By Jack Trageser — Rattling Chains staff
Every year in April, Santa Cruz, Calif., is not only the Epicenter of Disc Golf — the self-imposed label given in 1989 after the nearby Loma Prieta earthquake — but the center of the PDGA professional disc golf tour as well.
DeLaveaga Disc Golf Course has hosted a National Tour event every year since the tour was established, and the 28th annual “Steady” Ed Memorial Masters Cup has drawn the sport’s best talent for about 20 years before that.
This year’s event runs April 26-28 with one 24-hole round each day.
If you follow the tour, you’re familiar with many of this weekend’s competitors. Young guns such as Ricky Wysocki, Paul McBeth, Will Schusterick and Nikko Locastro will all be there, as will veteran champions Ken Climo, Dave Feldberg, Nate Doss and Avery Jenkins. And there are plenty of other names you’ll recognize as well, such as Philo Braithwaite, Paul Ulibarri, and Josh Anthon.
You know all about these guys already, and they’ve proven that any one of them can step up and win on any given week. Josh Anthon is a Northern California player who knows DeLaveaga well. Nate Doss grew up and honed his craft here, and Wysocki and Schusterick are always good bets.
This is the third stop in the eight-event National Tour. Schusterick and Wysocki each have wins in the first two events. Despite that, McBeth is leading the tour with second-place finishes in each. Wysocki is second, followed by Locastro, Schusterick and Feldberg.
On Saturday, after the first round is in the books, and even Sunday, when it’s down to the last 24 holes, there are bound to be some names you might not recognize on the top cards.
The men’s divisions could be interesting with a deep pool of local talent and the idiosyncrasies of DeLaveaga, as a course that plays very different than most courses on the pro circuit, makes for some intriguing possibilities. It’s not to say any of these guys will win, mind you, just that they can. Look for the possibility of one or more of the following names on the lead or chase cards Sunday.
Matt Bell: Disc golf is a sport where the best players improve on a super-steep curve, and can go from beginner to world-beater in a hurry. Bell played half of his 15 PDGA events last year in the advanced division, but this year has been turning heads locally. He won this year’s Enduro (Ice) Bowl at DeLaveaga this year, topping a number of known players, and has the power, savvy, and local knowledge to make a run. Look for him to be in the running at least until the magnitude of the situation hits him — and maybe longer.
Shasta Criss: He enjoys a rep as a solid player and great guy on the tour, especially on the West Coast, but Criss flies below the radar to most pro disc golf followers. He’s DGA’s top Open division sponsored player and has all the tools necessary to make a run, including a penchant for hitting 50-foot putts. Plus, that name is just meant for disc golf, and it’s impossible not to like him.
Chris Edwards: Big, easy power and a recent ascent into 1000-rated territory mark Edward’s game, along with a sincere desire to promote disc golf locally and beyond. He’s the coach of the UCSC disc golf team, and if his mental game fully catches up to his physical talents, he’ll be in contention. Edwards is a birdie machine when he’s on and simply needs to eliminate or minimize the mistakes.
Myles Harding: Like Nate Doss, Myles grew up playing DeLaveaga. Longtime NorCal tour players remember he and Greg Barsby went head-to-head in juniors, then advanced, then Open, both winning lots of hardware. But as kids and teens, Myles actually won a bit more. Harding, like his dad Rob, has all the shots in his bag, super-smooth form, and the ability to turn in some low rounds. Whether he can string together three of them in a row is the question, but he’s done it plenty of times before.
Don Smith: Smith has a lot of tenacity over the years has gotten better, making disc golf his full-time occupation. He’s been on tour non-stop for a couple of years now, and the the fact that he’s likely played 1,000 (or more) rounds at DeLa are the reasons it would not be surprising to see Smith in contention on Sunday. He’s got the game necessary to shoot double-digits under-par each round, and that’s what it will take to win.
Tony Tran: Tran needs to be mentioned because he can show up at DeLaveaga for the first time in nine months and throw an 11-under. He used to play more than he does now, and he never plays anything but local events anymore (I’m not sure if he ever did), but he’s got game. He’s another guy to pull for. If he wanted to put the time in, he could be as good as most of the guys who try to play for a living.
The players listed above are all Santa Cruz locals. They call DeLa home. But other participants in the Masters Cup have lots of experience here as well. The aforementioned Josh Anthon and Ray Johnson are NorCal stalwarts, Steve Rico and Philo Braithwaite show up often from SoCal, and we still claim Nate Doss as our own.
The cream does in the end rise to the top, and it’s likely the trophy will be lifted by someone you knew before reading this preview. But Santa Cruz has tons of local talent, and more so than at any other NT stop you can expect to see some unknown players in the mix.
The Masters division could also have some local flavor. Jon Baldwin won a world championship at DeLaveaga in 2011, so nobody would likely be shocked if he wins this division, pushing the legendary Climo. Baldwin, DGA’s most marketed sponsored player, is a golfer in the best sense of the word, winning with focus and guile as much as with his sufficient power, steady putting and all-around game. Look for him to be right there all three days in the Masters Division. He’s played three major events this year and taken 2nd place at all three (to Phil Arthur, Ken Climo and Jason Tyra), so he’s certainly hungry for a win on his home turf.
Not as many local players will likely be in the chase for the women’s crown, but DGA-sponsored and DeLaveaga local Kristy King could turn a few heads.
Paige Pierce and Sarah Hokom are currently tied atop the National Tour standings. Val Jenkins is also one to watch, as is Catrina Ulibarri. The women’s field has a pretty solid showing for the Masters Cup, with 16 players registered.
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Jack Trageser is the founder of School of Disc Golf and the instructional writer at RattlingChains.com. You can reach him at email@example.com.