Friday, January 31, 2014

Beware the Bad Towel

Honestly, I've been holding onto this story for a while because I was just too embarrassed to even bring it up, let alone write about it on the world wide web. In all good stories there's gotta be the poor sucker who is behind the 8 ball. This time it's me, directly behind it.

The plan was simple enough. Playing a casual tournament round with a few friends on a brisk Saturday morning. I had slept well the night before, a stomach full of delicious Indian food, a few nitro stouts and the sweet dreams of ace runs and sinking fifty footers all while racking up the birdies. 

I got up early, drank a nice cup of coffee and then waited for the inevitable call of nature that shows up shortly after that first cup. Nothing doing on the southern front. Not a second thought about it as I knocked down another cup of joe and a scarfed down a little breakfast.

The round kicked off with little fanfare, a quick players meeting and a few warm up putts. Nothing that would make me think that bad things were awaiting me just 10 holes away.

The game unfolded at a pretty brisk pace and somewhere around the 9th hole I felt a vise like grip of pain shuddering in my stomach. Beads of sweat punched across my brow and I grabbed my brother's shoulder and quietly asked how far he thought we were from the port-a-crappers by the parking lot?

Michael, 9 years my junior, looked at me pretty amused while the color was draining from my face. "It's at least a 15 minute walk from here... 15 back... plus whatever time you need. You'll have to drop out of the tournament... you can't hold up the card for 40 minutes." 

Sweet christ on the cross! I couldn't care less about dropping out of the tournament - I was more worried about that 15 minute walk... maybe a 5 minute sprint? 

Another wave hit me like an impatient child waiting to be birthed. My knees trembling, I looked at him and swallowed. 

I ask my brother, "Did you bring any toilet paper?!" my eyes watering and desperate.

"No. Why? You're not serious?" he looked at me with real concern.

"I'll be back." I manage to muster as I shuffle off into the closest ravine full of small bushes I can find.

Somewhere during this short walk into the most secluded spot I can find, I realize that this was no longer a matter of "if" but "when". The reality was that pants on or off, this poop baby was going to be delivered REALLY soon. 

I lob my disc bag onto the ground, rip my pants and underwear all the way off! This was not time for shame, this was a god awful 4 alarm emergency in T-Minus 5... 4... 3... 

I'll spare you the next 60 seconds. 

There are a few moments in your life when you witness something just so depraved and horrendous that the memory won't leave you. For me, it was a morning while I was driving to work in the Mission District of San Francisco about 10 years ago. The homeless situation in the Mission is terribly bad and there are many camps of tents under the freeway. 

I was stopped at a light near my office, and I looked across the street to see a familiar homeless man begging, who had one leg and a wheelchair. He was full-blown crazy and cracked out to boot. He would beg nearly everyday on this corner. Seeing him wasn't surprising - but what happened next was VERY surprising. 

I watched as he hopped out of the wheelchair, spun around on one leg and I quickly noticed that he's not wearing anything below his shirt. My eyebrows raised and my head cocked to the side as I pondered what exactly was going on. He grabbed the wheelchair and like a shotgun blast of thick and horrible coffee - he unleashed a cavalcade of poop-spray all over the sidewalk. Then without so much as a second thought, he hopped back in the chair and continued begging.

It was then that I heard screaming coming from inside my own car. I looked around wondering where it was coming from before realizing that it was in fact me. I was death gripping the wheel and screaming "NOOOOOOOOO! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, NOOOOOOOO!"

That, my friends, is what would have happened if some poor hapless soul would have stumbled upon the scene that I was creating in a ditch on the side of a disc golf course. The saving grace was that nobody happened to come across the scene. It would have been un-imaginable. 

I looked through my bag, hoping against hope that there would be something resembling toilet paper - but no dice. Then I see my blue disc towel. Sorry old friend, but your time has come.

I put my clothes back on and wrap the disc towel up as tightly as possible stuffing it into the outside of my bag and stumble back to my card. 

