Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Tree! The Sanctioned Beating

Michael driving into the trees at twilight.
2014 Sakuna Matata Tournament Recap 6/4/2014
By Jason Liebgott with commentary by Kyle O'Neill

A few months back, I signed up for my first ever sanctioned tournament at a course that I'd never played. The only thing I'd heard about the course was the following: "Sakuna will destroy you."

This was my second official tournament, and I’d played Sakuna Pines a grand total of one time (roughly 9 months into my disc golf ‘career’) prior to signing up for the seventh incarnation of Sakuna Matata. I think I blissfully ignored (or blocked out) how difficult it was while I was willfully handing my money over.

I figured I'd play in the intermediate division, but after some badgering and insults from my brother and my buddy Kyle, I switched to the advanced division. Might as well go down swinging in my first tournament.

Isn't that what life is all about?!

As of a few weeks ago, I'd played exactly two rounds at a "tree-heavy" course. Those 2 painful rounds took place at Beaver Ranch in Conifer, CO. It had slapped me around to the point where I stopped keeping track of my score on hole 5. I left stuttering and confused as to how a disc could pin ball so far sideways.

I had to learn how to throw straight in the woods! My field work sessions focused on throwing understable discs as straight as possible, slowing down and hitting my release points. Less distance and more straight.

Two weeks ago, I finally drove down to Black Forest with my buddy Ryan Knuth to have a look what all the fuss was about. Ryan has played Sakuna quite a bit, so I took my notebook and wrote down a game plan for each hole as we played it. It helped a bit to have input on a course like this, where you most likely won't be able to see the basket... let alone remember WHERE the basket is the next time you play it.

Here's a quick shot of Ryan driving on one of the more open sections of the course - but as you can tell, you are quickly back into the forest.

I had some beginner's luck and pulled off a +4 for my first round. "How bad could this course really be? Now that I've got my little note cards, I'm golden! Trees are easy."

Oh, what a fool-hearty young man I was on that day. A life lesson was on it's way.

Second trip down to Sakuna just a week later with my brother and buddy Kyle - and I finally realized what this course really is: it's a place where disc golfers go to lose their minds.

Yes, the course is gorgeous, but it's going to test you physically and mentally. I had to throw thumbers, forehand rollers, laser beams, skip shots, pancake thumbers, sliding drivers upside down under bushes and generally scrambled like a maniac just to hold onto bogeys. I was extremely lucky to shoot +11 and it felt like I needed to sleep for 24 hours afterwards.

The course IS gorgeous! I caught myself not paying attention to my game and just gazing around at the scenery. During this practice round I shot a respectable +8, which I was very happy with. I thought that if I played near that, and possibly shaved a few strokes off per round, I’d be in really good shape.

That's when I decided that this tournament would be completely pressure free. I would set my expectation that I was going to have fun and not look at my score until the round was over.

Trying to perform well was a recipe for disaster. It was going to be 3 rounds of trying to remain patient, stay in the moment, and have fun. Scores be damned, I was going to have a good time.

The day before the tournament started, I packed up and headed down to Black Forest, riding shotgun with my brother. His jeep was packed up with a cooler full of steaks, our tents and of course a practice bucket.

El Campo de los hermanos Liebgott.

I didn’t head down to the tournament location until the morning of, and in hindsight, I regret that decision. I had to get up very early for a two hour drive, and then basically started the first round armed with only my limited experience from the week prior. I think it might have helped to get out on the course a little bit and mentally prepare myself.

We setup and then hustled out to the course for about 6 holes at twilight, running into Lenny (who reads HeavyDisc, what up Lenny!). Both my brother and I lost our drives on our last hole of the night and had to hunt like crazy before finding them in the fading light - only to realize that we had zero clue as to where the road was that would take us back to camp, so we had to walk an extra 6 holes before finally finding our way out.

Always good to start a tournament with an extra dose of humility.

A dinner of grilled steaks and marginally cooked baked potatoes and we passed out pretty early. Morning came and we warmed up, met our friends and then milled down to the player's meeting where we were assigned our cards and then headed out to the woods, excited and nervous - shaking hands and trying to remember names and faces.

