Day one of the 2014 Texas State Championships showed us why we should never listen to the weather report. We reported in our preview that, as of Wednesday, conditions would be fair, albeit cloudy. On Friday, though, the wind was gusting at Old Settlers’ Park as many would expect at the wide-open Texas tourney. Pros were forced to navigate the fairways, avoiding the generous amount of out-of-bounds areas, in winds as strong as 30 mph. Stepping up to the tee pads, players opted for their more overstable drivers instead of trying to push for max distance. Ricky Wysocki told Terry Miller that his Prodigy D1 was the only disc he trusted in such rough conditions and that he used it through at least the first four holes. Although the course and weather conquered many players on day one, scores in the mid-eighties not being uncommon in the first round, they could not keep the game’s top talents from putting up impressive numbers.
They say that history likes to repeat itself, and after round one you may have thought that was true. Much like in 2013, Ricky Wysocki jumped out to a big lead over the rest of the field, shooting a 12-under 55. While Paul Ulibarri and Paul McBeth minimized the damage from Ricky’s consistent round (shooting 61 and 62, respectively), much of the field saw themselves at least ten strokes behind the reigning champ.
The key to Wysocki’s success is his ability to avoid the OB lines and to consistently place his upshot in his comfort zone in spite of the crazy wind. At times, the skip that players had come to except out of some discs would get caught in the wind and drift out of putting range. Wysocki, though, dialed in his shots and found himself nailing birder after birdie throughout the first round. After Friday’s round, it would be difficult to bet against Wysocki, but the weather is the great equalizer at the Texas State Championships and anything could happen on moving day, Saturday.
After the crazy winds on day one, you had to expect them to be gusting just as hard on Saturday throughout Old Settlers’ Park. Surprisingly, though, the winds were calm and the conditions were great for the pros to crush some huge drives. Although Wysocki jumped out to a big lead with his 1107 rated first round, the second round saw some major movement from his competitors.
Even though he didn’t join Wysocki, Paul McBeth, Eric McCabe, and Paul Ulibarri on the day’s lead card, Simon Lizotte made a huge impact from the chase card. If you hadn’t previously heard of Lizotte, it may be because he was primarily dominating the European tournament scene in years past. He is on the US NT circuit this year and is coming on strong. He finished in 7th place at the Memorial Championships and showed why he is just as dangerous as any of the American players with his stellar round on day two. Lizotte capitalized on the weather conditions and absolutely dominated the course, posting the weekend’s best score, a 14-under 53. While the round rating was a few points lower than Wysocki’s opening round (1098), the impressive round vaulted the German from fifth place on the chase card to third place on Sunday’s championship card.
Because the weather was so calm, McBeth, Wysocki, and Ulibarri were able to post sub-60 scores that kept them on the lead card for the final round. In spite of posting a higher score than either McBeth or Lizotte, Wysocki was still able to maintain a strong 6-stroke lead over the other leaders. His second round 56 may not have been as impressive as the 55 in gusting winds, but the name of his game this weekend was consistency.
Other competitors seemed to go on long birdie runs (JohnE McCray carded seven straight on Saturday) but would fall apart on some of the longer holes with more dangerous OB. Wysocki, on the other hand, made it through the entire second round without a single bogey which allowed him to retain his lead without cushioning it. Even Paul McBeth carded an uncharacteristic 8 sometime over the weekend, making Wysocki’s performance all the more impressive.
What were the odds that mother nature allowed for two days of calm disc golf down in Round Rock, Texas? Moving into the final day of play, the stage was set for many alternate endings: Ricky Wysocki could continue his consistent play and become the first back-to-back Texas State champion in the last 13 years. Paul McBeth could put on his usual Sunday show and storm back from 6 down. Simon Lizotte could ride the momentum of his hot second round and make a come back to steal the championship from Wysocki. If you’ve followed disc golf tournaments in the past, there’s one thing you know: it really isn’t over until it’s over.
