Ken “The Champ” Climo: The Gold Standard

There is an aspect of every sport that people enjoy debating. Who is the best? They are perpetual arguments and drive serious sports fanatics to research. It convinces them that they must obtain as much historical evidence and data as they can to support their side. In the NBA there is the MJ and Kobe argument. (Some older, uninformed, relative will over hear the conflict and try to be astute by claiming, “Wilt Chamberlain was the GOAT. Just look at his numbers.”) Or, for Spurs fans like me, there is the argument that Duncan was the best power forward ever. (This is where the same relative from earlier interjects, “Tim Duncan wasn’t even a power forward! He was a center.”)  For NFL fans then there is always the more current acclamation that Tom Brady has proven himself as the greatest quarterback in league history. All of the well-known sports have such discussions.

Professional disc golf fans have nothing to discuss.

Kenneth R. Climo, PDGA #4297. He goes by Ken and is also known as “The Champ”. It is IMPOSSIBLE to argue his greatness or his secure place upon the disc golf Mount Rushmore.

Ken Climo putting.



Before we jump into his career and stats let us answer a question. What makes an athlete great in their sport? There are many ways to make cases for greatness. In most sports you win by scoring the most points so the statisticians keep track of career points. More points make a player greater maybe? Or, greatness could be all the accolades that come along with their success, such as MVP awards or the Gold Glove and FIFA Golden Ball award.

When I look at an athlete and discuss their greatness I go directly to the championships column. Championships are the ultimate test and the things that athletic competitors live for. If a player competed for a lengthy career he should have multiple championships to be considered great. Sorry for another NBA example but this will show my point of view:

Bill Russell.

Playing career: 1956-1969.

Championships: 11, made the playoffs every year of his career and won a string of 8 consecutive championships between ’58 and ’66.

Wilt Chamberlain.

Playing career: 1959-1973.

Championships: 2.

Looking at this comparison tell me who was/is the GOAT. Guess which one has the NBA Finals MVP award named after him?

Greatness is exemplified by the champions who continue to win. Winning becomes a habit to them, and it is almost a yearly event. Not only did Bill win eleven championships in only 13 years of playing he did it against great competition. Wilt is considered one of the best ever, but they played at the SAME TIME. Bill obviously was the one doing something right. (I will address teammate quality shortly.) We will use the Russell blueprint to examine Ken’s disc golf greatness.

Ken Climo started playing disc golf late in high school but did not turn pro until 1988, when he would have been about 20. He still plays a few tournaments a year, and he continues to win now at the age of 49, presently competing in the Masters division. The most recent record on Wikipedia has him notched at 231 career professional wins with 103 recorded aces. If he has, in fact, been playing for 29 years that would mean he averages 3.6 aces a year. (I have yet to hit a single, lonesome one…) Here is the really important stat: Ken has 12 open division Disc Golf World Championships. He has 3 more World titles in the Masters division, placing his career total at 15!! He also is a five-time champ of the U.S. Disc Golf Championships.

Like Bill Russell, Ken won multiple consecutive championships, refusing to lose at Worlds from 1990-1998. That is unprecedented! Even more impressive is that he was solely responsible for the accomplishments. In the Russell vs. Wilt argument we have to consider that Bill might have just been blessed to land on productive and motivated teams while Wilt could have been stuck on teams of losers. There is not this margin of error when observing what Ken Climo has done. He did not require help from a team, he won 9 consecutive titles with his own hands.

If disc golf would have had as much media coverage then as it does now, Ken would be on the lead card of every YouTube video that SpinTV produced. If it had as much coverage as ball golf receives then he would be as coveted as Tiger Woods. Fans would watch his game no matter where on the leaderboard he sat. He would be more royalty than he already is.

As we come full circle the reality is that there have been many disc golfers that have won and many that are going to win in the future, just as in all sports. Ken just decided to win at the right time and for a long time. I want to be like Ken. (Not “Mike”, get it?)

