The pro’s have started to descend upon Maple Hill in Leicester, MA and our Facebook feeds and Twitter feeds have started to see pictures and flight updates of all the top touring players as they travel out east. They’re the ones that remain at the top of the game, and win every National Tour event on the schedule. The interesting thing is the difference in their games and technique.
In a lot of ways, even with the young age of disc golf as a sport, we’re force fed “the basics.” There is a certain form that seems most natural, and there has been a vocabulary born out of that that is adopted as “the way.” Things like the “X-step,” “power grip,” and “push putt” come to mind. It’s never bad to have basic pointers in mind when coaching a new comer to disc golf. But a lot of folks hold on to a certain technique as the right way, instead of a good way. Yesterday I mentioned a handful of players that might win this weekend’s Vibram Open, but today I want to mention three players that I am rooting for. They don’t really subscribe to the assumed “way of doing things” when it comes to disc golf.
Cale Leiviska is a Minnesota based disc golfer who is known for throwing push putts to the wind and has primarily used a spin putt for most of his career. This year we see him using a mix of the two on shorter come-back putts, but for the most part Cale is a confident spin putter. He mentions this fact in this YouTube clip/interview (starting at 2:15)- elaborating by saying “…if I’m feeling on, I shouldn’t miss any putts anyways…” I’m hoping he takes down the Vibram this year. It would be his second National Tour stop, and would further establish his place among the top players.
Michael Johansen is everyone’s favorite casual disc golfer… except his game is beyond casual. He threw the best round of the year at Worlds, with an 1113 rated 41 in the second round. It was a round that will go down in history, as he only left one hole out of 18 un-birdied. He makes things look easy, and does things his own way. The time he takes (or lack there of) to line up and toss a putt makes commentators cringe (for those who watched Worlds on DGPTV), and his grip on drives appears to be just as casual. We hear him explain his simple philosophy on grip in this Discraft video at 1:33. The movement of the thumb and middle fingers controls the flight plate- the rest is grip pressure. He isn’t over complicating things with power grips, stacked fork grips, modified fan grips- he just fan grips it every time. I would be rooting for Michael Jo this weekend, but he’s not registered for the Vibram that I can see… I guess I will have to root very, very, very hard for him to have a shot at winning…
Lastly there’s Paul Ulibarri. He just won his first A-Tier of the year out in Michigan, and he seems poised to put up some good rounds. Beyond that however, I’ve always liked his style (though his clothing style is something I’d never try to pull off- see the video below for last year’s Vibram Open pink outfit). He has a great sidearm, and a deadly walk-through putt that leaves people wishing they had a slo-mo camera to see if he foot faults (sorry guys, it looks legit!). He’s always up near the top of the leader board, and stays up there despite the fact that he doesn’t use the classic “X-step” run up on his back hand drives. He actually tends to put his left foot in FRONT of his right foot on his way up the tee pad, as he makes a shuffle move to transfer his power to the front foot and then pivot around for his long distance drives. Check it out here, in a clip from last year’s Vibram Open. I’ve been a fan of his ever since seeing a live DGPTV feed where the commentator mentioned a story involving his brother. Disclaimer: this is from memory, and may not be 100% accurate, but so be it! He was playing in a big tournament, and his putting was letting him down big time. When most people weren’t watching him, Paul walked past a trash barrel and quietly placed his two go-to putters inside, and walked on. However, his brother wasn’t most people, and he spotted it- walked behind him, took them out of the trash- and brought them to him on the next hole. Granted, this is a word of mouth story that I’m sure I got some details wrong in, but having a brother myself, who looked after me- this always has me hoping Paul comes out as the winner in big tournaments. He’s played well at Maple Hill in the past, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see him up on top of the leader board after three solid rounds.
Being unconventional doesn’t mean a player is starting some revolution, or even trying to convince everyone to do things their way. It does however in this case, distinguish one player from another in a way that makes me root for them. This weekend I’m not hoping an underdog takes it down, but I am hoping someone slightly unexpected and unconventional can come out on top.