Russell switches sports, becomes a world champion |

Russell switches sports, becomes a world champion

Tim Parsons

Here’s a tip for accomplished racquetball players who might want to play a new sport out in the fresh air: Try disc golf.

Ron Russell was a semi-professional racquetball player who had no idea there was a disc golf course in his hometown River Bends, Mich. When a friend took him out to play a round, Russell realized he was a natural.

“I was hooked immediately,” he said.

“The mechanics of the two sports are the same,” Russell said. “The run up, the shoulder roll and wrist snap, everything.”

After a week, Russell was throwing discs – a smaller, heavier version of a conventional Frisbee – more than 400 feet.

That year, 1992, the world championships were played at River Bends. Russell worked the tournament as a spotter, retrieving errant shots that went in the river.

“I was inspired by Kenny Climo ( who won the world championship from 1990-1998) and ‘Crazy’ John Brooks,” Russell said. ” ‘Crazy’ John shot a 14-under. I thought, when I could beat that, I would be ready for the tour. I knew that’s what I wanted to do right off.”

So Russell did what he felt he had to do. He put his discs away and went to work, starting a roofing business. He saved $20,000 and then went on tour. He set up his truck so he could work and sleep on the road during the week and play tournaments on weekends.

When he joined the Professional Disc Golf Association, he received Card No. 9,999.

The 1995 season affirmed his goal was attainable. He was named Rookie of the Year and picked up Discraft as his sponsor.

“It’s been great ever since,” said Russell, who has given up his work truck for a van, in which he lives 10 months a year. He has totally supported himself from disc golf for three years.

Russell won 11 tournaments last year, six of them super tour events. He was also the sport’s top moneymaker, earning more than $23,000.

Russell’s greatest win ended one of the most dominant streaks any sport has had.

Climo won nine straight world championships. But he was unable to sweep the 1990s.

PDGA member 9,999 won the world crown in 1999 in Rochester N.Y.

Considering the 2000 world championships will be held this July in Russell’s home state of Michigan, he should have a good chance to be a repeat winner.

“I’ll be ready,” Russell said. “It will be great to try to defend in Michigan.”

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