Hey Ledgestone fans! All of you were on the edge of your seats for each new announcement during the 12 Days of Ledgestone in December. The culminating release came on December 21 as it was officially announced that Ledgestone had been chosen to host the 2024 PDGA Professional Disc Golf World Championships in Lynchburg, Virginia.
The event will feature the Paul McBeth-designed New London Tech, a brand-new showcase course at Ivy Hill Golf Club and, of course, the Ledgestone event staff headlined by experienced tournament director, Nate Heinold.
The last time Heinold and the Ledgestone team ran Worlds was in 2019 in Peoria, Illinois when McBeth held off Ricky Wysocki in a final round battle that will be long remembered. Heinold was on the front lines for that entire tournament and can still recollect each individual, heart-stopping moment as the two disc golf heavyweights made a run for another world title.
For Heinold, the first thing that stands out when reliving the iconic 2019 MPO Worlds was the unbreakable focus of McBeth. It was the first tournament where the PDGA had set up an official photoshoot of the winners and, even hours after victory, McBeth was still locked into his tournament headspace.
“One of my most vivid memories is that private photoshoot the PDGA had set up after the awards ceremony,” Heinold said. “This was a few hours after everything wrapped up and it was the first time I truly realized how much Worlds meant to these players. I’m sure Paul was happy on the inside, but he was still so focused and wired from the event after five days that it seemed tough for him to celebrate. It was almost as if he was mentally still playing the event even though he had won. That’s how focused he was.”
Interestingly enough, for the first four rounds of the 2019 Worlds, no one looked at the battle as being McBeth vs. Wysocki. The whole time it had been the young, up-and-comer from Texas, Emerson Keith, who had stolen the show and seemed to be the only one standing in the way of McBeth’s fifth world title. With a few less eyes on him, this allowed Wysocki to sneak back into contention with a little less pressure. But Wysocki was never flying under the radar in his own mind. He knew he could win.
“Rick is as intense as it gets,” Heinold said. “At the hole 1 tee he was pacing around. I could see it in his attitude and demeanor. He legitimately thought he could win. Paul has McBeast mode and Ricky has blackout mode. You could just tell he was going to shoot lights out.”
The weather at Eureka can be a roller coaster, and for the first half of the final round, it was just that. The unprotected holes on the front 9 were impacted by strong winds. That, combined with the mounting pressure of the lead card at Worlds and a record crowd at Lake Eureka, took James Conrad and Emerson Keith out of the equation and revealed another iconic McBeth-Wysocki battle.
Heinold was quick to point out the lack of effect the wind had on McBeth and Wysocki compared to the rest of the competitors.
“Eureka can play soft or it can play hard depending on the conditions,” he said. “For Ricky and Paul, I don’t think the wind affected them much at all that day. On that course they’re able to throw overstable-enough discs to where they’re just throwing through the wind. Not many players can do that. And their putting through the wind is just different. If the wind is whipping out there, they probably have even more of an advantage.”
With McBeth already up five strokes on the field after hole 3, he seemed to eliminate all thoughts of anyone catching him by running a long, dangerous putt from the woods on hole 4. Looking directly at the out-of-bounds sidewalk sitting just behind the elevated pin, McBeth straddled slightly to his left to get a line through the brush and calmly cashed in from circle’s edge to take a 6-stroke lead.
But then Wysocki emerged on the infamous Hole 5 around the baseball field.
Following his birdie on hole 4, McBeth got to throw first. Clearing the outfield fence to reach the green for a birdie putt takes a minimum of 450-feet of power which has never been a problem for McBeth. However, there is also OB on the backside of the green, just 40-feet beyond the basket. Too powerful of a drive sends players to the exact same spot as they would go for any OB tee shot on hole 5: the drop zone.
Whether it was an influx of adrenaline from his big putt two minutes prior or the gusty tailwind helping add distance, McBeth’s shot (though it looked well-executed from the tee) landed on the backside of the green and trickled over the OB rope.
Wysocki saw his moment and took it.
The 2-time world champion unleashed on a wide right-to-left moving hyzer, correcting on McBeth’s mistake. The shot soared over the outfield fence lined with Discraft banners and flashed in front of the basket, landing well within Circle 1 for a birdie putt.
Barring a miraculous throw-in from one of the toughest drop zones on tour, McBeth was essentially guaranteed to be giving up two strokes to Wysocki. Then, after his drop zone shot left him well outside Circle 1, a missed putt instead resulted in three dropped strokes and cut McBeth’s 6-stroke advantage in half.