"Don't ask and don't use my disc towel", I say to my brother and he assures me that he wants nothing to do with me and that he doesn't know why he brings me out in public.

On the next drive, I nearly dropped the disc while trying to throw it. I felt like I had run a marathon and my nerves were pretty well shot, but after a few drives things settled down and I actually felt like the day might just turn around. That's when I realized that the blue disc towel that had been tucked into an outside pocket (for later disposal) was gone.

My eyes dart from player to player around me. My initial thought was that somebody was about to wipe down their disc and then there would be screaming and angry time.

Nobody was holding the towel so I quickly back track as much as possible to try to find the towel, but it's just gone. It must have fallen out somewhere along the way. 

I walk over to my brother, "Hey. The towel. The... the bad towel. It's, uhhhh, it's gone."

"WHAT?! Dude, you're unreal."

And that's how I had somehow become the pant-less, one legged, crack head shitting in the street. 

Next hole I parked a big annie 6' from the pin and all was forgotten. At least that is what I have to tell myself.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Don't look now, but I think this may be a lifestyle

By Kyle O'Neill

First things first, let me introduce myself: my name is Kyle, and I’m addicted to Disc Golf.

Hello Kyle

I realize there are worse things to be addicted to, but it’s tough to argue this point with my wife. There’s no faster way to receive a round of eye rolling than asking “would you rather I be addicted to crack/smack/gambling?!”

That being said, I’m not ashamed of my addiction. I actually hold it as a point of pride. If you’ll allow me, I’d like to share the story of how I got to this point. I would imagine that there are quite a few readers who can relate on some level.

A bit of history. As a youth (I’m old, but that still sounds weird to say out loud), I was very much into team sports such as soccer and basketball. I enjoyed the competition, but I treasured the camaraderie. There was nothing like getting together every afternoon for practice and catching up with my friends. We had a common bond in the sport, but it went beyond that.

As I got older, my body began to revolt against the activities. For some crazy reason, my knees weren’t really down with playing 7 ½ straight hours of basketball. I stopped joining indoor soccer leagues and playing pickup games at the gym, and my overall physical state suffered. In a way, my body still craved the activity, but couldn’t bring itself to attempt to relive former “glory.”

Throughout my life, I’d heard about Disc Golf. I think I may have even had a vague idea of how it’s played and the equipment one might use. But I liken it to when someone asks you if you’ve ever tried edamame. “No, I’ve never tried it, but I’ll totally look into that.” Yeah right.

When a good friend of mine finally got me out on the course, and I hate to be so dramatic, but it was like the clouds parting and the sun shining on my face (groan). Not because we were outdoors and the sun was literally shining on my face, although that had something to do with it. But because I found friends who were secretly hiding the fact that they played Disc Golf (like some sort of horrible addiction!). We now had something we could partake in together that didn’t involve lifting pints at the local watering hole.

It was also something I was moderately good at, and I hadn’t found something that combined these particular aspects in quite some time. Another reason I began to enjoy it so much is because the strangers I met on the course, they were like me! They had relaxed attitudes and didn’t take themselves too seriously. For the most part, they enjoyed a spirited round with some good-natured ribbing to boot.

I started doing research, I got better equipment, and I sought out new and more difficult courses. I discussed Disc Golf with people who didn’t want to hear about it whatsoever, so I found people that did. Sometimes I now catch myself wondering if this is a healthy obsession, but then a colorful piece of plastic or a shiny metal basket catches my eye and it’s quickly forgotten.

I remember those first heady days, where I would smile to myself and realize how lucky I was to have found something that I enjoyed so much, while being with my friends in such beautiful surroundings. I still find myself doing this on occasion, but it’s good to take stock sometimes.

