2023 DGPT – Des Moines Challenge Round 1 Recap
Iowa natives Gannon Buhr and Gavin Babcock are tied for the lead after the first round in Des Moines. Photo: Kevin Huver / DGPT
The FPO and MPO fields hit the ground running in the opening round of the 2023 TruBank Des Moines Challenge Presented by Discraft. After their first day at Pickard Park, both fields ended up with ties for the lead and two MPO players managed to tie the course record.
Emily Beach was stellar off the tee in round one of the Des Moines Challenge. Photo: Kevin Huver / DGPT
Making Her Own Lines
Once again, the FPO field is tied at the top after the opening round of the 2023 Des Moines Challenge. Emily Beach and Kristin Tattar set the pace in Round 1 after they both scored seven-under at Pickard Park.
Beach had a hot start to her round, going six-down through the front 9. At the end of a slower back 9, Beach took her only bogey of the round on Hole 18 (which averaged as the most difficult hole in Round 1). While Beach had a solid day on the putting green, it was her performance off the tee that truly set her apart with 80% fairway hits and 4.81 shots gained tee to green, according to UDisc.
“My game feels solid. Last year I found myself laying off my drives a lot and laying up a lot more shots,” Beach said after shooting the hot round,” During practice [this year], I realized I can actually get to some of these and I should take advantage of my distance.”
Beach’s distance off the tee often puts her in position to go for certain birdies where other players might choose to lay up and take a par. As well as her distance, Beach is somewhat unique as a left-handed player in a field that is mostly right-hand dominant. Brian Earhart, a commentator and fellow lefty, spoke on the challenge this presents during Tournament Central after the round.
“You’ve just got to give the lefty a shoutout because there’s really no lines you can take from anybody out here. Your gameplan is completely individualized compared to the rest of the players,” Earhart said of her singular approach to the course, “She has to cultivate something completely new and authentic for herself each and every week, especially being one of the only left-handed players out there in the FPO division.”
Beach has made it to the top of the leaderboard plenty of times, even taking 3rd place at the OTB Open earlier this season. If she can hold onto the lead for two more rounds, Beach could take down her first Elite Series win.
Defending champion Kristin Tattar is right back on top of the leaderboard. Photo: Kevin Huver / DGPT
Tattar took 9 birdies on the day, including the only birdie on Hole 13 in the FPO field, but lost a couple of strokes to bogeys on Holes 5 and 16.
When asked if she could score even lower in Round 2, Tattar said, “I think there are a lot more birdies out there. If the wind picks up or there’s any rain, it’s going to be tough to birdie so I think it’s more important to just keep it in bounds and try to make all the putts if you have a look.”
Paige Pierce and Macie Velediaz, who finished at six-under and five-under, respectively, will join Beach and Tattar for the Round 2 lead card of the 2023 Des Moines Challenge.
Gavin Babcock lines up a shot at Pickard Park. Photo: Kevin Huver / DGPT
Iowa Boys at the Top
The MPO field attacked the course in Round 1 of the 2023 Des Moines Challenge, averaging over three strokes under par with almost every hole averaging under par. As we’ve seen throughout the season, the top of the leaderboard is an absolute logjam. Seven players are tied for 3rd place and being just three strokes back of the lead puts you in a tie for 10th place. Once the dust settled, two Iowa natives came out on top with a tie for the lead.
Both Gavin Babcock and Gannon Buhr finished Round 1 at 13 strokes under par, tying the course record. Buhr and Babcock led the field in parked percentage at 39% according to UDisc, consistently executing their tee shots and approaches to leave them stress-free putts for birdie.
Babcock was able to avoid taking a single bogey in the opening round, taking only two pars from Holes 5 through 18. Babcock proved his ability to perform under pressure with a 5th place finish at the 2022 PDGA Champions Cup, but his highest finish at an Elite Series or Major in 2023 have been his 35th place finishes at the OTB Open and Dynamic Discs Open.
When asked if he feels nervous with an audience watching him on the Round 2 lead card, Babcock said, “I feed off that, so I’m looking to keep it up and just keep loving this home crowd because they’re loving it and it feels nice to be home.”
Gannon Buhr had 14 birdies on Friday in his home state of Iowa. Photo: Kevin Huver / DGPT
Buhr’s round had a slow start with a bogey on Hole 1 and a missed putt inside the circle on Hole 2. In a post-round interview, the reigning USDGC Champion talked about being in a slump for the past month and feeling doubts through the opening holes of Round 1.
“After Hole 1 and Hole 2, missing the circle 2 putt for birdie, I kind of just felt hopeless again, it felt like I just didn’t belong,” Buhr said about his rough start in Round 1, “Out of nowhere I just strung together five, six, seven turned into eight birdies in a row.”
After his drive on Hole 3 hit the koozie on the bottom of the basket, Buhr went on to birdie eight holes in a row and shoot 14 total birdies on the day. With a performance like this, it seems safe to say his slump is over. Buhr believes he performs better when he’s leading the tournament, and with an Elite Series and Silver Series win so far this season, he’s got the track record to prove it.
Going into Round 2, Babcock and Buhr will only have a one-stroke lead over the seven players tied for 3rd place, which includes last year’s DMC winner, Simon Lizotte. With such little score separation and two rounds to go, anything can happen. Still, Buhr seems content to share the lead with a fellow native.
“We grew up right here and it’s so amazing to see two Iowa boys at the top.”