“For Paul, I almost think it was a good thing for him to do that,” Heinold said. “Having Emerson tail off at the beginning may have allowed Paul to think it was over. I’m not saying he thought that, but maybe he wasn’t as focused. That moment on hole 5 snapped him back into focus.”
A surging Wysocki, a major mistake from McBeth, a 3-stroke difference and the mounting pressure of Worlds suddenly came into focus.
“Someone from the crowd turned to me and said, ‘I think Paul could lose,’” Heinold remembers. “It was the first time in the tournament where I realized we were looking at a Portland, 2014 Worlds-level battle. Even one of the Discraft guys I was with turned away because it was too stressful and he couldn’t watch anymore.”
McBeth and Wysocki would then go shot-for-shot for the next seven holes, pulling away from the field, but not from each other. Wysocki couldn’t inch any closer than three strokes and McBeth couldn’t shake his greatest rival.
And then on hole 13 Wysocki slipped up. His third shot on the long par 5 took a big skip and finished just beyond the OB rope up the hill from the basket, still 60 feet from the pin. Heinold remembers Wysocki’s reaction well.
“The reaction from Rick was disgust that he had done it,” Heinold said. “I thought it was over and it seemed that he did as well. His reaction was very much thinking that he’d given the tournament away with the OB stroke.”
In classic Wysocki fashion, he channeled his emotions into a par-saving death putt to keep the slimmest of hopes alive for another world title. Downplayed in the gravity of the moment and Wysocki’s overall skill level, this putt was nothing short of incredible.
All hope seemed lost for Wysocki after he again went stroke-for-stroke with McBeth on holes 14 and 15. He now needed to make up four strokes in three holes just to force a playoff. On the other side of things, McBeth was inching ever closer to become a 5-time World champion and, more importantly, winning the title in his first year after signing an industry-defining deal with Discraft.
Even for McBeth, the pressure of the moment weighed heavy. And on hole 16 that pressure got to him.
A routine putt for birdie missed high and McBeth was forced to hit a comebacker to settle for par, dropping a stroke to Wysocki.
On hole 17, McBeth missed from Circle 1 again, giving up another stroke to Wysocki.
“I don’t see how it’s possible that he wouldn’t have nerves in that moment,” Heinold said. “I don’t know if that’s why he missed those putts, but nerves probably played into it. I’m sure he was thinking about it, especially on hole 17. If he makes that putt, the tournament is definitely over.”
Even with McBeth’s stumbles and Wysocki’s late surge, a 2-stroke swing on hole 18 was going to take a major mistake by McBeth or something magical from Wysocki.
Magic almost happened.
With nothing to lose, Wysocki unleashed a huge turnover tee shot out over Lake Eureka, looking to risk going OB in order to cut down the total hole distance. The throw was executed to perfection, landing well within 200-feet from the pin on the 711-foot hole, a shot which Heinold still recognizes as the best shot he has ever seen on that hole.
“I’ve only ever seen a few people successfully pull it off,” he said. “I’ve never seen that good of a drive on that hole.”
After McBeth executed a big tee shot of his own and a serviceable second shot to guarantee par, Wysocki was left with an opportunity to throw in from 180 feet away to force a playoff. His forehand with his trusty Pig flew predictable and true, stalling out high and left of the basket and plummeting right toward the chains. For more than a moment, the disc looked destined to do the unthinkable, but, in the end, it flashed just short of the basket giving McBeth his fifth win at Worlds.
“Ricky still thought, even though he was almost 200 feet away, that he could win the event,” Heinold said.
This was one of the great Worlds battles in a long list of dramatic finishes and a classic in the historic index of McBeth vs. Wysocki duels.
It will all come full circle in 2024 in Lynchburg. McBeth’s personally-designed course will wow the world with its well thought out fairway shapes and test even the greatest of players. Furthermore, Ledgestone will once again step into the limelight for Worlds to run a top-tier event and the Ivy Hill course is specifically drawn out to create a dramatic finish in the final round.
New London Tech will bring comparisons to the difficult and iconic, woods-lined fairways of Northwood Black, while Ivy Hill will have a similar feel to the home stretch at Lake Eureka with a high-risk island green on hole 17 and a demanding par 4 to finish.
Blog by Jacob Arvidson