Ferris State Disc Golf: Three Time National Champions

Disc Life

When it comes to disc golf sponsorships, individual agreements are the most common. Discmania is also active in the collegiate disc golf scene with sponsorships including the current national champion, Ferris State. Discmania's relationship with the Ferris State disc golf team began in 2017.

Led by head coach and team coordinator Leonard Johnson, Ferris State won the National Collegiate Disc Golf Championship in 2015, 2017, and 2019. Before we get into Johnson’s history with disc golf and how he’s making quite the effort to see things grow at Ferris State and other colleges and universities around the country, let’s recap the 2019 NCDGC victory for Ferris State.

Ferris State Disc Golf

2019 NCGDC Recap

In the Championship Flight of the 2019 NCDGC, it was ultimately a battle between Ferris State and North Carolina State. It came down to the final holes before FSU took home the win by just three strokes.

Johnson says that NC State was a very impressive foe during the four-day event, “Three of the four doubles rounds were played on the WRJackson course at the IDGC, as were all of the singles rounds. After the first round of doubles, FSU was 1 stroke out of first (carding a -6) with a two stroke lead over NC State (who shot a -4). After the singles round (counting all four individual scores toward the team total), we had taken the lead with NC State in second place, drawing to within one, with three rounds of doubles to play.”

After the first round of doubles, NC State jumped back in front, but from that point on, FSU took back control. FSU shot a 52, three shots better than NC State to take a two shot lead into the final round.

“The FSU lead seesawed between two and three strokes through much of that final round,” Johnson says. “On at least three occasions, NC State would cut the lead to two, only to see FSU come right back on the very next hole to push it back to three.”

Johnson knew that it would be tight until the end, “Given the hazards and potential danger on every single hole, and the very real possibility of giving up a two or even three stroke swing on any given hole coming down the stretch, I did not really even begin to feel any sense that we had it in the bag until after our guys put both their drives well out in front of the Wolfpack drives on the 18th hole.”

Ferris State disc golf team takes a celebration swim

Johnson says experience played a big factor at this year’s tournament as they returned eight disc golfers form last year’s team, “Not only did our players bring NCDGC experience to the table, they have all played the courses at the IDGC. As part of our Nationals routine each year beginning in 2013, we would spend an entire day playing courses at the IDGC. That gave us a HUGE advantage this year.”

In the single’s action, Sam Mrdeza finished in second place overall while Ryan Brophy came in at a tie for fifth. This was Mrdeza’s fifth NCDGC and Brophy’s sixth trip to the event.

Ferris State disc golf team with FSU President David Eisler

Johnson’s Impact at Ferris State

Johnson first played disc golf while at Kalamazoo College in 1974. Ultimate was his first love, but disc golf soon took over. While on an internship in Altadena, California, Johnson got to experience his first round on a disc golf course with baskets at the famed Oak Grove course.

Speeding up the timeline to 1998, Johnson accepted a position at Ferris State University as a professor of education. He got into the disc golf scene in the Kalamazoo area before playing his first PDGA event in 1999. After building up relationships for a number of years, Johnson helped put in a disc golf course at Northend Riverside Park in Big Rapids, home of Ferris State. That helped pave the way for the first Michigan Intercollegiate Disc Golf Challenge series in 2006.

A few years later in 2012, four disc golfers approached him about hosing a qualifying event for the NCDGC. FSU qualified for the NCDGC for the first time and finished seventh at the 2013 tournament. A second place finish in 2014 was topped with their first championship in 2015 in a playoff win.

These days, Johnson continues to see the Ferris State disc golf club grow and is hopeful for the future. He’s excited to see the rules change for the women’s field at the NCDGC. Previously, you couldn’t bring a team to compete with fewer than four disc golfers. That rule has been dropped and while only two females joined the trip this year, it was a successful tournament with Tianna Halfaway taking home a top-10 finish.

We’re certainly excited for the Ferris State disc golf team and three NCDGC titles in five years is quite the accomplishment. We’ve appreciated the relationship that has been established and hope it is a sign of even more positive things to come in the future.

Photos courtesy of Josh Black.

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