I ended up on the Advanced Masters Card (40+) because there were only 4 of them - and that suited me, as I've got enough salt in my beard to get me an honorary slot in their division. Our card was friendly and we had a fun time chopping our way along the course. I shot a +5 without a any birdies, so I felt like I was doing okay, shooting mostly pars and managing to stay out of the big trouble areas.

All my cards were friendly, and I’m incredibly happy that was the case. There’s nothing worse than trudging around a course for 3 + hours with 4 people you wouldn’t even ask to help move an old couch out of your house under normal circumstances.

Unlike Jason’s first round, the wheels fell off for me pretty quick. I started out decently, but then I hit a stretch of holes that would haunt me every round. I just couldn’t figure them out. When I tried different approaches (read: got out of my game and comfort zone) it only got worse and I never really recovered. Every aspect of my game that I consider strong (accurate drives, pinpoint upshots) were doing absolutely nothing for me. I was missing relatively easy putts, just as icing on the cake. It was like falling asleep in your own bed and then waking up in Thailand. “Well, what the hell am I supposed to do now?!”

We had lunch back at the camp and then grabbed our new cards. To be honest, I didn't realize that I was on the second card until the end of the day. Starting the round, I was already tired, but was shooting a little more relaxed and even had a few birdies.

Then on a long and heavily wooded par 5, I had my beating.

My first drive went pin balling into the woods, then a thumber that ended up with zero look, another thumber for lateral movement, another thumber just to have a look and then four more shots to put it in the bucket. I stood there swooning - unsure of what had happened, but taking an 8 felt like somebody was trying to hammer me into the ground.

Somehow I managed to pull out of the tail spin and climb back onto the par-train and finish the round by missing an easy putt and limping back to camp. When my buddy Kyle asked me how I had shot, I responded, "That was rough... that was just a blood-bath-massacre... not good", and then I tallied up my score and I had shot a +4? I re-checked my score and indeed, I had shot one better than my first round even with my 8 on the par 5. I guess the birdies had helped stem the bleeding.

When Jason told me he had a horrible round and then had the gall to utter “+4” in the same sentence, I nearly slapped him across the face.
I was literally DFL (dead friggen last) in our division after two rounds (a +13 and +14, respectively, will do that). Who’s bright idea was it to sign up for Advanced?!

The story from everybody was the same across the board - rough rounds with lots of pain. My brother checked the results online and came back to camp.

"Hey man, you're tied for second place", he tells me.

"That's cool, maybe they'll just stop the tournament now and I'm in good shape!" But I knew there was still ton of stuff that could happen in 19 more holes of tree golf. I have to say that my mental game probably saved my bacon more than anything else. I would take my shot, and once it left my hand - I was done worrying about it.

Even with all of the frustration, I’m very proud of the fact that I never got outwardly emotional. I had some heated conversations with myself, but didn’t let it spill out and ruin my weekend. I just looked up into the tree tops, gave a small smile and took a deep breath… nothing much else to be done but get ready for the next shot.

I would keep an eye on where my disc went - then I'd stroll back to the bag and have a seat on my stool and think about other stuff like my kids or what I was going to do for dinner. I just flatly refused to let it be an emotional game. The only times my emotions got hot were missing those 20' putts, but I had to accept that I missed them because I wasn't practicing enough. I know that's a weak spot in my game and I need to work on it.

That night, I cooked up some fajitas and we drank too many beers and commiserated about those damn trees and missing easy putts. Good times, probably too many shot's of Kyle's bottle of Jack Daniels and I pass out face down in the tent, spending the night filling my sleeping bag with horrible meat farts. I avoided getting into any sort of game-plan for the following day - this course was all about adapting to trouble, so why worry about it?

Day 2 started with the best intentions of playing a short warm up round and then hitting the putts for 20 minutes. Yeah, that didn't happen.

Instead I cooked a bunch of breakfast tacos and walked over to the player's meeting without putting more than a handful of discs, feeling groggy and pretty well hung over. I was on the top card with Mike Bibby and Trevor Gagstetter who I played with on the second card the day before. After a very rushed warm up, I sat down and realized that (as the 2 minute horn blew) I'd left my water bottle back at camp.

