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Local Limelight: Santa Cruz


Santa Cruz local Zoltan Szemeredi plans to keep it cool during Friday's first round at the Santa Cruz Masters Cup. Courtesy photo

As you follow along with live scoring or tune in for post-produced coverage of the opening round of the Santa Cruz Masters Cup on Friday, chances are you’ll know plenty of the names coming across your screen. With an Open Women’s feature card boasting the top four players from last weekend’s Daisy Chains Disc Golf Tournament – champion Paige Pierce, Sarah Hokom, Valarie Jenkins, and Madison Walker – and an Open card stacked with the likes of Paul McBeth, Ricky Wysocki, and Drew Gibson, household names will be in high supply.

One player, though, will likely stand out among the rest. But it’s because you don’t know him.

Say hello to Zoltan Szemeredi. The 34-year-old Santa Cruz side-armer played his way onto Friday’s feature card by winning the Masters Cup Amateur event two weeks ago after holding off a fierce final round chase, averaging 31.3 points over his 960 player rating for the three-round tournament.

That clip finds him as the second lowest rated player in the Open field this week, but he didn’t sound like it was going to get to him. We caught up with the full-time mechanic, part-time fisherman to find out more about his game, his Masters Cup win, and how he plans to handle the nerves of playing alongside the pros he looks up to. Or if he'll even be able to make it through the first round, for that matter.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

What’s your disc golf backstory?

I got into the sport playing with my brothers, playing back in, I wanna say, 2006. Just played with a lot of friends and just enjoyed playing on the courses. Wasn’t really going for score in the beginning, just kind of enjoyed being out in nature throwing the Frisbee and learning the sport.

After a while I started playing bag tags and started doing some C-Tier stuff – nothing too serious. Wasn’t really into competing that much, just enjoyed playing golf. As time went on it got a little more competitive with my friends playing, and just enjoyed playing as much as I can. I do have a lot of hobbies – I fish, I’m a photographer, I do tons of stuff throughout the town throughout the week. Other than that, golf is something that I want to keep playing. I enjoy it and want to keep learning.

Pronounce your last name for me.

Sem-er-etti. So the z is silent.

Where’s that come from?

It’s Hungarian.

Do you hold onto your Hungarian heritage pretty strongly?

Yeah. I speak it, my parents still speak it. It’s one of those things – once Grandma kinda passed away – I’ve been to Europe twice and been to Hungary twice. It’s one of those things, like with family in LA, we speak it a little bit. I was brought up here, so I treat it like – both my parents are Hungarian, but I’m American.

How would you say “disc golf” in Hungarian?

Oh, that’s a tough one…I don’t even know how they would say disc golf. I could find out. They do play it. In Budapest, there’s already events in Hungary, I’ve seen it. I’ll text you the right spelling and everything for disc golf.

So how has your game matured over the years?

Initially I played the Masters Cup the first time in Intermediate [in 2014] and I took third. I got a trophy, and then I decided after I won the Motherlode [the same year], I think my rating bumped up high enough to where they bumped me to Am 1. When I went to Am 1 it seemed there were a lot of good players and a lot of people from Santa Cruz who were on the verge of going to Open, so it seemed a little bit – not stressful, but it seemed like there were a lot of good players even in Am 1 in the area I’m from. You kinda wonder, “Are these people bumping up to Open?” and then you work your way up the ladder.

Played with some guys from Santa Cruz who are locals who are fairly decent players and tried to grasp some things they were learning, and tried to learn some stuff as well. As I get more and more close to playing more and more events, it’s just putting, and some of the stuff I’ve found that’s really saved me was my putting.

Was that the biggest key to your Am-side win two weeks ago? You shot all three rounds over your rating with a particularly hot first round. What happened there?

First round I just got looks on some holes that I don’t normally get looks at, and I just attacked it. I felt confident just telling myself to go for it. Even if I was outside 30 – even up to 60, 80 feet – I felt confident in the jump putt, and I felt – right when I stepped up to my disc, I felt like I was gonna give it my all, and a majority of the time I banged some big jump putts that were 60. Eighty to 100, even.