If you would like to learn more about the man who represents disc golf’s Gold Standard, I would suggest watching the 1999 World Championships on YouTube. (Spoiler, Ken does not win that year, but he should’ve because I don’t know how Ron Russell made any putts with the form he used.) Wikipedia will give you a full account of his honors and accomplishments. You can also google the episode of Final Round Radio podcast that has Climo as their guest speaker. It is very insightful into his very confident mindset and the only lengthy interview I can find of him on the internet. I truly wish we had more footage of Climo’s game in his prime.


Unintended Birdies

It would seem, from personal experience, that about everyone I have played a competitive disc golf round with before has made a miracle shot. By miracle shot I mean any throwing position or location that you would only try if someone was making a trick shot compilation backed with a dubstep remix of “24k Magic”. In other words, throws only attempted when imitating the one and only Brodie Smith 21 #darkhorse. Over the past few months of playing these shots tend to happen as often as every other round, and I have yet to accomplish such a feat so it seems all my throwing buddies MUST be practicing them or something.

The following is an account of the top three shots I have seen while playing a round of disc golf, excluding my father’s ace which has its own article:

Number 1

My friend Dane and I were playing a round of 18 and he was not doing well. His putts were not sticking. (That might have been due to the fact I provided the putter, but I didn’t make him use it… just saying.) I was winning by a large margin of strokes and we had reached hole 13. It was a par four and we both used two strokes to get within range of the basket, but there was a large tree between us and it. It wasn’t just your average large tree mind you, it was one of those whose limbs start growing about four feet off the ground and a way out. Going underneath the limbs was not an option and there was not space for a flick or backhand to slide through. Dane opted for a thumber (basically holding the disc vertical) and didn’t think twice about it. Now this is hard to imagine if you were not there but he was staring into the sun and he had never thrown a thumber before IN HIS LIFE. Of course you can assume what happened. He made it for birdie. It just floated around the tree and into the basket, didn’t even touch the chains. I went ahead and double bogeyed, still in disbelief.

A rough sketch of the hole Dane birdied.

Number 2

In a very similar scenario my buddy Jacob saved par one day with a hammer throw. We were on hole 4 and it was par three. The basket was hidden behind a large mound of dirt, basically a small hill. The small hill also had saplings growing out of the east side of it. The basket is behind that east side. We both used up two strokes getting to the small hill and I am in better position. He is slightly behind the hill and saplings so he cannot see the basket clearly and I am to the southeast of the hill with a direct line to the hole. He says something along the lines of, “Are you ready for this? I’m going with the Tomahawk.” I laugh at him as he lines up his putter (the same putter I lent Dane) between the saplings. That throw of his had no arch, it was a line drive. Straight into the chains. He couldn’t see it so when I cried out in amazement he lifted his hands in the air, clenched in victory. As I recall, we were playing the first round of disc golf IN HIS LIFE. Something about firsts I guess.

One of my favorite holes. If you have enough power you can flick a drive all the way around the back of the hill on the left side and birdie it. 

Number 3

And how can I not include my dad on the list? He seemingly broke the laws of physics, or manipulated them, I can’t decide. It was hole 5 and a par 3. You cannot see the basket from the tee, but there is a tree line about 80 feet ahead of the tee and about 10 feet beyond that a creek. Right after you pass the tree line and before you reach the creek there is a sharp turn right in the fairway. It takes you to a basket directly behind the tree line from the tee. Dad throws off the tee right into the tree line and it bounces back out to the edge. On his next throw he appears to be aiming the tree tops and is holding his disc vertical. See a pattern? I walk around to the other side of the trees so I can track his disc for him when he misses, because why shouldn’t he miss this? And up the disc goes, over the trees it seems, and back down it comes landing in the basket. I don’t know what disc he used but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the same Gator with which he tossed his ace.

Such a weird hole. I have lost and re-found two discs in this tree line and creek. 

When I play disc golf I play for a good score and mostly to win. Dane does not play this way because once he misses his first six putts he loses hope. Jacob was still figuring out how the discs flew because he had never played before, and my dad just does crazy shots whenever he gets the chance.

So, what can we learn from such situations? I have pondered all of these memories and have come to a conclusion. In all three cases my golfing partner has been carefree about the result of the throw. Sort of a what-the-heck-this-won’t-hurt-my-score-more-than-I-already-have point of view. These people did not contemplate the end result they just went for it and now have something to be proud of. So maybe that is something every disc golfer needs to do. Not worry so much about the score all the time. Or maybe it means that we should all start putting with our discs vertically. As you can see, vertical shots lead to birdies.

