Throw Bros: The Inner-Circle of Tom Walsh and Ryan Whiting
Special to the National Throws Coaches Association
By Judd Spicer
Is the shot put circle large enough to hold the combined mass of two world champions? In the case of "Throw Bros" Tom Walsh and Ryan Whiting, a shared spotlight isn't a problem. Introduced in 2013, the 26-year-old Walsh and 31-year-old Whiting have fast formed a kinship which extends beyond the chalk lines. Across the past five years, Whiting has been to Walsh's native New Zealand three times to train, while Walsh has made an equal number of training trips to Whiting's Phoenix-area home. "Ryan was a guy that I looked up to," reflects Walsh, the reigning world shot champion from the 2017 World Championship in London, and the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist in Rio Di Janeiro. "Back in '13, he was at the top of the game at that point and time, and I was a young guy cutting my teeth." In the half-decade since, Walsh has tossed far beyond the teeth-cutting stage and ascended to the pinnacle of his sport, while Whiting's dedication has seen him hold ground as an international mainstay in the circle.
According to Whiting, generational guidance isn't uncommon among throwers. "It's actually pretty typical," says Whiting, the World Indoor champion in both 2012 and 2014. "You find somebody that you want to emulate; like, mine was (2012 Olympic bronze medalist) Reese Hoffa. I just liked the way he carried himself. He wasn't abrasive to any of the meet directors, and he taught me a lot about travel; he's an odd guy, but definitely my mentor." While pushing one another through training has behooved both men (Whiting lifts more, but Walsh often throws farther) it's clear that the champions share more than just the shot put in common. Though Whiting is larger than Walsh in both stature and bulk, the necessary frame of their chosen trade finds a near-likening in appearance for the burly, bearded pair. The bulky arc of their respective shoulders and necks appears mirrored when the two sit next to one another, and even a hint of time spent with the pair sees an echo in mannerism. If one didn’t know their names, these two could easily pass as brothers. "Ryan and I probably have the best relationship between the throwers," Walsh says. "Ryan and I, well, we both like eating food and we both like drinking beer. So, we usually have common ground wherever we go, whether to a local brewery or whatever it is." A mutual admiration for intake, however, is nothing without the founding of a shared respect for one another's talents and kinship in lifestyles; Whiting is a married family man, while Walsh recently finished building a new home in New Zealand with his longtime girlfriend. "We're both confident in our own abilities, but we also know how to check the egos," says Walsh of training in tandem. "So, we get on well and appreciate what one another is trying to accomplish. We'll weigh in on things for each other, we respect each other and try to help each other out."
IN THE DAYS BEFORE THE TUCSON ELITE THROWS CLASSIC in late May, it's clear that Walsh and Whiting have been spending ample time in one another's company. While Walsh's personality matches sarcasm with an earnest and sunny Kiwi purview, Whiting, a father of two, counters with a direct, blunt and cutting wit which would seem to echo his degree in civil engineering from Arizona State. The two simpatico champions may not exactly finish one another's sentences, but, if only to aggrandize, just think of what a four-hour car ride would be like with The Thing behind the wheel and The Incredible Hulk riding shotgun. Yeah, together, these two are animated, comical and fun. "Yesterday, Ryan had to wear a dress in training because he lost a bet to me," smiles Walsh. "So that was good. Also, for the Tucson Throws Elite, he'll need to show up with either a permed beard, a dyed black beard or getting his fingernails painted." Walsh, who would ultimately go on to win the Tucson event with a throw of 21.73 meters, sees the importance of pairing smiles with sinew. "We like to make it fun, as well as serious," says the Kiwi. "At the end of the day, you're throwing a ball, and if you try and take it too serious – and I've been guilty of this – you lose the reason why you do it. If you take it too seriously, you just take all of the enjoyment out if it." Adds Whiting, who placed fourth in Tucson with a top toss of 20.46 meters: "Some guys think that there are secrets to this; Tom and I are both transparent about what we do. It's all going to come out on meet day anyway. I mean, if I'm getting my butt kicked in practice every day, that's good for me. It pushes me." When honing such motivation and focus, the Throw Bros have come up with a particularly-unique method of prep, which takes each man to the brink of his concentrative powers. "We also do 'Distraction Training,'" smirks Walsh. As the New Zealander explains the method, Whiting shares a phone video of the 'distractor' holding a broom in a comically-comprised pose. "You can do anything you want, say anything you want," Walsh continues. "It may sound kind of weird, but it really does emphasize how focused you are. If you're in the zone, you may hear or see something, but we can still let it go; it's actually a very good way to practice."
