An emotional weekend at WACO.
March 14, 2023 by Kingsley Flett in Analysis, Recap with comments
The biggest challenge that Ella Hansen overcame this weekend in Waco, Texas, didn’t come in the 54 holes of tournament play on the Brazos Park East’s (“BEast”). Although the former ultimate frisbee champion did compete mightily all weekend, she showed her true mettle in the minutes after the tournament had been won and lost.
Hansen had stretched her day-two lead over Kristin Tattar in the early holes of the final round, to see that lead get whittled down to two throws in the tight fairways of the wooded part of the course. When the lead card emerged into the open for the final six holes, Tattar threw her drive off tee-13 straight into an early tree, then overpowered her fairway shot out of bounds before failing to get up and down to save bogey. Hansen’s putt to stretch the lead by three was on-line, but inches low, yet the two-throw swing still gave her a four-throw buffer with five to play. It was a big enough gap for Tattar to comment after the round, “I didn’t know I had any chance of winning. I had already given up at some point.”
It was on the tee of the 303-foot hole 14, though, that Hansen started to lose her rhythm. Her drive was thrown too soft, finishing left and out of birdie range. This was the first of five times that Hansen would leave the door open for Tattar in the closing stanza. Tattar missed the 25 foot birdie putt on 14. She missed again from circle’s edge on hole 15, losing another chance to grab a stroke back after Hansen left her approach short. Then on 16, Hansen threw her drive high into the headwind and saw it skip left and out of bounds into the carpark. Hansen left another approach short and this time Tattar took the opportunity, canning her 27-foot putt for a two-shot swing. The lead was now two with just holes 17 and 18 to play.
On 17, Hansen showed too much of the underside of her disc to the wind and sailed her approach out of bounds, while Tattar hit two textbook forehand drives, then had a birdie putt splash out. She took par; Hansen took bogey. The lead was down to one.
With the advantage in power, Hansen must have been tempted to go for the green across the water on hole 18. Teeing off first, Tattar showed her hand by playing safe down the fairway on the near side of the lake. Hansen showed her hand, too, by waiting for the group ahead to clear the basket, signaling that she was going across the lake. Knowing she had only to clear the water to secure her first Elite Series win, Hansen overpowered the drive — the disc flew too far right and, despite the tail wind that was blowing slightly right to left, flipped up, sailing straight across the fat part of the fairway and out of bounds. Hansen sat, disconsolate, on the edge of the teepad for a full minute. Tattar, as she had done for the previous five holes, threw her upshot to circle’s edge. Hansen needed to throw her approach close to force a playoff, but she couldn’t, yet again leaving an upshot short and left. Her bogey-save hit the cage and, improbably, Tattar was staring down a 30-footer with water behind the basket for the win. With the flag on top of the basket fluttering in the strong breeze, Tattar’s putt hit center chains to complete a five stroke reversal in three holes.
While Tattar received her trophy, Hansen sat on her own on the grass, head in hands, before being enveloped in a group hug by friends. The grief at having her first tour win snatched away with three holes to play would have been enough to have many pro players hide from the public and seek the solace of their entourage, but Hansen courageously faced the cameras for an interview, still in tears.
“I’m really proud of myself for how I played,” she said. “I was super nervous all afternoon yesterday and to come out and shoot four down in the first four and stay in it I was really proud of myself. Obviously, a bogey, bogey, bogey finish is tough, but I felt like I threw pretty good shots. I kept it going for as long as I could. Obviously, Kristin is an amazing player. She clutched up and made a really great putt on 18. It was a fun battle. “
Disc Golf Network host Terry Miller was visibly moved afterwards. “Ella is such a role model. I’ve got two daughters,” he said. “Ella said it. She should be proud.”
For Tattar, the win was a clear opening salvo to those who might say that 2022 was a one year wonder. But for triple bogeys on holes 6 and 12 in round two, it would have been a dominant coast to coast win.
“It’s one of the craziest wins I ever had,” she said. “Because coming on to the last holes I didn’t think I had any chance of winning. I didn’t know the scores. After I had made my upshot, then I checked the scores and I was like ‘Seth, I have a chance to win right now’. At some point I was just cruising and thought that I’m not playing for the win. I thought the gap was too large. After I took my double bogey and then missed a series of putts I thought ‘you can’t win like this.’ Then I just saw that I had to make the putt so I thought ‘focus now, now’s your chance,’ and I made the putt.”
