MISSOULA — The fourth Zoo Town Open championship was the toughest for disc golfer Sarah Hokom.
The Idaho native who didn't have high expectations for the tournament needed to erase a five-stroke deficit in the final round and then had to win a three-woman playoff to emerge victorious on Sunday at Linda Vista Golf Course.
Hokom did both of those to win her fourth tournament title in eight years, beating out reigning world champ Paige Bjerkaas and defending tournament champ Madison Walker on the opening hole of the first-ever women’s playoff in the 14 years of the Missoula-based tournament.
“It was a weird day,” said the 36-year-old Hokom, who added the title to the ones she won in 2012, 2013 and 2015. “We had a ton of lead changes. Everybody had a hard time at some point throughout the weekend. It was just kind of a roller coaster really. I feel really good about it. I think it’s my first Tier A win this year, so that’s exciting for me.”
Hokom, the 2012 world champ, opened the playoff hole with a mid-range shot down the center-right side of the fairway of the par-3, 405-foot hole. She followed with an approach shot that rolled within a foot of the basket for an easy tap in for par.
Bjerkaas, who came into the day trailing by 12 strokes, had a 15- to 18-foot par opportunity to tie and force a second playoff hole. However, the 22-year-old Kansas native’s shot hit off of the chains, bounced off the top of the basket’s rim and tumbled to the ground, forcing her to settle for a bogey. Hokom called it an “uncharacteristic” miss for Bjerkaas, who she said is “traditionally a very good putter.”
Walker, who held a four-stroke lead going into the final round, went for distance on her opening shot of the playoff hole, and her disc landed out of bounds. With the added penalty stroke, the 31-year-old Florida native had to shoot from about 100 feet away for the needed par but ended up overshooting the basket and taking a bogey.
“I’m kind of shocked that I won,” Hokom said. “My putt wasn’t really feeling good most of the weekend. I missed a lot of putts. Otherwise, I threw pretty good shots. I’m very, very satisfied. I don’t think I really won it. I think it was those two mistakes at the end. I didn’t do anything special. I just didn’t mess up. Simple stuff. I think staying relaxed and staying calm and not putting pressure on myself to do well in the playoff was a key today.”
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Hokom didn’t think she’d be in position to win, let alone force a playoff, heading into the final stretch of holes. But as she hit her pars and others struggled, she found herself with the opportunity to win.
The shot that got Hokom into the playoff came from a position where she was hunched under tree branches shooting up a slight hill on the 18th hole. She took about 20 seconds to mimic her putt before she drained a lob-like shot from about 20 feet away to finish with a three-round score of 3-over 178.
“I didn’t even realize I was in the hunt until the back four or five,” Hokom said. “Madison took three double bogeys on the back five, which is how I caught her. I can’t even get birdies on any of these. I just have to play them for par, so playing safe shots and trying to get everything as close as possible so I don’t have any difficult things to do. It worked out. My last putt here on 18 was kind of a tester. I’m actually surprised it went in because I was missing those all day.”
Missoula native Erika Stinchcomb finished in fourth with a 5-over 180.
On the men’s side, Florida native Calvin Heimburg wasn’t planning to play in the Zoo Town Open after struggling the previous weekend. But after deciding he didn’t want to sit out, the 24-year-old played in the tournament, led wire to wire on Sunday and won in runaway fashion.
“I wasn’t feeling great with the way I was playing in Portland, so I figured I was going to spend time this week to try to figure out the issues I was having there,” Heimburg said. “Kind of figured out my putting woes, and I was able to translate it into some great rounds.”
Heimburg shot a final-round 46, the lowest of the three-round tournament, to post a 35-under 142 and win by seven strokes after coming into the day with a two-shot lead. Virginia native James Conrad, ranked fifth in the world, moved up from fourth to finish in second at 28-under, shooting a 13-under final round.
“My whole card was shooting pretty good, so we were pushing each other for some pretty good rounds,” Heimburg said. “I just was trying to keep it in bounds and keep myself close for lots of birdie putts. That’s pretty much the story of this course. The other course not so much; there was a little bit more scrambling involved because it’s a little more wooded. Out here, it was lots of good tee shots and made the birdies relatively easy.”