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Blacksburg native Conrad’s ‘shot heard ‘round the world’ takes disc golf to new heights

Published: Jul. 4, 2021 at 3:08 PM EDT
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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - It was the disc golf shot heard ‘round the world.

James Conrad’s 247-foot birdie last Saturday in Ogden, Utah, would have been impressive without any context. But on the final hole of the Pro World Championships, needing to sink it to force a playoff, Conrad made what might be the greatest shot of all time.

“The fact that I was able to put myself in the position to play basically five rounds of really good disc golf and be right there in the mix coming down the home stretch, that’s an accomplishment that I’m proud of on its own,” said Conrad. “And then the fact that I was able to sink that shot and force the overtime just really puts it over the top. It was super special, you know.”

The shot sent the gallery of 1,400 spectators into a frenzy and for good reason.

Conrad says the response was overwhelming.

“If you have hundreds of people watching and you do something impressive or if I make a good putt or something and just to hear everyone get really excited about that is such a special feeling,” he said. “The silence during the anticipation while I’m lining up the shot, to have that many people just focused on what I’m doing and then the eruption of emotion, just amazing.”

Growing up with his father in the army, Conrad’s family moved around throughout his childhood, but they eventually settled in the New River Valley in 2007, where James graduated from Blacksburg High School.

His first pro win came in Rocky Mount back in 2008.

“That’s been as close to home as anywhere, pretty much since then,” said Conrad. “The last five or so years, I haven’t spent too much time around Virginia. I definitely spend some time around the holidays visiting my family and such, but Virginia still feels like home.”

His miraculous shot made it to number one on SportsCenter’s top 10 plays that night, and Conrad went on to defeat his opponent, and Lynchburg-area resident, Paul McBeth in the playoff to win his first world championship in a tournament showcasing two of the best from the Commonwealth.

“It’s really cool for Virginia and for the Virginia disc golfers and everything,” he said. “I know they’re all super proud of us. Paul and I, we never really spend time together in Virginia, but we both obviously have roots there and so, I think we’re both really happy for the exposure to the area and we both think it’s a really good area for disc golf. The land is beautiful and there’s a lot of good people around.”

But besides representing Virginia, Conrad and his competitors on the PDGA Tour are bringing their sport to a new level, too.

He says the crowd reaction and the attention his shot garnered in the last week is only helping to grow the game he’s played professionally since 2006.

“If there’s a street performer out on the street, he could be doing something completely amazing, and if no one is watching then people walking by will barely notice,” Conrad explained. “But if he gets a small crowd of 10 or 20 people watching and getting excited about what the performer’s doing, then that kind of just attracts a larger and larger crowd, so I think we’ll see some of that phenomenon.

“When we get great coverage of a shot like I threw and the coverage is good enough to be shown on SportsCenter and these kind of things, I think that’s a big step towards growing it, and those guys are really working their butts off to make some good disc golf content and it’s definitely helping.”

And as for his career, the win itself has validated Conrad’s rise up the disc golf ranks, with his shot heard ‘round the world serving as a culmination of the work it took to get here.

“Just as a competitor, to be able to say that I stepped up to the biggest stage in the world in our sport and was able to come out on top is a great feeling,” he said.

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