During the peak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Collin Thompson, a senior in the College of Business at Illinois State University, got really good at disc golf. Really good. So skilled that world-class now describes his level of play. For someone who took up the game for the first time on a whim five short years ago, it’s been a rapid progression.
“My older cousin Zac Freyman got me into it when I was 16 during a family barbecue,” Thompson said. “We played horse and pig, and I got hooked on it.”
Then the quarantine hit, which for Thompson meant more and more practice.
“Practice is fun,” he said. “I got a lot better at it during COVID because there was no place to go. I played the entire day for like six, eight hours a day.”
Last fall Thompson and a few disc-golf friends re-established the disc golf registered student organization on campus that had been inactive for several years. Ironically, the club’s previous standout player was Colleen Thompson, no relation to Collin Thompson.
In April, Thompson and his Redbird teammates piled into their cars and drove to Marion, North Carolina, to compete in the College Disc Golf National Championship. They nearly won it all. The four-man team had the lead going into last day before finishing in fifth place among 36 teams.
Individually, Thompson also led after the first round and ended up with a third-place finish, which earned him All-American status. He’s ranked No. 3 among college players, No. 8 in the state, and No. 300 in the world (state and world rankings include pros and amateurs).
At 21, Thompson, a native of Moline, has his next move figured out. He’s majoring in management and quantitative methods, with a goal of becoming a data analyst, but first he plans to play more competitive disc golf. He already has his professional status and has even cashed a few checks, so his career is underway.
“I’m competing around the Midwest in regional events,” he said. “I’m hoping to go on the national tour next year. Right about the time I graduate the tour comes through the area with a super big event in Peoria.”
After that there are tournaments in Michigan, Minnesota, Kentucky, and Kansas. Thompson plans to be there competing against the best in his burgeoning sport.
“Playing in tournaments I found out I could compete with local players,” Thompson said. “Now, I’m working on consistency. I know I have the skills, but I need to do it more consistently.”
The purses are modest but on the rise for professional disc golf, and it’s within reason to expect that a good player could earn as much as the salaries for some starting jobs for new college graduates. The real money though is in endorsements with many of the top players earning six- and seven-figure payouts from their deals.
Discraft, a leading company in the disc sports industry, announced last year that it had signed Paul McBeth, one of disc golf’s top players, to a 10-year, $10 million contract extension through 2031. It’s no wonder Thompson and other young players want to take their shot at playing for a living.
He said his parents are supportive, adding that his father and his younger brother are avid disc golfers. For now, Thompson is sharpening his skills and on the lookout for sponsors to help him pursue his dream of making a career out of the sport he loves.
“I’ve had some success and some not so much,” he said. “But I keep learning.”