(Note: For those who don’t know, I also run a disc golf blog — Rattling Chains. I have written some first-person posts over there that I think some readers here will enjoy, so I’m going to sprinkle them in every once in a while on a day when I’m coming up blank!)
It seems fitting to have played a round of disc golf with 2010 PDGA world champion Eric McCabe in Canastota, New York.
Canastota is home to the International Boxing Hall of Fame. It’s also home to one of Central New York’s hidden gems when it comes to disc golf — Oxbow Falls Park.
I say this spot is fitting because when McCabe stepped out of the car driven by Syracuse-area pro Eric Trippany, my first thought about McCabe was not “disc golfer.”
If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought McCabe was in Canastota for a prize fight. See, with his reddish beard and smaller stature, he seemed more like a welterweight fighter than a disc golfer.
Picture the famed pugilists from Boston — that’s the first thing I thought when I saw McCabe.
All that seemed to be missing were McCabe’s fists to be taped up and some old-school trainer with a deep and growling voice (such as Mickey in the Rocky movies) hollering advice…
“Get ’em EMac. You’re a machine! Knock him out!”
Speaking along the boxing analogy lines, if there were judges at ringside for this round I played alongside McCabe, it would have been a unanimous decision in his favor.
Reality is, however, McCabe isn’t a boxer. He’s a champion disc golfer. And the way he carries himself, you might not ever guess it.
In fact, he’s basically one of the guys.
In my years of being a sportswriter, I only got intimidated once or twice. And I’ve had the chance to interview some of the greatest players in the history of baseball, among others. I don’t get spooked around sports figured too often.
But there was something about playing with McCabe that got my nerves fired up. Maybe it’s because I’m not a top-level player and I was about to play a casual round with a guy who makes his living off the sport?
Those nerves settled fast, however.
McCabe was outgoing, engaging and funny. He took second shots, ended up in the trees and didn’t have a perfect shot every time.
Sort of like going out and playing with your buddies.
Still, if you’re playing a round with friends, it’s likely you hope to win a hole or two. Or more, depending on your skill level. Playing alongside McCabe and Trippany. though, was like facing Mike Tyson in his prime — no chance to win, but looking for a way to score a round or two — and last the entire fight.
The round was filled with some minor idle chatter — about photography (McCabe is often snapping photos, as evidenced with his participation in the disc golf photography group on Facebook), travel, the pro tour, discs and anything else.
Never did he act like he was big time. That’s refreshing. In a day when celebrities or professional athletes are under a watchful eye, it’s nice to know somebody can make a living playing disc golf, yet still act down to earth.
But one can’t help to dream when playing someone of that caliber. My goal was simple — tie him on one hole. That’s all I wanted to do. Usually, my goal is to take the box from the group one time during the round — I wasn’t setting my goal too high.
The first hole showed the nerves as I somewhat grip-locked my drive. But, the disc, thankfully, smacked a tree and it didn’t get out of whack too bad. From there, I relaxed and watched McCabe and Trippany play the course, pulling off a variety of amazing shots.
I know many in my situation would be using this time to pick the brains of somebody the caliber of McCabe, a 1027-rated player. Maybe ask for some advice or get some ideas on how to improve.
I’d rather sit back and watch him perform. I may not understand exactly everything he’s doing, but I’m watching and seeing what kind of things he’s doing to the disc.
Take one example on a hole that bends to the left. The basket isn’t in view, so one just needs to know the hole. He sent a high drive that curved around the top of the trees. Alas, though I thought the shot was a thing of beauty, he knew he flew past the basket.
And he did — into the brush. The shot he had for birdie was 40 or 50 feet. And he had to battle some bushes and trees. Not an easy shot for anybody of any level.
McCabe was calm, looked things over and sent a high, arcing shot right into the chains. The putt was amazing. Much like most of his putts that day. He putted with confidence and authority. And, most of the time, he made it look easy.
In the end, it wasn’t close.
But I tied the 2010 world champion on two or three holes. I think it was three, but I can’t fully remember. Now, to be fair, these ties came early in the round. Once he truly warmed up, it wasn’t close.
The ringside judges would have agreed. But who am I kidding? This would have been a TKO — a quick one.
This first appeared on Rattling Chains on Nov. 30, 2012.
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