Just because professional disc golfers throw farther, score lower, and can leap tall buildings in a single bound (two out of three ain’t bad, right?) doesn’t mean they aren’t like the rest of us mere mortals.
Pros Are People, Too is a new series at Noodle Arm Disc Golf where we’ll get to know some of these disc golf superheroes on a more personal level. Sure, I’ll ask them some disc golf-related questions, but there’s more to these men and women than what’s in their bags and how highly they were rated at their last tournaments, and I’m going to get to the bottom of what that is. It might result in some unconventional questions, but if they answer them, I’ll print them.
The most recent professional to take time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions is 2010 World Champion Eric McCabe. And when I say busy, I mean busy.
Between touring, representing the exponentially growing Dynamic Discs, co-hosting the popular Disc Golf Answer Man podcast, and launching a championship-level course design business, McCabe is the epitome of booked. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have time to appreciate disc golf history, other major sports, or Saved By the Bell.
What’s your disc golf origin story? Take me back to the first time you played. What did you throw? Did you love disc golf from the start, or did it take a while to grow on you?
My disc golf adventures began way back in high school. Nineteen ninety-three was the first year I played a round of disc, (when) I was introduced to the sport by good friends Jim Ramsey, Don Carter and Mike Gentry. The course I learned to play on was Jones West in Emporia, Kansas.
I threw anything I could get my hands on back then, but my very first disc was a glow Stealth from Lightning Discs. I still have that disc in my collection to this day.
Between touring, representing Dynamic Discs, podcasting, and designing courses, you’re a busy guy. Did you ever envision disc golf being this broad-reaching of a career for you? How do you manage your time?
It’s very difficult at times. For the past 12 years I’ve been touring full time and making disc golf my main source of income. In the beginning, I probably didn’t see DG as a career in my future, mainly because back then it was unheard of.
I’m honored and thankful every day to represent a company such as Dynamic Discs. Their vision and passion for the growth of the sport is nothing short of amazing. Being a part of this family is what keeps my fire going. I am very busy most of the time, between the Disc Golf Answer Man Podcast, DynamicDiscs.TV, course design and tournament play. I don’t know where I find time to practice or even take a break. But I love every minute of it, and wouldn’t change anything.
Looking at your career PDGA statistics, some fans may not know you first started playing in the Open division in 2000. How much has your game changed since you went pro?
I would say as far as basic form goes, I’ve tweaked it slightly over the years. My mental game is much, much stronger now than it was back in 2000. I would venture to say the 2015 EMac would kick the 2000 Sprout’s butt!
Speaking of how the game has changed, what has been the biggest change you’ve noticed in the sport since your World Championship win in 2010?
Media. Seems like we’re getting noticed more and more every week, from ESPN’s Top 10 to live Internet coverage of most all of the larger events. More disc manufacturers are popping up all the time as well; there are quite a bit more people making an actually living off the sport now than then, too.
Having won Worlds, do you go back each year with more confidence since you know what it takes to win, or is it still a slog every year since it is a longer event?
Worlds is a marathon, not a sprint. Typically the cream rises to the top at events like Worlds, where you have to be consistent the entire week.
I go in to the World Championship with just as much confidence as any other event I play. It has been getting more and more difficult to compete at the highest level, with the talent in the field now. My gears have slightly shifted from being a player that practices and works on their game every day to (being) a promoter of the sport and a champion course designer. This is my passion; my dream and goal is to install my signature courses all over the world.
Now that you have launched a course design business, is there a signature element we can look for in your designs?
I wouldn’t necessarily say there is a certain element I incorporate in my designs, I personally like to make each one unique in their own way. In my last couple designs I’ve incorporated an elevated basket, which I personally think adds a level of uniqueness to a course, but it isn’t a must.
How many courses have you designed so far, and what have you learned throughout the process of growing your design business?
I currently have around a dozen, with a few more on the horizon. It’s been a great process thus far and I’m really looking forward to the future.