In addition, I will mention that I was the one who won the whole round in the end. Maybe being carefree is not the answer, maybe it just has to do with whether you doubt yourself or not. Don’t second guess. As much as I ache for an ace or an eye-catching birdie maybe I should just be patient. I’m sure that if I play enough rounds then these pleasures will come my way. All things come to those who wait.

Dad’s Bragging Rights

It happened on the 30th of December. (2016)

Hole 12 at Holts Summit Disc Golf Course.

My mother, father, and I drove down to Holts Summit, MO to play a round of 18. The course is only about fifteen minutes away, maybe twenty, and it was built a little over a year ago. I had read a review on before we headed out to see what the future held. The golfer had commented on how it was a proficient course with good design but how it had a couple of fairways that still needed a few trees removed. I also noticed, in the provided pictures, that it had two water holes of decent length. I was excited to try a new course and the weather was great, so what could possibly happen?

The course is located next to a park. We pulled up and the parking lot was “yuge”, as one might say. It was completely gravel and you probably could have fit a rock concert on it, and I don’t know why it was so large because the only thing at he park that is regularly used is the disc course. There is a newly made baseball field which appears to be untouched and a really nice concrete walking trail… if you’re into walking. Driving to the far end of the parking lot we stopped and got out, searching for the first hole.

I won’t give a full record of the first nine holes, but let us say it was a very bad nine for me, and I won’t use the “it is a new course to me” excuse. I just played bad. From the very first throw. I think the first hole was a par four and I threw a seven: a triple bogie. My father hit it in par, and my mother… well she doesn’t like to keep track of her strokes. Dad played well all morning and it was just a build up for what was to come.

The three of us made it to hole twelve, and by that point dad had acquired a new disc. A red Star Sidewinder if I recollect correctly. It had been partially hidden in the fallen leaves. I was something like +12 and dad was about +3. We approached the hole and it was a pretty one. The ground after the tee sort of dropped off and if you looked across the little valley on the opposite ridge was the basket. I think the sign said 164 feet, something close to that. It was basically a direct shot, and the hole had a tree to the left of it as well as plenty of woods behind it. It was a par three.

A shot of hole 12 from the basket. Here you can see the slow drop off after the tee and then the ridge upon which the basket sits. Also, notice the Gator in the basket. (Photo by my dad)

I stepped onto the rectangle of concrete and selected my trusty DX Leopard. Going through a few practice swings I aimed in the general direction of the basket. I didn’t know exactly how to get it where I wanted without overthrowing it. Now that I think back I should have thrown a mid-range. I backhanded the disc too hard and it glided over to the other side of the gorge and…. BANG, right into the tree to the basket’s side and off into the wooded area behind.

I knew I had missed my chance, so turning to my dad I said, “This will be your best chance for an ace if you are gonna get one.” Little did I know. He grabbed his Star Gator and lined up on the tee pad. No priming necessary, he just went for it. Let the Gator fly forehand and it was magic! It was one of those moments you can sense before it happens. The disc drifted left and hooked back right, clinking off the middle post and the chains, then settling in the basket.

I wish I had a video. It was the flattest throw I’ve ever seen Dad have. When it went in he threw his hands up in the air and looked back at mom and I with a grin that he gets when he can’t believe something just happened. I was jealous and I let on that I was. I feel as if, out of the two of us, I should be the first to get an ace because I have been playing the longest. It didn’t seem fair to me. Only a week before I had an almost ace at Albert Oakland Park in Columbia, MO. It was also with my Leopard, and dad was witness to it. I guess some people have that touch.

Since then Dad and I have spent the past few weeks debating whether mom and I need to sign the Gator as proof of the ace. Many disc golfers make a habit of requiring signatures on aces from the witnesses who were there. In this way they are able to tell stories to other disc golfers and remember their moment of glory. This would typically be done with permanent marker. Dad and I are amateur enough that we do not traverse courses with markers in our bags. As for signing Dad’s Gator, I think we should because it is the first ace any of us have witnessed and I don’t feel as if dad will have many more. We should take the opportunity we have been given. In opposition, Dad does not want to “ink up” his disc with signatures. His argument would be valid if I thought he was going to trade the disc back in at any point, but I know he won’t. He will hold on to that disc forever until one of his grandkids gets it. Although, without our signatures how will they ever know what a special disc it is?

