Gannon Buhr with the bounceback; Kristin on fire
June 27, 2023 by Kingsley Flett in Analysis, Recap with comments
Iowa is a meeting place of three winds that flow across the great plains of the USA. “They talk about big skies in the western United States, and they may indeed have them, but you have never seen such lofty clouds, such towering anvils, as in Iowa in July,” wrote Bill Bryson. Air streaming across from the Pacific Ocean leaves most of its moisture behind on the Rocky Mountains, making the west wind dry and hot by the time it reaches the Hawkeye State. The winds from the northwest bring the cool breeze in summer and the cold in winter. The winds from the southeast bring moisture and rain from the Gulf of Mexico. None of these weather systems get along; and when they collide in the hot air rising off the plains in summer, thunderstorms and tornados are often the result.
In the few days preceding the 2023 Des Moines Challenge, the humid air flowing from the gulf had been in town, but the dry wind from the west turned up on Saturday, triggering tornado warnings and thunderstorms that impacted the ninth Elite Series event of this year’s Disc Golf Pro Tour.
Flowing into Iowa, too, was a bandwagon of pro disc golfers who’d been out west, in Oregon, Montana, and most recently Kansas. Among these was a young local who had learned his game only 40 minutes up the road from Pickard Park and who was looking to atone some recent bad form. Gannon Buhr missed the cash line at the Dynamic Discs Open in Emporia, Kansas, for the first time since his maiden tournament in 2020.
Buhr had only hit the fairway off the tee 78% of the time in Emporia and made only 26% of greens in regulation. After a shaky start to his first round in Des Moines, Buhr figured he was in for more of the same.
“Coming off my lowest rated round in maybe five years, I felt so lost,” he said after the first round. “My backhand form had been causing me issues. The last four days I’ve been grinding back into form. Hours every day, up to 2am in my basement throwing into my net, taking videos of myself. After taking bogey on hole one and missing a circle one putt for birdie on two, I felt hopeless and like I didn’t belong. Dealing with people’s expectations and not performing how I should has been really stressful. Then out of nowhere, I strung together eight birdies in a row and then, other than a couple of errant shots in the back nine, I just birdied out.”
Buhr’s UDisc statistics showed his improvement from the week before, hitting the Pickard Park fairways 85% of the time and landing in the circle 64% of the time in regulation on his way to birdieing 14 of 16 holes. Sharing the lead after round one with Buhr was his practice buddy and fellow Des Moines local Gavin Babcock, who had never before been on a lead card at an Elite Series event.
“The crowd’s just unbeatable here,” Babcock said after the round in front of his hometown fans. “Whatever shot I throw they are just going nuts, so I absolutely love it here.”
Joining the two locals on the lead card for what was to be the final round were Gregg Barsby and Calvin Heimburg. Barsby’s return to the front of the field was welcomed by his fans. The 2018 world champion’s best result so far this year at ES events was a 25th in Las Vegas.
“It’s been a minute since I’ve played a good round on the Pro Tour,” Barsby said. “I’ve had a rough start to the season. I feel really good with the round. I made a bozo mistake on hole one. Threw it OB, but kinda got going from there. I’m looking for a bit of grace on the putting green. My putting hasn’t been really strong yet this year, but today’s a nice sign that it’s moving in the right direction.”
On Saturday, the approaching thunderstorms, with lighting strikes in the vicinity, caused the suspension of the afternoon’s play and, as the area had been placed on tornado watch until 7pm, round two for MPO was cancelled. Following the storms, the northwest wind took over, and on the final day the winds blew at 25-30 miles per hour with gusts up to 40. The undulating terrain of Pickard Park caused the wind to swirl in unpredictable directions, making shot and disc selection a nightmare. The MPO field threw out of bounds 413 times on Sunday compared to 336 times in Friday’s gentler conditions.
As has been the pattern so far this year on the DGPT in MPO, it was a crowded leaderboard with 25 players within 5 strokes of the lead and only 3 throws separating the first 3 cards. Unfortunately, Barsby continued his troubled relationship with hole one, kicking off Sunday with a triple bogey seven, taking him out of contention at the start. As has also been the pattern this year, it was tricky to predict a winner for most of the round, creating plenty of work for the Disc Golf Network coverage as they followed multiple cards trying to showcase the different contenders. At one point in the early holes, there was a five-way tie for first place.
