Sarah Gilpin, had their work cut out for them if they wanted to catch Heather.

Heather was not about to be caught and marched through the Final 9 at West Lake to finish bogey-free with a birdie on hole 6 and a birdie on hole 8 for a Final 9 score of 26 and an overall score of 416 (-6) to earn her Amateur Women’s World Champion title. Hailey King pulled away from Missy Gannon to take 2nd place with a score 425 (+3), with Missy finishing in 3rd at 427 (+5), and Sarah Gilpin in 4th at 433 (+11).

Advanced Women's Final 9 - Prodigy Disc

Last but not least to come through the Final 9 layout at West Lake was, of course, the Advanced men. North Carolina’s AJ Carey, Illinois’s Dylan Lhotak, and Minnesota’s Alec Anderson had been duking it out all week on the lead card, joined a majority of the time by Iowa’s Colin Poe, which is how the day began for their semifinal round at Camden Park 2.

However, in an exciting turn of events, California’s Christopher Keseloff made a big move at Camden Park 2 during the semifinals, ousting Colin Poe to earn his first appearance on the lead card of the week for the Final 9. Heading into the Final 9, AJ Carey and Dylan Lhotak were essentially in their own battle for 1st, with a race for third going on between Alec and Christopher.

AJ’s one-stroke lead over Dylan when the Final 9 began was quickly taken away as Dylan carded the only birdie on hole 1. But Dylan would give the lead right back with a drive on the downhill over-the-water hole 3 that left his disc at the bottom of the lake, forcing him to card a double bogey 5 against AJ’s par 3.

But it wasn’t over yet. An uncharacteristic 3-putt to card a bogey on hole 6 allowed for Dylan to tie it up again with his birdie. Now, with 144 holes of disc golf down and three to go, the largest division somehow still has a gridlock at the top of the leaderboard.

Hole 9 may have been where AJ tapped in for the win, but it was his drive and putt on hole 8 that won him the tournament. It’s a pretty simple hyzer line for these guys, but the pressure from the gallery and from the event itself makes everything a bit more difficult. Dylan’s drive on the right line and a bit deep, but still facing an open putt from 35-40 feet. AJ’s was hole-high and a few feet closer to the basket than Dylan. When Dylan stepped up and missed his short and low, he knew it may have cost him the title.  

When AJ stepped up with the pressure on and nailed his putt, the game had changed, as all that remained was a very short and birdie-or-die hole 9, and at this level of talent, they were all going to get the birdie. Dylan needed to ace it to have a chance, and he along with the other three definitely went for it. They were all close, and all the drives were inside the circle to finish in front of the gallery with birdies. The closest drive however, was AJ, and after watching the others make their birdie putts, he did the same and became the 2017 PDGA Advanced World Champion.

Advanced Division Final 9 - The Disc Golf Guy

On behalf of the PDGA, congratulations to our new PDGA Amateur & Junior Disc Golf World Champions! Thank you to Quad Cities in general, the Quad Cities CVB, the tournament staff, the volunteers, the spectators, the sponsors, and the competitors for an amazing week! Safe travels! 

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