September 3, 2023 8:43 PM

Flickline Sees the World

Benjamin Smith
Written by
Benjamin Smith

I'd like to introduce you to my new favourite word: Mudita

Mudita - Loosely defined is the finding of joy in the happiness and success of others. It is a word I didn't know I needed in my life until this week.

You see language is crafty thing. We use it for so many reasons; from conveying the simple messages to trying to articulate the deepest truths we have experienced. Sometimes a single word can be so poignant it brings perfection into being, other times words fail us. After my first trip to worlds I went searching for a word…any word that I could use to try and tell the story of how my experience felt. The closest thing I could find was Mutida.

You see Worlds for me was a pipe dream. A ‘throwback’ trip that was for fully selfish reasons where I didn’t have any responsibilities and all I had to do was play. I almost didn’t make it. My last work trip had drained me emotionally and physically. My wife was entering her busiest season. Summer times with your children are priceless gifts that fly by at the speed of light. But I wanted to go. In the end it was my wife who convinced me and gave me the gift of time. It wasn’t easy. I missed my first flight. A day later my Third flight was grounded due to lack of air traffic controller’s. I almost got stuck in Toronto. With my head in my hands I meet a family of six in the terminal. I played catch with the kids and their dad and I shared a beer. I got to Chicago late that night and one of the great people in the world picked me up at the airport. The ride to our place was like a well needed rest and sign of the good things to come.

For those of you who don’t know, the 2022 Masters World championship was held in Peoria, Illinois at an array of courses around the city. There were over 1000 players there from all over the world to compete in both Jr (under 18 years old) and Master (over 40 years old) divisions. One of the courses that is featured is widely considered to be the hardest course in the world. By all accounts each division was assigned courses that tested their mental and physical skill levels and pushed the boundaries of comfort so that every person who was crowned a world champion had to overcome some level of adversity.The organizing committee and the PDGA did an incredible job of running a such a large event that was on time, well marked, beautiful, and well supported. The Amateur players packs were incredible and the extra add on events were a great addition to an already packed line up of offerings. There are always nuances that can be improved upon but overall this event was worthy of the World Championship title.

I played or walked 6 of the 11 courses and they all shared a common theme; control the discs, stay in the fairway, and make 28 foot putts. No course is more demanding than Northwood Black. It is a beast of a course that demands 18 well placed tee shots, a wide variety of upshot’s, constant control, the loss of your ego, and above average putting. No course in my life has ever demanded as much mental attention and focus as Northwood and your body and mind feel the tolls that the 5 hour rounds here make you pay. Every bogie feels like a par, every par feels like a birdie, and every birdie you get is a story you happily relive to anyone who shows even the least bit of interest in your round. To navigate Northwood near par a player must be able to execute a variety of shots that can land in a very specific landing zone. Failure to complete this first requirement virtually elements any chance of birdie but does offer a demanding but fair opportunity to achieve par. There are serval times where multiple excellent shots on the same hole will still not be enough. Every hole is only a few inches away from disaster. At anytime someone in your card will be looking at a double bogie. There is not a single point in the round where you get an easy shot. Having said all of that the course is also full of incredible lines to throw and some of the most majestic trees you could ever walk beneath. In my mind it was the perfect course for a world Championship. Even if it does contain the hardest hole ever...

Team Flickline cheering on Antoni Richard

Most, if not all, of the other courses had some of this same secret sauce; hard but fun holes that were matched to the skill set of the players who used them. So many of the courses also featured incredible trees that I could spend an equal amount of time taking about them. The majestic oaks, elms, ash, and beech were just the tip of the iceberg. It seemed there were 200 year old giants standing guard sting every corner. They offered shade from the sun and cover from the rain but in return they tossed our drives around like ping pong balls and kicked our errant discs into the waters like a child kicking pebbles into the river. We learned to curse them and praise them in subsequent breathes.

When I wasn't at a course I was lucky enough to be lodging with a group of Maritimes and team Flickline players, who do their best to embody all the things that make us good people. We had two sets of fathers and sons and three solo master. Six of us played and one of us caddies. Each night we cooked, cleaned, broke bread and shared stories. We drank more water than beer and were early to bed and early to rise. Our focus was disc golf first and it was lovely. Each day with meet up with other Canadians including two more Maritimers. Every night we went to bed tired and woke up excited by the prospect of a new day. It was the perfect disc golf vacation.

Every player has their stories of trials and triumphs. I won’t bore you with mine other than to say mentally this was the best I had ever felt playing in something like this. I played with fire in my belly and a lightness in my heart. It’s something I hope to hold on two for a long time and something I hope to not lose sight of. The game is supposed to be fun. During my time there I was also lucky enough to have two world class caddies in Dana Vicich and Zoe Andyke. How lucky am I?