Mostly, I realize that I’ve settled into something of a lifestyle. Will I ever be a professional Disc Golfer? No. Am I okay with that? Absolutely. Will I play this sport for the rest of my life? I certainly hope so, because it keeps me in contact with the friends who truly matter, and I keep meeting more and more every round I play.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Coaching Column #1: The Psychology of Learning Plateaus

How to Truly Push Your Game to the Next Level
By Brian Earhart (PDGA #45879)

Disc golf is still so young in its development. Unlike other sports there are no legitimate sources that pop up when you search ‘Disc Golf Psychology’ on Google. The game just isn’t truly studied as hard as other sports or even music for that matter. It’s still something that’s just played, not as much studied.

With this said, something I’ve found to be an strong indicator of disc golf’s young age is the fact that it seems the best players, the true ‘professionals’ who are grinding it out on the road to make their livings, are acting as their own coaches and are teaching themselves how to play the sport for the most part. Look at any top athlete in a mainstream sport; are they winning events on their own? Not exactly. They almost always have people supporting them who are extremely well educated in their craft who offer their insight as to how to continue to optimize the cognitive and physical abilities of the player as they practice. At this point, there just aren’t many credible people in disc golf who would be able to help top players push their talents any farther. I want to at least attempt to change that.

This will be my first of my coaching articles on HeavyDisc. This one will focus on the dreaded learning plateau that can drive any competitive golfer absolutely insane.

Whether you’re a recreational disc golf enthusiast who plays in an occasional C-tier or you’re a competitive scratch rated golfer who makes a modest living playing the sport, there is a strong chance that you’ve reached a point in your game where you feel stagnant and uninspired. You’re practicing constantly and nothing seems to be improving; it seems like you’re actually regressing as an athlete and that you’re wasting your time. You’ve hit a plateau in your improvement. Does this mean you’re actually regressing? Does this mean you’ve reached your peak? ABSOLUTELY NOT. As frustrating as it may be, a learning plateau is almost never a physical issue, but a very fixable mental mistake.

The fact that disc golf has very little scientific data behind it means that we need to look to other sports or similar art forms to gather information from individuals who have committed their lives to teaching and mastering their craft. I’ve recently found that the psychology behind training for music feels extremely similar to the ideal mindset that needs to be had when trying to become a better disc golfer. Becoming a masterful musician requires having an overwhelming hunger to push your mind’s limits and a strong internal desire to practice certain skills for hours on end, just like disc golf. The difference between disc golf and music is that music performance is studied endlessly by some of the most brilliant minds on the planet. We as disc golfers, with very little scholarly studies and articles about the sport specifically, have the luxury of being able to take the findings of these brilliant minds and translate them to make sense in the realm of disc golf.

Dr. Noa Kageyama, a performance psychologist and graduate of the world-renowned Julliard Academy of Music, writes that when it comes to learning plateaus, it’s not due to a lack of practice. It’s due to a lack of understanding of what needs to be practiced. In a blog post he writes, “We cannot work on things that aren’t in our conscious awareness.” As obvious as this may seem, this short phrase packs a very powerful punch when given some thought. It explains why countless hours of practice may not have any effect, despite the popular phrase that says “practice makes perfect”. While it is very true that “perfect practice makes perfect”, what is perfect practice when you don’t know what perfect is? Kageyama writes that a very important aspect to learning and improving is letting go of our egos and finding someone who can supervise practice sessions objectively; in disc golf it means having a respected local professional watch videos of fieldwork, accompany you in casual rounds, or simply analyze the equipment being used to do such practicing. Gaining a different perspective from a credible source can go a very long way.

For example, as an intern at the PDGA’s headquarters I was occasionally in charge of manning the pro-shop at the International Disc Golf Center, helping people pick out and buy plastic. One day while working I was visited by a rather distraught looking individual. With a discouraged tone he explained to me that he just couldn’t throw straight or hit longer putts. He had been playing for a couple years and had grown tired of not shooting well on the tight and technical Georgia courses. I asked him to show me what he was throwing and right then and there I fixed his problem and increased his knowledge of disc golf. He was throwing three discs, and all of them were extremely overstable (discs not meant to fly straight). I helped him to pick out three discs with very neutral flight patterns and the rest was history. He came back from the course with a huge grin, saying he had shot the best round of his life. It’s a simple, but prime example that shows how increasing your knowledge of the sport can help break through those pesky plateaus.

