Every wonder how good these “pros” are? I assumed that they were not much better than me. After all, I won all the local events in San Diego. Not just won, but dominated. I guess you could say that I thought I was a pro. So, I wanted to go to Las Vegas and compete in the ACO King of Cornhole competition to find out exactly where my skill level was at against the pros. Lets just say that I was in for a bit of a surprise.
About a year ago I started working for a company called Vorticy Sports, Inc. located in San Diego, CA. They manufacture high quality Cornhole products under the name BagToss.com. I met the owner, Mark Pryor, playing softball. He introduced me to this game while tailgating prior to a football game. He taught me that nothing goes better with a beer and BBQ than Bag Toss. When I started playing with him he would kick my butt every game. At first I shrugged it off like I didn’t care, but that quickly changed. The game was like a drug. I was hooked and wanted to get better. I started practicing every chance I could. I used to pitch in baseball and my training from that sport, where technique is everything, helped me to find a natural bag toss swing. In a few months I was beating Pryor. I won every event we had in 2009. My game was really good; so I thought.
Pryor invited me to attend the 2009 King of Cornhole event held at The Orleans Casino in Las Vegas. A few weeks leading up to the event we trained everyday for a few hours. We would compete against each other honing our skills to a new level. We got to a point where two in the hole was minimum, three in the hole was good and all four in was where we wanted to be. On average I think we were at 2.5 bags out of four in the hole. We felt like we were locked in and at the very least we would be tough competition for the pros.
Dave Wasserman in 1st round of the 2009 KOC Tournament
There were some unknowns going into this competition. The biggest unknown was the tournament bags. We had been playing with 400g 10oz duck cloth. These bags had a great feel, very predictable, nice slide and easy to toss. We tried to get our hands on the tournament bags but the ACO were out of stock. We knew this would be a learning curve and we only had two days to practice with the bags prior to the main event. We arrived in Vegas on Thursday and the main event was on Saturday. We immediately headed over to the event site to get our hands on the bags and see how they feel. All day Thursday we practiced on the old style ACO tournament bags. These bags were apparently a little bit smaller and lighter than the new ACO tournament bags. They had a suede side which was very slow on the boards and synthetic fiber side where was very fast. This was kind of an uh-oh moment for us. We were scrambling in our head trying to figure out which side to devote our game to. Certainly there would be times when both sides would come in handy, but which side is the “go to” side. You know, the one that you start with and the one you feel most comfortable shooting. The fast side was challenging because the bags would shoot of the back side if you didn’t hole it or put enough arc under it. But it was great because it would find the hole if you got it close. It would just slip in. The bag would almost start to slide on its own while on the board. That’s how slick it was. The suede side was super grippy. You had to fire the bag low and hard to get it to slide in the hole. This was certainly the side if you wanted to put up a blocker or you needed to go airmail and wanted to minimize the chance of going off the back side. We spent Thursday and Friday watching and learning, but it wasn’t clear cut. For instance, Matt Guy and his son Brent were shooting low and hard with the suede side. While several others seemed to prefer the slick side like Steve Vanderver. I preferred shooting mostly with the sticky side while Pryor was favoring the slick side. We got to a point where we felt pretty good about our game. We were practicing with other players and we were holding our own. But what about the pros?
Well, it soon became clear that the pros where just that, pros. They were playing at a whole other level. Maybe even two levels. When they practice against each other, they only count airmails as points (only allowed to touch the rim of the hole). And they were hitting these just as well as if they slid them in from the deck. Where we were stoked with our average 2.5 bags out of 4, they were disappointed with 3.5. These guys had skills and we knew then that we were easy pickens. Needless to say, we didn’t make it past the first round in a field of 64 players. Well, actually Pryor made it to the 2nd round only because his first opponent didn’t show. But in round 2, Pryor went down swiftly.
We had the pleasure of becoming fans at that point and watching some of the best matches we ever witnessed. The best match of the tournament was played by 2nd seed Steve Vanderver (Ohio) and 18th seed Dave Sutton (Illinois) in the 3rd round. Watching these guys play was just absolutely amazing. Their best of three match lasted just a bit over two hours. It was a battle that seemed like every time one would score the other would match it in unbelievable fashion. After the first 2 games, it was all tied up at one a piece. The tie breaker was a back and forth battle. Both were hitting shot after shot not making a mistake. Sutton was strategically locating blocker bags in front of the hole and Steve with super human skills would fly the bag over Suttons for consecutive airmails. This drama packed match was exhausting for the fans and it was hard to imagine what how the players felt. Vanderver came through in probably my most memorable round of the tournament. The game was tied at 20-20 when Sutton and Vanderver both sunk their first 2 bags. Sutton set a solid blocker. Vanderver attempted an airmail but missed long over the board. At this point, all Sutton had to do was to sink his last bag and the match was his. Sutton took his shot and the bag landed just left of the hole. The score on the board was now 8-6 Sutton. Steve must hit an airmail to win the game. A bag on the board and Sutton wins. At this point there were about 300 people in the room holding their breath. Vanderver calmly locates his target. You know what he needs to do. He needs an airmail. He lets it fly, and in remarkable fashion, Vanderver the number 2 seed in the country, drains it! The crowd erupted in awe. Sutton, still buzzing by a near victory, looks around in slight disbelief. Fans quickly rallied around the two players proclaiming this game as one of the best they had witnessed. Truly a remarkable display of skill and mental endurance. A battle of epic proportions. Seriously, ESPN missed out on a great sporting moment. They are dropping the ball by not giving press to a game that is nationally accepted as the best tailgating game ever. They will soon learn.
Matt Guy vs Steve Vanderver in the 2009 King of Cornhole Championship
The Championship match was between 1st seed Matt Guy (Kentucky) and 2nd seed Steve Vanderver (Ohio). It was definitely a match that had been anticipated throughout the tournament. Matt Guy was unstoppable throughout the tournament and lost only one game leading up to the championship. Steve fought some amazing battles from the 3rd round all the way to the championship, and in a way seemed destined to steal the title from 3 peat Matt Guy. Matt came out firing and took the first game with authority. In second game, Matt was beat by an incredibly sharp Vanderver. In game three, Matt would start by scoring 6 points which seemed to shake Steve a little. Steve then closed the gap to tie it at 7. Matt locked on and hit about 16 of 16 bags and all though Steve kept up the score, Matt was on fire. Soon the score was Matt 17 and Steve 10. Matt hit 4 bags in the last round to Steve’s 2 bags in the hole and 2 on the board. Matt wins the 2009 King of Cornhole National Championship. His 4th consecutive title!
Matt Guy and Steve Vanderver Battling in game 3.
Although we felt disappointed with our first national tournament showing, we were really pleased with the event. We got to meet a lot of new people who love the sport just as much and maybe even more than we did. The best part about the event was that everyone, even the pros, had a real down-to-earth attitude. Games carried on in a friendly way. The only time anyone got upset is when they missed a shot they thought they should have hit. It was a valuable experience to play against the pros. To be a pro you need to work really hard at accuracy and consistency. The airmail shot is important to have. I plan on working hard to bring my game to the next level. With enough work and determination, I too will become a pro.
by David Wasserman