The final day of the 2014 Texas State Championships was a spitting image of Friday’s opening round. The sky was pretty overcast, rain was a threat, it was much colder than previous days, and, in true Texas fashion, the winds were back up around 30mph. The question of the day for the Men’s Open division was whether or not some of the pros could learn from their mistakes in the wind on Friday and manage to catch Wysocki. Ricky Wysocki, Paul McBeth, Simon Lizotte, and Paul Ulibarri teed off on the last card of the day in hopes of capturing the title of the year’s second NT stop. Barring the complete dismantling of the lead card, it seemed the top spots would remain in tact.
Despite conquering the wind for solid first rounds, McBeth and Ulibarri struggled throughout the final round. Many disc golf fans are accustomed to watching videos on YouTube of McBeth stepping up in a big way on Sundays–the disc golf version of Tiger Woods (pre-injuries and pre-scandal) if ever there were one. McBeth played a consistent front-9 of bogey-free golf, carding four birdies along the way. The back-9 gave the reigning world champ some trouble, though, as he took a 7 on the par 3 hole 11, a 5 on the par 3 hole 12, and a 6 on the par 5 hole 20 en route to a 1-over 68 round. In the grand-scheme of the tournament, the round did not greatly improve his spot in the standings as he finished in third overall.
Paul Ulibarri, on the other hand, saw his spot in the top four crumble slowly throughout the final round. In reality, there were really only two holes that killed the Prodigy player: 3 and 6. Hole 3 is about 452ft, but the added OB line down the right side of the fairway makes for a much narrower landing zone than the open field makes it seem. Hole 6 is a 602ft right-turning hole with OB to the right of the fairway if you cut the turn too close. Both are tough holes in and of themselves, but with the weather as miserable as it was, it can be tough to keep a consistent game when you’re trying to make up ground on the leaderboard. These two large bogeys, coupled with a general lack of birdies (just 3 on the day) led to Paul’s drop to 7th overall at the end of the day. At the top of the leaderboard, though, Simon Lizotte and Ricky Wysocki battled it out as Lizotte tried to track down the defending champion.
Seeing top pros like JohnE McCray, Paul Ulibarri, Garrett Gurthie, and Jared Roan shoot rounds of 5-over or worse makes Lizotte’s and Wysocki’s performances even more astonishing. Lizotte channeled the momentum from Saturday’s round and carded seven birdies in spite of the weather. However, Lizotte’s round was not without its imperfections as he also carded two bogeys and a double bogey en route to his 4-under 63. While Lizotte’s performance was fantastic, his struggles on Friday kept him from toppling the consistent play of Wysocki as he finished in second place overall with a score of 20-under.
In the end, history repeated itself and the gallery on hand cheered for 2013 champion Ricky Wysocki as he banged in the final putt of his 2014 championship performance. The key to Wysocki’s final round was the same as the previous two–consistency. He may not have put up numbers like he did in the first two rounds, but he didn’t need to. He took his birdies, tallying just as many as Lizotte, but kept himself from bogeying all but one hole. His final round score of 5-under 62 was the best of the day and resulted in his overall score of 28-under, an 8 stroke lead over the competition. While many of the finishers in the top ten moved up and down throughout the final day, Wysocki kept himself firmly in first throughout the tournament and took home his first NT win of the season.
The tightest race of the weekend was, by far, the Women’s Open division between Prodigy superstars Paige Pierce and Catrina Allen. While the Men’s division had a clear leader throughout the tournament, first place was up for the taking for either Pierce or Allen. In the first round, the Women’s division finished fairly equally toward the top in spite of the strong winds. Pierce and Allen finished just 2 strokes apart, shooting 72 and 74 respectively, but others in the field were still looming, looking to bounce back in the second round. Legacy-sponsored Jennifer Allen kept herself just 5 strokes off the lead while seasoned veteran and Prodigy player Sarah Hokom was just 6 strokes back heading into day two.