Despite this man playing the round of his life, he will soon face another plateau. The crazy thing about learning plateaus is that they never end. Dr. Kageyama writes that when it comes to plateaus, “We don’t ignore them on purpose. Often, we simply cannot see what the biggest areas for improvement in our playing might be.” Even the best players in the world will face times when a certain physical skill or mental trick isn’t as optimal as they’d like. Once the exact lacking skill is identified, the training needs to be specialized with specific goals to master the skill and push on to the next plateau. For example, it’s not enough to say that your putting needs to improve. You need to understand what aspect of your putt causes you to struggle and develop a practice regimen that aims to tackle that problem. If your putting stroke inside the circle feels inconsistent, learn what the “perfect stroke” feels like to you. Your goal then would be to groove that stroke into your muscle memory through specialized practice. Perhaps you start your practice by putting a few with your eyes closed to focus on feeling that perfect stroke rather than simply making the putt. To explain how to go about addressing these bouts of stagnation and improving, professional music coaches like to use the conscious competence model. Kageyama describes the model:
“The first stage is unconscious incompetence, where we are blind to the things we need to work on.

The second stage is conscious incompetence, where we have an awareness and understanding of what it is that we need to work on.

The third stage is conscious competence, where we have worked on developing the new skill, but it still takes a great deal of awareness and concentration to execute. The skill hasn’t yet been automatized.

The last stage is unconscious competence, where the new skill has become second nature and is performed easily without needing to think about it.

We’re pretty good at stages 3 and 4, and can even navigate our way through stage 2 in many cases, but we can speed things up by getting outside help with stage 1.”  

Atul Gawande, a famous surgeon and coach of surgeons, during a presentation focused on performance at the 2011 New Yorker Festival, said that the people who are great at what they do, whether it’s in surgery or tennis or basketball or any other thing that people have committed to mastering, have gotten that way by having a keen ability to identify and deliberately practice the things that they’re worst at. The conscious competence model is a never-ending cycle for those seeking to master their craft and the more times you complete that cycle, the more you’ll improve. Gawande states, “there is talent, but there is no talent that is ready-made with perfection.”

So, with all this said, what does this all mean in terms of disc golf? It means that regardless of your athletic ability or skill level, every single player has the ability to improve. There should never be a moment in one’s mind where he/she should think they’re good enough and what they’re doing is sufficient if they truly strive to be the best they can be. Learning plateaus are inevitable but developing the ability to identify them, and to study and master underdeveloped skills through deliberate, specialized practice is a choice that every single player of this beautiful sport is able to make. The sky is the limit if you’re simply able to admit to yourself that you’re not quite there yet.

I hope you all took something from this article whether you’re a scratch rated pro or an amateur. I want to continue to study this game at a higher level and write about my findings, so please leave some feedback! My next article will look further into improving from practicing correctly. I want to offer some advice that disc golfers and ultimate players alike can take something from and apply to their own practice regimens. The 2014 season is right around the corner!


(And in case you missed it, here's a full interview with Brian)

Friday, January 17, 2014

Shot Selection: Many Ways to Skin a Cat

The author molesting the front rim.
The many ways to skin a cat or... the many ways to throw OB!

I talk with my dg friends all the time about the nerdier side of disc golf and one thing that I mull over quite a bit is deciding which shot to throw. Here's what happens... I throw one really good turn over shot and then in my head I immediately think, "That's it! That's the throw that I have to use for shots like this forever! Problem solved, look out Paul McBeth I'm coming for you!"

Pretty much that's what happens in my head. Yeahhhhhh, I know I'm delusional.

