Snow and fire in Finland at EuroProTour opener

During the application process for the 2018 season, the team behind the RE/MAX Open applied for EuroProTour status for their event.
One of our concerns was the early date in the season. With the Dutch Open having always attracted many Fins exactly due to the weather conditions back home, a certain amount of apprehension existed.
Last year, the EuroProTour’s first ever event was held in Finland too, but that was held a full month later.

Fast forward to early April, and indeed, the course is still covered in snow, daytime temperatures are around or below 0, and the ground is frozen. And a fair amount of “What could possibly go wrong?”

photo: Mikko Seppälä

The RE/MAX core staff and volunteers literally worked around the clock in the days before the event started; due to course conditions, they actually could not get started earlier with preparations, so when they finally could, they worked longer and harder. Lots of patches of thick caked snow were still visible, but the course was in as good a condition as the circumstances allowed.

RE/MAX Open & UDisclive crew, staff, and volunteers – photo: Janne Hirsimäki

The course is situated at the Vierumäki Classic Golf Course, which is part of the Finnish Olympic training centre. The course played a lot like typical courses on ball golf courses; wide open, where strategic choosing of your disc’s landing zone is key; but an overheard quote was “Oh, it’s actually technical course, it’s not just wide open.” As is customary at golf courses, the disc golf fairways end up being wide, but water and bunkers often come into play.

In the preparation for the tournament, its staff reached out to UDisc, to see if they were interested in expanding their services to Europe. In the USA, many of the elite events have live scoring and on screen graphics & stats handled by UDisc, but to date, they had not branched out to Europe yet.
Of course, there was lots of buzz around it. Would it work? Would people like using it? On the spectator side, there was enough positive feedback, but how actively using it was going to be was nothing but a big unknown to almost all. Europe predominantly relies on DiscGolfMetrix for livescoring (and event registration), not in the least the EuroProTour and EuroTour itself. And as such, most players are very aware and familiar with livescoring software, so that made the learning curve less steep. Nevertheless, to explain, support and promote UDisc, Josh Lichti, one of its two founders, made the trip to be on-site during the event.

Now, the event itself; of the 114 players, 99 hail from Finland (= 87%), which is EuroProTour’s largest amount of ‘local’ players to date. 10 Estonians, 2 Swedes, 2 Austrians and 1 Swiss player added the international component to this event, and 5 of them competed in the women’s division.

The women’s division saw a very strong players field; looking at the two most recent European Championships, these women represent its champions, 4 out of 2016’s top 5, and the full top 4 of the 2014 edition. 5 of the top 9 currently top-rated players were present. This was going to be exciting!
Most of these players cross their disc-shaped swords on Europe’s elite fairways on a very regular basis, and this event was no exception.

At 10am local time, the first women’s card head out to the course to fairly chilly, but dry weather. Later in the day, the weather would improve, and warm up to pleasant Finnish spring temperatures.
Hole 1 proved to be a difficult hole to play, 62% of the players field played bogey or worse, and 31% took a triple bogey. Most of the other holes were much more playable, except for holes 10, 17, and 18, where bogey+ hit 53%, 77% and 84% respectively. And those numbers are not due to OB’s; only one OB for each of these holes accounted for these scores.
The opener card were unlucky enough to have made a misplay; after having finished hole 10, they progressed to hole 12 instead, but not before each lady had already accrued at least one penalty stroke.
Henna Blomroos (FI) was the only player to get a birdie on hole 1. And that would not be her last one.
Tinja Väisänen, probably unknown outside of Finland until now, followed Henna’s path with a birdie on hole 2, and it took Eveliina Salonen (FI) until the last hole on the front 9. She had parred every hole until then, where Henna had collected 4 birdies and one bogey. The only other player to score 2+ birdies on the front 9 was Kristin Tattar (EE), who birdied 6 and 7, and she had a triple bogey against her. Only Liis Päid (EE) and Linda Emanuelsson (SE) managed to score birdies on the front 9, but both had collected several single and double bogeys as well.

Henna Blomroos – photo: Mikko Seppälä

On the back 9, Tinja slowly started losing a little bit of ground, and Camilla Grundén (SE), who had started with a bogey on hole 1, and then stringed together 11 pars in a row, finally got her first birdie on hole 13, getting her back on par overall, which moved her into 3rd place for the moment.
Jenni Eskelinen, 2014’s European champion, had played a solid round until then, sitting at +1, due to a 9 hole streak of pars. This round’s longest par or better streak came from Eveliina, who carded her first and only bogey on hole 17, to get right back on par for hole 18, ending her round at -1. Henna played even better, scoring a 974-rated -3, only 7 strokes off the MPO’s leader, who shot a 49.
Tinja at +4 would start the second round in 3rd place, and a 3-way tie between Camilla, Kristin, and Jenni (+5) would see Camilla take the last spot on the lead card.

