There was a picture in Disc Golfer magazine (or maybe it was Disc Golf World) a few years back of Nikko Locastro kicking his disc golf bag on the ground. The caption said something to the effect of, "Bad sportsmanship" or something like that. In a nut shell, the photo summed up the growing frustration within the disc golf community regarding what many saw as inappropriate behavior by young hot-headed competitors. Nikko kicking his bag was only one example of his notoriously bad temper. He was always seen a sensitive and sort of childish. His heated comments with Barry Schultz and Dave Feldberg were excellent punchlines for a lot of jokes. There were other examples of his behavior, but I won't go into them here and now. I will say this. Nikko Locastro isn't the same player today as he was last year. This past weekend at the Player's Cup, if you ran into Nikko you would have thought he was running for office or vying for a "Mr. Congeniality" award. I kid you not. At one point during his match, Nikko Locastro happily jumped over a ten foot fence to retrieve a competitor's disc which had gone OB. He was all smiles. He was friendly. He spent the entire three days running around the Twin Parks Compound making sure everyone there was having a great time. Nikko had changed and long gone were the "bag kicking" days.
I mention Nikko now because I'm sure there are a fair amount of you who already know what I'm going to write about and it's important that you keep Nikko's story in mind.
Cooper and I left town on Wednesday afternoon. Cooper said he would drive and we would split costs. Cooper's new ride is a hybrid and with no real idea of how we would fare over the weekend, mileage was at a premium. That's the fancy way of saying, Driving really, really slow (55 mph).
On the way down, Cooper told me what he knew of the course, we talked strategy, and about his intentions. We talked about my chances in the first round, and what we would do if we had to play our friend Hemmi. And we talked about how disappointing it was that Cooper had to play McCabe in the first round, someone we both liked and wanted to do well. But everything we knew and everything we thought we knew meant nothing as we pulled into the Twin Parks Compound, located just outisde Dripping Springs, Texas just south of Austin. The locals call it, "Drippin'."
It's a former big game animal sanctuary and there is a herd of Elk which roam the ten acre compound. The compound itself is a tale of two topographies and two courses. The front five acres are flat, with mostly tall prairie grass and large oak trees scattered about. The back five acres is a rocky desert landscape with randomly scattered live oaks (which look like a tree out of Tim Burton's imagination) tiny orange scorpions, bashful snakes, and not one blade of grass anywhere. It's ugly. The surface is cactus and rock and dirt and more cactus. Twin Parks offers two 18 hole courses, one for each landscape, and one hybrid 18 hole course which is laid out over the other two which is what we would be playing on for the Player's Cup - The front nine would be on the gentle savannah and the back nine on the pock marked land in the Devil's foyer.
It was 85 degrees. Not a breathe of wind. We had driven back into summer.
The compound portion of the Twin Parks is a club house slash pro shop slash place to go to the bathroom. It is staffed by non-disc golfers who, for the most part, did not seem like they wanted the tournament there. I can't fully put into words what the staff were like, but let's just leave it at they didn't seem to concerned with how the comment cards would read at the end of the weekend.
Cooper and I arrive in the early afternoon on Thursday and the place was packed with competitors. The first indication that things were sketchy was when were charged FIVE BUCKS a piece to play a practice round on the course (strike one). No worries, pay up and move on. And for those of you who care to hear about this sort of thing - the player's pack was a neon orange dry fit, and a keychain. That's it. We were also given a 50 voucher for food, drinks and "items" which we could only redeem at the Twin Parks club house. I will get back to that later.
Cooper and I did some number crunching and this is what we came up with.
11 of the 18 drives off the tee require a massive crush. And by crush I mean far far far away. Those are holes 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 13, 14, 16, 18. You could go smaller, but it would only increase the distance on your second shot. And when you're playing match play against people who can easily drive 550, it doesn't pay to play weenie arm golf. Of the remaining 7 holes only two are small drives. Those are holes 9 and 12. 9 is a downhill island shot and 12 is an uphill tunnel shot that must carry a cliff side or you will be putting from below the basket from a deep ravine. The rest of the holes are both a full drive but they are also technical "must hit a gap or you're doomed" shots, so you have to crush it AND you have to hit a gap. Those are holes 2, 4, 8, 15, and 17. There is OB on holes 1, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 14 and 16. With water on holes 8 and 14. So all-in-all, it's a mean course. It's not the hardest, but it's mean. You need talent and a cool head to play it. Especially in match play where the object isn't "you against the course", but "you against another man." You have to play the man.
During the practice round Cooper was killing the course. He ate up the front nine fairly easily. The landscape suited his game and he killed it. I did not kill it. My game was much more colorful and less sexy. The back nine things swung my direction more. The ground is rougher, the elevation is more severe and the trees are meaner. Cooper did fine, but not as well as he did on the front. It's a tale of two types of courses. Something I noted during the practice round. If I wanted to do well, it was going to be on the back nine and not the front.