Klein Wins His Second Elite Series, Nikko Returns to the Peloton, and a Sprint Finish
If you are going to wear a referee’s zebra stripes while playing disc golf, you may as well do it ironically. Nikko Locastro’s return to the DGPT was always going to be noteworthy and the Missouri pro didn’t disappoint – with his choice of outfit in round two or his play in the first round. Locastro birdied six out of the first seven holes to carve an early lead before finishing tied for third, two throws off the pace.
“I feel like my game’s as well rounded as it’s ever been,” Locastro said in the pre-tournament press conference. “I feel like I’ve been able to find a lot of appreciation for disc golf. I’m grateful to be sitting here with you guys and being able to chase down my dreams.”
Locastro had plenty of company, though. If the Waco tournament is any indication, we are in for a hotly contested pro tour this year as the MPO field becomes crowded with new talent. At the start of the final round, we had 11 players within three throws of the lead and 21 players within range at six down. The UDisc scorecard in the final round resembled a bike racing peloton, with different contenders each making their runs for the lead before a sprint for the finish and a winner bursting from the middle of the pack.
With six holes to play, that winner looked like it would come from the grouping of Calvin Heimburg, Adam Hammes, Kyle Klein, Cole Redalen, James Conrad, and Kevin Jones, all separated by three throws, with Nate Sexton and Paul McBeth not out of the picture a further throw back.
Heimburg took himself out of the race after his putt to save par on hole-12 skipped off the top of the basket and flew long. He missed the comebacker: the double bogey took him two throws from the lead. Redalen tried to go big off hole 15 when many have laid-up all weekend. He turned his drive over, which ended a run of four birdies with a double bogey to take him three throws back from the lead. Much to the disappointment of the ‘Matt-ley Crue’ and Matty O fans everywhere, Orum bogeyed holes 15 and 16 to drop away. James Conrad hit an early tree off the tee on hole 17 and then threw his upshot into the water on the way to a bogey five and the end of his chances. Although he finished with three birdies, Kevin Jones struggled to score on the holes that could have brought him into contention.
Kyle Klein made a similar mistake to Redalen on hole 15, turning his drive over into the wind, sailing it over the iron fence and out of bounds, But somehow the disc managed to catch an edge, skip back towards the fence and slide under the two inch bottom gap and back in bounds. Klein birdied sixteen and then, just as his FPO counterpart Kristin Tattar did earlier in the day, played two beautiful forehand shots on the treacherous hole 17 for birdie. Klein’s upshot hung out over the water for an agonizing few seconds before fading back into the bullseye. From a similar spot on the card behind him, Hammes threw his forehand higher and away from the water, to land 45-feet wide of the pin. Hammes’ brave birdie attempt skipped off the rim. We had already seem Klein put his drive across the water on hole 18 to within 16 feet of the pin so we know Hammes’ mission was becoming impossible.
Ahead on 18, Klein had the slight right to left crosswind lift his 16-foot putt into the chains for birdie and a two-throw lead. Hammes’ mission, should he choose to accept it, became to ace hole eighteen and force a playoff. He’d already had one ace that round so anything was possible. For one crazy second the impossible looked like it might happen as his drive came in on an angle and distance where a second skip-ace for the round seemed possible, but the disc’s edge dug into the soft ground and it bounced away from the basket, ending his hopes.
“I had a gold mine this morning,” Hammes said, referring to his clean sheet and one ace for the round. “But Kyle came out and straight-out outplayed us. You start out of the woods and it gets windy, you go into the woods where it’s calm and you get some confidence, then it’s back out in the wind. It affected me and Kyle kept pushing.”
“There’s a lot of emotions,” said Klein. “I feel honored really. I knew what it took coming into this weekend in general and I knew I had to get it done and I was able to get it done today. Warming up, I pretty much said that 13, or 14, somewhere around there, was the score needed to win. I didn’t think there’d be an outright win. I thought there’d be a playoff of some sort. I checked the scores every couple of holes just so I knew what I needed to do: whether I needed to play smart or whether I could afford something like a bogey or a layup. On 18, I just played it like I normally do with a tail wind, throw it high and wide and let it spike in.”
Kyle Klein becomes just the 17th active MPO player with two or more Elite Series or Major victories.
So the Texas swing rolls on and next stop for the Pro Tour is 100 miles down the I-35 in Austin. Is Kristin Tattar going to pick right up from where she left off? Will Ella Hansen get some redemption? And who’s going to break away from the MPO pack this week?