Most athletes will live their entire lives without ever enjoying the distinction of being referred to as “the best in the world.”
Regardless of the sport, or the athlete, one generally doesn’t have to look too far to find someone who is simply better.
That is not the case for Bailey 10-year-old Gabe Anderson, though, In fact, he has great difficulty finding anyone his age who can keep up with him in the ever-growing sport of disc golf.
So Anderson, who took up the game just four short years ago, travelled to to Emporia, Kan. to test his skills against the most accomplished 10-under players in the world at the Professional Disc Golf Association’s Junior Disc Golf World Championships held July 4-10.
Anderson encountered extremely stiff competition at the tournament and was a whopping nine strokes out of the hunt after the second day of a five-day event.
But in the end, and as it still stands today, Anderson has not found his equal in the sport in his age group after roaring back to take the lead, and the world championship, on the final day of the tournament by one stroke.
“I wasn’t even looking at the scores because I just wanted to stay focused,” Anderson said. “Then after the last hole, the tournament director came running up out of nowhere and said ‘Meet the new world champion from Bailey, Colorado, Gabe Anderson.’ I was like ... ‘Is he being serious?’”
Shortly after his dramatic victory, Anderson found himself answering a seemingly endless array of questions before hordes of reporters, posing for photos with total strangers and even signing autographs.
After five days of intense competition and meeting every test the multitude of various courses threw at him, it was not a dream or passing fantacy. Gabe Anderson, from Bailey, Co. was declared the best 10-under disc golfer on the planet.
A champion’s path
Gray Anderson has two sons, Gabe and his 17-year-old brother, Josiah. It was Dave Pontowski, a neighbor, who introduced the three of them to the game of disc golf four years ago at the Bailey Disc Golf Course.
To say the boys picked up the game easily would be a monumental understatement. Josiah, in fact, just received sponsorship and is officially a professional.
“Josiah and I used to travel everywhere competing in archery tournaments, then he started playing disc golf and never looked back,” Gray said. “Never in my wildest imagination did I foresee the sport playing such a huge role in our lives, and definitely couldn’t have predicted that either of them would have as much success as they have. Of course I’m not as good as they are, but I have the disc golf bug too and we all play every chance we get.”
Josiah and Gabe instantly immersed themselves into the sport and became ardent followers and students of the game. Pontowski, who has been playing disc golf for more than 30 years and has been instrumental in the sport’s growth locally, realized quickly that both of Gray’s sons had remarkably bright futures in the ever-growing sport.
“I was very fortunate to have seen one of the world’s best professionals, Tim McManus, play here in Bailey at his first tournament when he was about the same age as Gabe is now,” Pontowski said. “And I can completely see Gabe’s progression on par with Tim’s. So the sky is the limit for Gabe.”
“I was absolutely shocked when I saw Gabe throw at the age of seven and his form was already better than ninety-five percent of the disc golfers out there at that time. His arm, his footwork and and his follow-through is a beautiful thing to watch. Today, at tenyears old, Gabe’s form is as good as any player at any level of the game today.”
Perhaps it is that form, along with a healthy dose of natural ability, that allows Gabe to throw his drives in excess of 420 feet.
When Gray talks about Gabe’s final round at the PDGA Junior World Championship, he has to stop and gain control of his emotions from time to time.
“Oh I am very proud of both Gabe and Josiah, and how accomplished they have become in the sport,” their dad said. “To see Gabe come back from where he was after the second day of the event to beat the two-time world champ, Kaydin Bell, was something I still have trouble finding words to describe. So yeah, I do get sort of emotional ... “
Gray caddied for Gabe at the Junior World Championship tournament. The two of them stayed in a campground outside Emporia and were together constantly during the 10-day trip.
“We don’t have tons of money to burn, so we stayed in a campground to make the trip as economical as possible,” Gray said. We woke up every day and went to Dairy Queen, then Gabe would usually get a nap before hitting the course.”
When Gabe found himself trailing by nine strokes after two days, his dad told him to take a nap in the car. During Gabe’s nap, and hoping to do something to lift his son’s spirits, as well as his game, Gray slipped into a disc store and purchased three new putting disks and promptly delivered them to his exhausted 10-year-old.
“Gabe woke up and practiced putting for about four hours,” Gray said. “It seemed like that was sort of the turning point for him.”
Gabe made up a few strokes the next day before posting a blistering hot five under par on day four. Meanwhile, two-time champ Kaidin Bell posted a three over par on day four and the seemingly unsurmountable nine-stroke lead had completely evaporated..
The final day saw the two competitors battle neck-and-neck down the stretch until Gabe finally sealed the deal with a birdie on a demanding par four final hole. Thde two golfers were tied going into the final hole.
“A reporter asked me what my priorities were and what my routine was during the tournament, and I said ‘God, good drives, birdies, Dairy Queen and naps,’” Gabe said..”I thank God I was able to play better on those final days. I also thank Dad.”
All in the family
When asked what kind of a disc golfer his dad was, Gabe gave him pretty high marks.
“Dad is not a bad player at all,” Gabe said. “He does have issues with his form, though, so I have been working with him. I told him to put his non-throwing hand in his pocket to help keep his shoulder where it should be. He’s been training like that and I think it’s helping.”
When asked how good his older brother Josiah was at the game, Gabe was complimentary - sort of.
“Well he’s pretty good because he just got sponsored and now he’s a pro,” Gabe said. “But I’m the world champ and he isn’t.”
Pontowski, however, said that while Gabe has deservedly received a great deal of attention for his disc golf exploits at such an early age, Josiah’s future is perhaps just as bright as his little brother’s.
“Both of these kids are just exceptional players and completely deserving of the success they have had,” Pontowski said. “And it hasn’t happened by accident for either of them. Both Josiah and Gabe not only have rare ability, but they are students of the game. They have put a ton of time, energy and thought into the game, and to have mastered it the way they have at a young age is remarkable.”
Pontowski attends the same church as the Andersons and said that Gabe usually comes to church with a bible in one hand and a disc in the other.
“I think Gabe must take a disc with him everywhere he goes,” he said with a chuckle.
Pontowski added that one of the sport’s best players recently signed a $10 million contract, and that the sport’s booming popularity will likely equate to even bigger contracts in the future.
“The game has never been more popular than it is today, and that just makes Gabe’s championship all the more impressive,” Pontowski said.
Both Gabe and Josiah are home schooled by their dad, and Pontowski believes that has been an important factor in his success..
“Gabe has not played other sports and that has allowed him to work exclusively on disc golf,” he said. “I think that has been beneficial to his development.”
Gabe says he can’t wait to add to his lengthy list of tournament victories, which currently stands at 19.
“I’m just going to keep on playing and see where God leads me,” Gabe said in a matter-of-fact tone.”
When asked if he looks forward to returning to Kansas again next year to defend his title, the champ didn’t hesitate.
“Yes, of course I do,” he said.
That response elicited a wide grin and a final comment from his dad.
“I’m pretty proud of him ... wouldn’t you be?”
Odds say Gabe will be even more difficult to beat next year in Emporia, and that his dedicated caddie will be with him every step of the way.