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Vibram Open FPO Preview: Who will take the Plunge at Maple Hill?

This week begins the 2017 Vibram Open. Long before the inception of The Disc Golf Pro Tour, New England has hosted some of the biggest tournaments that the sport
of disc golf has ever witnessed. Disc golfers from across the country are making the pilgrimage to a course some consider the best disc golf course on the tour. The hallowed ground that is the Maple Hill course takes no prisoners! If there is a disc golf course that represents everything that can challenge a disc golfer, Maple Hill is all that and more.  Created by Tom Southwick, Steve Dodge, and Dave Jackson, Maple Hill has wide open holes that give the edge to the bombers, tight, wooded holes that test the discipline of the most form-friendly competitors, and precision shots over water that makes the most proven player’s hearts skip a beat. The Maple Hill course will likely become a factor in and of itself. The course has carved out careers and left many players scratching their heads with well-laid plans shred to bits.
Returning to the Vibram, Steve Dodge has been there since the beginning watching the Maple Hill disc golf course grow and evolve. I talked to The Disc Golf Pro Tour director and TD for the Vibram and I asked him what keeps bringing him back to Vibram Open every year and his response was, “The challenge and the thanks! Over the years I’ve had hundreds of people tell me that the task of tournament director is a thankless job, but they are wrong. Without the tremendous outpouring of support from players and spectators, there is no way the fire could continue to burn.” Steve’s experience bringing together high level tournaments and taking the pulse of what professional disc golfers need at a tournament setting has been crucial for the success of The Disc Golf Pro Tour and the explosion of the disc golf to the mainstream media.
If you have watched the pro women play disc golf this year, then there is no surprise when I say that the FPO division has had the most exciting battles, most thrilling rivalries, and the most hard-fought victories in the sport. The women’s division goes beyond mere skill because there is an added element of camaraderie that seems to spark all competitors to step up and want to take home a victory. As the season is winding down, the ladies of disc golf are making their final run for the Tour Championship and want a taste of success at the Vibram Open.
Returning to the Vibram Open is four-time World Champion Valarie Jenkins. Val earned her first Vibram title in 2008 but eventually grabbed another in 2013. She has the ability to play inspired golf and throw her competitors off balance at a moment’s notice. She hasn’t had a full touring schedule in 2017 and she is new to the Discraft family, but that hasn’t stopped her from finishing third at the Memorial and in first place with a thrilling victory at the Ledgestone Insurance Open. It will be exciting to see her perform at Maple Hill this week. She knows the course and she could find herself in the wining circle once again.
Lisa Fajkus is having one of the best seasons of her career. Although she’s yet to grab a DGPT victory, she has put herself in a great position to do so at every Disc Golf Pro Tour event. Lisa recently finished in third place at Idlewild and has ended every DGPT event well within the top ten. She currently has 309 points, sitting in sixth place overall in the hunt for the tour championship. I asked her what she thought her biggest strength is at the Maple Hill course and she let me in on her secret by saying, “I love Maple Hill! It’s probably my favorite course. I think my strength is hitting lines with discs like my Roadrunner, especially through the wooded fairways.”  Is this going to be the week Lisa Fajkus shines? She is gaining a good following that hopes she will break through at the tthis week at the Vibram.
Sarah Hokom has shown the fans why she is a World Champion this year on The Disc Golf Pro tour. With a big win at the Nick Hyde Memorial tournament and four second place finishes on the DGPT alone, Sarah has one of the most consistent games in the sport of disc golf. Taking nothing away from Sarah’s phenomenal year, the fact that she hasn’t won more pro tour wins is a surprise to many. Maybe it comes down to luck or perhaps timing, but Sarah could have easily found herself on the winning stage many more times this season. With a forehand that is unmatched on the tour, Sarah may have the opportunity to shred the Maple Hill course and bring home a win. Sarah won a Vibram title back in 2011 by one throw over Sarah Stanhope. Can she win again in 2017?
2017 has been a roller coaster ride for Catrina Allen. Early on in the season, she adjusted her form, gaining even more distance, and in the process  found her timing a bit off at times. Speaking about Catrina Allen as if she had a bad season would be ridiculous. She’s finished top six in nearly every event she entered and took down a great first place finish at the Nick Hyde Memorial tournament. More recently, she ran away with the National Tour event, Pittsburgh Flying Disc Open. The huge win might be enough of a mental boost to propel any player back to the top and Catrina has all the skills to take her new found success and finish the Disc Golf Pro Tour like a woman on a mission.  Catrina won the Vibram Open in 2012, so she knows what the course has in store for her. Can she finish her season with dominance?
In many ways, the 2017 season has played out like a storybook tale for four-time World Champion Paige Pierce.  She has won nearly every tournament that she’s entered this year and when she doesn’t win, the fans wonder what‘s wrong. The reality is that Paige Pierce has made winning seem easy. After coming off an okay 2016 season and adopting new plastic from Dynamic Discs, there was an element of the unknown coming into this year. With a new season came the kind of success that every player dreams of and with it the knowledge that she must find the fire within to push further. If one season is any indication, Paige has nothing to prove to anyone but to herself. She has won the Vibram Open for the last three seasons in a row and although her edge of launching the huge drive may not be a total asset on the Maple Hill course, Paige has all the skills to throw down a low number right out of the gate. Will Paige make it four in a row?
With all the top FPO players that I’ve mentioned so far, does that mean they are destined to win? Perish the thought! For the first time in many years the FPO division has some of the best female players stepping up their games and fighting for a chance to take the big stage. Players like Jessica Weese who is making a name for herself nearly always plays well enough to contend for a title, Melody Waibel has quietly played herself into the limelight as of late racking up major DGPT points and with some solid finishes put herself in a great position to steal a win from the field. Jennifer Allen, Rebecca Cox, and Des Reading have also kept themselves in reach of the Tour Championship. One thing is for sure, the season is far from over and the quest must continue with the 2017 Vibram Open.
There is a tradition at the Vibram Open that was started by Kevin McCoy in 2005 to jump into the Maple Hill pond after you’ve won the tournament. With so many skilled, dedicated women competing in the Vibram Open this year, we could see a brand new player take the plunge. I asked Steve Dodge what it will take to win the Vibram this year and he remarked that, “Much like Idlewild, don’t get greedy and take what the Maple Hill course has to give you. Be aggressive when the downsides are not too negative.” If there is advice to heed, then the pros would be wise to take Steve’s recommendation. He knows the course and he knows what it takes to be a winner here in Massachusetts.
This Thursday will begin one of the most prestigious tournaments in all of disc golf. Call your friends, empty your schedule. Better yet, take a flight or plan a road trip to watch the most exciting event you may see on the DGPT this season. With the Festival of the Flying Discs continuing at the Vibram, there will be no better place to bring the family for fun and witness the best disc golf the world has to offer. Please check out all the great coverage, including live broadcasts , live scoring from UDisc , and Daily recaps on . Don’t miss a minute of the action!