PopStroke Scottsdale Hosts Competitive Putting Finale

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Teams and individuals competed for $60,000 in prize money.

The list of notable Swedish exports is impressive: ABBA, IKEA, Volvo and now, the Swedish Putting Team, whose six members constitute a super group in the world of competitive putting. This smorgasbord of Swedes has been a fixture in the sport for years, collectively earning thousands of dollars in prize money in team and individual events.

Competitive putting has grown into a big money sport. No longer a sub-culture, it attracts serious competitors who participate in season-long events throughout the country. Most require buy-ins, sometimes up to $2,500 or more for high roller tournaments, but generally in the $100/Individual to $600/Team fees.

The evolution of the sport

It’s not common knowledge that mini-golf was invented by Old Tom Morris in 1867, at iconic St. Andrews Links in Scotland. The course was specifically designed to give women a place to play, and became the St. Andrews Ladies’ Putting Club, locally known as The Himalayas.

The “short game” concept eventually crossed the pond and, in 1916, James Barber created the Thistle Dhu course at Pinehurst, often considered the first mini-golf course in the country.

A deeper dive into the booming sport reveals a surprising number of competitive putting associations and competitions.

The North Carolina-based Putt-Putt® Corporation, for example, has carried the mini-golf banner for nearly 70 years. The company is credited with establishing the Professional Putters Association (PPA) and has sponsored competitions that have awarded over $8 million in prize money.

The Major Series of Putting (MSOP), World Putting League, National Putting Tour and the US Pro Minigolf Association (USPMGA) are just a few entities that also sponsor tournaments with significant purses.

PopStroke becomes a leader in the field

The newest and, arguably, best-funded and fastest growing entry into the field is PopStroke, the high tech, outdoor putting and entertainment concept that includes Tiger Woods and TaylorMade Golf as partners.

Since the first PopStroke opened in 2019, the nine current locations around the country have organized leagues and qualifying tournaments that all lead up to the year-end PopStroke Tour Championships (PTC).

Held this year at the Scottsdale, AZ PopStroke, the team competition featured a $50,000 purse, with $10,000 awarded to the winning two-person team and the balance split among the remaining top 25 teams. The two-day competition consisted of four rounds on both 18-hole red and black courses – two rounds of best ball, followed by a round of alternate shot and a final round of aggregate scoring.

The singles competition purse of $10,000 was divided between the winner ($3,000) of the three-round, stroke play tournament and the top eight finishers.

Among the favorites coming into the competition, members of the gregarious Swedish Putting Team finally met their match and uncharacteristically went home with no first place checks or belts.

They did take second, third and fourth in in the team competition, but only Alexander Molina (T3) and last year’s winner Mattias Hägglöf (7) cracked the top 10 Individual money list.

The competitors buzzed about the difficulty of the Scottsdale courses and the unusually high scores. It was a level playing field because the venue was new and very few golfers had ever been on site.

Remarked Swede Kevin Sundstrom, who dropped from second in 2022 singles to a T12 place this year, “It’s a very tough, tough course. Especially the red one. It’s a monster right now when the speed is so fast.”

His team captain, Hans Olofsson, admitted to preferring the Sarasota, FL PopStroke, where he placed third in singles last year. The 49-year old putting enthusiast owns and operates five mini-golf entertainment venues in and near Stockholm (three outdoors, two indoors) and is considered a legend in the sport.

“It takes more skill there, I think,” he said of Sarasota. “I mean, the outcome here is decided a little bit more by luck than by skill. Here you have to play a lot of bounces.”

Degree of difficulty was no obstacle for team winners, rookie Tri Nguyen and his partner Adam Shanks, a veteran competitor, caddie and fixture on the putting circuit.

Their one-shot victory over the talented field was extraordinary, considering the two had never met or practiced together prior to the championship. Nguyen, a young financial professional from Katy, TX, needed a partner and was referred to Tennessean Shanks by a mutual friend. It turned out to be a profitable pairing for both.

Said Nguyen as he held up his winner’s belt proudly, “I texted him. I said ‘you don’t have to take me as your partner, but just know if we are, I’m coming here to win. So I’m going to play as hard as I can.’ I’m glad it paid off.”

The singles title was won by veteran competitor Chris Johnson, more often seen at the team winners’ podium with long-time partner Jacob Stasiulewicz.

Even PGA Tour pros compete

Competitive putting brings out a unique and diverse group of players of all ages, genders, skill levels and putting styles. Even PGA pro Taylor Montgomery competed in Scottsdale, finishing T14 in the team event.

The 28-year old UNLV graduate is statistically the best putter on the PGA tour (1st in putts per round; 1st in one-putt percentage; 1st in average distance of putts made, 2nd in strokes gained putting).

He put that skill to good use on the MSOP series, where he won three titles and well over $100,000 to help finance his budding PGA career.

In Scottsdale he said, “I love like the whole putting thing. I think it’s fun because everybody can do it. You don’t have to be like physically gifted or anything like that.”

He calls his $75,000 win at the first MSOP event in 2017 a career highlight.

“The first year was awesome. It was a big arena and they had a huge leaderboard,” he said. “It was the most fun I’ve ever had playing in any golf event, and that’s amazing to say because I played in a couple US Opens. It was really cool to putt in the middle of the Strip in Vegas. And the money was unbelievable for a putting contest.”

Another surprise Scottsdale competitor was retired LPGA Tour golfer Charlotta Sorenstam, younger sister of Hall of Fame member, Annika. Charlotta, who had never tried mini-golf putting, was talked into playing by her friend Robert DeLosh, an avid competitor who came into the finals ranked fourth in the country.

Currently a performance golf coach at the Bradenton, FL, IMG Academy, 50-year old Charlotta has no plans to pursue competitive putting, even though she and her teammate finished a very respectable T6. Instead, her focus is on qualifying for another US Women’s Senior Open (she finished T11 in 2023) and playing in Legends Tour events.

There is a real sense of camaraderie in the competitive putting world. Most of these golfers face each other numerous times throughout the year and while some names appear consistently atop the leaderboards – the Swedes, Johnson, Stadum, Stasiulewicz, DeLosh – newcomers are warmly welcomed into the community.

Drive for show, putt for dough

Putting is a great equalizer. A high handicapper on a regulation 18-hole course could still become the best mini-golf putter in the world. The sport requires just one club, a ball and a place to practice. And as the number of indoor and outdoor putting courses increases, so do the opportunities to join a league and begin to climb the ladder to competitive putting dominance.

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