Also, my signature might be worth something in the distant future. Ha.

In My Bag, with Hugh Keene: Winter 2017 Edition

Hello fellow disc golfers,

and welcome to my first installment of “In The Bag”. I am not a big name in disc golf –actually not a name at all– although I someday hope to be. I do wish that, for beginning golfers, by reading this article you may see an example of a beginning to intermediate level bag. I would like to inform you on my selection of discs and maybe give you some food for thought about your own bags that you have either started or are thinking about starting.

Many “In The Bag” features you read in your search for disc golf knowledge tend to open by talking about putters. This is the most logical way to begin as putting is the foundation of the game. If you do not have a putter that feels good to you and is consistent then you are losing the majority of the confidence it takes to be a good putter. Bags should be built around putters in my opinion, but this mostly because making the chains clink is what gives me the most joy.


I have five putters, the most used two are my XT Nova’s.

My go-to putter is my purple and red XT Nova. I purchased it used from Show Me Disc Sports, and soon after realized I needed a complementary one in my bag. One reason I prefer it is because it weighs in at 172 grams. I like heavy putters since it seems to me that the heavier ones tend to hold the line you put them on more. Also the heavier discs sit down in the basket instead of jumping out, which is a problem at the beginning level. I only throw this disc backhand.

My next XT Nova is green with a pink rim, and it resembles a full slice of watermelon. It was a birthday present from my father, and it is special to me because it has been signed by George R. Smith #4034, one of the Innova Disc Golf Masters. He also owns Show Me Disc Sports in Columbia, MO. This disc weighs in at 175 grams and I only use it backhand as well.

In my bag I also have two DX Aviar P&A’s. I use my purple one for approach putts and only use my white one for practice. These do not reliably stay in the chains or basket when I putt with them, so that’s why I don’t pull them out very often. The purple one was my first putter I ever had, as it came from the starter pack that got me into the sport. It weighs 150 grams and I only toss it backhand. My white one is so worn down that I don’t have an exact weight for it, but from holding it I’d estimate it around 165 grams. It only gets thrown backhand as well.

My last putter is only for putting practice. It is a DX Classic Aviar. It feels nice but I would need more practice reps with it for it to become a large part of my bag. It is 172 grams and only thrown backhand.



And so, onto mid-ranges I suppose.

My first mid-range is an 11x KC Pro Roc, Multipurpose. I don’t know how common it is to find one of these discs but I feel fortunate to have one because now all I can order online is KC Roc’s without the “Multipurpose” on the end. It is 176 grams and I bought it after it was well used. When I first started playing I was using this disc as my putter because I couldn’t get my DX P&A to stick in the holes. I throw it backhand and it holds it line well. I was so impressed I went online and bought another.

A 12x KC Pro Roc, Mid-Range was my next mid-range. I use it the most out of all my mid-range selection, preferring it for short straight shots and longer approaches. It is 175 grams and I throw it both backhand and forehand. It has a special type of skid at the end of its flights that I like. It is getting beat in so I will need to buy another Roc here pretty soon. I prefer my Roc’s in KC plastic because Ken Climo is THE CHAMP, but also because it feels nice on my hands.

Next I have a Champion Panther Multipurpose Disc. It is pre-flight-ratings which is sort of cool. It flies well and does not beat in, thanks to the champion plastic. I throw it majority backhand but also forehand when necessary. It’s 167 grams and I opt for it when I’m approaching through the woods and don’t want to bang up my Roc too bad.

Lastly for mid-range, I have a DX Shark. It is one of my throw away discs if I have a water shot I doubt I can clear. It is always good to have a disc you are willing to sacrifice from your bag. It weighs 150 grams and I throw it backhand. It is so light that any attempt to throw it forehand would turn it over and off course.