And it looks like you had a bit of a battle in the final round.

I got to 18, threw my drive, and I was the only one about 35 [feet] out. Everybody else was out. I kinda told myself, “Well, I’m gonna give it a run.” I was already in the lead at that point, but I just told myself I wanted to get a bigger buffer, you know? So when I went to throw the putt I didn’t even hit metal. I literally threw it to the pole. I kinda took a deep  breath and I realized, “Well, that was abnormal.” I don’t know if it was the nerves or what, just kinda felt awkward.

Then when I got to hole 19, I realized I was really tired. Even on 19 my drive was OK, but I didn’t pipe it exactly where I wanted it. I realized, climbing up the hill, I was fatigued. I drank some water, I ate a little snack, but that whole climb up the hill I was like, “Wow. I need to get this, hold this together.”

[On hole] 26, he birdies, Jandro [Llamas] birdies it, and we go to 26a, and I’m thinking I’m just gonna throw a sidearm right to middle. Somehow I lean back, and I kinda slipped on the teepad, and my disc flew off the cliff. It hit the road and then skipped all the way down the cliff. I was in a spot where [it was an] unplayable lie, so I told the card I was gonna re-tee. So I re-teed, and it still kinda wasn’t the best drive. It kinda ended up in some thicket, and I told myself, “Well, this is my chance. I’ve gotta get this up to the basket so I can save this double-bogey,” and it’s gonna become within one stroke.

Then we get to Top of the World, and he throws it and it looks like it was going toward the road and it skips, and the crowd down at the bottom said, “Oh, you’re in bounds.” So I knew he had a look at birdie.

I took out my Destroyer, and I’m just like, “I’m gonna put it on a good line but end up safe in the middle, and I’m gonna put the pressure on him to make the putt.” …He has to make his putt to force the playoff. Being a local at DeLa, I felt that if the playoff went I have the advantage on hole 1. So I forced him to make the putt, and he hit the top of the basket which – he gave it a run. I tapped in my par for the win.

It sounds like you have a pretty seasoned mental game for someone who isn’t a long-time tournament player.

From what I’ve been told from people is I play pretty consistent. Golf relates with life for me. Certain things go up and down, up and down, but maintaining just a level pace and trying to keep your head straight – it just seems to help a lot. Trying to deal with the nerves – with tournaments previous I used to get like a lot of hot hand and a lot of nerves. I’m sure I’m gonna get them playing with pros because that’s an opportunity I’ve never been involved in [laughs], but I’m excited and I know I’m gonna have a lot of fun.

That’s a great segue. I was going to ask about how you plan to handle the spotlight on Friday.

I’m definitely just gonna play my game. I’m gonna enjoy it and have fun regardless of what happens. This is an opportunity that – I’m kinda blessed to be in this situation. Like I said, previous Masters Cups was not even getting really top 10 in Am 1. It was a goal for me to play three rounds and be consistent on those rounds. Just go for it.

You’re older than the guys you’ll play with, but are there any pros you look up to?

Yeah. One time when Simon [Lizotte] came up with his little tour, I did a little driving clinic with him. I still haven’t utilized some of the stuff he taught me. It’s just interesting to know how these pros tackle some of the stuff with practice, form – all that stuff. Simon, Eagle [McMahon], [Ricky] Wysocki, even Paul [McBeth]. I really love the fact that all their form is effortless looking, and kind of some of the stuff they do I wanna get to – that step would be nice.

By the way, this is one of the things that’s kind of interesting: My wife is due with our first baby May 28. It’s kinda like a plus or minus thing. Everything so far is on track, but you never know.

So you might be in the middle of round one, being filmed, and have to take off?

You never know (laughs). If it were to happen, that’s life. At the rate it’s going everything looks good. She’s getting a little uncomfortable. As far as the appointments, it’s looking like it’s on track. Maybe even a little bit later than the due date, hopefully.

Between that and the win at Masters Cup, you’ve had an exciting month.

Yeah, it’s been one thing after another. All good stuff.

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