MISSOULA — There aren’t many similarities between throwing a Frisbee and a football, but Kevin Sheehan is hoping for more success in the latter to match his triumphs in the former.
Sheehan, a senior-to-be at Loyola Sacred Heart, is an avid disc golfer. He’s been described as a national teenage phenom in the sport, which is a version of golf played with a Frisbee.
He’s hoping to gain some local notoriety on the gridiron as he fights for the Rams’ starting quarterback spot this summer ahead of his final high school season.
“Right now they have three or four of us competing for QB,” Sheehan said during day one of the two-day Zoo Town Open at Blue Mountain Disc Golf Course. He’s played offensive line, defensive line and linebacker in the past. “There’s a lot of really good people trying out.”
The Zoo Town Open is an event in which competitors can qualify for the United States Disc Golf Championships. Sheehan will pass on the national tournament if he qualifies because it’ll be during the football season.
“I can play disc golf my whole life,” he said. “I can only play football another year. I don’t want to play college football. So, I can go the USDGC the next 30 years of my life, but this is my only senior season.”
In addition disc golf and football, Sheehan golfs at Loyola and competes on the school’s speech and debate team, which won its 35th consecutive State B-C championship in January.
He started disc golf in grade school, signed a sponsorship with disc golf company Innova in 2016 and turned pro within the past year when players he respected encouraged him to. He’s won seven tournaments as an amateur and pro, finished 20th at the 2016 Amateur World Championships and placed in the top eight of his past four pro tournaments.
“He has such a pure form,” Val Jenkins, the second-ranked female in the world and a four-time world champion, said Saturday.
Christian Dietrich, a Missoula native living in Helena, added: “He keeps his head on straight, which is sometimes hard for younger players.”
Sheehan will play in the Utah Open next weekend after going to a Montana State football team camp with Loyola earlier in the week. He plans to continue with disc golf as often as possible when he begins college and pursues law school.
The 17-year-old has recently limited the quantity of events he participates in, instead focusing on quality tournaments with tougher competition and higher prize money. He’s collected $2,385 in career earnings, according to the Professional Disc Golf Association website.
“I guess you could say it’s a cool summer job,” he said with a laugh.
After two rounds on the first day of the Zoo Town Open, Garrett Gurthie leads the men’s open with a 19-under-par 97. Nathan Doss, the third-ranked player in the world and a three-time world champion, is one stroke behind at 98.
Joe Rovere is five strokes back, A.J. Risley is nine behind, and Dietrich and Jordan Castro are both 10 back.
Sheehan ended in a tie for 12th, 15 strokes back with a 4-under 112. He tossed a 57 in the first round, which featured a steady rain; he lowered that to a 55 in the second round as the rain slowed.
“For me, it was just getting your grip for your shoes,” Sheehan said of the challenges, adding that he’s never seen the rain that bad on the course he plays often. “You’re going to slip around on the rubber pads (to tee off). I didn’t fall on my face, so that was a positive.”
Val Jenkins leads the women’s open with a 4-over 120, tossing a pair of 60s. Madison Walker is four strokes back, Paige Bjerkaas is five behind and Jessica Weese and Nicole Johnson are both six back.
“With the elevation changes, the difficulty is the endurance and stamina,” Jenkins said of the course’s challenges. “The rain didn’t help. At least I had my mom caddying for me.”
The women tee off the final round 11:05 a.m., Sunday, at Linda Vista Golf Course. The men start 11:40 a.m.