Nate Doss, Val Jenkins and I set out early in the morning to travel the six hours to Phoenix, Ariz., for the Memorial Championship, an event on the National Tour. In the back of the Sprinter Van, I took naps and watched movies. That’s how you travel!
The Memorial is a four-round, four-day event, beginning on Wednesday and ending on Saturday. That gives players two days to practice. It really only gives one day to practice if you stay the night in Vegas and use Monday as a travel day.
Arriving at Fountain Hills at about 4:30 p.m., we met with Discmania stars Jussi Meresmaa and Seppo Paju. I looked forward to rooming with them for the rest of the week.
The Holiday Inn were stayed at was conveniently located across the street from the course. It’s one of the main reasons we have stayed here the past two years. That means we only have to travel to the Vista Del Camino course twice and the other days we just have to walk across the street. We were less than 400 feet from the basket on hole 15. The final round and awards were also held at this course.
I grabbed my bag as Val, Nate, Seppo and I headed out for a quick practice round in limited daylight. It was less than two hours until sundown. This is a course I have played for the past 10-plus years. They have altered some of the holes throughout the years, but it’s basically the same layout that we play each year.
With winds gusting at more than 35 mph, it made for an interesting round. We avoided many of the approach shots to the baskets near the water as it wasn’t worth it to lose a good upshot disc a few days before the event. I still ended up losing a Star Teebird and a Power Driver 2 on hole 17, which is one of the longer downhill holes. The wind came from the right and carried them left and sent them into the water. I didn’t want to lose those crucial discs before the tournament, but I always carry backups for each of my go-to discs.
The Fountain Hills course is gorgeous and it’s in my top-10 list for courses. It has a great layout with rolling hills surrounding a lake. In the center of the lake is a huge water fountain. It’s the fourth-tallest fountain in the world. It can reach heights of 560 feet, which it does on select holidays and celebrations.
The course is challenging because there’s a chance to throw out-of-bounds in the water on nearly every hole. It’s especially difficult when the winds are ripping. On the other hand, nearly every hole is reachable in one shot, so when the wind is down, the scores can go really low on this par-56 course.
On Tuesday, Jussi, Seppo and I drove to the Vista Del Camino (Shelly Sharpe) course in Scottsdale to get a practice round in and check for any changes. Much like the Fountain course, there weren’t many changes. The Vista course is a longer flat course with six par 4s. There are lots of opportunities for birdies at the beginning and toward the finish. It’s a par-60 course with many challenging holes because of a lot of out-of-bounds areas on nearly every hole and very fast, skipping fairways and greens around the basket.
After the round, we set up a Discmania vendor table at the Memorial Flymart and sold discs, hats and apparel. But it was more about representing and getting some good exposure for the brand. Jussi Meresmaa, the Discmania CEO, has worked hard over the past several years making Discmania the ultimate European disc golf company. He’s now focused on putting more of an effort to increase the exposure in the United States market. Discmania makes great discs and I see a lot more players in the states throwing the discs as the company’s efforts are starting to show positive results.
The first round of the Memorial was at Vista and the conditions were perfect — sunny and warm with little to no wind. I had a solid start with birdies on four of the first five homes. Then again, much like the weekend before in Las Vegas, I was unable to capitalize on the longer par 4s, settling for pars on most of them. I still birdied more than half of the holes to shoot 52 and had a great round of putting.
I was on the fifth-to-last card of the day, but heard about some scores off the card consisting of every winner from last year’s major events and last year’s Memorial champion.
This “Super Group” was made up of Nate Doss, Dave Feldberg, Ricky Wysocki and Paul McBeth. As I turned in my scorecard, I heard players talking about Paul and Dave and how after 14 holes or so, they had birdied all but one or two holes. I watched the card from across the course and saw them birdie the last couple of holes as well. I then watched Feldberg’s drive on No. 18 nearly skip out of bounds in the water, but the shot remained safe on the bank. Paul and Dave each birdied the final hole to shoot 15 under and 16 under, respectively.
It turns out they each shot an 1100-plus rated round — the first time two players did it during the same tournament, let alone on the same card in the same round.
That’s pretty incredible.
The second round was at Fountain Hills and the weather, again, cooperated nicely with very little wind. Lucky for us in the Pro Open division, we didn’t tee off until the afternoon. I was on the second card, heading out at 2 p.m., which gave me a lot of time to warm up and mentally prepare.
I played conservative during the start of the round and didn’t want to give away strokes early. I also realized the back nine is where you get a majority of the birdies. The conservative play didn’t pay off as I only birdied a few holes on the front and never capitalized on the shorter birdie holes on the back nine.
I never got my shots close enough to the basket for the expected routine putts that I usually get on the back section. That was unfortunate as I finished with a meager 52, taking me way off pace of the lead card. It was the same score I shot during the first round, but this time on an easier course. I had some work to do and we were only half way through.
I realized the leader — Paul McBeth — had added to the overall lead and was almost at an untouchable point. At least for me. I needed to get something going soon if I had any shot of getting into the top cards and finishing in the top 5 at the tournament.
