We love it when members of Team Dynamic play like dynamite. And that's exactly what we saw out of three newly-crowned world champs at the recent 2023 Professional Disc Golf Association Amateur and Junior World Championships in Peoria, Illinois: Virginia Polkinghorne (FJ15), Kaidin Bell (MJ12), and Axel Olson (MA1).
Virginia was the defending champion in her group and had won world titles in other age brackets. Kaidin, too, had previously won Worlds at other levels. Axel's 2023 victory was his first Worlds win, and he earned it just a year after a second-place showing in MJ18 at the last Junior Worlds.
Learn more about these young champions below: How they discovered disc golf, what keeps them motivated, and the highs and lows of their 2023 title runs.
FJ15 Disc Golf World Champion Virginia Polkinghorne
Virginia Polkinghorne is a disc golfer from Missouri. Her dad found out about the sport through co-workers and passed on his interest to his daughter.
"My first memory around disc golf was being awake while my dad was getting ready for work and he handed me a disc that had a Sharpied-on character from one of my favorite shows," Virginia said. "I was about six and I loved it.
At age seven, she competed in her first PDGA-sanctioned tournament.
"I couldn't really finish a round, but I tried," she said.
Virginia Polkinghorne's 2023 Worlds Stats
Final score: 7-under par
Margin of victory: 2 strokes
That willingness to try served her well again in Peoria when she found herself five strokes back of the tournament's co-leaders with just one full round and the Final 9 to go. Though at one point she "came to terms with most likely not being able to pull through" for the win, she rallied and put together her strongest round of the tournament in the semifinals.
By the start of the Final 9, Virginia was only one stroke back of two co-leaders. It took just a single hole for her to climb into a tie for first, and though the scorecards said it was far from over, Virginia felt otherwise.
"After the first shot on the Final 9, I knew that there was almost no way of falling back – I felt amazing," she said.
Virginia also told us that having to fight for this win made it feel a bit "more rewarding" than her first FJ15 Worlds victory last year.
Despite her talent and competitive spirit, Virginia isn't dead-set on making disc golf into her career, but she's certain that it will remain an important part of her life.
"I love the opportunities it brings me and the camaraderie it also allows me to have," Virginia said. "I love all the friends I've made during my travels."
MJ12 Disc Golf World Champion Kaidin Bell
The child of two long-time disc golfers, Michigander Kaidin Bell doesn't remember a time when he wasn't playing disc golf.
"My parents always made sure to pack a collapsible mini basket everywhere we would go to keep me entertained," Bell said. "I have YouTube videos from the age of thirteen months old practicing my disc golf skills and form using minis."
Kaidin Bell's 2023 Worlds Stats
Final score: 20-under par
Margin of victory: 1 stroke
Most important discs: Chameleon Evaders were great for handling sidearm torque while Air Evaders "hovered over the ground like a UFO down the low ceiling fairways at Northwoods Blue." Sockibomb Slammers "stuck like darts inside the circle" so he could finish holes with a trusty Judge.
A stunningly short time after those videos were made, Kaidin – who wasn't even old enough for kindergarten – played in his first official tournament. And he kicked off his competitive career with a bang.
"My first sanctioned competition was the Eagles Wings Midwest Regional when I was four years old," Kaidin said. "Each card had a marshal to keep score. Just before they hollered two minutes, the marshal suggested that each of us throw a practice drive. That was my first ace!"
Though he doesn't expect every throw to be an ace, Kaidin does hold his play to high standards. In Peoria, one of his biggest challenges was battling his own emotions when his results didn't live up to them.
He told us that he entered the tournament expecting to be on the lead card going into the Final 9. When he finished the tournament's second round with a bogey and double bogey that dropped him to eighth place and six strokes off the lead, he needed time and a good chat to reset his mental game.
"We had an extended lunch break due to lightning and tornado warnings," Kaidin recalled. "We went to the mall and talked about why we were in Peoria and [it] made me realize I needed to show the world my game."
When he got back on the course, 913-rated Kaidin had a 965-rated round – his best ever. He kept up a blistering pace through the next two rounds, too. During his last three rounds before the Final 9, Kaidin averaged 41 points above his rating.
