Natalie Ryan is writing history on the Professional Disc Golf Association’s elite tier, winning her second elite series title last weekend and making a name for herself as a disc golfer and transgender athlete.
“I had no confidence coming into this season,” Ryan told Outsports after her big win. “I knew I could win, but I didn’t think I could pull it off. I was just hoping for podium finishes.”
At last weekend’s MVP Open at Maple Hill in Leicester, Mass., the tour’s first-ever transgender event-winner grabbed a second elite-series title in a tense three-way fight that needed 19 holes to decide against the top two women on the elite tour
In that final round, Ryan entered the day with a 1-shot lead on Estonia’s Kristin Tattar, who was seeking a fourth-straight win en route to the season tour championship. Looming 2 shots behind was perennial tour superstar Paige Pierce.
It was a far cry from where Ryan sat after round one. She was 9 shots off the lead at 7-over 67.
“I for sure thought I was out of it,” she noted. “Being 9 shots back on a course that difficult for everybody. It didn’t think it would possible for me to comeback.
“My caddy said, ‘three rounds of 1000-rated golf and you are back in it’.”
Through rounds two and three a strong mid-range game and clutch putting moved Ryan from 27th to 9th, to a screaming 3-under 57 that put her atop the leaderboard. From there, she survived an up-and-down fourth round that saw herself, Tattar and Pierce exchange the lead four times. After 18 holes, Tattar and Ryan ended up tied at the top at 1-over.
It set up a do-over at 18 for the playoff, where each put up par in regulation and neither had managed to birdie through the entire weekend.
This looked to be the place where Tattar would snatch her 10th win of the year. She had won the PDGA World Championship three weeks ago.
“When it came to the playoff I wasn’t calm,” Ryan said. “I was freaking out as I threw those shots. Before I threw I just muttered ‘you can do this’ under my breath, just to keep driving myself forward to shatter that pressure that was sitting on my shoulders.”
Ryan responded with a strong tee shot that dwarfed a more conservative cast by Tattar, who said the drives off 18 had been a challenge most of the weekend.
The Estonian’s second shot deftly found the green with a solid chance for a birdie. The response from Ryan was a rising cast that soared into the green, banked off a rock wall and settled neatly into an optimal birdie opportunity.
Tattar’s birdie attempt clanged off the basket.
Ryan converted her birdie putt to explosive cheers as she took the win and a trophy she’ll add to her history-making winner’s trophy earned at the Great Lakes Open in July.
Even in victory, she admits that the pressure and drama was so great that everything after that last putt was a blur.
“My heart was racing so much and my head was all over the place,” she said. “It was so loud and I was so happy at the moment that I actually pulled it off.”