Friday’s mission was to improve and it seemed like I got some assistance from the winds as they were swirling and gusting at about 15-20 mph. This was the spark I needed as I realized I had to play strong in the winds because the conditions were really going to limit the scoring potential of other players.
Being mostly concerned with my overall scoring, I needed to get revenge and this was my redemption round.
I came out of the gate birdying the first five holes, which was no easy task in those winds. I then set out on my next mission to capitalize on all of the long par 4s. I wanted to throw long tee shots to set up easy approaches and try to keep it as simple as possible.
Showing patience, I took the round shot-by-shot and it was coming together perfectly. I really concentrated on the direction of the wind and did my best to place my shots on the tailwind side of the basket to set up easier putts. I birdied the final three holes and finished with a bogey-free 49. I could only look back at four or five shots I missed during the round, which ended up being rated 1092 — my highest round rating ever, which beat my 1090 at the 2008 Memorial.
I also found out soon after finishing that Valarie had an incredible round and Team Jenkins shot the Hot Round for the men’s and women’s divisions. I was later told by Chuck Kennedy that we each had a score/rating that ranked in the top 10 of the best rounds ever in PDGA history for men’s and women’s divisions, on that difficult of a course and also during the same round. It was the first time a brother and sister act did that in the same round.
Kennedy said I had the second best and Val had the second best for courses in the 60-66 SSA (standard scoring average) category. Because of the wins, Vista played four throws higher and is in a separate SSA class for records than Wednesday (the opening round).
The 49 (1092 rating) I shot at Vista was second only to the 49 (1100) shot by Barry Schultz at the Maple Hill course. I was only one stroke away from the elusive 1100 rated round, which is something I continue to strive for. It’s all about putting all the shots together for an entire round. It’s definitely not the easiest thing to do.
Overall, I moved up a few cards from the fourth to the second. We went into the final round Saturday and I was extremely fortunate to have the best card in the entire tournament as I was paired up with the great Nate Doss, the legend Steve Rico and the “Champ” Ken Climo. Three great guys and incredible world-class players. I was really looking forward to this round.
I realized the conservative approach on this course was not all successful during the second round, so now I had to play in attack mode like I did the day before as it really seemed to work. I decided I was going to play aggressive, even with all the water, and go after birdies and not just sit back for them to come to me.
Playing aggressive, I attacked the fairways, trying to get birdie putts with the gusty winds coming off the fountain. The fountain is known to affect shots as it sometimes creates its own wind. I shot a lacking front nine with only a few birdies that were diminished with a few errant bogeys because of upshots that skipped out of bounds and into the water.
It wasn’t over.
These are the final holes and you can birdie every hole on the back nine as I’ve done it before at the 2008 Memorial. I knew if I kept the drives close enough to the basket, I was putting good enough to make all of them. I birdied seven of the eight holes on the back nine, heading into the 18th. Rico and I had been battling the entire round and we were tied going into the final hole. We knew we had a chance to overtake a player or two on the lead card if someone had slipped up.
I continued the aggressive play the entire round and had to stick with my game plan as I gunned for the green. Out of my hand, it was a beautiful shot. But, for some reason, it didn’t react going into the headwind like I thought it would. The disc fought through it and started to regain a hyzer angle, coming into the slanted green. It hit right next to the basket, but because of the fast, sloping green, it skipped left and into the water. Rico either mis-read my shot or was thinking about the effects of the headwind as he proceeded to throw out of bounds on the right side.
He threw his approach to the basket, conceding the bogey. I still had a chance to part the hole with a big putt coming back from the water. It was tough footing and I couldn’t get a secure stance with enough room to shift weight and put any momentum on the disc as my par putt fell short and I ended with a bogey to shot 48. Rico and I were tied and waiting for the lead card to finish.
As it turns out, Dave Feldberg and Will Schusterick battled for second and third place as McBeth held a commanding lead and repeated as the Memorial champion. Rico and I, with solid play down the stretch, tied for fourth and a share of the National Tour points for the event.
I felt like I played some great golf to start the 2012 season. I was impressed with my long-range accuracy down the fairways and my consistent putting, which helped at each of the first two events. I will continue to improve in all facets of the game as the season progresses and I know all of my shots will begin to feel even more comfortable the more I play and practice. It’s great to see my off-season training paying off as I noticed increased power in my throws and felt like I have more energy during the rounds.
I am excited for the rest of the season has in store. I predict a lot of incredible competitions throughout the Tour as the top ranks of players continue to increase. It’s great for the players and the sport as it elevates into a higher echelon. It’s a great thing to experience as I know we will eventually get there. We just have to keep pushing forward and good things will come!
Next tournament: The Glass Blown Open, April 13-13 in Emporia, Kan.
Avery Jenkins (PDGA #7495) is on his 13th year as a disc golf touring professional. The 2009 World Champion, Jenkins is a three-time United States distance champion and considered one of the top players in the game. He’s also a member of the PDGA Board of Directors. You can see more from Jenkins at his website Avery Jenkins 7495.