In MPO, 6 out of Finland’s 8 players with a rating over 1000 were present. Only Seppo Paju (currently on tour in the USA), and retired Jussi Meresmaa failed. Silver Lätt (EE) is the highest-rated non-Fin at 994.
The course seemed a lot more suitable to the men’s skill level (distance?) than the women’s. Only hole 18 had anywhere near half bogeys or worse; 54% to be precise. After that, hole 12 was next in difficulty, with ‘only’ 27% bogey or worse.
And indeed, 22% of the players started the round with a birdie, against 9% (only Henna) in FPO.
It wasn’t until after the 3rd hole that a few players made a ‘real’ difference; Lassi Hakulinen (FI) and Topi Kuusisto (FI) wer the only two players to be 3 for 3 on birdies; against many with 2 birdies at this point. Kuusisto would even go all the way to 4 for 4. Talk about a fiery start! Hakulinen, after having par-ed hole hole 4, got back on the birdie train, and didn’t stop until after hole 8. Teemu Nissinen (FI), Finland’s highest-rated left-handed player, and tipped by many to win this event, sat at -6 after the front 9 were done, and so did Mikael Räsänen (FI). After 14 holes, Janne Hirsimäki (FI) tied Teemu for the lead, then at -8, but Janne would fall back a bit soon after, carding bogeys on 15 and 18. When all was done, Nissinen, at -10, a 1039 rated round, was in the lead by one over Räsänen, and local favourite and bogey-free Mikael Häme (FI), and two over Teemu Kaarela (FI). The best-ranked non-Fin was Albert Tamm (EE) at -5, in tied 12th position.

The second day saw the men tee off first, bottom to top, and the women last. Like the day before, the weather improved as the day progressed, but this day, rain was prominent for most of the day.
5 players got their birdies form the start through hole 2, and very soon after that, word went around that Juhani Vainio was doing great things; he was the only player to get 5 birdies in the first 6 holes. And he wasn’t done yet.

photo: Mikko Seppälä

When the front 9 were played, Vainio sat at a comfortable -7, which at that point had him jump 40 spots up. Overall leader was Mikael Häme at -15, one ahead of Teemu Nissinen, and three ahead of Mikael Räsänen, Teemu Kaarela, and Leo Piironen (FI).
On the back 9, more of the same happened; Vainio simply continued collecting birdies (and no bogeys), which in the end resulted in him making the headlines, a blistering 1048-rated bogey-free -11. And that obviously made him the best mover, climbing up 47 places to tied 7th, and a spot on the chase card.

On the lead card, not much changed. Nissinen (-17) and Häme (-16) got solid -7 rounds. Nissinen with 1 bogey, and Häme with 2. And 3rd spot, at -15 was Räsänen’s, and Antti Mertanen (FI) had claimed fourth at -14; with a -9, and also bogey-free, the second best round of the day.
The chase card for the final round was made up by Luukas Rokkanen (FI), Kaarela, aforementioned Vainio, and Jalle stoor (FI); each one stroke off their nearest competitor. Once again, Albert Tamm was the best-placed non-Fin, this time at tied 13th place.

The ladies teed off when the rain had stopped.
Henna, like the day before, managed to birdie hole 1, but this time she was accompanied by Kristin, and 4 more players managed to get par. Whatever Henna did, it worked. After 9 holes, she sat at -5 for the round. Only Mikael Häme in MPO, with a -6, scored better than her. Eveliina and Kristin, both at -1, and Jenni at par, played really solid disc golf, but were simply no match for Henna. By that time, Henna had already built up a 6 stroke difference between herself and Eveliina, and another 6 to Jenni.
Maybe Henna slowed down, because she started consolidating, but on the back 9 she would only collect one more birdie, to end her absolutely stunning -6 round that got her a 1003, her first, and one of the first Finnish 1000+ rounds.

Kristin ended the second day with a par after a double bogey on hole 18, and was the only other player to play par or better. Eveliina carded a +2, which kept her semi-comfortably in second place overall at +2, 11 strokes behind Henna, and 3 ahead of Kristin. The lead card was, once again, completed by Camilla, who was still tied with Jenni, both sitting 4 behind Kristin.
The chase card seemed to have lost a bit of steam along the way; Jenni still had the podium in sight, and the others, Sini Lindholm (FI), Anne Kettunen (FI) and Tinja were 6, 7, and 7 behind Jenni.

