You know it’s getting close to USDGC time, when you see longtime Championship competitor Johne McCray practicing the course.
For the last several years, it’s been common to see the Florida resident arrive several weeks before the Championship to get reacquainted with the Winthrop Gold Course. But this year he arrived even earlier, more than a month ahead of time.
“As a professional you always got to keep practicing. Every one of us is out there practicing everyday pretty much. So yeah, I want the practice here for sure. This is one of the biggest tournaments of the year,” said McCray after working on some forehands during practice.
Arriving early is convenient for the 2016 Masters World Champ because his mother lives here. This year he arrived even earlier not only to practice, but to get his wife some medical treatment because her health has recently been in decline.
More often than not, the early practice pays off. In his incredible 18 USDGC appearances, he has placed 15th or better more than half of the time. He said playing Winthrop brings out your “A” game.
In 2014, McCray came as close as he ever has, to winning the USDGC. However, he lost his final round lead after the treacherous island-hole 17, and was unable to beat out eventual winner Will Schusterick and Paul McBeth in the ensuing playoff. He said he does think about how close he came.
“Yeah. Absolutely. You know, things happen for a reason. It was tough to take. Took me a couple of days to get some sleep after that. But what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger,” said McCray.
For the last few years, McCray has also joined the Rock Hill Disc Golf Club for some of their weekly events. It’s a treat for the local players. Rock Hill Club President Stuart Neal said club members enjoy seeing “what a true pro does on our normal course rotation.”
This year, McCray actually broke the course record for the club’s modified Winthrop Gold layout (shorter version) when he shot (-10).
McCray will be going into this year’s USDGC (his 19th appearance at the Championship) at the age of 47. Though he’s one of the older players competing in the Open division, McCray still has what it takes to win. But he admits, he’s running out of time.
“I’m 47 years old now. I know I don’t have that many years left to try to compete at the top. I’d still like to. But, let’s be realistic. It’s getting tougher and tougher every year. I feel like this year has been a real struggle for me. So, I’m trying to buckle down and get some practice in and try to finish this year strong,” said McCray.
Find a USDGC Doubles Qualifier near you so you can attend the USDGC Doubles Main Event prior to the USDGC.
There’s still time to organize a USDGC Doubles qualifier in your area.
Learn more about qualifying, running a USDGC Qualifier, and the Main Event (Sept. 27-29) here.
After a day with five bogeys, 2015 Champ Paul McBeth came back down to earth, shooting a surprising -4 and now leads the event by only five strokes over hard charging James Conrad and Kevin Jones, both at -24 for the event.
Leading the USDGC by 8 strokes going into the round, McBeth extended his lead to 9 after the first hole when he birdied and Conrad made par. Both he and Conrad then made bogey on Hole 3, but they both made amends for that on the signature Hole 5 lake hole.
In McBeth’s case, his Hole 5 tee shot put him in a tricky position under a crepe myrtle tree lining the fairway. However, after a nice crouching forehand he made an amazing long turnover third shot to ensure a birdie.
Conrad got the lead down to six after Hole 11, but then fell behind by 9 strokes again after making bogey on Hole 13. However, McBeth then hit a hard stretch starting with a bogey with Hole 15 and then another bogey on Hole 17. On those holes, Conrad made a nice save on Hole 15 when he threw a forehand roller while kneeling through the mando entry way that led to a par save. Then on Hole 17, Conrad hit his birdie putt after making a smooth putter drive that turned over just slightly and caught enough turf to stay in bounds. He finished at -7 for the day after making birdie on the final hole.
Kevin Jones has made an appearance on the USDGC’s lead card last year during Round 2, but this will be his first experience on the final round’s lead card. With his -11, the hot round for the day, he showed he belonged in the mix of things for the final day.
At -10, Seppo Paju brought himself closer to striking distance. During his bogey free round, the long bomber from Finland had a very handy 100% fairway hit percentage. Look to him to jump even higher up on Saturday.
Defending champ Nate Sexton isn’t out of it being eight strokes back, but he’ll need a big round on Saturday to keep his crown.
Going into the day at -14, Paul Ulibarri didn’t have the round he needed to keep up with McBeth and company with a -5, but he did have the highlight of the day when he aced Hole 17 in front of the big lead card gallery.
With Conrad and Jones on the move, it’s becoming apparent that McBeth’s incredible first two rounds can only take him so far. He’ll have to turn it on during the final round to take home the US title for the second time.
After shooting a smoking -10 during the final round of USDGC Doubles at the Canaan Riverbend Gold Course on Sunday, James Hopkins and Aaron Shindledecker are back to back USDGC Doubles champs.