Then on the next throw, I feel like I should be throwing a forehand, but I'm thinking back to my last turn-over shot that went so nice... uhhh, now what?! What should my decision making on shot selection be based on? Just on "feel" or on what has worked out recently? When do I start putting shots that I'm less confident into play?

It's probably why quite a few players throw just backhand or just forehand. Having choices can complicate things. It's like stepping up to the bar at the local tavern and they've got Bud Light and Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro on tap. EASY CHOICE - I take the Left Hand Stout every single time. Step up to the bar and they've got your favorite 4 beers on tap... now you're stuck with some choices!

A while back I ran across the following chart in a dgcoursereview thread.

If you have Facebook rights to see the original post by John Hernlund: Here
I solve F=m*a=m*dv/dt and rxF=d(I*w)/dt (conservation of linear and angular momentum, respectively) where F is the aerodynamical force, m is disc mass, a is disc acceleration, v is disc velocity, t is time, r is the aerodynamical moment arm, I is the moment of inertia, and w is the angular velocity (spin). The numerical solution method is Runge-Kutta, 4th order. This throw is for a m=175g disc, thrown at 4 Hz rotation (which dissipates with time during the throw), 65 MPH release speed, no wind.

Over-stable disc flight, thrown with 4˚ nose up, for flight paths with hyzer angles varying from -5˚ to 5˚

Long story short... the grid above shows the paths of a 175g driver thrown 10 times. Each throw varies by 1 degree of release, from -5˚ to 5˚. So you're standing out in a field with a pile of drivers and going from hyzer to flat to anhyzer.

What I like the most about this chart is that it shows how much more room for error there is in a hyzer line. You can be off 3˚ in your release angle on a drive and still end up 20' from your next hyzer throw. Now look at what happens with the anhyzer throws. Being off 3˚ on your release means a 40-50' difference in where your disc lands.

Okay, so we know that trying to throw a driver on an anhyzer line is a tough thing to be accurate with. Shocker, right? Not for anybody who's tried learning to throw anhyzers! 

Check out the difference in distances gained. Same hand speed, same spin on a 5˚ hyzer line is going 350' and if you put 5˚ of anhyzer on it... you gain 150' of distance. Keeping in mind it's harder to impart the same spin and hand speed on an anhyzer - but if you're going for distance - that anhyzer throw is absolutely going to go further theoretically. We also have to assume your disc is stable enough that it doesn't turn over or that you rip it well enough to keep it from stalling out on you. 

The point is hyzers are easier to be accurate with and more to the point, you can be off on your hyzer line angle and have less ill effects on your final lie. There's many more aspects to take into consideration too - like shaping your shot to get around or over a tree, past this thing then turning back, OB areas to avoid, or how the disc is going to skip, roll or turn once it hits the ground.

It's no wonder you'll see a guy standing in front of his disc looking like he's trying to work out a cure for cancer while simultaneously doing long division. There's decisions to be made!!

Okay, so for me - I'm going with a basic guide line to keep it simple.

If I am trying to be accurate and trying to put it within 30' of a basket 300' out, then I'm throwing a flat back hand and letting the disc hyzer back towards the target (assuming it's a stable disc). If I'm looking for a right turning shot, I throw forehand.  I've tried the same lines many times throwing backhand under-stable drivers and then throwing forehand with a Surge or a Valk. I get the same or more distance forehand, I don't have to worry about a cut roller landing that heads back left and I can throw it with a low ceiling. 
Happy disc'n. Photo: Kyle O'Neill

I continue to try to develop a turn over in the field, but it's absolutely a difficult shot - and for me it's risky compared to a forehand.

Am I going for just distance? If it's a super wide open long hole - where landing to one side or the other is less important than potentially gaining a big chunk of extra distance, I'm throwing anhyzer with something I trust will not turn over. 

