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Grandmaster Earns Invite
USDGC Open Flight qualifying isn’t just for the young guns. Pro grandmaster Jim Oates proved that when he lit up the courses with multiple 1050-rated rounds during the Memorial Championship (Feb. 29th – March 3rd) in Scottsdale, Arizona and became the first grandmaster to earn an invite through the regional qualifiers.
Others earning invites in the season’s first qualifier include disc golf power houses: Avery Jenkins of Capitola, California (-30), Devan Owens of Owasso, Oklahoma (-30), 2011 World Champion Nate Doss also of Capitola (-29), and 2011 PDGA Champion Richard Wysocki of Ft. Mill, S.C. at (-22).
This year’s USDGC consists of two flights of 72 players. The Performance Flight allows disc golfers of varying skill to compete fairly together with DGU’s Performance Scoring, while the Open Flight brings the best of the best together using the traditional stroke play.
With less than half the usual spots available this year, qualifying for the pro field will be more challenging than ever. However Jim Oates (-23), a competitor since the mid 1980′s, did it on his first try this year – something that pleasantly surprised the 2011 pro grandmasters World Champion.
The 1010-rated Oates of Orangevale, California said that during the tournament he wasn’t really keeping up with his score because he was just trying to keep up with the guys in his group: longtime disc golfers Joe Mela and Dan Ginnelly, who directed the tournament. He said the three of them pushed each other throughout the tournament and in turn produced scores way above their ratings. By the time the tournament was over all three men had bested the masters division champion Phil Arthur, who ended up at a respectable (-12).
“Right now the grandmasters division is just so full of talent. That’s a pretty tall order just to win in that division now,” said Oates, who co-owns Final 9 Sports in Orangevale with Bruce Knisley.
Playing against each other for about 30 years, Oates said that the disc golf drama between 1007-rated Mela, 980-rated Ginnelly, and himself seemed like old times. He just wished all three of them could have qualified for the USDGC.
The tournament’s winner, Paul McBeth (-44), runner up Will Schusterick (-41), and others on the leader board were exempt from qualifying due to their top 20 finish in the 2010 USDGC. Excluding exemptions and those already qualified, the top five finishers at each regional qualifier earn USDGC invites.
As the 2008 USDGC winner, Nate Doss hasn’t found himself in the position of qualifying for several years. Up until now former champions were exempt from qualifying. And, his 30th place finish in 2010 put him just outside this year’s exemptions. However just like Oates, Doss made quick work of qualifying.
After sitting out last year’s Performance Edition, Doss said he’s ready to get back to Rock Hill, S.C. and the Winthrop Gold Course.
“I’m looking forward to another chance at winning one of disc golf’s most prestigious tournaments. Last year, I just really missed the excitement of Championship week,” said Doss, who left nothing to chance by becoming the first player to register for the event after qualifying.
During the Memorial there were times he wasn’t happy with his performance, however he still took many positives from his 7th place finish. Last year, he finished the tournament the same way and then went on to win the World Championships for the third time.
Often times, Doss said, he builds his game through the early months of the season so that he’s peaking in time for the World Championship and USDGC in the fall.
It’s safe to say Oates, a two time masters World Champion, was pretty tickled with his play. The key to it was great putting, he admitted, but his philosophy of avoiding OB and bogeys like the plague also paid off. He said he only collected one bogey at the Fountain Hills course during two rounds and only three bogeys in two rounds at the Vista del Camino course.
Oates was also pleased to hear of his history-making as the first grandmaster to emerge from the qualifiers. Turning 51 in April, Oates said he’s been able to continue playing at a high level through a combination of his conservative strategy, a long history of athletics, good luck, and improving disc technology.
“The maturation process of the discs is going faster than my physical decline,” said a laughing Oates, who remembered when modern day putt and approach discs were used as distance drivers.
Oates is looking forward to returning to Rock Hill in October for his fifth Championship. His last came in 2009 when he finished 43rd. He appreciates the level of competition the traditional USDGC format brings. And, with the pro field being chiseled down to only 72 players, Doss believes anyone who can find a way in will be in distinguished company.
“With the change I think it’s going to be a very competitive year. I’m actually pretty interested in how it plays out,” said Doss, speaking on the road to the Texas State Championships.
Maybe by the time October comes, more grandmasters like Oates will have also qualified.
The next Open Flight qualifier is the Steady Ed Masters Cup (May 18th – 20th ) in Santa Cruz, California.