“I still feel we’re a long way from being mainstream. The growth has been exponential in the past five years alone, but I feel we still have a ways to go. Which is fine – we need those growing pains to ensure proper growth.”
What has it been like to watch Dynamic Discs grow from a small retailer to a full-blown powerhouse that takes over Emporia for the Glass Blown Open? Did you see this coming when you made the move over from Discraft?
Discraft treated me well for the 10 years I was with them. I’m thankful for everything they did for me. That being said, when I was informed that Dynamic Discs was going to start manufacturing their own discs with Latitude 64°, it was an easy decision for me.
I’ve been with DD since the beginning. I was there when the logo was picked out in the original DD shop – (DD founder Jeremy) Rusco’s attic. DD was from my hometown, and was very involved within the community. Not to mention, they took over my event, The Glass Blown Open. This is my family.
I didn’t know that used to be your event! How did you initially start that, and was the move to having DD handle it difficult because you were letting go of your baby, or easy because it was DD?
When I first started playing, probably for the first five or six years, the tournament was called the Emporia Open and was run by locas Kevin Babbit and Ty Wheeler. I took over the event, renamed it and ran it for about six years with good friends Gabe Werly and Nate Martin.
Having DD take over the event was a very easy decision. After all, they have always been known for running quality events. Here we are, 13 years later, and the event has grown into one of the largest and best events on tour. Proud papa!
What was it like captaining the U.S. team at the President’s Cup? Do you think that disc golf could benefit by more “rivalry”-type setups in competition?
It was an absolute honor to be “Captain America” and lead Team USA to victory. The President’s Cup is an amazing event, and that victory ranks up there with both of my Major wins.
I believe the sport could benefit from more rivalry-type events, especially when it’s international. Jussi (Meresmaa, President’s Cup tournament director) has done an amazing job with this event, and like the Ryder Cup, I feel this event should be even more prestigious than it already is. It’s a bucket list (item) for all top players to represent their country at this event.
Disc golf has benefited, as you alluded to earlier, from some recent ESPN coverage. Do you ever see the sport making it to a larger broadcast scale? Do you even want it to, or do you sit on the slow growth side of the argument?
I think it’s great exposure, being viewed by millions of people on ESPN. That being said, I still feel we’re a long way from being mainstream. The growth has been exponential in the past five years alone, but I feel we still have a ways to go. Which is fine – we need those growing pains to ensure proper growth.
I would like to see more exposure of our tournaments broadcasted on public access. The GBO was on local TV on Emporia, much like the European Open in Finland. I would also like to see a 30-minute segment on disc golf on ESPN or Fox Sports instead of a few seconds on the Top 10. Not that I’m not grateful for the exposure – because let’s face it, who doesn’t love hearing John Anderson or Neil Everett mention our wonderful sport on Sportscenter?
What is the best tip – be it for form, equipment, mentality, or anything else – you could give a noodle arm to make he or she more competitive?
The most important thing to remember is remove all doubt, and be as confident as possible. This truly goes a long way.
I know you’re a big sports fan outside of disc golf. Which sport or teams do you follow the most closely?
Outside of disc golf I’m a huge college basketball and Major League Baseball man. My two teams I follow are the Kansas Jayhawks and Kansas City Royals. I’m also a huge fan of the PGA and follow quite a few golfers, two of which include Rod Pampling and John Senden. Both are friends of the McCabe family.
Do you see golf as a sport on the downswing as many others do, or do you feel like it has a rich enough history that it can survive ebbs and flows in popularity?
It’s really hard to say. I would guess that numbers are slightly down, but let’s face it: Golf’s not going anywhere. I do really enjoy seeing more and more golf courses incorporating disc, and even foot, golf to help with revenue.
It looks like the Royals are all-in this year with some of the moves they are making. Do you think they can finish it off this season?
I know they can. I feel a lot of them have some unfinished business after last season. They’re currently the best team in the American League, and after our two huge pickups of (infielder Ben) Zobrist and (pitcher Johnny) Cueto, I’m sure they’ll go deep in the playoffs once again.