Fairway Drivers

Next is fairway drivers. I have three, although I could always use another I suppose. All three are Leopards, one is an Echostar and the other two are DX.

My two DX Leopards are both white and one is really beat in so I throw it when I need a straight shot with a bunch of turnover at the end. My newer one still turns over at the end but not as much. I’ve never had an ace in my playing experience but I have had multiple close calls with my Leopards. They are so easy to place where you want them, and everyone can throw them, or else why would they be in all of Innova’s starter packs. I love how predictable they are and how they are a low enough speed it doesn’t take enormous amounts of effort to throw them straight. I’ll be buying another one soon to replace my original Leopard and I can’t wait to try it out. My beat in Leopard is 150 grams and my newer one is 175 grams. They both perform well either forehand or backhand.

My Echostar Leopard is just as efficient and I use it quite a bit, but most often on windy days. It tends to hold its line in the wind better than my DX’s. It’s a great disc, and I am not an outstanding fan of the Echostar plastic but it is not uncomfortable but any means. It is 175 grams, yellow, and I throw it both ways.


Distance Drivers

Lastly we have to discuss distance drivers. This is a touchy section because I am still developing my long distance throwing ability so I will not be as knowledgeable about these discs as others.

My most used right now is a Blizzard Champion Destroyer. It does not have a weight as I also bought it used, but I would say around 165 grams. It is my lightest distance driver, at least it feels that way. I can whip this destroyer forehand and I have surprised myself with overthrowing and turning it over before. It gets great distance and it is so pretty when it flies. I rarely throw it backhand. Side note: This is the only disc which I have had tombstone on me.

Next up is a Pro Destroyer. My father found it and I traded him a Discraft Avenger for it. I got the better side of the trade, but he is a non-Innova person and I’m and only-Innova person. It is 171 grams and feels hefty. I only throw it forehand and it goes where I want it to. The only issue I have with this disc is that it is colored dark blue with a tie dyed rim that is tan and blue, so it blends in with any dark woods and any dry grass. I can understand why it was lost in the first place.

I have a tournament stamped Glow Champion Destroyer. It weighs in at 168 grams, and it is wayyyyy over stable. I don’t know what makes it so much more stable than my other Destroyers. I use it for shots I NEED to curve hard. It is good in the wind and, unlike my other discs, when it bumps on the ground it makes a strange hop on its edge and slightly rolls before settling so I have to be careful about surrounding hazards when driving with it. I throw this forehand.

Just a few days ago my father bought me a Star Destroyer because he knew I had been looking for one. It is used so the original design has been worn off so the disc is mostly bright pink. It is 168 grams and feels good in the hand. Alas, I have not been able to throw it since I received it because of the weather here and an unfortunate physical ailment I acquired on New Year’s Day. I assume once I do get to toss it I will do so forehand.

I have a blue Champion Firebird in my bag, and it doesn’t get used very often, because I haven’t had much practice with it. I purchased it so I would have a distance driver with minimal glide, but once I used it a few times it really liked to bite the ground and it has large bounces when the edge makes contact with the earth. I need to polish my game with this disc and see what situations I might need it for in the future. It is 175 grams and I throw it forehand.

My last disc in my bag is my clear-ish Champion Beast which I found during a local round in the woods. It acts in the same role as my Shark, it is a throw away disc mainly for water or creek shots. I throw it both forehand and backhand, although I soon intend on trading it in for something else, maybe my next Leopard.


Falling putts can lower your score

School of Disc Golf

Disc golfer’s familiar with the rules of the sport recognize the term ‘falling putt’ as an infraction that occurs when the disc is within 10 meters of the target. The rules (see 803.04 C) clearly state that a player – when inside this ‘putting circle,’ must demonstrate full balance after releasing the disc before advancing to retrieve his or her disc. This is to ensure players cannot gain an advantage by shortening the distance their disc has to travel. If this rule were not in place, putting would turn into a Frisbee-long jump hybrid, with players taking 10 paces backward to get a running start before leaping toward the target. I can easily imagine some nasty accidents as well, with ‘slam dunk’ attempts going horribly awry. Luckily the 10-meter rule prevents gruesome player/basket collisions while at the same time preserving the purity of the flying disc aspect of disc golf…

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