Hopkins / Shindledecker (Greensboro, East Bend, N.C.) finished at -27 for the event. Coming in at second were Zach Arlinghaus and Bobby Bryant III (Edgewood, KY / New Carlisle, OH) at -22.
Shindledecker said they were unsure they’d make it back this year since they hadn’t been playing a lot of disc golf, but they decided to make the return trip because of the event’s high quality.
Turned out they didn’t need to be playing a lot of golf beforehand because they immediately put themselves right back in the thick of it after Friday’s Round 1 at the Winthrop Gold Course. They shot -10, one stroke off the lead.
Hopkins said several of his highlights came during that round including a thumber roller approach on Hole 4 that landed near the 10-meter circle and led to a birdie, as well as leading the team to birdies on holes 16 and 18.
After Round 2 at the woodsy Camp Canaan Riverbend Gold Course, Hopkins / Shindledecker found themselves in a familiar position, the lead, shooting -7 and up by three strokes.
For the final round, the duo started off strong and never relinquished the lead. Hopkins said they were -7 through the front nine holes. Highlights included an ace by Shindledecker on the 4th hole (Hole 5), in which he swung a forehand through the far-left gap, and a big drive from Shindledecker that led to eagle on Hole 13. The big play on hole 13 and a big putt from Hopkins on Hole 15 effectively closed the door on the competition.
When comparing this year’s victory to last year, Hopkins said the game plan really hadn’t changed. Basically, their strategy came down to: whoever is feeling it at the moment takes the lead in the group. Their team is pretty in-tune, Shindledecker agreed.
“We know when one of us should be playing aggressive and when the other should be playing safe when needed,” said Shindledecker.
The big question now is if they’ll come back next year for a possible three-peat.
Regardless if it’s been ages since you last threw a disc or you’re an avid disc golfer, the Rock Hill Throw Pink event is just the thing for area women and girls.
Why? Because it connects females to the healthy sport of disc golf and helps support the local initiative Project Pink, which helps uninsured women get access to mammography screenings.
The female only event is from 9 a.m. to noon, Oct. 7th at Fewell Park in Rock Hill. The cost of $15 includes a skills clinic, the round of disc golf, Throw Pink T-shirt, a ticket to the final round of the US Disc Golf Championship, and a charitable donation to Project Pink.
Established in 2013, Throw Pink is a collection of disc golf events across the country with the mission of encouraging women and girls to get out and be more physically active, while at the same time making a difference for women's health initiatives, specifically breast cancer.
The come-as-you-are event encourages all women and girls to come. No disc golf skill is necessary. In fact, the event is set up for beginners. You don’t even need to bring discs. There will be plenty available to use.
“This is the perfect opportunity for ladies of all ages to try their hand at disc golf,” said Throw Pink Coordinator Sara Nicholson. “You’ll be surprised at how well you do, and you’ll be doing it for a good cause.”
Some great disc golf teachers will be on hand as well. They include disc golf pros like Debbie Scott, Ashley Collins, Elaine King, and Madison Walker, and others.
Following the brief skills clinic, attendees can test out their new skills with some fun and games (**more side games with prizes added this year), followed by a 12-hole relaxed round.
Register online at Disc Golf United or in person. Snacks and refreshments will be available. Direct any questions to Sara Nicholson at 800-476-3968 or at the Throw Pink Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/throwpink/
Fewell Park. 1205 Alexander Road. Rock Hill, SC.
What do you do when you’re asked to flag the Winthrop Gold Course fairways and take the lead for other course changes? Well, for Andrew Duvall, you eagerly accept.
“I wasn’t shooing away that opportunity if you know what I mean,” said Duvall, 24, when his father, USDGC Chairman and Winthrop Gold Designer Harold Duvall asked him several months ago if he was interested in the assignment.
Flagging the Winthrop Gold fairways is always a sign that the USDGC is upon us. It’s an important job that’s essential to erecting the famous Winthrop OB rope that the USDGC originated and is well known for.
For most of the holes that require OB, Andrew was tasked (several weeks before the event) with creating the yellow and red roped fairways. Pinning small survey flags (many used year after year) to the ground every few feet, Andrew outlined where the OB rope would go. It’s no easy task because there’s no instruction manual and the flags are never in the same exact place each year. According to Harold Duvall, the design of the flags tries to assess how the course performed last year and to create the best challenge for this year's field.
After the OB is settled, crews later come in to hammer the stakes near the flags and then thread in the yellow and red OB rope through the stakes.
Since Andrew Duvall was little he’s been walking fairways or potential fairways all over the region with his dad, soaking up valuable insight from one of the game’s design masters. As an adult, Andrew has continued building his course knowledge.
