COLUMBIA — Most days after he puts in a nine-hour work shift, Adam Morrison grabs a backpack and drives to the disc golf course at Albert-Oakland Park.
Usually, it's just a practice round. He picks a disc out of his bag and throws it at the target.
As soon as it hits the ground, he picks up another and tosses it in a different direction. Some of the discs have a different size and weight, so his motion changes each time.
“It’s relaxing to be able to come out and throw discs,” he said about practicing after work at the brokerage firm, SuretyBonds.com. “It just feels right.”
Morrison, 20, is one of two touring professional disc golfers in Columbia. He has been playing the sport since 1998 and turned pro in February.
Until then, he was considered an amateur player, although he began participating in professional tournaments two years ago.
As an amateur, he competed for merchandise rather than cash prizes. That allowed him to qualify for the advanced amateur points race, which he won in 2013.
Now with pro status, he has competed in tournaments in Las Vegas and Scottsdale, Ariz. During the Las Vegas tournament in late February, he finished 39th among 184 competitors, winning his first cash price of $110.
“There was a lot of pressure because I’m playing with better players,” Morrison said. “I go into competition thinking no one is better than me. It’s pushing me in new ways.”
Understanding the game
Morrison said the game requires dedication and takes years to master. He plays on a daily basis, either a practice session for two or three hours or an 18-hole round.
"I don't remember a day in the last two years where I haven't picked up a disc," he said. "I'll throw a couple putts at minimum."
A typical practice leading up to the tournament looks like this: He throws his drives (longs shots) for an hour, works on his mid-range game for another hour and putts (short shots) for the last hour.
The objective of disc golf is similar to the goal of traditional golf — to complete each hole with the fewest number of strokes — or throws in disc golf. A traditional golfer will drive his ball toward a sunken cup in the ground; the disc golfer drives toward an elevated metal basket where a successful "putt" ends the hole.
The first known instance of anyone playing disc golf occurred in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1926, according to the Professional Disc Golf Association. The sport grew quickly, and players wanted national tournaments and organized play, so they created the Professional Disc Golf Association in 1976.
Morrison has seen the sport continue to grow and says it has come a long way since he joined the association in 2008.
"Camera crews are starting to come out to tournaments more often and cover leaders, he said. "Professional are doing more clinics, and there are more players in the Columbia community."
George Smith is the only other touring professional disc golfer in Columbia. He started playing at Albert-Oakland Park nearly 30 years ago.
Smith said he has also noticed an increase in disc golf players since he started playing professionally in 1992.
"The sport has grown, and it’s harder to get into tournaments," Smith said. "You really have to have your schedule prepared and sign for the tournaments you want to hit."
Like father, like son
Morrison's father taught his son the game 16 years ago.
“I gave him a disc and told him where the basket was and just throw it that way," Paul Morrison recalled. "Walk to it, pick it up and throw it again.”
The older Morrison, a personality on BXR/102.3 FM in Columbia, said he learned how to play the sport just two days before he first played with his son.
Columbia was hosting its annual disc golf tournament called the Mid American Open. The day before the professional tournament, Paul Morrison was invited to take part in a pre-event. He brought along his son, then 5 years old.
They watched the tournament on Sunday, and afterward the boy played for the first time.
“I thought this is something I could do with my son,” Paul Morrison said. “We could go on a walk in the park, get some fresh air and exercise.”
Adam could only play nine holes when he started. By the time he was 7, he could play a full 18.
“It started out as just a game and slowly got more and more competitive and serious about it to the point where I’m playing professionally on tour around the country,” he said.
Career highlight so far
Morrison's best moment in his young disc golf career was winning the 2012 Junior Disc Golf World Championships in Charlotte, N.C.
The tournament included seven 18-hole rounds of golf and a nine-hole final round. Morrison trailed the leader in the beginning of the tournament but was competitive the entire time.
In the last two 18-hole rounds, he erased a 10-stroke gap between himself and the leader to take the lead going into the final nine holes.
After playing the best rounds of golf in his life, only nine holes separated him from winning the junior championship.
Morrison said he couldn’t stop shaking. With five holes to go, he found himself up only one shot. At that point, in a sport like disc golf, a lot could happen.
The player trailing him made a costly error on the fifth hole and scored a five. Morrison scored a two. The lead separated Morrison from the rest of the field, and he finished strong to take the championship.
He describes his play during that tournament as “unconscious.”
“I remember not thinking a lot in the semifinals,” he said. “I showed all my skills and was focused.”
His father said he was amazed at how well his son played.
“He was so focused on each individual shot, one after another,” Paul Morrison said. “I don’t think he even knew what his score was until he finished the last hole. I told him his score and he couldn’t believe it.”
At the moment, Adam Morrison is competing for the Rookie of the Year award on the professional tour. He admits it will be difficult to win with several new professionals this year.
His long term goal is to do what he did in Charlotte in 2012.
"I want to win another world championship," Morrison said.
He hopes to make that happen, one disc at a time.
Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.