The 18th hole at Linda Vista Golf Course went from torment to victory lap for Ben Squires in just a matter of a few hours at the final day of the Zoo Town Open disc golf tournament on Sunday.
Squires, from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, had a three-shot lead over his friend, rival and local favorite Christian Dietrich in the men’s open headed into the last hole of the day’s first round. That lead shriveled to just one stroke before a nine-hole race to the finish for the top five men.
An aggressive shot on a relatively wide and straight par 4 is what put Squires behind the 8-ball … and some foliage.
“I was in the trees (after the drive) and that prevented the straight shot. I had to swing something wider, which made me go out-of-bounds sooner,” said Squires, who bogeyed at the basket.
The next time Squires walked down the hole, his disc sat in the middle of the fairway and he held a 4-stroke lead, the eventual winning margin. He birdied, bringing his 63-hole score down to a 51-under 181 between Saturday's 36 holes at the rugged Blue Mountain course and 27 at Linda Vista.
“Ben is a really consistent player and I think he just stayed within his limits, played nice and simple, made just about every putt,” Dietrich said. “If you’re making this course easier rather than harder, you’re going to have success.”
Squires’ score topped fellow Coeur d'Alene native Jared Person in second place (185), who was six shots back of silver when they teed up for the final nine holes.
“I got lucky because Christian made a couple of mistakes, and then I was able to not just par, but capitalize with birdies on those holes,” said Person, who birdied seven holes and bogeyed one in the finals.
Dietrich, a Missoula native and Helena transplant, finished third, coming into the clubhouse with a 186. He led Squires by a stroke after Saturday's first two rounds, but he lost two strokes to start Sunday. The second hole in the final round made the gap even wider.
The 26th-ranked player in the world teed off a little differently than most on the technical par 3. Dietrich opted against a shot straight down a skinny line riddled with tree branches and a fence marking the boundary on the left and a cart path marking the right. He thought a high-arcing right-to-left shot was a clearer path and allowed for more room to land in bounds.
His shot just didn’t break enough, though. He fell short of the cart path and had to eat a stroke.
“It was one of those shots that just doesn’t come off quite right, and unfortunately I ended up with a three-stroke swing on that hole to Squires,” Dietrich said.
Squires’ drive landed at the foot of the basket, and he birdied the hole. Dietrich ultimately bogeyed, and he was forced to play catch-up the rest of the day.
“…When you’re having a bogey, you gotta look around and remember you’re just taking a walk in paradise. It could be worse,” Dietrich said with a smile.
In the women’s open, Paige Bjerkaas, the 15th-ranked player in the world, maintained her dominant run at the tournament. She led each round, and won with a 13-over 187 through 54 holes. Madison Walker of Florida finished second, and Missoula’s Kelsey Wilmerding -- who was in fourth place to start Sunday -- shot a 214 overall and wound up third.
Bjerkaas, a 19-year-old pro from Kansas, who hardly stands over 5-feet tall, was just too tough to beat. She came to Missoula’s tournament in the midst of a summer-long tour across the country, and fought off fatigue on a toasty day that saw temperatures reach the high 80s. Linda Vista’s variety of holes helped keep her comfortable, though.
“With this golf course, it’s the best golf course I’ve played on, and disc golf has been trending toward playing on ball golf courses. Most ball golf courses are really long and just grueling,” she said. “There were some birdies out there. There were some long tough ones to really challenge you, but there was a variety.
“It wasn’t all just throw as far as you can 10 times.”
There were plenty of times where people did show off their arm, though.
Jason Castro brought the biggest cheer out of a rowdy yet respectful gallery on the sixth hole in the final nine. From almost 300 feet out, Castro launched his second shot over a pond and hit the chains of the basket that backed up to the edge of the course and, behind it, Lower Miller Creek Road.
The disc bounced out of the basket, however, and it fell at the foot of the cup, denying Castro the eagle. It was, nevertheless, exciting.
“In the first round, I threw it low, it skipped off the water,” said Castro, who finished in fourth place. “I took a mental note, just said ‘hey, throw it a little higher, same line, just arc it,’ and, hey, at least it’s not in the water this time.”
Even the competition was impressed.
“It gets so silent for a shot, and then you get the ringing of the chains as it echoes throughout the entire course -- it was amazing,” Squires said.
Such was the weekend in a tournament that saw over 100 disc golfers try their hand in the pro-am tournament, where top finishers collectively brought home a $10,000 purse.
“Great weather, everybody is sun burnt, everybody has smiles on their faces, so it was a good weekend,” tournament director Brian Bjortomt said.