In a final round that saw the lead swing back and forth during a dramatic back nine of OB thrills and spills, Will Schusterick managed to navigate the treacherous yellow OB rope the best as he beat the world’s elite including USDGC defending champion Nikko Locastro, who just barely fell short of his repeat title.
After the round Schusterick, 18, now the youngest USDGC winner, couldn’t hide his big smile. He said words could not describe what he was feeling after winning the game’s most prestigious tournament.
It’s the best feeling in the world. You think you could explain it, but you just can’t.
said jubilant Schusterick while soaking it all in.
“You got it this year,” said a gracious Locastro giving Schusterick one last hug near the clubhouse. “Today’s for you.”
The Knoxville, Tenn. resident has finished well in big tournaments before like placing 6th in the Japan Open this year as well as a respectable 20th place at last year’s USDGC. Plus, he’s won many smaller PDGA tournaments. But this one by far takes the cake. He ended up shooting (-28) for the tournament, two better than Locastro. Both men shot a 64 (-4) on Saturday.
Much like Locastro’s USDGC victory last year, the win shoots Schusterick into the upper echelon of disc golfers – especially after doing it at one of the hardest Winthrop Gold penalty settings to date.
A superstar is born!
Stan McDaniel said to Schusterick as he waited for the award ceremony to begin.
Others finishing the week strong were third place finisher Steve Brinster at (-23) followed by Finland’s Jussi Meresmaa, who shot (-21) for the tournament.
However, it was almost not to be for the young Schusterick.
Neck and neck with Locastro through the front nine, disaster struck on hole 12 and almost cost Schusterick everything.
Going into the hole with a one stroke lead over Locastro, Schusterick bombed his drive, but on his flick approach shot from 370 feet out he skidded OB.
The large crowd of several hundred following the hole couldn’t believe it either. Then, throwing a similar flick driver, he again went OB, which was met by another groan from the gallery. With stroke & distance penalties, his chances of winning the big one suddenly seemed to disappear right before his eyes.
The turn of events were practically the opposite of round two when Nikko took a 10 on the hole while Schusterick recorded a birdie 4.
Squatting close to the ground after finally getting near the pin, Schusterick seemed dazed and tried to regroup as Locastro, who later birdied the hole, took a three stroke lead.
“Everybody got it. And that was my turn,” Schusterick said referring to the ever present OB.
Schusterick must have hit the right switch because his next throw was a beauty off hole 13′s tee.
“I just told myself I need to stop questioning what I’m doing,” Schusterick said after the round.
Astoundingly, he threw a Rhyno putter, which sailed perfectly over the OB road bordering the hole and landed safely in the fairway some 350 feet away. After laying up for better position, he scorched a spike hyzer, leaving him in great position for a birdie putt.
Nikko’s big hyzer birdie approach shot skipped wide of the hole and left him a tough birdie putt that he later missed. Schusterick hit his and cut the deficit to two.
Still, it seemed Schusterick would need some help from Locastro to get back in the lead. After Schusterick played a spike hyzer that flirted with the right side of hole 14′s OB he got just that and more when Locastro went OB twice on his drive. Many in the gallery could not believe what they were seeing.
All of a sudden Schusterick was catapulted right back into the lead, three strokes over Nikko.
Stroke & distance strikes again.
After the round, Locastro was disgusted at the effort he put forth toward the end.
“I had every opportunity in the whole world. I didn’t play the course like I should have,” said the 2010 Japan Open champ, who added that his original intention on hole 14 was to go wider to the right.
After seeing Locastro struggle on the hole Schusterick tried to keep a level head about it.
“I knew nothing was handed to me. I had to finish it out,” he said.
Both Locastro and Schusterick birdied hole 15, prior to which Schusterick finally hit his line off the drive after missing it the last two rounds. Things were clicking then.
I just had the confidence every time I stepped up to the tee pad like it was my home course.
The excitement was ramping up as the card approached hole 16. Schusterick’s super straight mid-range drive left him with a hefty 30-footer, compared to Nikko’s landing spot which was half of that to the basket. When Schusterick canned the putt the crowd erupted with cheers. Schusterick, knowing The Championship was within reach, pumped his fists and strode toward hole 17. Locastro hit his putt too, but time was running out.
For the fourth time in a row, Schusterick laid up to the safe area near hole 17′s tee – a strategy he said he’d stick with on the first day of the tournament. Locastro, needing to make up some strokes fast went for the green, but as his putter made its approach it hit a pine bale and landed OB. Another gasp from the crowd was collectively emitted as they seemed to recognize that Nikko’s chance for a repeat had gone.
Locastro said after the round that he came so close this year.
“I was there,” he said disappointed.
Schusterick then landed his approach to within 12 feet. Making his putt, Schusterick was one hole away from winning the biggest tournament of his life with a three stroke lead cushion.
“Yeah, Will!” a spectator cheered after he converted his putt.
He then threw four putters straight up the fairway. The last one nestled by the basket so he could drop in his 5th to win and celebrate just as fireworks started bursting by the water below.
After Nikko made his par, he was the first one to hug the new USDGC champion.
Fourth place finisher Meresmaa had a good week of his own.
After successfully leading the Presidents Cup, he amazingly put four great rounds together. Being totally consumed by the Cup, which was played earlier in the week, he said he had only practiced the course once.
“I feel really satisfied with this,” said the 3-time Finnish champion
After the Presidents Cup was over, everything else was icing on the cake.
“I said to Janne (Cup assistant director) that after the Presidents Cup, ‘now we can start our vacation,” Meresmaa said.
Coming in third, Brinster had the hot round with a 56 (-12) today. He said it felt right today.
“The fourth time around the track I really had a good idea what I was doing,” said the New York state champ.
He said the stroke & distance penalty employed this year actually made him play more aggressive. Laying up for many of the holes like ’888′, he said, is just about as tough as biting more off – so he decided to attack the course more often than not.
Schusterick’s win comes at the heels of his team’s collapse during the US Doubles Championship last Sunday. Going into the third to last hole of the tournament, the duo had a share of the lead, but then after numerous OB strokes on that hole and the next two, they found themselves completely out of it. Today must certainly make up for it.
After only three different champions for the first nine years, Schusterick’s win marks the third straight year of a new USDGC champion. Locastro seemed to have ushered in a new era last year as another young gun has taken it this time.
No doubt Locastro will rebound from this defeat stronger than ever. But it still hurts.
“This will be a heart-breaker for me because I had it in my hands,” Locastro said as he practice putted after the round.
Schusterick said he had a hard time sleeping Friday night because he was so anxious to play. He was ready to go at 3 a.m., he said.
“I just knew that my life was going to change,” said Schusterick, who is now $12,000 richer.