Thank you a million times to Mike Bibby who generously handed over a spare Gatorade bottle, because without it would have been REALLY bad news bears. Bibby - you rock.

I never really got in my groove in the last round, surprise-surprise, with zero warm up - but I managed to save par quite a bit with upshots that kept me from having to putt. Putting was a disaster w/ 3 missed 20 footers but I found a couple birdies and I hit most of the long tunnel lines and stayed out of MOST of the jails (but not all of them).

If I was off my intended line or missing a putt, I kept saying, "Just roll with it - even if you end up falling off the pace, you're having a good time." I kept with my philosophy of only worrying about hitting the first window and throwing much easier than usual and it continued to work. I even managed to birdie the par 5 that I took an 8 on the previous day (which felt very nice). That put some extra wind in my sails and helped me shake off some heart-breaker putts that hit way too much chain to spit out, but did anyway.

All I wanted to do in the third round was make small improvements, make better decisions and continue to have fun. If I moved out of last place, great. I accomplished all three of my goals and ended on a high note (only +11!).

Eventually we stood on the last tee-box, slapping out the high fives and universally feeling relieved that we could ALMOST relax. I guess I relaxed too much because I hit the second tree off the box and went zinging into the woods. I just chuckled, it seemed appropriate. I still didn't know what my score was - I was very glad of that - and I just wanted to finish off strong.

Well, last hole and I'm in tree jail with zero look at anything nice.

It went like this:
Backhand? Nope, never gonna happen.
Thumber? Never, total mess, worse than backhand.
Tomahawk? Hah, worse than thumber.
Forehand? Really bad with the slimmest of windows, if I'm lucky.

Better to be lucky than good - forehand it is!

I stretched out as far to the right as I could trying to see the basket, pine needles everywhere including my face. Discraft Surge - beaten to death, a disc I've thrown almost daily for a year straight. I had to throw an anhyzer forehand for 250' through the woods and I needed it to gently turn the entire way, dodge every tree and never fade. Nooooo problem.

I commit to the line, trying to hold onto some hope, and let it go. Out it floats, turning, turning... gliding through the woods ... still turning and it finally skids up to the bucket for a 20' straddle putt behind a small tree!! Oh what a ridiculous relief that was!! Watching it skitter up towards the basket it was like I could finally take a breath after being held under water for too long.

Does he make the 20'er?! DOES HE HIT THE CLUTCH PUTT TO SAVE PAR?!

No. Damn thing fell outta my hand like a wet fish.

Oh well, that's FRISBEE GOLF!

I ended up shooting +5 in my final round (69, 68, 69) and in 3rd place, one stroke behind my brother who shot a seriously fantastic final round of +1 to jump up from the second card and win 2nd place. I was extremely proud of him for going into the last round and just hanging it all out there.

Congrats to Mike and Jason both! Despite my less-than-stellar performance, I had a fantastic time hanging out with great friends, meeting new ones, and enjoying everything nature has to offer. That’s why I started playing disc golf in the first place.

Kyle, who looked like he'd sooner murder a puppy than play another round at Sakuna won $100 in the CTP contest. Mike Bibby, who handed me his 2nd bottle of Gatorade on a sweaty hot day, won our division shooting an impressive 69, 62, 70 and I couldn't have been happier for him!

My brother, stoked to take 2nd place and that he didn't have to share a tent with me.
We all had a fantastic time, our bodies sore and stinky - but not that much worse for the wear. I couldn't have asked for a better group of friends to hang out with in the woods for 3 days playing this game that we love so much.


  1. Team Liebgott crushing Sakuna! Kyle, you handled Sakuna with true class.

    1. Thanks Dustin, as did you. I had a great time bringing up the rear with our group and just playing the game.

    2. You won the day Kyle because you got to play more golf than any of those top card looser! :D That's my brother!

    3. That's right bro, I nearly forgot. Whoever plays the most golf, wins. haha

  2. Always enjoy your writing my favorite Liebgott

  3. It sounds like someone needs to familiarize themselves with the Optional Rethrow rule. If you throw your disc into such a bad spot that it is obviously going to take you at least two throws to get back to the fairway you should probably bite the bullet and take an optional rethrow.