Henderson, Nevada once again hosted the 2019 Las Vegas Challenge presented by Innova Champion Discs. Last year around this time, the story of the tournament was how Eagle McMahon and Paige Pierce soared above their competitors. Unfortunately, the weather or the wind in particular made all the difference in the scores.
After the 2018 event there seemed to be a tremendous amount of chatter from the pros that placing the baskets on the hills was not what they wanted. Longtime Tournament Director, Jeff Jacquart has a reputation of creating a difficult tournament environment for players, but has taken the recommendations to heart and adjusted some of the baskets.
Playing the Wild Horse Golf courses is all about playing within your game. I asked Jeff what advice he had for the returning pros attempting to attack his course and he had a clear opinion saying that, “The pros know better than anyone once they have played this tournament. It’s all about risk reward.” Truer words haven’t been spoken.
Although the snowy weather was unusual for a Las Vegas setting, the first round presented the players with almost no wind, a rarity for the event, and the opportunity to attack the course. The scores were low across the entire field, but the biggest names didn’t immediately rise to the top.
MPO Day One and Two
On the MPO side, the name that climbed highest on the leaderboard the first round was Anthony Barela. Becoming the leader on day one when everyone seemed to score well was no easy feat. Anthony carded a 44 with the help of 13 birdies and 1 eagle. But as the second round ended he was only able to pad his score with two more stokes for a total of (-17). The difference between round one and two was clearly his fairways hits that dove from 94% on day one to 74% on day two. What really damaged his score was his scramble rate that went from 100% to a meager 25%.
With the fall of Anthony Barela, came the rise of Calvin Heimburg. Just as most players scored well the first day, they collectively scored lower the second. Calvin felt this as well, but also found a way to maintain his solid play from one day to the next and took the outright lead halfway through the tournament. He did this by parking his drive 8 times and managed to only go out-of-bounds once per round.
MPO Round Three and Four
Down the stretch, Calvin kept his lead by using his strong arm, but more importantly he got it done with an impeccable ground game. Quite often he matched the angle of his discs perfectly with the contour of the course, and used the slide and skip to provide opportunities for much smaller putts with less risk.
Eagle McMahon moved up a total of 21 spots to finish in 2nd place, and he accomplished this feat with 16 birdies and 1 lone bogey on hole #6. Eagle charged hard but unfortunately ran out of holes and finished 2 strokes behind Calvin even after carding a blistering 44 on the final round.
Cale Leiviska also put together a great week of disc golf making it happen in the scramble department as he reached 100% in that statistic. Cale finished tied with Josh Anthon with a (-40) for the event.
One of the most memorable highlights of the tournament was Eric Oakley, who finished in 8th place. I asked Eric what he attributed his averaging 1040 disc golf for the week and well above his PDGA rating and he said, “My off-season training and mental game were what kept me solid all week. Mentally I was okay with anything happening, good or bad.” When asked about the upcoming Memorial Championship, “I honestly am going to have the same mindset as this past weekend and just enjoy being able to play disc golf.” Did we witness the emergence of Eric Oakley?
The other highlight was Dustin Keegan finishing in 6th place with an amazing 46 (1084) rating on the third round and putting himself in contention the last day pulling even with Calvin halfway through the round. Inevitably he couldn’t maintain his pace but It was fun to watch the young player’s work pay off. I asked Zoe Andyke her thoughts of his performance, “He practiced hard, made a game plan, believed in his discs, and himself. It was the best round rating of his life.”
Calvin Heimburg’s first nine holes of his final round were his least impressive as he only carded one birdie and one bogey with the rest being pars. You had to wonder if Calvin’s youth might cost him a victory. However, Calvin righted the ship on the back nine by scoring 8 birdies out of 9 holes to finish with 53 for the day. With the rough start Calvin was forced to play flawlessly to hold off the charging field. Calvin did just that to take down his third victory of the season.
Cale Leiviska 3rd place (-40), Josh Anthon 3rd (-40), Eagle McMahon 2nd place (-42), and Calvin Heimburg 1st place (-44).
Congratulations to Calvin Heimburg on his first National Tour win and becoming the 2019 Las Vegas Challenge Champion.
FPO Day One and Two
Out of a field of 31, there were only 8 players that were under par. The leader of the pack Sarah Hokom carded a strong (-6) and had an astoundingly clean scorecard with no bogies to show. With a perfect circle 1, scramble, and no out-of-bounds, Sarah looked as if she might just run away with the tournament. Unfortunately, by the time the second round ended all of her hard work was undone by a total of 6 bogies and 4 double bogies, and was unable to card a single birdie.
With some solid play, Catrina Allen took over the tournament lead after the second round by keeping her out-of-bounds numbers low. For the first two rounds she found the dreaded O.B. on five separate occasions, but managed to save par 2 out of the 5 times. Her strategy of playing smart while most of the field dealt with set-backs paid off.
FPO Round Three and Four
With a strong third round Catrina Allen had a healthy lead going into the final round. Her smart, conservative play kept her under par the entire event and allowed her to play safe down the stretch.
Current World Champion, Paige Bjerkaas played aggressive but smart. In many ways her strategy seemed reminiscent of her 2018 World Championship win. This week Paige executed her shots exactly when she needed to as the final round was coming to a close. Paige held onto a three stroke lead until the 16th hole where she bogied as Catrina birdied causing a two-stroke swing. On the 18th hole, clinging to a one stroke advantage, Paige carded another bogey bringing her score dead even with Catrina, and sending them both into a sudden death playoff.
With a playoff hole #1 measuring 393 feet, Paige Bjerkaas laced a drive to get close while Catrina left more distance on her up-shot and had no choice but to lay up. Paige lined-up a 35 foot jump putt and drained the birdie as she ran it down right out of her hand. One thing is certain, Paige Bjerkaas is for real! Paige took down her first National Tour win over Catrina Allen.
The highlights on the FPO side were Vanessa Van Dyken shooting a -5 (56) and moving up 3 spots to take 3rd for the event. Also, Jennifer Allen put together 4 solid rounds to slide into the 4th position to tie with Jessica Weese.
Jennifer Allen 4th place (+1), Jessica Weese 4th place (+1), Vanessa Van Dyken 3rd place (E), Catrina Allen 2nd place (-2), and Paige Bjerkaas 1st place (-2).
Congratulations to Paige Bjerkaas on her first National Tour win and becoming the 2019 Las Vegas Challenge Champion.