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You're Up, Europe: Tapani Aulu


Finland's Tapani Aulu is the first in a series of European players to get to know. Courtesy photo

As the disc golf community continues to grow at a rapid pace, it’s becoming harder and harder to keep up with the people making names for themselves worldwide. Part of this is because the majority of media output focuses on players who live in North America or often make the trip there.

Well, the PDGA is now doing its own small part to change that. This year, we’ll be doing an ongoing series introducing you to players from that other hotbed of disc golf activity: Europe. And while we love players like Seppo Paju, Simon Lizotte, KJ Nybo, and Kristin Tattar, this series aims to introduce you to players who most disc golf fans are a little less familiar with.

We begin with a player who is the only person, to our knowledge, have PDGA wins in South America, Africa, and Europe. He is the 2019 Brasil Open champion and also won the first ever PDGA event in Africa, the Ethiopian Open 2018.

We’re talking about Tapani Aulu.

The Game

Since this is our first entry into the series, we wanted to start off with something fun. You might have played the party game Two Truths and a Lie before, but if you haven’t, here are the rules: Someone says three things about themselves; two are true, one isn’t, and everyone tries to guess which is the falsehood.

Just like in the game, we’re going to tell you three stories about Aulu; two are true, and one isn’t. If you want to play along, you can let us know in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter, which story you think is bogus.

tapani_putts_at_jarva.jpg

Aulu putts at the famed, and soon-to-be defunct, Järva DiscGolfPark in Sweden. Courtesy photo

A Few (Entirely True) Things About Tapani Aulu

  • Home Country: Finland
  • Current Residence: Turku, Finland
  • Playing Disc Golf Since: 2009
  • Sponsor: Prodigy Disc Europe
  • Favorite Disc: Prodigy PA3
  • Spirit Animal: Pistol Shrimp (Don’t know what that is? This short National Geographic video is worth the watch.)

Aulu’s Two Truths and a Lie

Aulu’s disc golf career has been anything but boring, and he’s got plenty of amazing stories. It’s almost a pity we had to make one up.

Still, we did, and now it’s your job to figure out which one of these doesn’t ring true.

A Cyclone, Months with a Stranger, and a Strike in Finland

In the disc golf community, stories of kindness and openness are common. Still, even in a sport where generosity is the norm, having a stranger living in another country offer you the keys to their house while they go to another continent isn’t exactly—to use a fitting phrase—par for the course.

But that’s exactly what happened to Aulu.

During his studies to become an English translator, Aulu was looking for somewhere in the United Kingdom where he could meet a requirement of his program to study or work in an English-speaking country. Having recently caught a serious case of disc golf-itis, his first thought was to find something he could do related to the sport.

A little searching led Aulu to find Quarry Park, a private disc golf course in Leamington Spa, England. He sent an email to the owner, UK disc golf legend and first European member of the Disc Golf Hall of Fame Derek Robins, asking if there was anything he could do there.

Robins’ response went something like this: “Sure. I leave soon for the United States Disc Golf Championship, and it’d be great for someone to look after the course while I’m gone. Can you come in about a week?”

Despite the short notice, Aulu agreed, and one week later was sitting on a plane to London.

To add to his luck, there just happened to be a disc golf tournament, the Croydon Cyclone, near England’s capital that weekend, so Aulu decided to play it and then catch a ride with another player up to Robins’ home. Being a new player, Aulu didn’t know there was much of a difference between Amateur and Open (a.k.a. professional) divisions, so just signed up to play in Open.

Tapping into every bit of his four months of previous disc golf experience, Aulu won the Open division by four strokes. He was given a big wooden trophy where his name sat over the previous year’s winner: 2005, 2007, and 2011 PDGA World Champion Nate Doss.

After the awards ceremony, Aulu, his trophy, and his luggage got a ride to Robins’ house. A scant three days after Aulu’s arrival, Robins left for South Carolina, leaving his livelihood—the keys to his home and pro shop with its thousands of discs and the responsibility of running and maintaining his course—in the hands of a virtual stranger from Finland who had first sent him an email two weeks before.

What was meant to be just a few weeks at Robins’ home became much longer, as the pair found they enjoyed working together after Robins’ return from the United States. Then, just as Aulu was preparing to finally go back to Finland after more than a month in England, the Finnish Aviation Union went on strike, further delaying his return.