My arm was killing me and that night I iced it for over an hour. When your bicep hurts, you're not throwing the disc correctly. The massive drives were too much and I knew I didn't have much of a chance in my first round. I didn't sleep much that first night.
As I am sure you have heard by now, I came into the tournament as a 15 seed and was up against a 2 seed. His name is Brad Williams and he's a.... ummm... let's just say he's a unique personality. He wouldn't kick a bag, he would set it on fire and throw it at his mother. He's that guy. There is video footage on YouTube of him playing a skins match. If you find it, you can see what sort of guy he is. I don't know how to embed that sort of thing here.
A little history: Brad wore a dress in the Pro World Championships in 2011 to - and I quote, "prove the unethical nature of the sport that would allow a man to wear a skirt in competition. It's embarrassing that they would let me do that." Yes, he did something to TRY to get in trouble to prove a point. And when he didn't get in trouble, he got mad about it. That's Mr. Williams. He has a few nicknames floating around the tour, none of which I am going to repeat here. I will let Tank post them in a follow up if he wants. I decided I wanted to try and like him.
When I play golf I am routing for everyone. I love watching good golf shots and I love watching someone do well. Even if that person is playing against me. I love disc golf and I just don't have the ability to hate anyone - except Palmer. He has tiny hands.. Icky, icky.
I thought about using Brad's temper against him but ultimately decided that it just wasn't in me to be that kind of player. The course was too big for me and Brad was picked to win it all by a lot of people. He is a really good player. So instead, I introduced myself, and I was nice. Pleasant. I was even complimentary (all of these claims I am making are proven by the THREE different camera angles taken of the events which transpired here). I was a gentleman the entire round.
I thought I was going to be done in 10 holes so I didn't think about winning once. However, we started on hole 8 which meant the hardest holes for me were last. The easiest holes for me, were our first 10 holes. And when he screwed up the first three holes and gave me windows to take an easy lead, I was pretty happy. My putting, which I forgot in Kansas, didn't let me take the early lead so we pushed each hole. To me, that was awesome. MORE GOLF FOR ME! Then I won the next hole.(Nooooo way!) He won the next. Even through five. That's almost a full round of golf. I win the next two holes and then Mr. William - A Sith lord in training - lived up to the pre-game hype. He's became every bit the man he was painted to be. Again, I won't share what was said between us, only know he wasn't very happy and didn't think much of me, Twin Parks, disc golf, or... anything. His caddie was really happy for me and kept giving me thumbs up signals behind Brad's back. The other two players on our card were just as stunned as I was.
After hole 18, I had a three point lead. As we came into the clubhouse, the first round players had all heard that Mr. Williams was losing and a crowd gathered. We also picked up three cameras who thought this might be a good story to follow. I was three up but blew up the next three holes and we were all square going into four. It looked liked I might let it slip away. (I would like to take this moment to say that I TIN CUPPED hole 1. It's match play so who cares? He won the hole, but I was going to make it on the green! It took me six shots to reach the green. You do the math, he won the hole) Brad was now throwing and walking away just as soon as the disc left his hand. He didn't even stop to see where it was going. He just left. Then I got to tee off. Yes, it was like that.
Hole four I won on a prayer. I threw up a sky anny that disappeared over the trees and fell down right at the basket. A ridiculous shot that gave me one up. I think I won the next hole too. The crowd was pretty big and the cameras were all staked out around us. I would like to take a moment and apologize for my habit of cussing after I throw. Just know if you see the footage that I didn't mean to say "FFFF" on every shot, I was just nervous.
Hole 6 is 1066 feet. All trees. It's a tough, tough hole. To win, all I had to do was bang a 25 foot putt, but I didn't bring that putt with me. So we went dormi into our last hole. I missed my putt opening a door for him to win the hole and push into a play off. He missed the 15 footer and all hell broke loose. I still had to hit a huge comeback putt to push and win the match, but he ran up quickly, picked up his putter and ran off. Nothing. Nada. He was done. Word spread quickly.
Brad had just been upset in the first round. Everyone was pumped, except Brad.
Cooper went two and two for the weekend, Hemmi went three and one. I went one and three. None of us kicked our disc golf bag. None of us cried over the defeats. The guys who beat me deserved it. I had to drop out of my last match when the bicep decided it was done for the year, but I still shook his hand and said, "Good Job." And to be honest, he would have probably still beat me anyway.
This is not a tournament for everyone. You need a big arm to play it. You definitely need a flick - well, on this course you do. And you also need patience. It's easy to get pissed off at yourself for missing shots or putts, but as Cooper said, "you can't let that carry over to the next shot." And he's right. I didn't beat Brad. Brad beat himself. I just happened to benefit from his mistakes. He quit. He quit before the last putt and so now he has to live with the title, "the only man who lost to Loomis at the player's cup."
Nikko, a friend of Brad's, was the first person to come up and tell me congratulations and shake my hand.
Cooper and I drove home all day Sunday and I must say that if anyone is planning on doing any major events next year, go with Cooper. But, when he's not looking, step on the gas pedal.