Rewind the clock. You decide not to pursue disc golf as a career. What do you do?
Great question. I would imagine I would probably have followed my family to Texas and played a lot more golf. But it’s really hard to say, seeing as how in my life I’ve been playing disc golf longer than I haven’t.
Obviously you spend a ton of time on the road every year. What do you miss the most about home when you are out on tour?
There are a couple things that come to mind, Coach’s being one of them. It’s a great sports bar in Emporia, and the owners all support me and disc golf in general. The other would have to be Ralph of course! It gets harder and harder to leave him at home on those trips he can’t attend.
Ralph, your dog, is quite the sensation, with a social media following and his own signature dog disc. How did he become such a star, and what is your take on him having more Instagram followers than the blog that is currently interviewing you?
He has more followers than most people do! I think Ralph’s success has come simply from him being such an awesome companion and my best friend. I rescued him from the Emporia Shelter about 13 years ago and that was the best decision I ever made. Part of me feels he knows I saved his life. He’s just so photogenic. The best part is, most people are more excited to see him than me most of the time.
I heard the GBO featured walk-up music for each player. What was your song, and why did you choose it?
This year I forgot to pick a song, and asked Dixon Jowers to just pick one for me. He didn’t disappoint, that’s for sure. He picked Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” for my Muni round and Skee-Lo’s “I Wish” at the Country Club. Classic.
This question is inspired by my recent review of the Dynamic Discs Breakout: What’s your guilty pleasure musical artist?
What’s your go-to celebratory beverage?
I’m not much of a drinker, but for celebratory reasons I enjoy a good red beer, or a Guinness Malt from Red Robin.
What was your favorite, or most memorable, Halloween costume as a kid?
My most memorable Halloween would have to be the year I was a cowboy. I remember it was one of those rainy October nights, and there was waster rushing down the curb into the gutter. I got out of my parents’ truck and dropped one of my six shooters in the rushing water, and it was swept away. I was so bummed!
Did you have a celebrity crush when you were a kid? If so, who was it, and why?
Tiffani Amber Thiessen, aka Kelly Kapowski. Because who didn’t?
Good one. What’s your favorite Saved by the Bell memory? Is it embarrassing if you ever catch it on a re-run, or will you sit down and watch it?
Tough one, there’s so many classic episodes to choose from. The one that probably sticks out the most is the one where Zack and Slater get in a fight and come to blows in the hallway. Embarrassed? Nah!
You go to 7-Eleven for a Slurpee. What flavor are you getting?
Blueberry and Grape.
What’s the best thing about Kansas that most people might not realize?
There are a few things that come to mind: The best barbeque around; it’s where basketball was invented; the Jayhawks. Plus, right here in my hometown of Emporia, Kansas, we were the founding city of Veterans Day.
Who has been your biggest inspiration in life, be it on or off the course?
Easy. On the course was LaRon Harris, who taught me everything I know.
Off the course – and this also transitions to on the course, too – is my family. I owe everything to my parents for believing in me and supporting me for as long as I can remember. I also look up to my older brother, Mike McCabe, who has always been a hero of mine. He has been very successful in life and I’m proud of all his accomplishments.
Do you care if people call a disc a Frisbee? Some people seem to get pretty up in arms about it.
Nah, doesn’t bother me at all. The way I look at it is we originated from the Frisbee.
Name one person, alive or dead, you’d like to play a round of disc golf with.
“Steady” Ed Headrick. I had the honor of meeting Ed at the 1999 Am Worlds in Kansas City. Being able to play a round of disc golf with the father of our sport, well that would’ve been outstanding.
You wake up one day, with no plans, no work, and the world is your oyster. What do you do?
Play a round of disc golf at Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters.
Connect with Eric McCabe to keep track of one of disc golf’s busiest players:
Steve Hill is a Southern California-based disc golfer who doesn’t throw very far. Follow him on Twitter @NoodleArmDG.