Eventually, Aulu did make it home, and he got eight beautiful study credits to go along with his trophy and experiences.

One Person's Discs Are Another Person's Trash

Though there are thousands of people around the world who love disc golf, it’s admittedly not the most well-known sport. Sometimes, that can lead to interesting interactions between disc golfers and those who have absolutely no idea what they’re doing with those strange-looking Frisbees.

Being married to a Brazilian, Aulu sometimes gets the opportunity to escape Finnish winters and bask in the sub-equatorial sun on visits with his wife’s family in São Paulo. When these chances come along, he always takes a bag of discs with him so he can enjoy throwing outside without needing three layers of clothes and spiked ice shoes.

One morning in January (Brazilian summer), Aulu took his discs out to a field of grass in one of São Paulo’s parks. Given the city’s population of over 12 million people, he had to get out early to escape the crowds. In the morning haze, Aulu could just see a runner with headphones on warming up on another edge of the field. The runner wasn’t close enough that there was any danger of Aulu hitting him, so he began to throw.

Just as Aulu had about emptied his bag, he noticed something strange: The runner was moving toward his discs. Aulu shouted to the other man, but his headphones seemed to block out Aulu’s voice. When the runner reached Aulu’s discs, he started to pick them up, and that’s when Aulu decided to jog over and explain what the discs were.

Before he could get there, however, the runner had not only collected each disc, but also calmly chucked them into a nearby trashcan, likely thinking he had helped rid the park of some litter.

Luckily, the trash can was shallow, and Aulu was able to fish his discs out as the runner looked on from a distance. Though he thought he saw a little embarrassment in the runner’s eyes, Aulu never spoke to him, and the runner quickly trotted off to another part of the park.

The Predatory Instinct

There are plenty of dog-loving disc golfers, and many of them bring their four-pawed friends with them to the course. But with disc golf being so often played in the woods where wildlife abounds, it’s not unlikely that a dog’s hunting instincts will kick in when it encounters a wild animal—no matter the size difference.

Though he now lives about 200 kilometers (124 miles) south, Aulu once resided near Kankaanpää, Finland, where he built the Viidentienristeys course. Shortly after completing construction, Aulu was out playing a round with a visiting friend. Not long into their game, the two heard frantic barking and someone shouting “Rekku! Rekku!”—a common Finnish dog name that translates to “Barky”—from a different fairway.

Then they started to hear the sound of something much larger than a dog crashing through the underbrush and coming nearer and nearer.

Aulu and his friend decided it was a good idea to get some distance between them and whatever was making that sound and quickly moved up their fairway away from the source of the noise, and it was fortunate that they did: A bull moose burst from the trees near where they’d just been standing being chased by what could only be Rekku, a pint-sized Jack Russel terrier-mix.

Though moose are known to be dangerous, Aulu and his friend were too shocked by the sight of an animal that weighed at least 400 kilos (881 pounds) being pursued by a dog that couldn’t weigh more than seven kilos (15 pounds) to be afraid. They simply watched in wonder as Rekku continued to chase the moose into another wooded area before disappearing out of view.

Coming out of their shock, the pair of players followed the shouts of the dog’s name and found Rekku’s owner, who claimed he hadn’t even seen the other animal until his dog had took off after it. The two offered to help find Rekku, and after about 20 minutes of calling and searching the little dog trotted calmly out of the woods toward its owner.

Despite his lack of success in downing the moose, Aulu still thought Rekku seemed pleased with his effort.

Looking Ahead to 2019

Which of the stories is true? We’re not telling quite yet, but don’t forget to make your guesses. We might even toss a prize at a reader or two who gets the right answer. But now that we’ve looked at Aulu’s past, it’s worth noting what he has ahead of him in 2019. In two weeks, he’ll be competing as one of the highest rated players at Austria’s Vienna Open, and the week after that he’ll be in Italy competing in the Tuscany Open.

“Then I will play mostly Finnish tournaments, since we are expecting a child in the summer,” Aulu said.

While he is obviously thrilled for the new arrival, he did mention one slight drawback when asked whether he would be playing the prestigious European Open, like his PDGA schedule says.

“Well, probably not since it’s the exact due date,” Aulu said. “I didn’t know that when signing up.”

 

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