At the highest level disc golf should be demanding but no matter what, this game is designed to feel joy. This should be my mantra going forward. Disc golf is this perfect blend of physical and mental. On a great course every throw requires some level of commitment. A great player sees the line that must thrown then finds the proper disc for the job. Each putt is easier to sink when you don’t waste energy thinking about the ramifications of a miss. Every stroke in a world championship is magnified 10 fold. Some of our group played below their best but still had a wonderful experience, others played great and we’re in the mix for the cut but fell a bit short. Only one of us made the cut and was our youngest member, Antoni Richard. Some of the folks who read these might remember Antoni as the kid who had his career best result at the tour championship last fall. He is also the same kid that only picked up the game 2 years ago…almost to the day. Somehow in those 2 years he has grown in so many unmeasurable ways it’s hard to tell his full story. He’s very much still a kid who enjoys the things kids do but he’s also showing signs of a fighter. Someone that wants to win and is willing to do the things it takes. He’s maturing in a way that allows him to feel his emotions without always letting them dictate his future. He’s got a long way to go but he’s also come so far that it’s beautiful and heartwarming to see. He’s a great kid and someone we are all happy to know and be a part of. When the final cuts were made he was our only house mate to make it so we did what good Canadians do and we went to watch his final round and show our support for him. We were rewarded with one of the best sports moments I’ve ever experienced - Mudita. Antoni played the best round of his life. With all of us watching him. On the final round of the biggest event in the world he rose 11 spots . He birdied 5 of his last 6 holes. I cried when he made his last putt. The tears that fell came from a place of deep satisfaction. One of thankfulness and joy. Something about seeing the people you are with finding success and happiness in their own life. A feeling I can only describe as more Mudita.

When the final day was done Canada had 3 world champions that we could celebrate. I started to understand just how amazing our game could be and what my small part in it was. I left Peoria feeling inspired, motivated, rejuvenated, full of Mudita, and ready to take another step forward. Each part of my vision now contained another point of clarity. Just for fun Air Canada decided to cancel my return flight home. So I rebooked a flight that would allow me to travel home with Duncan. On the drive to the airport we played an old school style course just off the highway. We brought a pizza. I played barefoot. We used three discs. It was 2002 all over again. It was an unexpected cherry on top of a perfectly good Saturday. The whole trip will go down as one of the best experiences of my life.

Just for fun I’d like to throw in a little bonus story of my last day of travel. As many of you know Chicago had two major airports. You may also know I’m not great with technology. You might have an idea where this is going…In order to both fly home and arrive in the same airport at close to the same time Duncan and I had to leave from different airports. He had also rented us a car using one of the new sites that allow you to rent people personal cars. Duncan’s flight left earlier than mine and my airport was closer to the drop off location so it was an easy decision to have me drop off the car early in the morning. I checked the public transit schedule to make sure I could grab a train from close to the drop off and left 4 hours of room to complete my tasks: Fill up the car, drop it off, walk to transit, arrive at the airport. Easy-peasy I plugged my phone into the light Jack at night and got ready to get up at my customary 530am. Duncan had said the area I was going was a week-to-do party of town and an Uber might be expensive. “No need to worry” I said “I don’t mind walking to find public transit”. I did notice that the Jack I used over night didn’t charge my phone. No worries I thought. I’ll charge the phone for the hot car drive. When I arrived at the gas station in the morning to fill up my car the pump wouldn’t work. I shook my head at fact that I’m American you always have to pre-pay while at home you pump, then talk to the attendant for 10 minutes and pay last. So I went inside to prepay. When I got back to car the pump stop wouldn’t work. Back inside I went. The attendant sends me to a new pump. I pre-pay again. Return to the car, drive to the new pump, see this pump has no nozzle or house to pump gas, go inside again, pre-pay again, find another pump finally fill up. 25 minutes later on my way to the drop off location. Our car drop off was in an area called Vernon Hills. I noticed on the drive from the highway the roads were tree lined and extra wide with rolling grass hills and hidden houses. It was the American dream realized. I dropped the car off, saw my phone was 50% and started my 25 minute walk to the train station through muggy heat and green gardens. When I arrived at the station I realized that no train passed through here on a Sunday. No big deal. I had 3.5 hours to spare and 27kms to go. I could walk to a bus station or take a cab. Plus I love walking so if I went. 1 hour later I’m still no where close to public transit. I try to upload Uber to my phone…no luck. Same with Lyft…. I call one taxi service , they laugh at me and tell me you can’t get a cab here without making an appointment, no answer at the next one, or the next one. I realize I’m not certain anymore the direction I’m walking will take me somewhere that will help. I stop walking. The American dream here only works if you have your own ride. I call another cab. No dice. Notice my phone is at 25%. Call local hotels and ask if they have shuttle service to the airport. No they don’t. On the third hotel a very lovely woman offers to call me cab. Perfect. I’m 15 minutes walk from the hotel and I’ll meet the cab there. Phone is at 20% and I make a bee line. If all goes well I’ll arrive at the Air Canada both two goes before my flight is due to take off. Taxi arrives 20 minutes after me. Just enough time to change my shirt and cool down. I get in feeling relieved. Arrive at the Air Canada agent only to be told, ‘yes you booked with us but we are putting you in a United flight’. Check in with the automated kiosk beside us. 10 minutes later the kiosk freezes and displays a message that I must see an agent… in the next terminal. Phone is at 15% and I have 90 minutes until my flight departs. I sprint to the next terminal, get through security, and arrive at my gate with 9% battery and 20 minutes to spare. Take a deep breathe and get on the plane only to have the captain say it seems we have a broken part and we are going to be stuck here for a while….90 minutes of delays there and 4 hours of delays in Montreal got me home at 3am, tired but deeply satisfied holding on to a new feeling I hope to experience again.