Corey Ellis, Casey White take pole position
April 15, 2022 by Cameron Guidry in News, Recap with comments
APPLING, Ga. — The familiar faces of the 2022 season were largely bested in the first round of the PDGA’s brand new major, the Champions Cup. Names like Paul McBeth, Drew Gibson, and Chris Dickerson were substituted for the likes of Corey Ellis, Casey White, and Matt Orum at the top of the leaderboard, great players in their own right, just not the ones we may have been expecting to emerge with the stakes as high as they are and the results that have borne out this season. Chalk it up to the challenging course in W.R. Jackson or the extra pressure placed on the sport’s best, but thus far the results have not played out quite to plan. Let’s break down what happened on Day 1 in Appling.
The W.R. Jackson course is known for tight, wooded holes that play fair but require a high level of skill. However, it doesn’t seem to have even a single hole that is playing as a landmine for the field. Only three holes in Appling are even averaging over par, and the largest of these is playing +0.08. 12 players carded bogey-free rounds on Thursday with varying degrees of success, but it’s clear to see that a birdie-fest is likely in our future to decide the victor.
Heimburg Off On The Right Foot
The one name near the top of the leaderboard that likely doesn’t surprise you is Calvin Heimburg, who, despite stellar play in 2022, has still felt like he has underwhelmed slightly this season. Heimburg has the tools to win every tournament he plays in, but between a recent crack in his putting stroke and great play from the other top contenders, he has been largely boxed out from winning at the elite level, with his last outright win coming from Jonesboro back in 20201. With the tight lines and tunnel shots required in Appling, it’s easy to pair those demands with the strengths of Heimburg’s game; perhaps no one is better at line drive style golf than him right now. It just makes sense that he should be successful at this event. However, it’s as much about execution at this point as it is about talent or strategy. With his strong start on Thursday, we may just be seeing the moment Calvin Heimburg goes from emerging to established.
Corey Ellis and Casey White take home a share of the hot round, both shooting 1060-rated, bogey-free 11-under rounds that will likely stay near the standard as the weekend progresses. Both players built their scores on the back of strong putting performances, specifically from C1X. Both White and Ellis connected from inside the circle 100% of the time, emboldening them to get more aggressive with upshots and long-range tries, hitting 4 and 3 times from long-range, respectively, throughout the round. As always with these surprise early leaders, consistency is key: now the pressure and the tournament begins in earnest for these two.
For years now, the PDGA has been attempting to find the right formula to mimic traditional golf and add more majors to the schedule. Though the road has been rocky with match-play events and wacky formats, it seems that the solution was as simple as putting on a standard stroke play event with a strong purse at one of the more prestigious courses in the country. While it may not yet be disc golf’s ‘Masters’, the early returns suggest we may be on the right track, with pros clearly striving to win this event right out of the gate. Frustrations have already flashed for players like Gibson and McBeth, and the atmosphere is feeling fantastic early on.
A Crowd At The Top
Thanks to StatMando for finding this gem: This is the first major since 2008 USDGC to have 8+ players within 1 stroke of the lead after round 1. In the hunt back then? Youngsters Nikko Locastro and Matt Orum shot a 60, with Paul McBeth 1 stroke off the lead. This time around, Orum and company will serve as the veterans, and perhaps Heimburg or White are the young stars on the rise who will still be dominating 10 years from now.
James Conrad: Major Magician?
Despite contributing the greatest single moment in disc golf history, the rest of James Conrad’s 2021 campaign was rather ho-hum. In the new year, he seems to be at it again, finding himself just one stroke off the lead after Round 1, where he went bogey-free with several stellar par saves to stay clean. Despite never really finding his form to put up POTY numbers over a whole year, Conrad always seems to find himself in the hunt in the biggest events. His two Major titles are anomalous for a player who doesn’t win tour stops as regularly as the top players in the game. If he can add a 3rd, he can cement his legend status.
James Conrad, on how he gets in the right headspace during his round to start on the right foot: “I was just trying to stay in the moment, you know, I wasn’t trying to let that make too big of a difference. It always feels good though to rattle off a few birdies early, to get the round started hot and I was fortunate to have such a cool card. I consider myself to be good friends with Chris, Gregg, and Paul and we’re all good sports, cheering each other on and having a good time out there, so that always seems to make it easier to play well.”
- In the last decade of Majors, Paul McBeth has played in 32 events and only ended outside of the top 10 after 1 round 4 times: the 2012, 2016, and 2019 USDGCs as well as 2021 Worlds. McBeth shot a 7-under, putting him four shots back and tied for 19th.
- Corey Ellis has played in 5 majors with a best finish of 21st at 2021 Worlds and 1 at 2019 USDGC