“Cha-ching” is the sound of Ricky Wysocki’s disc golf putts connecting successfully with the basket’s chain netting, but it’s also the sound he could hear if he pulls out a win in the U.S. Disc Golf Championship this week at Winthrop.
Wysocki, who lives in Fort Mill, is the local in a field of around 120 professional disc golfers vying to win the tournament and the accompanying $50,000 prize that fattens the victor’s wallet. Wysocki enters the event ranked second in the world behind Paul McBeth, who recently usurped the top spot. Throw in Wysocki’s narrow second place finish to Will Schusterick in last year’s tournament, and there is plenty of motivation to win this year.
“It helps everything,” Wysocki said. “It helps the ranking, it helps the money, that’s why this tournament is so big. Everyone wants to go into the offseason with a good note.”
A Grand Slam within his reach, McBeth might have the most motivation of all. Pro disc golf’s grand slam pantheon has changed over the years, but the U.S. Disc Golf Championship has remained steady at the top. McBeth won the European Open in July, the Disc Golf World Championships in August and the Vibram Open in September, giving him three wins in the last four tournaments heading into this week.
“He’s been winning a lot of the big tournaments, but I’m a local boy, I think I should be able to play well,” Wysocki said.
A large pot of money and prestige are on the line this week at Winthrop, incredible for Wysocki who started playing only in 2008. The strapping 20-year-old and his family, including seven siblings, moved to Fort Mill from Cleveland several years ago with year-round disc golf weather a persuasive factor. The move coincided with Wysocki’s move to become a professional player after winning the 2010 U.S. Amateur. Wysocki played baseball and other sports growing up, but a disc golf course built across the street from the family’s home in Ohio sparked a passion that has become his profession.
“I checked it out one day, I was curious, and have been hooked ever since,” he said. “I like competing and it was fun. That’s exactly what disc golf was for me.”
Shirking the traditional path of college then job, Wysocki is doing just fine heaving discs a country mile. He’s earned more than $25,000 this season thanks to 13 tournament victories. Early in his career Wysocki was sponsored by Innova, one of the big players in the industry, but now he’s sponsored by Prodigy, a company in which he also has an ownership stake.
“Part of the sponsorship is a percentage of the company, so we’re trying to promote it and see how it does,” he said.
Wysocki doesn’t actually spend much time in Fort Mill during the course of the Pro Disc Golf Association Tour season, which runs from early spring to October. He has been in town lately though. Winthrop’s tournament-length course was set up two weeks ago, and Wysocki has played it as much as possible.
“I definitely know the course probably the best out of anybody,” he said while striding to the next hole during Tuesday’s final practice round. “It’s just about executing my shots and doing what I do in practice during the tournament.”
Wysocki said the trick at Winthrop is to play more conservatively through the first few rounds on Wednesday and Thursday. The course has more out-of-bounds territory than most, making the safe shot often times the right shot.
It’s hard to believe him when he effortlessly flicks a disc out over Winthrop Lake, landing it at the foot of the basket at the fifth hole with the kind of arch that would leave a physics teacher feeling all fuzzy inside. The shot is a firm reminder that this is a pro, not just a weekend disc duffer.
“For some people that don’t know much about disc golf they don’t expect us to be making a living and doing as well as we do,” said Wysocki. “It’s a recreational game for some people, but for people like us, we’re competing too. It’s not just for fun; it’s a job, too.”
Wednesday, it’s time for Wysocki to go to work.
Bret McCormick • 329-4032. Twitter: @BretJust1T