August 31, 2022 by Kingsley Flett in Analysis with comments
I played Worlds in 2011 and 2012, so I remember well the 36 hour journey from Western Australia. The antipode (the direct line through the center of the earth) of Emporia, Kansas, would come out of the Indian Ocean offshore from where I live, so if I was to skip the airlines and drill straight through, it would be a 2600 mile shorter trip. I mention this only to emphasize the sense of strangeness that comes from waking up in the middle of the night to write about a disc golf tournament on the other side of the world.
My father is nearly 90 years old and grew up in the tough gold mining towns deep in the West Australian desert. He barely gets what frisbees are, let alone disc golf.
“You’re up bloody early,” he said this morning. “Yeah I’m writing about a disc golf tournament in America,” I replied. He held my gaze for a couple of blinks and then went back to reading the newspaper, clearly deciding to not engage with this nonsense.
But competing in the Worlds is such a big part of my own personal storyline that I feel bonded to the big show. My interest in other pro tour events might wane depending on what else is going on in my life, but I always tune in for the Worlds and the USDGC. I’ll need to adjust my sleep cycle to catch the FPO for the rest of the week as this morning I was only awake in time for the men.
The Disc Golf Network production standards have continued their upward path, with multiple cameras seamlessly switching between a few cards and managing to catch a wide sample of the action. The drone shots were impressive but used sparingly, which is a lesson most YouTubers need to learn. I particularly liked how the aerial view gave a sense of place, showing where disc golf fits in this town of 24,000 that has come to play such a big part in the story of the sport.
The five-day format and the Saturday finish gives the event an earlier start in the week than the rest of the tour. It’s clearly too early in the week for the Emporia locals, as the absence of a gallery was noticeable, but it was also strangely relaxing and enjoyable. With just the cameras and the players on the course, there was an intimacy, like watching a Saturday morning round with some friends. The tension was there, of course, but that competitive pressure seemed like the early stages of the Tour de France: with players just trying to stay in the hunt, knowing there are a lot of shots to be thrown between now and Saturday.
Eagle McMahon put it best in his post-round interview. “You can’t win it in the first round, but you can definitely shoot yourself out of it, so I was happy to finish strong,” he said. “I just tried to play steady, shot by shot, and not do anything too crazy.” That measured approach earned him a share of the pool A lead and a place on tomorrow’s lead card.
Brian Earhart is a welcome addition to the commentary team for a technique-nerd like myself. His background in coaching and analysis showed. When talking through Simon Lizotte’s shot of the day, an outside-circle putt that had to be scooped low under an overhanging branch from one knee, he pointed out how crucial it was that Lizotte had his rear leg stretched all the way back as a counterbalance to avoid touching a hand down in front of his lie. “Ken Climo always says that the further that back leg is back the harder you can put,” Earhart said when describing the shot. You can’t quote a higher authority than that.
It was a rare highlight for Lizotte though, whose five OB penalties left him nine shots off the lead and in a tie for 100th place. A drone shot of him dragging his feet down the fairway on hole 14 drew a comment from Nate Doss.
“Simon looks uninterested,” he said. That was echoed by Terry Miller on the course a few minutes later.
Paul McBeth was giving some body language of his own in the early holes. The camera caught hm looking skyward like he’d been betrayed, as putt after putt just wouldn’t drop. “Putting was nowhere near what I wanted today,” he said in his post-round interview. “I felt like if I was outside 15 feet, I had no idea if it was going in. I’ve just got to go back to the putting green and figure something out. Everything felt good but it’s not releasing right. I’m surprised it was a nine [under par] to be honest. I feel like I’m in a great position given how I putted today.”
Something else seemed different about McBeth. I couldn’t put my finger on it. Again, it was Brian Earhart who picked up the difference.
“I don’t know if you notice that McBeth is not touching the back of his disc in his backhand anymore,” he said. That was it, all those pictures of McBeth with those long pianists’ fingers of his off-hand spread and just touching the top of the disc as he lines up a shot. That mannerism was gone. It was like James Conrad no longer fanning himself with the disc before a shot or Ricky ditching the raptor legs. Later in the commentary, Earhart was describing Väinö Mäkelä’s “biomechanically sound off-arm action” as “very systematic, very Finnish,” which was similar to how McBeth seems to have adjusted his technique. Simpler, with fewer moving parts.
Earhart has brought an element to the commentary that I enjoy. Our game is very expressive. As James Conrad says, “we each spin the disc our own way.” We all bring a unique combination of lever lengths, strength, flexibility, and coordination to our throwing style.
The book on throwing technique has only just started to be written. Not only is individual style a rich part of the story of the sport, the discussion of it is also instructive for newer players.
Mäkelä put together an impressive 10-under round to be sharing first place with five other players in pool A, and he’ll have a spot on the chase card with McBeth tomorrow at the Emporia Country Club. It seems that the entry pass for the lead card is driving 600 feet, with the combination of Garrett Gurthie, Aaron Gossage, Eagle McMahon, and Anthony Barela bound to create some fireworks on the golf course tomorrow.
What Tristan Tanner’s 13-under, provisionally 1087 rated round at the Country Club means to the competition will be revealed by the end of tomorrow, too, as both pools compete both courses before the field is shuffled. But I’ll be watching Eagle McMahon and Paul McBeth the closest. Both seemed to have a little left in the tank yet are right in the mix regardless.
Notably, the wind isn’t just Kansas calm, it’s actually calm, and similar conditions are forecast through to Thursday at least. I’ll be looking forward to some low scores tomorrow as the tension gradually builds towards the weekend.