Anthony Barela. If you’re a disc golfer today, that is a name you need to know tomorrow. He’s only 15 years old, but let’s face it… he’s better than many of us…way better. Barela, better known as just AB, made a splash when he won the United States Amateur Disc Golf Championship a few weeks ago in Michigan.
If you look at the results of that tournament, Barela is just one of a handful of talented teenagers who will be making an impact of their own on disc golf before we know it.
Barela is a sophomore in high school in Mesa, Arizona. He says some of his classmates understands just how good he is at disc golf and has taught the sport to a few friends in his class, but I think it’s fair to say that even disc golfers might not understand just how good Barela is and how good he can be in the future.
He’s been a part of Innova’s Junior Team for a little while now which helped open up a connection to three-time World Champion Paul McBeth. McBeth has served as a mentor both on and off the course for AB. We contacted Innova’s Team Manager Jonathan Poole to setup this interview and Poole led us on to another nickname for the upcoming star… McNugget.
With some help from Poole and AB’s very supportive dad, Jason, we got to talk to AB to get a preview of who could be disc golf’s next big thing.
How does it feel to win such a great tournament?
“It was an amazing feeling. It was one of my biggest accomplishments so far. I’ve been wanting to win the USADGC for two years now and love the course. I felt like my game really fits the course.”
You played on the Toboggan Course last year. Did that experience help you?
“Last year helped me a lot! The mental game comes into play at the Toboggan quite a bit. If you get into the rough you have to pitch out and try and save your par. Landing in the fairways will help you be rewarded. My gameplay the whole tournament was to hit the fairways and I stuck to that the whole time.”
What was a sweeter feeling… this win or the Junior World Championship in 2013?
“This win. There was a lot of competition and I had to work a lot harder to pull off the win.”
You’re on Innova’s Junior team. What has that experience been like?
“It’s been awesome playing with some of the kids on the team around my age and watching them develop. I’ve met a lot of people and made a lot of friends. Innova’s support has been awesome, they have helped get my name out there along with giving me the chance to throw the best discs. Meeting Paul McBeth and working with him has been valuable.What discs were you reaching for the most at the USADGC?
“Definitely the Destroyer for those long open shots to hit the fairway. I reached for that the most. I used the McPro Aviar for all my putting. The Discmania P2 Psycho was used for a lot of upshots too.”
You mentioned how you’ve had the chance to work with Paul McBeth quite a bit in the last few years. What’s it like working with Paul?
“It’s awesome seeing how he works in the off season and how he practices. He gives me insight for what to look forward to.”
What’s the most important thing he’s taught you?
“I’m not sure, honestly. Everything. He’s been great.”
You’ve played in the Open division for a few years now, but haven’t taken the cash payout to turn pro. Are you wanting one last stab at a World Championship before taking the jump up?
“I’m going to stay in Am until I win Am Worlds and then I’ll take money. If I lose this year at Am Worlds, I’ll keep going back until I win. That’s my goal right now.”
When people think of disc golfers names like McBeth, Will Schusterick, Ricky Wysocki, Dave Feldberg, Avery Jenkins, Simon Lizotte all come to mind. You were competing with other teenagers all weekend… do you think you and this next crop of up and comers are ready to take on the big guys?
“For sure! We’re all improving everyday. We all started earlier than some of those guys so we kind of have a head start. We all want to be better than those guys some day. We’re all tight and connected and hang out. It’s fun!”
Do you like to compete against friends like that?
“I think it’s better for the most part. It makes you more comfortable. I played Izak McDonald at the USADGC, and played with him at Worlds in 2013. It was fun having him around in the final two rounds.”
What’s next for you?
“I’ll be playing in a local tournament in Arizona and then getting ready for Am Worlds.”
You’re just 15 years old. Your dad, Jason, helped setup this interview. How much support do your parents give you?
“They are the best. They take me everywhere… drive me, fly me, whatever. It’s pretty awesome. My dad and my grandpa used to play in the mid 90s and picked it up again in 2008-09. I went out with them and I loved it. I went with my grandpa and got better than I expected.”
Is there anything you want to include or anyone you want to thank?
“Have to say a big ‘thank you’ to Innova Champion Discs, Grip Equipment, Supreme Flight, Spinners on the Green, FallingPutt.com and all my family. Most importantly, my parents who take me everywhere!”
After the interview we asked AB what else he does besides disc golf and he said he plays baseball (another parallel to McBeth). We then asked what he wanted to stick with: baseball or disc golf? He didn’t hesitate… it was disc golf.
We’ve had the chance to talk with many of the big names in disc golf over the previous few years. It is hard to find someone as professional and mature beyond his years as AB. While this is the first time we’ve talked with AB, we know it won’t be the last.
Editors note: A previous version said Barela was the youngest ever to win the USADGC. David Wiggins also won the tournament at 15 years old and beat out Barela by a few months.