After starting the round 8-under par through the front nine at Iron Hill and leading the field by five, it was hard to imagine that anyone other than Ricky Wysocki was going to take down the title at the Delaware Disc Golf Challenge. Iron Hill had its own plans, however, and so did Matt Bell.
“Let’s hear them say the par here is soft now,” said Iron Hill course designer and Delaware Disc Golf Challenge Tournament Director, Jimi McIlvain. The changes made to what was already a difficult course were quite apparent, as 8-under par 61was the best anyone could manage throughout the weekend, thrown by the eventual winner Bell along with Garrett Gurthie and James Conrad during the final round. The back nine is where Iron Hill makes or breaks the competition, and that couldn’t have been more apparent than it was on Sunday.
“Jimi, the course designer, challenged us this year and there’s some holes out here where you’re just, you’re happy with par,” said Wysocki. “I lost a little confidence down the stretch. I missed a couple of the gaps I normally hit and bounced into some weird spots, and all of a sudden I’m looking at bogey at best. I honestly had some good bogey saves considering where I was but you can’t put yourself in the spots where I was and expect to save par.”
Starting the day on the chase card, two strokes off the lead, Bell came through the front nine at 4-under par meaning he was now six strokes behind Wysocki, whose 8-under front nine stretch came in just seven holes (3-9) and included an incredible eagle on the uphill par five tunnel of hole eight.
“I’ve been in that position at A-Tiers, but never an NT”, said Bell. “Usually at an A-Tier, if you’re a couple strokes off the lead on the chase card, that’s a good thing. There’s not as much pressure and it’s usually just a better atmosphere. It’s good to be in that position sometimes.”
Bell chipped away at the lead, gaining a stroke on Wysocki on 11 and 13, but with just three holes to go, Bell was still down by four. Bell finished strong, to say the least, carding back-to-back-to-back birdies to end the round, something that was only done two other times throughout the weekend. One card behind him, Wysocki was getting no love from Iron Hill. He’d lose two strokes to Bell with a bogey on 16 and headed to 17 with just a two-stroke lead.
When Wysocki’s disc finally came to rest 150 feet into the rough on the left after kicking off a tree barely 100 feet in front of the tee on the 860-foot par 5 of hole 17, he was looking at a bogey at best. By the time he threw his third throw finally left him with an open look in the fairway, still 600 feet or so out, Bell was on the green sinking his putt for birdie.
After a perfect drive on 18, Bell headed up the fairway only to hear an eruption of applause from the lead card gallery on 17. Wysocki had saved bogey with a 40-futt putt up and over the mound where the basket sits. Knowing full-well that finishing with a birdie would put him in the lead, Bell put his upshot to the edge of the circle, hole high, for an open birdie look. As he walked up to the putt, he was calm and collected.
“I’m not thinking about whether I need to make it or not,” said Bell. “I just apply my routine and myself to the putt, and that’s all I can do really. The end result is out of my hands at that point.”
Out of his hands indeed, and into the hands of Wysocki, who knows he needs a birdie on 18 to force a playoff.
“I heard the crowd say that [Bell] made some putt on 18 to get to 17 under,” said Wysocki. “I definitely knew I had to execute the shot. I threw an okay drive, not great, and I threw a really good second shot to even get a putt for three, then I bounced off the top of the basket to push a playoff. But that wasn’t where I lost the tournament. I lost the tournament way before that.”
With his impressive come from behind win, Bell now boasts a National Tour victory for the first time in his career.
“It feels different than any of my other wins for sure” said Bell. “It’s a good feeling.”
After a bit of the struggle on the back nine, Joel Freeman would eventually finish in third place two off the lead at 14-under par overall while Conrad, Dave Feldberg, and Andrew Marwede finished in a three-way for fourth at 13-under. Gurthie’s 8-under par effort on the final round left him tied for seventh with Estonia’s Albert Tamm.
The grind continues for the touring pros as the 2019 MVP Open begins at Maple Hill in just a few days in Leicester, Massachusetts.