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Locals fare well in national disc golf tourney

Two local disc golfers represented the Parkland well last month.

The duo competed in a national doubles tournament, progressing to the quarter-finals before narrowly falling to a team that went on to compete in the finals.

Al Kennon and Seth Wood qualified to compete in the U.S. Match Play Doubles Championship earlier this year and made the journey to Emporia, Kansas the last weekend of September to compete against teams from across the nation.

Kennon said that upon arriving in Emporia, the duo and the other disc golfers were welcomed with open arms by the community that has come to champion the fast-growing sport.

“Even as an adult, you still have that nervous energy,” he said. “But that city, about the size of Farmington, is very welcoming. They really embrace disc golf there. It’s like the disc golf ‘Mecca.’ It really shuts down for the tournaments and they’re all very welcoming. The atmosphere is amazing.”

Arriving with the multitude of other disc golfers gearing up for tournaments that weekend, Kennon said while he and Wood were prepared mentally and physically, they knew they would still have to contend with their nerves when it came to the competition.

“With disc golf, it’s a friendly atmosphere,” he said. “Everyone was asking each other if they were in town for the tournament that first day. But the next morning, everyone is showing up, signing in and practicing — you can tell everyone’s really starting to watch each other.”

With a blind bracket draw, the competing two-person teams had no clue who they would be playing with until Saturday morning before the start of the tournament. While the players practice that morning, teams began sizing each other up.

“Everybody’s watching each other tee off to see how they’re throwing,” Kennon said. “That’s when you really start to feel the nervous tension, because you’re starting to wonder who you’re going to be paired up against.”

When the bracket was announced, Kennon said he and Wood received what some might call a lucky break.

“We got lucky and got a first round ‘by,’” he said. “I think it actually worked as a disadvantage for us, though. Yeah, you get an automatic pass to the next round, but you’re playing cold that afternoon while the team you’re matched up against has already played a round.”

Because of the format of the tournament, Kennon said it required a different approach than normal play. In traditional stroke play, similar to “ball” golf, each individual stroke is counted to tabulate a score. In match play, scores are determined by the number of holes won.

For example, if two teams had played three holes of match play and team A had won all three, the score would be three to nothing, regardless of the specific number of strokes taken by each team in those three holes.

“Mentally, you have to play it differently than stroke play,” Kennon said. “In stroke play, you could win a whole or a couple of holes by two or three strokes and give yourself good padding. With match play, you don’t have that advantage.

“If you win a hole, it’s one to nothing. It could go three to nothing in three holes but then if the other teams gets hot and wins four holes, you would be down by one hole. It’s a different mentality.”

Match play, Kennon said, calls for aggressive play — but not so aggressive as to get into trouble toward the end of the round. If a team is up three holes and there are only two holes remaining, the match is over.

After warming up while the first round was played, Kennon and Wood came out strong and won their first match in the second round.

“The first team we played was a team out of North Dakota,” Kennon said. “We ended up six and five — so we were up six holes with five to go. We came out of the gates pretty good.”

On Sunday morning, the quarter-finals saw chilly, windy Kansas weather settling over the course.

“It’s Kansas,” Kennon said. “It was windy, probably 20 mile-an-hour wind, 46 degrees — so when you walk outside in shorts, you realize you’re not in Missouri. There’s a nice chill in the air, and everyone’s trying to get warmed up.”

The morning’s round had Kennon and Wood facing a professional team from Arkansas. If the format had been stroke play, Kennon said, he and Wood would have come out on top. That was not the case, unfortunately.

“We really weren’t executing off the tee,” Kennon explained. “We struggled, missed some birdie putts and found ourselves down two holes after the first three, just from mistakes. We were making mental errors. We were both playing aggressive and nobody was making the safe shot. We were making bad throws at the same time, which isn’t ideal.”

Despite the rough start, Kennon said he and Wood fought back and tied the match up at one point. Upon arriving at the final hole, Kennon and Wood were down one — the only way forward was to take the hole.

“We made a birdie putt and they missed theirs,” Kennon said. “So then we went into a sudden death playoff. We ended up playing 20 holes total and lost 1 to nothing. That team went on to the finals.”

After being knocked out of the main tournament bracket, Kennon said he and Wood were able to successfully compete in a consolation bracket.

“We went on to win that,” he said. “The closest team to us was four strokes, and then after that I think it was seven or eight back. So we won the consolation tournament, but not the one we ideally wanted to win.”

Even though they faced the disappointment of defeat in the third round of play, Kennon said the difference between a winner and a loser in match play can be decided by one simple mistake.

“Everybody that competed were very good teams,” he said. “A lot of them were professional-level players or very good amateurs. You had to play well. You make one mistake and you lose 1 to nothing in 20 holes. That’s all it takes to separate team ‘A’ from team ‘B’ and a win from a loss.”

With the sport of disc golf continuing to grow across the nation, Kennon said it’s important to remember the rich resources that the Parkland has to offer disc golfers.

“We have Engler Park in Farmington, Columbia Park in Park Hills, Mineral Area College and Bonne Terre has approved a course,” he said. “Very soon, we’ll have four courses in the area. It’s growing.”

Seth Wood and Al Kennon compete in the U.S. Match Play Doubles Championship in Emporia, Kansas.

Seth Wood and Al Kennon compete in the U.S. Match Play Doubles Championship in Emporia, Kansas.

Jacob Scott is a reporter with the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3616 or at jscott@dailyjournalonline.com.

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