He had not only reached the lead card – he was tied for first place. By hole 5 of the Final 9, Kaidin had a comfortable four-stroke lead that let him cruise to victory.
The win made Kaidin a multi-time World Champion as he's won Worlds in other Junior divisions previously. He shares his enthusiasm for disc golf with anyone he meets, including his teachers and classmates.
"When I was in fourth grade, I inspired my P. E. teacher to implement disc golf into the curriculum," Kaidin said. "I gave the school my red, white, and blue Chainstar basket to practice on during P.E. That inspiration led to my parents getting together with volunteers and installing a disc golf course at my school."
Though Kaidin is considering using his growing skills in Mandarin Chinese to serve his country, he said the prospect of winning a Professional Disc Golf World Championship in Open one day is enticing.
MA1 Disc Golf World Champion Axel Olson
Compared to Virginia and Kaidin, Washington's Axel Olson was positively ancient when he first played disc golf.
"My first disc golf memory was when my family and I first tried out the sport when I was 10 years old," Axel said. "We didn't really know what we were doing as we ended up playing with ultimate Frisbees and minis, but I remember having a good time with my family."
Despite picking up the sport at an age in the double digits, Axel has managed to catch on. The summer before starting his senior year in high school, he's won the World Championship in the Advanced division, which is the most competitive amateur division in disc golf. It's a feat that puts him in the company of names like Anthony Barela, Jeremy Koling, and Paul Ulibarri.
Axel Olson's 2023 Worlds Stats
Final score: 19-under par
Margin of victory: 2 strokes
Axel said he constantly works to make the physical aspects of his game as well-rounded and sharp as possible, but all that practice only pays off because he's able to keep an even keel on the course.
"I have consistently assumed a positive and reassuring mindset that keeps me levelheaded and strong throughout the round," Axel said.
It also didn't hurt his chances this year that the 2023 Worlds courses reminded him of home.
"My home course is a place called North SeaTac here in Seattle, a fairly short but heavily wooded course," Axel said. "From there I learned how to throw well in the woods, be smart, and shape shots with faster speed discs. I was able to take all the skills I learned from my home course and translate it to the courses in Peoria as they were very similar to SeaTac."
That comfort with woods golf paid off when he found his game suffering from tees made slippery by heavy rains.
"This seriously caught me off guard and caused me to have my worst round at Northwood Black, leaving me four off the leader going into round 3," Axel said. "After that I told myself to stay calm and throw the safe shot that wouldn't get me in any trouble. Sure enough it got me back to tied first with one round to go."
Though his initial co-leader quickly fell behind, the final round wasn't a cake walk. Axel had a tough battle with two others on his card and even trailed by a stroke at a few points in the round. But by the end of hole 17, he had earned a one stroke advantage with just one hole between him and a world championship.
And then some magic happened on hole 18, a 660-foot par 4.
"With two people one stroke back, I knew I needed to birdie to win," Axel said. "I put a great drive out there to put me only 191 feet away from the pin. Not wanting to leave it short, I took my first run Latitude 64 Savior and put it in the basket."
And, just to be clear, he's saying that he put in his second throw on the par 4, snagging an eagle to secure the win.
"As I watched it go into the basket, I couldn't process what that meant," Axel went on. "The entire week I had worked so hard and waited so long through all the delays, and for it to be over just like that with the result I wanted was overwhelming at the time. All I remember thinking was that I didn't have to throw another shot to become a world champion."
Having earned the highest title an amateur player can get in disc golf, Axel's excited that he can now accept cash when he competes in Open. In fact, the next weekend after his world championship, he took home his first-ever cash prize from sanctioned disc golf play: $1,265 for an Open victory at the Kayak Point Open in Washington.
Though he plans to compete on the Disc Golf Pro Tour in the summer of 2024 after he graduates from high school, his life plan includes going to college when fall comes. But he doesn't think hitting the books will stop him from hitting his lines.
"I want to go to college while being the best disc golfer I can be," Axel said.
Go Team Dynamic!
Dynamic Discs' mission is to enrich lives through disc golf, and it's clear to us that this sport has had a huge impact on the lives of these three world champions. We couldn't be happier to have them on our team and to support them as they grow as disc golfers and people.
To Virginia, Kaidin, and Axel from all of us here at Dynamic:
Photos credited to the PDGA