First All-Star event weighed down by format, broadcast issues
February 23, 2021 by Jonah Lynne in News, Recap with comments
The 2021 season had its unofficial debut this past weekend for the top players in both the MPO and FPO fields at the Disc Golf Pro Tour’s All-Star Weekend event in Arizona.
The top eight DGPT points-earning players from 2020 in each division were invited to compete in an exhibition at the Fountain Hills course, one of the sites of the Memorial Championship, which is not a part of either the Pro Tour or the PDGA National Tour this year.
Paul McBeth took down the MPO division by winning a one-hole playoff against Calvin Heimburg, both of whom look in great shape for the upcoming season. Kona Panis was the weekend’s big surprise, fighting off Catrina Allen for the win in the FPO division.
Speculation surrounding this event emerged near the end of the 2020 season at the Disc Golf Pro Tour Championship in North Carolina. The format for the DGPT’s first All-Star event was one of the hot discussion topics: after initially planning to do match play, the DGPT settled on a stroke play event, with the first day of competition composed of doubles best shot followed by tough shot, as well as singles stroke play on Sunday.
The guaranteed payouts and exhibition format gave players little reason to really push competitively. The best shot round displayed some of the effortless distance that the MPO field had to offer, as well as the emergence of some fascinating teams. However, the tough shot round was more of a chess game than a disc golf tournament, pushing the teams towards conservative play by discouraging risk-taking sapped the energy of the event.
Singles play was more interesting in MPO than FPO, as the scores from the doubles rounds carried over into each player’s day two score. Six MPO players entered Sunday tied at 4-under, but Kona Panis and Catrina Allen’s strong performance in doubles, particularly during the nine holes of tough shot, set them apart with a seven stroke lead over the field.
Although there were close scores at the top, the players showed little enthusiasm or ambition on the course. This could also be attributed to the nine-hole safari layout itself, which the players lapped a total of four times throughout the event. The changes to the Fountain Hills course may have added difficulty, but they didn’t sparkle in the exhibition format — simply adding distance to a wide open course doesn’t add much to the ambience of a tournament, especially at the pro level.
Despite the faults of the format, the 2020 All-Stars gave fans fresh disc golf to watch as the DGPT regular season gets ready to kick off on Thursday for the Las Vegas Challenge.
The doubles play presented an interesting atmosphere for both the players and the viewers, and many outstanding performances from the teams rose to the occasion. Here are my dynamic duos from the Saturday doubles matchups.
MPO: Eagle McMahon and Chris Dickerson
Team “McChicken” showed that they are ready to roll this season after getting off to a hot start and featuring great team play. Even prior to the event, many foresaw the success that this duo could have, and they matched the hot round of the day at -4. Both McMahon and Dickerson have stellar putting strokes, and with Dickerson’s great accuracy, as well as McMahon’s tour-leading forehand and distance, this team was, no doubt, a formidable pairing.
FPO: Catrina Allen and Kona Panis
Catrina Allen and Kona Panis showed that they were the team to beat, shooting -5 through both the best shot and tough shot loops, seven strokes better than the next closest team of Paige Pierce and Heather Young. Their play excelled primarily on the tough shot loop, where both Allen and Panis played consistently and without much difference between their shots.
The same competitive nature from seasons past was also on display in the singles round, where both divisions displayed amazing play from the leaders.
Paul McBeth and Calvin Heimburg went back and forth during their singles round, each having either a share or sole possession of the lead throughout the day. Heimburg entered 18 with a one stroke lead but made his only putting error of the day from 35 feet. McBeth canned his putt of similar distance, and Heimburg carded a par to force a playoff.
The two leaders went back to hole 1, where McBeth parked his shot first off the tee. Heimburg, knowing he needed a great drive, sent his disc into the lake, crowning McBeth the inaugural DGPT MPO All-Star Champion.
The FPO singles round was just as competitive and exciting. Panis and Allen shared a large lead going into the round with their doubles scores. Both players showed demanding skill in their shots, including Panis’s highlight throw-in for birdie on the difficult hole 4. Allen held an early lead in the front nine but gave it back with a triple bogey on hole 9. Panis maintained a narrow lead throughout the second loop and entered the final hole with a two-stroke lead. Allen had an outside-of-circle-two look to save par, which she didn’t convert, setting Panis up for a simple layup for bogey to take down the win.
“I’m shaking,” said an emotional Panis in her post-round interview. “I knew Catrina and I were kind of battling back and forth, so I didn’t really know how close we were.”
This event demonstrated the talent at the top of both fields and a clear glimpse into the upcoming season kick-off in less than a week. James Conrad looks to still need some time to adjust to his new MVP bag, and Panis could be signaling a strong season to come.
With exclusive coverage of the All-Star Weekend on the Disc Golf Network, all eyes were on the live coverage for its first event of 2021.
The DGPT streaming service displayed a new graphics package that more closely resembles what you might see in traditional golf coverage. Though it looked more polished, it was not a huge upgrade over last year’s presentation.
Overall, the production looked like it was coming off of a long offseason with some rust. On multiple occasions, especially on Saturday, commentary was cut off by advertisements, and shots from one card were not seen in full as a result of cuts to other cards. The flow of the broadcast was very choppy, perhaps understandable given the unusual format and no obvious lead card on which to focus. Reactions online were decidedly negative as the production team struggled to cover all four doubles cards.
The scheduling of the event also made it difficult for the four camera coverage to effectively show both MPO and FPO in equal manner. Despite Allen and Panis’ strong play on Saturday, there was very little coverage of their shots. On Sunday, Panis’ throw in for birdie on hole 4 wasn’t aired in real time because McBeth was giving his post-win interview.
On a positive note, Jamie Thomas was on point and professional as a new full-time member of the Disc Golf Network commentary team. His course-side insight was detailed and timely, while also patient and allowing the shots to speak for themselves.
DGN has made substantial investments in their production setup, which will feature a brand new studio, additional cameras, and a broader pool of commentators during the 2021 season.
While it is difficult to draw any real conclusions about what the All-Stars will do this season, it is still our first look at top pros in the new year. Does this portend that will McBeth continue his winning ways? Will Calvin Heimburg snare a major? Will Kona Panis be a breakout star this season?
The official season begins this weekend at the 2021 Las Vegas Challenge, the first stop on the Disc Golf Pro Tour.