The final major tournament of the disc golf season, the United States Disc Golf Championship, came to a dramatic playoff conclusion, but Will Schusterick came out with his third United States title. It seems like every big tournament, whether it be a National Tour event or a Major, has come down to the wire with serious competition amongst the top professionals of disc golf.
At the PDGA World Championships, we witnessed Paul McBeth defeat Ricky Wysocki in a playoff, and it has always been incredibly clear that he performs at his best under pressure. When he entered the playoff against JohnE McCray and Will Schusterick on the infamous Winthrop Gold Course that he holds the record at, it seemed like McBeth was poised to win his first United States Disc Golf Championship. In the end, though, it was Schusterick who found himself in first place for the third time in his career. The tournament was an absolute roller coaster ride from start to finish, and it was almost impossible to tell who was going to win.
Paul McBeth looked like he might run away with another major victory after the first round
The Winthrop Gold course in Rock Hill, South Carolina is infamous for its red, out of bounds rope and has the ability to bring down any good round at any moment. Last year, Paul McBeth struggled throughout the first three rounds of the United States Disc Golf Championship, but attacked the final round as only McBeth could, shooting a course-record 52. Coming off another impressive year and another world championship victory, McBeth seemed determined to capture his first United States title. It seemed like business as usual for the three-time world champion in round one as he cruised to another near record-setting round– a 1090-rated 53. The leaderboard can change in an instant at the United States Disc Golf Championship, but it must be nice to have a 4-stroke cushion over second place through just one round. Joining McBeth on the lead card for Thursday’s round would be the only other competitors to shoot under 60 on Day One: Patrick Brown, Nate Sexton, and Nikko Locastro.
McBeth maintained his lead after round two, but JohnE McCray was in the hunt
On a course like Winthrop Gold, plenty of disc golfers would be thrilled to shoot McBeth’s 60. With the level of competition so high, though, cooling off after Day One opened the door for other competitors to gain a bit of ground. JohnE McCray, who has chosen to compete in the Open division of many major events this year despite qualifying for the Masters division, made a move to claw back into contention. After the front 9, it seemed like McCray was on his way to flirting with McBeth’s course record. By the end of the round, McCray had lost a bit of his momentum, but he was still able to shoot an impressive 58 and cut McBeth’s lead to five strokes. Much of the field struggled on Day Two, so McBeth (sitting at -21 for the tournament) found himself with a good amount of breathing room. Joining him on the lead card for moving day would be McCray (-16), Patrick Brown (-15), and eventual champion, Will Schusterick (-13).
Schusterick struggled in round one, but seemed to get more comfortable as the tournament continued
After Will Schusterick won a recent A-Tier tournament in Toronto, we reflected on his performance this past season. He has finished in the top ten multiple times, but has not met expectations after an impressive 2013 season. On Day One, Schusterick fell behind a bit after shooting a 62. Being 9 strokes off the lead must seem difficult to overcome, but Schusterick was not deterred. His second round score of 59 brought him to the lead card and gave him hope on such a difficult course.
We said that this year’s United States Disc Golf Championship was a roller coaster ride, but the first two rounds really did not seem like it. The roller coaster feeling came into effect in the third round. Incredibly, each player on the lead card found himself with the lead at some point in the round. Obviously McBeth started with his 5-stroke lead, but after a couple of rough bouts with the OB rope, the competition got much tighter. Even though Schusterick came into the round behind McBeth by 8 strokes, he was able to take advantage of some less-than-stellar rounds by McCray, Brown, and McBeth. After shooting a 1046-rated 62, Schusterick found himself just one stroke off McBeth’s lead heading into the final day of competition. The lead card remained the same, and it truly was anyone’s to take.
It was a battle from start to finish, but Will Schusterick came out on top after a three-man playoff
The final round of the tournament was just as intense as the third round and all four competitors on the lead card were vying for arguable the most coveted title in all of disc golf. Let’s fast forward to the real action of the entire event.
Entering hole 17, McCray held a four shot advantage on Schusterick with McBeth five back in third. McCray teed off first and landed out of bounds on his first three drives. With his fourth drive barely remaining inbounds, he would go on to card a 9. McBeth would hit a monster putt for a birdie as Schusterick’s par. This put Schusterick and McBeth in a tie heading into the final hole with McCray two shots back.
The drama would continue as both Schusterick and McBeth would card bogey-fives while McCray took advantage with a birdie-three.
After 18 holes in the final round, Schusterick shot a 66, McBeth shot a 67, and McCray shot a 65. That put all three in a tie for first, so they headed back to hole 18 to settle the score.
Of all three drives, Schusterick’s is the only one that really stood out. He crushed his drive and put himself in a fantastic position to conquer a generally difficult upshot. McCray and McBeth were a bit further out and each struggled to make the corner on their upshots. McCray’s upshot landed out of bounds, which effectively ended his hopes of winning the United States Disc Golf Championship. McBeth was able to park his second upshot and save his four, so it was up to Schusterick to hit another 20-footer (almost the same 20-footer that he missed just about a half hour earlier) for the victory. Schusterick’s upshot landed toward the bottom of the hill on the 18th green, so he was looking at an uphill putt, but one that was entirely in his range. For the second time, he missed the putt and gave McBeth another chance at his first United States title.
One thing is certain: Paul McBeth is the last player you want to give extra life to in a clutch situation. Schusterick and McBeth headed over to Hole 1 where the tournament would ultimately be decided. McBeth took the box and weaved his way down the fairway to about 25 feet past the pin. Will Schusterick took the tee and showed incredible composure, throwing a beautiful drive to make up for his struggles on Hole 18. With Schusterick just 10 feet or so away, it was up to McBeth to extend the playoff. Uncharacteristically, McBeth missed the clutch putt and gave way for Schusterick to take his give-me putt. It was an four days of disc golf at the Winthrop University Disc Golf Course and Will Schusterick was able to prove just how good he is capable of being by capturing his third United States Disc Golf Championship.
Paige Pierce makes disc golf history as she takes down the Performance Flight division of the United States Disc Golf Championship
The Performance Flight division of the United States Disc Golf Championship is run a bit differently than the Open Flight division. The competitors for are handicapped based on their PDGA ratings, so instead of playing the course par, they play against their weighted par. For the first time in the 15 year history of the United States Disc Golf Championship, a woman captured the Performance Flight title– and she happens to be the 2014 United States Women’s Disc Golf Champion.
The fact that Paige Pierce can throw a disc further than many of the men playing in the Open division might seem like it would give her an advantage at the massive Winthrop Gold course. In an interview with DiscGolfPlanet, though, she said that the course plays well into “girl golf”. What she meant was that the women’s division is generally more well-known for laying up and playing safe. Paige Pierce can crush drives with the best of the men, but her ability to play within her own abilities and lay up when she needs to is the reason she was able to claim a second Unite States title in 2014. Paige Pierce shot under her weighted par in each of the four rounds of the event on her way to claiming a 9-stroke victory.