With such massive holes, large amounts of OB, and troublesome weather, the tournament was still any one of the ladies’ for the taking. Because of the clear conditions on day two, there wasn’t much change in the Women’s division’s standings. Catrina Allen recaptured a stroke from Pierce, shooting a 70 to Paige’s 71, and Jennifer Allen maintained her 5 stroke difference. The biggest change resulted from Hokom’s difficulties in round two, losing her spot on the lead card after shooting an 18-over 85. Hokom was replaced by Innova-pro Jessica Weese after her solid round of 74. While the lead card was set for Sunday, the true battle had not yet begun as the weather would soon eat through the Women’s field.
At the end of the final round, Paige and Catrina would stand as the only women who shot sub-80 rounds. Better yet, the two went into the round separated by just 1 stroke (Paige over Catrina) and poised to fight back-and-forth for the NT win. Even though Paige played a solid back-9, padding her lead by 3 strokes, her struggles on the front-9 allowed Catrina’s consistent play to climb back into the race. Where Paige carded 5 bogeys, a double bogey, and 1 birdie, Catrina took just one double bogey, one bogey, and one birdie as she allowed her par saves to propel her to the top of the leaderboard. In the end, Catrina won the round by a stroke, tying the two women for the division lead! Who doesn’t love a playoff?
After tying hole 1 in the playoff, they moved on to hole 2 where it all would be decided. The basket sits right along an OB creek, so after two solid drives, Paige laid up and hit the pin, leaving her a drop-in to move on, but Catrina’s upshot fell a bit shot. Allen was stuck with a do-or-die situation: if she hit the 25-footer, she would survive another hole; if she missed, it was over. Her putt went up, hit center chains, but as it came down it dropped out of the basket. With some drama, Paige walks away with the win.
However, everyone must have felt some sympathy for Catrina as chain-outs were a serious problem during Texas States this year. Even the PDGA Live Twitter account noted the overwhelming amount of them:
Catrina putts…it hurts center chains towards the top of the basket and it drops out. Seen that happen too many times all weekend.
— PDGA Live Scoring (@pdgalive) March 23, 2014
The Men’s Masters and Grandmasters divisions were just as steeped in weather issues as the Men’s open field. While none of the competitors finished under par for the weekend, there was plenty of drama as players moved up and down the leaderboard throughout each round. In the Master’s division, Innova-sponsored Patrick Brown was able to capitalize on the lead he built in the first two rounds to take home the NT victory.Consistent play throughout the first two rounds allowed him to stave of Ron Convers in spite of a final round 11-over 78 in the gusting wind. The Grandmasters division was a tight race between Ken Shepperd and Marcus Roberts throughout the weekend. In the end, though, the consistent (did I mention that consistency was vital at Texas States?) play of Shepperd gave him the victory. Shepperd shot rounds of 69, 70, and 71 over the weekend, so even though he entered the final day of play behind Roberts by five strokes, Roberts’ final round 78 allowed Shepperd to steal the victory by two strokes. While many look to the Men’s Open division for the drama, it’s clear that the Masters and Grandmasters divisions are capable of providing their fair share of excitement!
Some spectators criticize the tournaments held on more open courses because of an alleged lack of difficulty for pros of such high talent. However, this weekend’s event at Old Settlers’ Park should quell those rumors as even the top pros struggled to score well on the monstrous course. As always, the unpredictable Texas winds and weather provided some incredible challenges for the field, forcing the victors to earn every bit of their championships. For those that still aren’t satisfied with the open-course tournaments, stay tuned for ATDG’s coverage of the next NT stop: the Steady Ed Memorial Master’s Cup at DeLaveaga on May 16-18. The course is a favorite of many of the top pros and will challenge the field with technical, wooded holes that can also get quite long. If you’re like us and can’t wait that long for more pro updates, check out news about the upcoming A-tiers before the next NT event: Journey Post First Stop (March 29-30 in Branson, MO), The Ozark Mountain Open (April 5-6 in Vichy, MO), 4 The Chains DG Open (April 12-13 in Rockwall, TX), the Copenhagen Open (April 26-27 in Denmark), and the Glass Blown Open (May 2-4 in Emporia, KS).
We hope everyone enjoyed the excitement of this year’s Texas State Championships! Stay tuned for more coverage of the National Tour circuit and be sure to leave your comments below!