Sandy checker by day, pro disc golfer at nightJul 26, 2021 02:56PM ● By Ron Bevan
Jake LaPutka is known locally as a checker at Costco, but nationally he is known for his prowess with disc golf. (Photo courtesy Jake LaPutka)
By Ron Bevan | [email protected]
Professional golfer Jake LaPutka’s drive lands right where he was aiming, dead center in the fairway. He selects a midrange to get on the green. From there he uses his putter to close out the hole with a perfect putt into the basket.
Yes, basket. For LaPutka, 27, is a professional disc golfer. Just like regular golf, disc golfers strive for the lowest score to win. But instead of using clubs and a ball to aim for a hole on the green, disc golfers use varying styles of plastic discs to reach the basket.
And for the first time, LaPutka is one of only a handful of Utah professional disc golfers to play host to the best in the world. In late June the Professional Disc Golf Association’s world championships were held in Ogden, Utah.
“It’s kind of cool to be able to have them here,” LaPutka said. “We do have some challenging courses in Utah and this helps put us on the map.”
LaPutka, a checker at the Sandy Costco for his day job, spends much of his off time on local disc golf courses or working on different aspects of the sport.
“I am sponsored by Innova as an ambassador for the sport,” LaPutka said. “Ambassadors are all over the place in the sport, from players to tournament directors. Pretty much anyone who is doing good things for the sport. They moved me into the ambassador when I began doing more tournament directing as well as for my YouTube channel. I put some instructional work on that as well as other things I like in the sport.”
In addition to being a player, LaPutka does work as a tournament director and also has a YouTube channel where he shows different courses as well as how to play.
“My biggest YouTube video is actually a putting instructional video that kind of blew up,” LaPutka said. “But I want to get back into playing more tournaments and having the Worlds here is a great way to do that.”
LaPutka has taken some time off from tournament play over the years. Unlike other pro events, disc golf hasn’t had the following that makes for a lucrative career. Hence the day job.
“It is growing though,” LaPutka said. “The pandemic helped a lot as people could get out of their houses and go play disc golf and still keep social distancing.”
LaPutka’s journey into disc golf mostly began as a quest for a clothing style change. Although he had been introduced to the sport as a child, he didn’t really begin playing until he was about 15. He was attending Juan Diego High School as he learned to love the sport. But what he didn’t love was wearing the uniforms required at the private school. He wanted to wear hoodies, but they weren’t allowed. The only exception to the rule was teams and clubs that could wear approved team apparel.
“I found a couple buddies at school that played,” LaPutka said. “So we started a disc golf club at school. Part of the motivator for starting the club was so we could get hoodies that we could wear because they would be approved as a school club uniform.”
Forming the club gave LaPutka the opportunity to play more. This started to improve his skills and he started playing in tournaments.
Then came time to go to college. LaPutka chose the University of Oregon and he found out they had a disc golf team. So he joined.
Then in 2014 something magical happened that helped form LaPutka’s life goals. LaPutka entered the world amateur tournament as a relatively unknown player. He came out of it with name recognition, as the 2014 world amateur champion.
“It was insane because there were some really good players in that tournament,” LaPutka said. “There were players that would play on the pro circuit so they could get good. But as long as they didn’t take any cash prizes, they could still remain an amateur. So, here comes this unknown dude from the University of Oregon and wins the whole thing.”
The very next week he entered his pro tournament and he continues to play.
“It has been tough in the pro fields. I have some good finishes. Overall, I am still chasing that pro world championship because no amateur world champion has ever won the pro world championship,” LaPutka said. “I see it as an opportunity to be the first to break that curse, to be the first to hold both titles.”