Typically when you walk up to a couple you shouldn’t start a conversation with, “Hi, Old Man!” and you, without a doubt, shouldn’t look to his wife and say “Hi, Mom!” Yet, for disc golfers, when it comes to Bill and Mary Ann Wallis, this is completely acceptable. Known simply as Old Man and Mom, the Wallis duo has been a fixture at big disc golf events around the country.
After getting introduced to the sport by his son Wilbur in the late 1980s, Old Man fell in love with the people of disc golf and the connections you can make within the sport. Mom wasn’t as involved with disc golf then as she is now and didn’t really begin playing until the mid 1990s. Old Man worked in building maintenance while Mom has served as a CNA before both retiring and setting their sights on disc golf.
Old Man and Mom are fixtures of the United States Disc Golf Championship serving as the spotters on Hole 18. Old Man takes his post near the treeline next to the lake while Mom has her stool and camera ready near the mando tree halfway up the fairway. With the green and red flags to signal if a shot landed in bounds or out of bounds, these two volunteers are typically among the last to leave the course each night.
While the USDGC, and many other tournaments, have played host to the pair, their co-involvement with disc golf began in the 1990s at the Greater Peoria Open in Peoria, Illinois. As the tournament was set to bump up to Super Tour status on the PDGA tour, there was a need for extra course officials at each course in the tournament. This brought added stress and pressure on Old Man who was charged with being the tournament director this specific year. As the tournament approached, Old Man was worried they were going to be one official short.
Little did Old Man know that Mom quietly took her PDGA Officials Exam on her own so she could serve as the last remaining official. While you now get an instant reply from the PDGA on the status of your Officials Exam, Mom was forced to wait to hear the results. The wait was worth it as Mom aced the exam and was a certified PDGA Official.
As Old Man was still worried about that last official, Mom walked in and broke the news that she was ready to work. The pair has been working side by side ever since, including running the United States Women’s Disc Golf Championship for six straight years in Peoria, Illinois. They often return to the USWDGC and have served as hosts in years since.
While we’re at the 2015 USDGC, we couldn’t pass up a chance to talk with Old Man and Mom to learn more about their history with disc golf and how they got their monikers.
How did you first get into disc golf?
Old man: “My son Wilbur introduced me to the sport. He brought me a disc in the middle of winter that you couldn’t really buy anywhere and we started playing. It’s keeps me active. We play casually today. I play in leagues when I’m at home sometimes. Preferabbly doubles. It’s more for the camaraderie and not the competition.”
Mom: “I play casually. The first time I threw a disc I was 54. Don’t wait until you’re 54 to start playing!
After you both retired, what made you want to be involved with disc golf?
Old Man: “Well, we didn’t decide that when we retired. We planned for it years prior. We love to travel. We love the sport of disc golf and we love the people involved with disc golf. Most of them have become like family. We decided probably 25 years ago when we retired, we’d travel to as many tournaments as we could.”
“The off shoot of that was the idea of helping at the tournaments and to give back to the sport because it does keep us healthy and keeps us active. It also takes us to parts of the country we probably wouldn’t see and do some sightseeing while we’re there.”
How many years have you been at the USDGC?
Mom: “I believe this is our seventh year.”
Have you always been on Hole 18?
Both: *empahtically* “Yes!”
What is it about Hole 18 that has kept you here the whole time?
Old Man: “No one else wants it! It’s a great finishing hole. We get to see a lot of players who are maybe going for that heroic shot to maybe gain a stroke. By the same token, they might get a little off kilter and throw it away.”
Mom: “Getting to see everyone is the best! Everyone has to come through Hole 18 to finish the round. Getting to see people every year is great. Lots of hugs and lots of thank yous! It’s rewarding to see all of our disc golf friends!”
Let’s talk about the United States Women’s Disc Golf Championship. You both have had more influcence and more involvement with since arguably anyone else.
Old Man: “First, let there be no misunderstanding that Innova actually started the Women’s Championships right here at the USDGC. It was basically something to give the women their own tournament while the men competed in the USDGC. In 2002, they put it up for bids and we got the bid. We love doing events for the women because they are so apprecitive of the little things you do to make it fun in addition to the competition. They are very competitive at times, but they still like to have fun. That’s what we felt like we gave to the women. We built up the tournament to be better for them to give them what they wanted and what they deserved.”
You ran the USWDGC a few years ago in 2014. Was that fun?
Mom: “It was fun, but it was a little heartbreaking since we have such a history with it. At the same token, a lot of these women, since we’re traveling more, we get to see them over and over. That’s neat!”
Ok, I have to ask the obvious question. Old Man and Mom is how you are known. Where did that begin?
Old Man: “Brian Cummings started the Old Man business. The first tournament I ever played in… I went to the Oly Open up near Chicago and this was before we had pre-registration, scoreboards, that kind of stuff. They were calling off who was on which holes and he said Bill Wallis. Well, my son is, Bill Wallis Jr., and we were standing together and we looked up and asked ‘Which one?’ and Brian said ‘Oh, the old man.’ I got teased on that all day long and it just stuck. And it’s just a nickname!”
Mom: *laughs* “A couple people started calling me ‘Old Lady’ and I’m going ‘no! no! no!’ You can call me Mom. I told them I know I’m old, but you don’t have to call me old. The Mom name stuck.”
What do you both look forward to during the USDGC week? Is it seeing the people?
Old Man: “Number one is the camaraderie of the players and the staff of who we’ve worked with multiple times. It’s really just being out in the beautiful park and University. It’s more about the people?”
How many more years will you be out here?
Mom: “Hopefully a few more!”
Old Man: “I agree. Hopefully a few more. It’s getting harder and harder to pull the travel trailer and drive many miles in a day. We try and limit our driving time to 400 miles max. It just takes longer to get places.”
Mom: “Well, I’m hoping that if people want us. They’d put us up in the hotel. We’ll pay for the gas and everything else, but if they could have us stay in the hotel we don’t have to pull the camper. Then we could do it longer.”
We continued to chat for another 20 minutes after the interview and the conversation was easily one of the best we’ve had in the disc golf community. We talked about how they can nearly predict when a competitor will have a bad throw on 18. They can see it in their body language when they second guess themselves and then make a mistake.
They also continued to talk about the hugs. They both love them and even said after Barry Schultz didn’t quite have the result on his second shot on Hole 18 during Round One, Schultz walked up to Mom and gave her a hug with the comment, “I should have done this first!”
After a few more laughs, they needed to get ready for the first card of the day to come through Hole 18. Before they walked away, Mom told me how to find her on Facebook. They were right, it doesn’t take long to really be welcomed by disc golf’s Old Man and Mom.