For Sunday, the weather forecast had snow and rain in store. If nothing else, it would at least make for pretty sights of players in the snow. When the first players teed off at 9am; most of the course was covered in a thin layer of snow, and it was still snowing, but it would soon warm up a little, and snow turned to rain, causing the snow on the ground to melt.

photo: Mikko Seppälä

Local hero, and destined to be, what is called the “red lantern” in cycling, the last one in the standings, is Teemu Kirjonen. His rating is 810, and that is 64 behind the nearest-rated player.
As the staff noticed he had scored his first birdie of the tournament on hole 2 in the third round, loud cheers were heard, and the moody vibe due to the snow and cold had been wiped off their faces.
At the other end of the ranking, things couldn’t get hotter. Teemu Nissinen, Räsänen, and Häme were on fire, and Merttanen (still playing a solid round), looked to be standing still in comparison. When three holes were played, both Mikael’s were 3 for 3, and Nissinen 2 for 3. Merttanen was still at par at that moment. From that moment on, things started changing. Räsänen went on to string together birdies and occasional pars, with a -6 after 9 holes. The only players who could respond accordingly to that were Stoor on the chase card, who even managed a -7 at that point, and Silver Lätt with a -6, who until then had played a colourless tournament, starting the round from tied 84th position. And more notably, Nissinen’s lead had changed to him trailing by 1.

Mikael Räsänen – photo: Mikko Seppälä

The other chase card’s players, Vainio, Kaarela, and Rokkanen did what they could to hold on to their positions.

The women’s tee times were placed between men’s 6th and 7th card.
With Henna’s play of the previous two days, probably no one would have doubted her to walk away with the win; her 11-stroke lead simply appeared too comfortable for it to wrong.
Second and third place however were still totally up for grabs between 4 players, Eveliina, Kristin, Camilla, and Jenni. Who of these players was going to remain ‘coolest’ under these snowy and rainy conditions? For once, Henna didn’t birdie hole 1, nor did anyone else. But after 3 holes, her, and first birdie appeared on the board, and 4 players were still at par; Eveliina, Tinja, Hannele, and Natalie. 6 holes later, Hannele actually reached the halfway point in best shape; -2, against Eveliina’s -1, and Sini, who finally seemed to have found her stride, at par. As did Henna. At this point, not only Henna, but Eveliina as well, could start writing their name on first and second place. Henna and Eveliina still 11 apart, but Eveliina now having extended her lead over Kristin from 3 to 7.
All the while, Kristin, Camilla, and Jenni seemed to do a threeway dance for 3rd place. Kristin never actually lost 3rd place from sight, but her four stroke advantage over Camilla had shrunk back to only one stroke after hole 7. Jenni followed closely in the beginning but had lost her pace after hole 6, and it was going to come down to the last few holes. Would Kristin hold on, or would the other two crash her party? But what about Hannele?

If she remained on course, she would actually reach Camilla, and possibly even Kristin. In the end, Kristin held on to 3rd plae, but almost lost it, as she picked up a bogey on 17, and an OB-caused double bogey on 18.

FPO podium – photo: Mikko Seppälä

Back to MPO, where the last few holes were going to decide who was going to crown themselves the RE/MAX Open champion.
Räsänen, carried on with what he had started; alternating birdies with pars.
Nissinen, Häme, and Stoor were constantly changing positions right behind him, but never actually reaching him.
Before his round, Hirsimäki had boasted he’d go for a score in the 40’s definitely possible, but not easy under these circumstances. He managed to, with 11 birdies, and a lone bogey on hole 4; giving him what he aimed for; a 49. That bumped him from tied 13th to tied for 6th.
Stoor had felt the same fire that Räsänen had. All the way through hole 17, they were holding a separate battle; who would en up playing the hot round. In the end, it was Räsänen who did, joined by Rokkanen, and that also decided the top two positions. Luukas had actually come to the front with a vengeance, scoring 8 birdies in the last 10 holes. Nissinen had made an all-or-nothing attempt on hole 18, to try and dethrone Räsänen, but it cost him dearly; a double bogey with an OB on hole 18 made him slide from second to tied for third, trading places with Rokkanen instead.

Nissinen and Häme were left with a playoff to decide who would bring home the 3rd place trophy. After two holes, Nissinen came out on top, and thus, completing the podium.

MPO podium – photo: Mikko Seppälä

For full results check PDGA and UDisclive