If I'm powering down for an approach shot, then the anhyzer flex shot get's more likely with something like my Star Mako. It's so easy to slowly float it in at chain height vs. trying to slow down a forehand. Forehands are great with putters (my vibram ridge is my go to) if you're dealing with a ceiling that shuts down any floaty shots and you're skidding it up in the dirt.

It's easiest if I stick with those basic guidelines so that I'm not hemming and hawing forever, but don't get me wrong - you'll definitely find me lining up a shot only to go back to the bag because I need to throw a thumber? a scooby? no a flick on annie line... a roller? Have I lost my mind?! Better just throw a putter.... but which putter?


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Inside the Chains: Brian Earhart Interview

Brian Earhart (PDGA #45879) is a pro disc golfer that made the jump to open back in 2011, and really made the commitment to playing quite a few tournaments in 2013. Last year, Brian played in 12 sanctioned events and in those events he made an impressive 8 finishes in the top 10 including two first place wins.  He cashed 47th at 2013 Worlds and took 2nd behind David Wiggins in the distance competition. All this while holding down a full time summer job and studying at Illinois State University.

I was interested in talking to him after reading his reddit AMA and how much time and detail he spent trying to help people with some complex disc golf questions. He clearly obsesses about the fine points of technique and pours over the same videos that we all do, so I immediately took a liking to the guy! I hope you take the time to read the whole thing because he clearly put some serious thought into his answers and has some really wonderful things to say. - Jason

Let's say you're approached by a beginner player with the following question: "What should I focus on to improve?" They can drive 250' and putt accurately from 15'. Plays a few times of week and has limited time for fieldwork. Where do you start them... what is the most bang for the buck in terms of using limited practice time?

A few times a week is plenty to improve gradually. My best advice for someone of that caliber is to first learn what an ideal throw is by watching videos of the top players in action. There are plenty of slow motion videos on the Internet of very talented players that can help someone see what a truly athletic and efficient throwing motion is. And don’t just watch; study their throws, their decisions, their lines. Be a student of the game. Throwing 450 feet with accuracy and banging 30 footers in your sleep doesn’t come overnight. It takes time and dedication.

Studying the game and having a true internal desire to constantly improve comes first, but next comes finding players to play with who push you to get better. Join your local disc golf club, play in local leagues, use your networking skills and meet people who also want to improve. Ask a respected local pro to play a round and watch how they approach the game. You’ll be surprised how quickly your game comes around if you just care about improving and surround yourself with people who have the same goals. 

Similar question only this is an intermediate player who can drive 350-375' and putt accurately from 25'. Plays 5 rounds a week, generic field work, daily putting, no glaring holes in his game, but he's still 5-10 strokes off placing top 10 in amateur tournaments. What's the biggest difference maker between the guys who are moving up to Open and guys who can't break into the top card in AM's? What kind of routine would you suggest for them?

It’s hard to diagnose an exact problem with these made up players, but I will say that driving 350-375 and putting accurately from 25 is more than enough to WIN top amateur events. So where is the problem for this player who can’t break the top 10? He or she is most likely not thinking like a golfer. A few attributes of truly great golfers are patience, staying focused in the present moment, and the ability to differentiate between using the thinking mind and the intuitive mind (thinking mind refers to things such as analyzing wind and deciding on a disc, where intuitive mind refers to simply executing the chosen shot, free of any thought.) I’ve seen many physically talented players who can’t score well in tournaments simply due to poor decision making and a lack of rational thought and mental preparation. This is definitely what I would say is an issue for most talented AM players who can’t seem to pull off wins.

In your reddit AMA you mentioned that early in your teens, you did fieldwork almost everyday for hours on end. Do you still do regular fieldwork? If so, is it a formal routine or more just working on things you want to work on that day? Are there any specific drills that you do (closed shoulder drills, hammer drills)? Do you do anything outside fieldwork for your game?