He designed a 9-hole family friendly course in Tory Hole Park in Elizabethtown, N.C., and he lent a hand with some Camp Canaan holes in Rock Hill, which is the site of USDGC Doubles. Plus, he assisted with the redesign of three holes at Castle Hayne Park in Wilmington, N.C.
Over the years at Winthrop, he’s helped flag a few holes here and there like Hole 17’s famous island outline.
“Four steps away from the pin location is a notorious measurement because that’s where you put the inside of the hay bale,” said Andrew. He’s also contributed to Hole 18 and its final left corner leading to the green, which makes players really have to dial-it-in to avoid getting snagged in OB. “That is as snug as anyone could want it to be,” said Andrew with a smile.
However, this is the first year, all of the course’s design has been turned over to him.
“This is definitely getting the keys to the kingdom,” said Andrew, whose duties during the USDGC have included spotting, shuttling water across the course, and putting out small fires like subduing hornets nests and digging trenches to alleviate flooded tee pads. This year Andrew will continue some of those, but will add to it course analysis to help with next year’s adjustments.
Never is the Winthrop Gold Course completely the same from the previous year. This year, the holes that were slated for redesign were Hole 9 and Hole 13, and it was Andrew’s job to figure those out too. For more on how he shaped those holes, visit the Caddy Book story.
Any hole, though, is fair game to being adjusted. It’s not uncommon for Andrew and his dad to bounce ideas off each other until they come to a solution. Andrew says the key here is not to settle for good or even great holes when there’s something better to be found.
“We both kind of think that way, always looking for the best thing,” said Andrew.
Ideally, “We want the players to step up to each tee pad and be met with equal levels of anxiety and excitement,” said Andrew. “Maybe except Hole 17, we just want anxiety there,” he added with a chuckle.
Andrew has spent the summer working in the Innova East warehouse, a place he’s practically grown up in. He’s looking to return to college next spring and pursue physical therapy. Course design, though, is a passion of Andrew’s and if that kind of a full-time job ever popped up he’d certainly take it.
To learn more about course design follow these handles on Instagram: @innovadiscs and @the.duvie
The USDGC Player Pack is always a treasure trove of goodies. This year’s pack has a retail value of more than $400. Here are some of the marquee items inside.
The great feast before the battle as it’s known to some. Tuesday evening means it’s time for the annual USDGC Player’s Meeting, where players and staff meet to eat, fellowship, and get rallied up for the big week.
The evening started with an epic singing of the National Anthem by Myrtle Beach resident Jaeson Moore followed by a prayer by Eagles Wings Disc Golf Director Dustin Leatherman. Following the meeting, Eagles Wings was hosting a chapel service at the Wingate Hotel led by former NFL tight end and assistant coach Pete Metzelaars.
USDGC Event Director Jonathan Poole, acting as the evening’s host, then introduced the dozens of event staff in attendance wearing their new gold staff jerseys. He said there are many things that make the Championship go, but “Nothing is more vital than the people behind it.”
Players and staff were welcomed by Winthrop University Events Director Neal Miller, who told everyone he hoped to see the university partner with the Championship for many more years to come.
Poole then gave some exciting news of a $1,000 ace bounty placed on Hole 3 by Jason Tyra of Grass Valley, CA. “It might be more of an accident if you hit it, but it is out there for the taking,” said Poole.
Following that was one of the most special points of the Players Meeting when all of the past champions are gathered on stage and the previous year’s winner is awarded their ring. What a lot of people don’t know is that we make the winner wait a hole year before getting their ring, said Poole.
2016 US Champ Jeremy Koling was clearly moved to receive the ring. “This is the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen,” said Koling as he accepted the ring. After growing up in the Charlotte area and having the USDGC practically in his backyard, he hoped one day to be a part of it. And he looked up to those like Ken Climo, Barry Schultz, and Nate Doss, who were winning it. “Those guys were the national and international pillars of disc golf,” said Koling.
“It’s insane how much this means to me,” Koling later said as he thanked friends and family and the greater disc golf community for their support over the years.
Poole then transitioned to the Golden Rake Award by commenting that even though disc golf may not be embraced yet by the TV networks and the mainstream, in a way the sport has already arrived because of how much community support and dedication is out there for disc golf. That dedication is seen every year at the USDGC through its volunteers.
All of the past Golden Rake Award winners were then assembled on stage. Each year the award is given to an outstanding USDGC volunteer. Learn more about the winner Tom Usselman here. “He embodies the award like no other,” said Poole.
To cap off the event like every year, was the announcing of the tee times by USDGC Official Starter Andy Greene, who has announced every player’s name since the tournament began in 1999.
