By P.J. Harmer — Rattling Chains Staff
And so it begins…
With an off-season of sponsor-jumping in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to start looking ahead.
And there’s no true better way to do it than with the beginning of the 2013 PDGA National Tour, which starts today with the The Memorial Championship in Arizona.
The tournament also might give some light to how players are adjusting to new sponsors. And with many using different discs, it leaves the question of who the favorite is heading into the four-day tournament.
To go over every sponsor change would take up an awful lot of space. But consider this — six of the top 10 from last year’s National Tour standings have flipped teams. Those include Will Schusterick, Ricky Wysocki and Cale Leiviska, who finished 2-4 last year and all moved to upstart Prodigy Disc.
Reigning tour champion Paul McBeth stayed put with Innova. Could the stability of being with the same team be beneficial this year?
Or will it make a difference?
Prodigy, obviously, made the biggest splash in the market, putting together a team of former world champions and top-level players — both men and women. Time will tell if that move proves to be good for the players involved, but it has given fans of the professional tour something to discuss, argue and debate about since the announcement in January.
If early results are any indication, Prodigy might be ready to make a good run this season.
At the Gentlemen’s Club Challenge in Las Vegas this past weekend, Prodigy players didn’t disappoint, taking six of the top 10 positions in the first PDGA professional A-tier event of 2013.
Dave Feldberg earned the championship in a one-hole playoff victory over Schusterick. Feldberg, the 2008 PDGA world champion, also jumped teams as he went from longtime sponsor Innova to Latitude 64.
A birdie on the first playoff hole gave Feldberg the win as Schusterick parred. To make the playoff, each shot a 24-under-par 162 through regulation. Nikko Locastro, also a member of Prodigy, finished third at 164.
To make things even more interesting, Feldberg is carrying a full Latitude bag, which includes Dynamic Discs and Westside plastic. But he’d only been using the discs for a short amount of time.
“I was fairly surprised,” said Feldberg, who had played in two B-tier events and an unsanctioned event so far this year. “The discs are starting to perform. I was making shots I haven’t made in my career. … The differences in the discs are good. I’m learning them.”
One big difference, he noted, was using a putter — the Sinus — for approach shots. He said he hasn’t used putters in those situations throughout his career, so reaching for a putter in the 300-foot range is something new.
Prodigy also represented well in the women’s division, as Catrina Ulibarri (formerly Allen) beat Paige Pierce by two strokes. Both are members of Prodigy.
The eight-event National Tour begins Wednesday at the Memorial. It runs throughout the summer and ends at the Vibram Open from Aug. 22-25.
The tour champion is decided by taking points from a player’s top five NT finishes over the first seven events, plus the points from the Vibram Open. Players earn points based on where they place in each tournament.
Action for The Memorial begins at 7:30 a.m. local time Wednesday. The tournament continues Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with at 7:30 a.m. start time each day. The awards are slated for 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
McBeth won last year’s Memorial by three strokes over Schusterick. Feldberg finished five strokes behind McBeth last year.
Feldberg has moved to the area and is at home for the event.
“I live here now so I’m on the course,” he said. “I’m feeling pretty strong. I have to make the right disc golf selections, breathe deep and let them fly.”
The women’s event could also be quite interesting. Ulibarri, the reigning tour champion, and Pierce obviously have the momentum from last week, but it would be impossible to count out three-time world champion Val Jenkins or reigning world champion Sarah Hokom.
The opening event of the tour will likely paint a picture of how the battles might look in the women’s division this year.
Disc Golf Planet TV is scheduled to broadcast the event.
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P.J. Harmer is the founder and executive editor for Rattling Chains. E-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.