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NextGen Championships Provide Pipeline From Am to Pro

2019 Next Generation Disc Golf Tour Women's Champion Aria Castruita. Photo: Matthew Brooks

“Welcome to the big leagues” could have been the slogan for the 2019 Next Generation Disc Golf National Championships in Austin, Texas, last weekend, as the event lived up to the Lone Star State ideal that everything is bigger there: From the courses and sponsors to player amenities and purse, the Next Generation Tour Championships did it right.

At the end of 99 holes of play, 35 of the 88 finalists decided between a piece of the $32,000 cash purse or retaining their amateur status. Ultimately, 21 players took the money and entered the world of professional disc golf.

The final four in the Open division – Mitchell Ramirez, Casey Cox, Jonathan Nicholson, and Kyle Klein – entered with an average player rating of 992 and played 1006-rated golf. Seventeen-year-old Klein, the tournament’s highest-rated player and the 2019 United States Amateur Disc Golf Champion, walked off with the win and the cash; he said in his acceptance speech that his runner-up finish at the 2018 NextGen Championships put him on the map and provided motivation for this year.

Klein’s victory could be chalked up not only to his ace on day one, but also to his separation from Nicholson during rounds three and four at East Side Metro Park. A par-64, 7,720-foot challenge in the longs, Metro proved to be no problem for the eventual champion: Klein’s 1026-rated 60 over a marathon-level five hours put him five shots over Nicholson, and he moved that number to 12 during another afternoon round. That performance on the shorts was bogey-free and featured three eagles.

The Open final nine Sunday at Roy G. Guerrero Park did not contain the drama of past Next Generation Championships, but it did showcase the upcoming professional-level talent emerging in the sport. Klein continued his domination with the only under par performance, and overall he shot four of the five hot rounds for the weekend. He averaged 1032-rated golf, carding 40 birdies, three eagles, and one ace to only eight bogey strokes.

Tight competition was in order, meanwhile, in the Open Women’s division. Star sisters Melody and Aria Castruita headlined the field, with Liz Torok and Jennifer Rackman rallying to keep pace. After Torok took an early six-shot lead, the battle quickly became the Castruita show, as the current PDGA Junior World Champion (Melody) tied Torok in round two while Aria moved only two shots back. The close scoring continued at the East Metro shorts on Saturday, with Aria emerging from the day’s two rounds with a three-shot margin. That dropped to two during the full round Sunday at Roy G., but she added one more insurance stroke in the final nine to oust her sister and take home the family bragging rights. Both women denied cash and will continue their amateur careers.


Masters Champion Robert Tate. Photo: Matthew Brooks

Finally, the Masters division also boiled down to a battle. Only three strokes separated first through fourth places heading into Sunday’s final, with Robert Tate leading the way after a scorcher at East Metro the day before. Robert Cummings III applied the pressure as he and Tate traded volleys, but the lead held and Tate was able to hang on for the victory with a 36 on the final nine. Both he and Cummings opted to accept cash.

Aside from the heated competition, the NextGen Championships was a team effort of several volunteers and industry players, including Flat Creek Estate and John Houck; Kyle Jones and Prodigy Disc; Innova Discs; Latitude 64; Hall of Famer/weekend DJ Jay “Yeti” Reading; and many more. The event reported a total value of over $100,000, and 60 percent of the eligible players turned professional. That helped NextGen fulfill its mission of producing a nationwide amateur disc golf tour, and the organization went one step further and partnered with the Educational Disc Golf Experience to raise more than $4,000.


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