Four years ago when USDGC volunteer Tom Usselman was seriously ill he scheduled his radiation therapy early in the morning so that he could still help prep the course for the USDGC at 8 a.m.
Hearing that story, it’s no wonder he was chosen to receive the USDGC’s Golden Rake Award at the Player’s Meeting on Tuesday evening. Each year the award is given to an outstanding volunteer.
This year marks Usselman’s 8th year volunteering. And every year Usselman has been involved he’s been one of the first volunteers to arrive for prep work in September (often 2 weeks prior to the Championship or earlier) and one of the last to leave when it’s time to tear everything down.
You can find Usselman, who has since fully recovered after his colon surgery, anywhere on the course. Nothing’s beneath him. He’ll put up banners, spread mulch, help erect the unwieldy red and white tent, and of course assist with the OB. Not bad at all for a 70-year-old man.
“He’s the bottom string specialist. That’s what I call him,” said USDGC volunteer staff coordinator Paul Bergey, about the time-consuming task of pinning the bottom layer of OB (yellow twine) to the ground.
Then once the event happens Hole 9 is his home, which he’s spotted each year he’s been here. Usselman said he appreciated the recognition. “It means a lot being a part of the disc golf family here,” said Usselman, of Charlotte, as he greeted well-wishers after the banquet.
What makes him a good volunteer is his loyalty Bergey added. Former Charlotte Disc Golf Club President and 2013 Golden Rake Award Winner Sam Nicholson agreed with that assessment. He’s seen Usselman time and time again assist on Charlotte disc golf courses and it doesn’t surprise him he does the same thing for the USDGC.
“His retirement has been great for Charlotte disc golf and the USDGC. Practically every time the club has had any workday or the USDGC has had course prep since Tom moved to town, he has been there,” said Nicholson.
“He is focused, task driven, passionate about disc golf and is excited about making every course in Charlotte and the Winthrop Gold Course the best it can be,” said Nicholson.
There's a lot to keep up with during this year's USDGC, which is again the finale for the Disc Golf World Tour. Between USDGC.com and DiscGolfWorldTour.com you'll find everything you need and more to stay in the know. Here is a quick run-down on what you can expect during the 2017 US Championship:
Live Scoring will be updated throughout each of the Championship rounds. Many of the top groups will be covered on a hole-by-hole basis.
Located inside the Live Scoring page, Live Scoring Video display how top players scored a hole with clips via Instagram. Catching up on big moments is easy and fast because there’s no delay in between a player’s shots. Small camera icons will indicate video coverage of the hole.
Keeping abreast of the event and all its happenings on social media is super easy. We’ll be flooding the Facebook and Instagram accounts for the USDGC, Disc Golf World Tour, and Innova Disc Golf. USDGC Facebook. DGWT Facebook. Innova Facebook.
You will find an abundance of updated posts, highlight videos, alerts to fresh content and more. The official hashtags for this year's event are: #USDGC2017 and #DGWT. Rest assured, if anything goes down, our media crew will have it covered. USDGC Instagram. DGWT Instagram. Innova Instagram.
While there is no "traditional live stream" at this year´s event, stay tuned to Facebook for segments of live video of round action commented by 2009 World Champ Avery Jenkins, who’s also no stranger to the twists and turns of the Winthrop Gold Course.
SpinTV & Jomez Pro Play-by-Play Front Nine and Back Nine Coverage
If it's a big event, it's usually covered by SpinTV and/or Jomez Productions. They'll be on hand this year to provide Play-by-Play front nine and back nine coverage that reveals the entire round of the top cards in a snappy, edited format. Also look for video interviews of your favorite players and more.
USDGC 2017 Series
The USDGC is more than just what happens from holes 1 through 18. This year, a group made up of members of SpinTV and Central Coast Disc Golf will be crafting video stories that go further into what makes the USDGC a favorite among fans and players. Plus, they'll share other stories that explore how one qualifies for the Championship, the people behind the event, the allure of the Winthrop Gold Course, and more. Look for these stories to be posted regularly as well.
Get a deeper look of why a player finishes so well with the Disc Golf World Tour's Metrix stats system.
Also check out DGWT’s in-detail player profiles that give faces to all of those players. You no longer have to register to view the stats, which makes it even easier to see how your favorite players have performed.
At USDGC.com, you can count on news stories, player and staff profiles, post-round recaps, Winthrop Gold Course updates, the official Caddy Book, and a variety of other information past and present.
Disc Golf World Tour's talented photographers can capture the event like no other. Look forward to seeing updated galleries of Winthrop Gold .
So go ahead, get your fill of USDGC and DGWT from all of the above sources. When it comes to the main event this year, there’s no lack of information.