By Scott Waggoner
Edited by Nikki Papadopulos
Use your wrist, chuck it long and whatever do, don't go out of bounds.
Nearly 200 of the world's top disc golf professionals will use these guidelines as they take aim at the U.S. Disc Golf Championship at Winthrop's Gold Course in Rock Hill this week.
This year's winner will take home from $10,000 to $12,000, depending on the final number of players.
The 12th annual U.S. championship, which lasts four days from Wednesday-Saturday, features players from North America, Europe and Japan. It's been played at the Gold Course every year since starting in 1999.
"This is the pinnacle disc golf event in the world," tournament director Jonathan Poole said Monday. "Even if you're not good enough to win it, just to be part of it is a significant experience."
Competitors qualified for the championship by finishing in the top 20 of last year's championship or by being near the top of the money list on the Professional Disc Golf Association Tour.
Others finished in the top five in one of several qualifying tournaments or have a sponsor's exemption from companies supporting the tournament.
Professional disc golf is now about 40 years old. It's similar to golf, except players aim for an elevated metal basket, most commonly called a Pole Hole. A course has 18 holes – just like golf consisting of par 3s, 4s and 5s – typically from about 200 to about 1,000 feet long.
A golfer carries three types of discs: a driver for the long shots; midrange discs, which help in accuracy; and a putter, which has a more rounded edge to help better suit the putting grip.
One of the favorites going into the tournament is 12-time world champion Ken Climo from Clearwater, Fla. Climo has won the U.S. championship five times, most recently in 2007.
"You've got all the bells and whistles, and they really treat all the players like it's a PGA Tour event," Climo said.
A new rule change this year will force players who shoot out of bounds to reshoot from their original spot as well as take a penalty stroke. In the past, players were given a stroke but could play from where their disc went out of bounds. The change will reward accurate tosses and make low scoring more difficult for those who like to take a risk.
"My guess is whoever goes out of bounds the least is going to win," current world champion Eric McCabe said.
For Rock Hill's Trey Johnson, just competing in the tournament will be a special experience. Johnson has tried to qualify the last seven years and through a sponsor exemption finally made the field.
"It's awesome. I can't even express my feelings," Johnson said. "I've been trying for years, and this tournament is as big as it gets."