Pete May has long been associated with disc golf.
For more than a decade, he’s played the sport and been one of its biggest ambassadors. So it was only fitting he walked away with one of disc golf’s top prizes.
In mid-July, May defeated longtime nemesis Peter Shive to win the Disc Golf World Championship Legends division in Charlotte, N.C. Players in the Legends division range in age from 70-74.
An amateur, the 71-year-old May played up in class and finished at 1-over-par 361 for the six-round tournament, edging Shive by a shot.
“I didn’t expect to win,” May said. “I played in it for the joy of the contest.”
May has been playing disc golf since the late 1990s, when he served as a table tennis playing partner for some of the elite players in the United States – his son, Derek, two-time Olympian Jim Butler and Brian Masters. The group started playing this new sport at Pendleton King Park for exercise, throwing a disc and sprinting after it.
“Immediately, I felt like I was pretty good at it,” the elder May said. “And I liked it.”
For eight months, May played disc golf daily with his younger competitors. At the time, the area featured just two courses – Pendleton King and Riverview Park. Much has changed since then.
In 2005, William S. Morris III, the chairman and chief executive officer of Morris Communications Co. and publisher of The Augusta Chronicle, asked May to bring another sporting event to town. May persuaded the Professional Disc Golf Association to bring the world championships in 2006 to Augusta. With the event, May added courses to Lake Olmstead and the Hippodrome. The North Augusta facility now has four 18-hole courses. Patriots Park in Columbia County also added a course. Then Wildwood Park – the National Disc Golf Headquarters – installed three courses.
Morris asked May why the city couldn’t have its own annual disc golf event. So May came up with an idea – a first-class event for college players. In the first year of the National Collegiate Disc Golf Championship in 2007, the event attracted eight teams, including squads from Alabama, Georgia, Michigan and Southern California. Word soon started spreading, and the tournament continued growing. At this year’s event in April, 63 teams were entered, May said.
The college tournament is one of the reasons he traveled a few weeks ago to Charlotte, N.C. May said he competed in the world championships to do more than just have fun.
“I really went there to promote,” he said, referencing the college event and a new indoor disc golf-type game he’s invented.
May faced off against Shive, a nine-time world champion who has defeated him every time on disc golf’s grandest stage, including their first showdown in 2001 in Minnesota. Because of his regular tennis regimen, May said he’s in prime physical condition, something that helped him combat the brutal afternoon heat during tournament play. He also attributed his practice putting – throws within 30 feet of the basket – for his tournament success.
May entered the final round with a one-shot lead, but he faced disaster on his first throw. On the first hole, he threw his disc out of bounds. May left the hole tied with Shive, but he mentally regrouped. The match remained tight the next five holes. May led by one at No. 7, when he decided to lay up instead of trying to make a throw of 25 feet; had he missed long, he likely would’ve made bogey and lost the tournament. Instead, May walked off the hole tied with Shive.
At No. 8, May got in the basket in three shots, while Shive made 4. May clinched the match with a 3 on the final hole.
“It didn’t feel real. And I’m still not sure it feels real,” May said. “I really didn’t go there to win.”
May has another major disc golf event this year. He’ll play in the U.S. Championship in October in Rock Hill, S.C. His goal is to shoot his age.
After winning his latest title, May now wants to win a championship in his other main sport in the near future. When he turns 75, he said he plans to make a run at winning a national championship in the 75-age group in the United States Tennis Association Senior tournament.
“I’m going to put in every amount of training that’s necessary to have a shot,” May said. “If I’m fit enough to play tennis, I’ll be fit enough to play disc golf.”