After Buhr went out of bounds on hole four, Ezra Robinson took the lead from the chase card. Then, with a bogey on hole-10 and double bogey on hole-15, he handed the lead to his brother Isaac, who was chasing him from the third card. A run of seven birdies between holes 17 and 15 meant Isaac only needed to par hole 18 to pressure Buhr to have to birdie the hole to win. As Buhr was waiting on hole 15, knowing he needed to score on one or two more holes to chase down Robinson, he was overheard saying, “Birdies are hard to come by through here.”
Then, inexplicably, Robinson turned over his second shot on 18 into the thick rough on the right-hand side of the fairway and then missed the putt that would have saved bogey, releasing the pressure off Buhr’s final holes. Buhr finished strong, though, shooting a birdie on the pivotal hole 16 and then not letting up with a birdie on the final hole to claim a three-stroke victory in front of his home crowd.
“I remember coming out here about two months after I started playing,” said Buhr afterwards, when reflecting on being one of the few touring pros to win an Elite Series event on their home course. “I’ve been playing Pickard for so long now. I think it might be my number one course in the world. It plays so amazing, and every hole is just so fair. It feels unreal. I had so much anxiety and stress this morning and I just prayed for that to go away. I had a couple of shots that I thought I threw pretty well that didn’t go well for me early in the round, but I just put those behind me. I’ve played almost every weekend since Vegas and been on the road that whole time, so it was really good to come back home, see my family, hang with all my friends, and be around a great disc golf community.”
Kristin Tattar Has All the Answers
Fresh off taking a short break from the tour to spread the love of flying discs and disc golf at the Bonnaroo festival in Manchester, Tennessee, Paige Pierce arrived in Iowa speaking in glowing terms of that experience and the joys of life outside of the competitive bubble of the DGPT. But then, right at the end of her press conference, the five time world champ showed that she was ready to switch back into competition mode.
“As much as the competition is my objective,” she said, “I mean sometimes I don’t care about who I beat and just want to play and watch frisbees fly. But I feel like I am ready this week to stop messing around and put down a hot score.”
True to her word, Pierce did come fast out of the gate with 7 birdies in the first 11 holes, including a streak of 5 in a row in the middle of the round. A double bogey on hole 12 halted the run and a bogey on hole 16 left her trailing Kristin Tattar by a stroke at the end of round 1. The tournament was shaping to be a battle between the two world champions. Indeed, when the storms interrupted play on Saturday, Pierce held a two-stroke lead as Tattar missed some C1 putts and struggled to convert birdie chances. Jennifer Allen threw five under par for the first nine holes of round to share second place with Tattar.
For Pierce, everything seemed to change during the overnight mid-round break: she began her round with a double bogey on hole-10 and then shot +4 for the remainder of the round, dropping her to a share of third place with Macie Velediaz and Stacie Rawnsley, five throws adrift of Tattar. Missy Gannon had matched Tattar’s four-under-par round to slip into second place, three throws back from the leader.
On the windy final morning, Tattar showed why she is dominating the women’s game this year. Apart from a throwing out of bounds and scoring a bogey on hole 2, she pulled away in the difficult conditions. She hit tough circle’s edge putts to save par after going out of bounds on holes 3 and 6, and a circle 2 putt to birdie hole 8. Otherwise, she kept it on the fairways 82% of the time on her way to scoring seven birdies and cruising away to a 6-stroke win. Tattar’s ability to stay on the fairway in the treacherous winds was a significant advantage as the next best fairway hit percentage among the leading players was Jennifer Allen at 78%.
“I just accepted it. It is what it is,” said Tattar afterwards when asked about how the 6:30am restart of round 2 had impacted her preparation. “I was just happy that we got to play three rounds because I think that it’s only fair to decide the winner over three rounds. I feel bad for the men to be honest. It was definitely the earliest round I’ve ever played in my disc golf career, but it wasn’t too bad.”
“It was a wild day,” said second place finisher Missy Gannon. “We had to manage some pretty gusty and sustained winds the entire round. There was a little bit of guesswork and a little bit of trusting your stable discs. Luckily, I was able to minimize most of the errors, just not enough to take it down.”
The tour heads straight north now, up the I-35 and hopefully into some less volatile weather, for the Preserve Championship in Clearwater, Minnesota. The business end of the season is almost upon us.