Judd Spicer, Ryan Whiting, Tom Walsh
A Slightly Smaller Ball
WHETHER IN TRAINING or on the golf course or, it seems there's always something on the line between Walsh and Whiting. When the work day concludes, the two oftentimes opt to address a slightly-lighter ball, as Walsh and Whiting try to get out on Phoenix-area golf courses together a few times a week after morning training hours. As the father of two young kids (one boy; one girl), Whiting grants that his game has found some rust in recent years. The world's only shot putter with a golf sponsor (TaylorMade), Walsh gives playing competitor Whiting get three shots a side. Between the compact and efficient swing of Walsh and the brute force whack of Whiting, ample hilarity (and smack talk) ensues along the four-hour ride. "And we have a rule where we really don’t talk about shot much on the golf course," Walsh says. While gamesmanship remains well in-play for the Throws Bros on the course, golf time – as is the case for many world-class athletes – is more so an opportunity to let the hair down for an afternoon. Referencing their Distraction Training, Whiting grants that, yes, he may inadvertently talk in one's back swing a time or two during the round. No offense is intended, of course; rather, it's just what these guys are used to while plying their day trade. Fun eschews formality, and while the tenets of The Gentleman's Game remain in play, this alternate field of competition is really one in which Walsh and Whiting can get away from the pressures of the circle and let out some aggression (and laughs) upon a 1.6-ounce ball which would no doubt shriek if it could when aptly pummeled by the titanic rip of either man. And while the meaty grips of both Walsh and Whiting may not consistently lend to the tender touch of stellar short games, it is truly a sight to see either flush a driver or fairway metal, with the resulting ball flight a fully-fleshed echo of their long-honed throwing spin technique in the ring, as the respective right hips and shoulders turn through the swing with world-class force . . .
. . . and the resulting ball flight finds an initial ascent into the Phoenix sky, before discovering an extra gear of pure pummel which sees it rise once again before finding an apex.
2014 World Indoor Championships, Sopot Poland
Wave Your Own Flag
COME BOTH QUALIFYING AND MEET TIME, there is but one man in the ring, making the throw game an individual endeavor, whatever one's flag and country. Exampling the individual onus of the sport, Walsh enjoys putting weight on his broad shoulders. "I've always been told why I can't do things. I love proving people wrong," he says. "Put it this way, I've got a tattoo on my foot from a bet I lost to my coach. Its three letters: F.T.A. Kind of a motto of mine." And though the dimensions of the ring remain a constant, Walsh and Whiting are fast to acknowledge that they exist in alternate circles of nationality. While Walsh is assured of a spot on his team, Whiting is amid a constant cycle of competition with his domestic countrymen. "I know I'm on the team in March. He's got to wait until the start of July," explains Walsh. For Whiting, the game is far more complex. And while an outsider may scoff that the thought of an American aiding the talents of a foreign thrower, there is indeed a method to the continental crossover. "It's easier to throw far if you have somebody else around," Whiting says. "And even if I invited any of them (fellow American throwers) to come out here and train, they wouldn’t do it." Whiting's experience of such in-country competition dates far back into his pro throwing history. "My other close throwing friend, (2016 Olympian) Darrell Hill, I trained with him at Penn State when he was still in school," Whiting recalls. "So, we developed a relationship when we weren't competing against each other. Then he became an elite shot putter, and we stayed pretty good friends." And yet, among American throwing peers and pals, Whiting doesn't mix words when recognizing that training amid one's countryman doesn't always a ring fit make. "Joe Kovacs and I were supposed to be training partners when he came out of Penn State, and one week he just disappeared; went out to the training center in Chula Vista (Calif.) without telling me. I was quite angry at the time, but we're friends now. He said he was going to invite me to his wedding." Competition amid countrymen doesn't just stop with training but extends to the podium. "If I'm not going to win, I'd rather that Tom win rather than one of the other Americans," Whiting candors. "That sounds backwards, but that's just how it is." Perhaps it's more than simple coincidence that the flag of each man's respective country boasts red, white and blue. "It's just almost easier for me -- our (American) qualifying is so hard for the major championships – that, it's easier for me to be friends with Tom than it is another American, because we're all (American throwers) drinking from the same watering hole," Whiting continues. "We all get the same funding in the U.S., but when it comes time for U.S. Championships, I don't care what they do; I just want to make the team. And Tom is already on his team." Come meet time, each of the Throw Bros appears able to find a balance between pulling for his training partner and grabbing his own glory. "We definitely want to beat each other, but we also get stoked for each other," Walsh says. "I've had the better end of the stick the last few years, but, before that, Ryan had the better end of the stick than me." Mingling pre-meet seems a No No for both men, however once the balls begin bounding, both Walsh and Whiting are able to see the peripherals. "Before a meet? Probably not," concludes Whiting of the friendship come comp day. "You need to get into that mental routine. He'll go into his routine, and I'll go into mine. But once we're throwing, it's all fine. You are where you are."
About the Author….
Judd Spicer serves as the Co-Host of “The Press Box” radio show, weekdays from 4-5 PM (PST) on ESPN 103.9 FM (Palm Springs, California). He is a two-time award-winning, veteran freelance writer and Associate Member of the Golf Writers Association of America. After 12 years of covering MLB, NBA, NCAA and the active golf landscape of the Twin Cities, he relocated to the Palm Springs region in 2011 to further pursue his writing endeavors, golf game and Champions Tour dream.
With a backdrop of fiction pursuits in short story publishing and playwriting, Judd’s diverse writing career spans 18 years; currently, he contributes to a host of national, regional and local outlets, with wide-ranging print and online clients such as the SCGA’s FORE Magazineand plusFORE digital mag, The Golf Channel.com, Palm Springs Life and the Desert Publications, Inc. family of magazines, the Greater Palm Springs Conventions Bureau, and The Desert Sun newspaper, for which he also pens a regular column,