God I wish I had that much time to throw nowadays! I work 40 hours a week in the summer as a camp director and I’m about to begin my last semester as a student at Illinois State University as a full-time intern at a museum. In the summer I’m able to practice everyday since I have a car at home. I do fieldwork at least twice a week and play practice rounds almost everyday on top of that. Usually I’m just trying to stay smooth and get reps in for the shots I need to have to perform well. Occasionally I’ll throw in a session of strictly distance fieldwork to gauge how far I’m throwing or a session of a shot I’m not as confident with to increase my shot arsenal. Outside of fieldwork, I frequently play head to head rounds against one of my good buddies, Steven Jacobs (2013 Amateur World Champion). The kid is an incredibly talented golfer and playing head to head with him helps me to keep wanting to improve.

Have you put much thought into the mental aspect of the game? Throwing and staying smooth and loose when the pressure starts mounting - whether it's a casual round, a tags match or a PDGA event is something that I think most players struggle with. Do you have an inner dialog during a round or do you try to keep those voices quiet?

Once you hit a certain point physically as a golfer, the rest is almost all mental. It’s only recently been something I’ve discovered and it’s something that I feel is going to propel me to the next level in the coming years. I’ve recently finished reading the book Zen Golf: Mastering the Mental Game by Joseph Parent, and it blew me away. I had some huge breakthroughs this past season; I shot some of the best rounds of my life, won some events and beat some good players, but I also shot some absolutely atrocious rounds and was left wondering if I had actually regressed as a player. I was dead wrong. That book it hit the nail on the head with everything that had happened to me this season and left me with an abundance of hope and confidence for the next.

As for the inner dialog, I just try to keep my mind in the present and let any negative thoughts come and go as they please with no acknowledgement. Negative thoughts are inevitable, but it’s my choice to whether or not I let them distract me from what I really want to accomplish.

The Rico brothers asked Ken Climo what he thought the biggest aspect of his mental game was and he said that over the long haul in his career it was to have patience.  Do you think you've had patience with your disc golf game? What does it mean to you to have patience with your career?

Patience is one of the hardest things to learn in golf. It applies to so many different aspects of the game. I could talk about this for forever but I’ll try to keep this one short. I used to get way too ahead of myself when I’d play well. I’d shoot one good round and all of the sudden start daydreaming about Innova knocking on my front door with a contract. I’ve slowly had to learn how to be patient with myself as a player and let my scores speak for themselves. If I’m not scoring well, I’m not working hard enough. That type of mindset in itself takes a lot of patience to fully commit to. To be a top-level pro, you need to put your heart and soul into the sport and let your improvement happen naturally as a result of it.

Were there any players that had a profound impact on you? Any moments where you saw some impressive behavior or sportsmanship that really hit home?

There are definitely a bunch people who I consider inspirations. The first is my good friend Steven Jacobs. He works harder than any player I know and the fact that he’s risen to the level he’s at now without letting his ego get the best of him is very inspiring to me. I am grateful to be able to practice with him and play against him every season. He’s one of the few people who truly push me to get better. Next is my beautiful girlfriend (and 2013 Women’s Amateur World Champion) Colleen Thompson. She and I have very similar goals in the sport and we hope to one day save up enough money to hit the road together and play the sport we love all over the US professionally. She’s always in the back of my mind when I’m out practicing. She makes me want to be a better human being in general and it’s definitely shown in my golf game.

As for a top level professional who has had an impact on me, I would say that Michael Johansen from North Carolina has been my favorite player to watch. I got to follow him and carry the scoreboard for the lead card at the 2012 World Championships in Charlotte and despite the serious circumstances it was very obvious that he has an undeniable passion for disc golf. He had a genuine smile on his face constantly and displayed top-notch sportsmanship among his fellow competitors. He made me remember that even when there’s money on the line, disc golf is a beautiful game and there’s always something to smile about, even when things aren’t going well.

It seems like the top couple pros at the moment, Ricky and Paul are both throwing forehands quite a bit more than the last crew of top tiered guys. It seems like such a powerful shot to have available, why do you think it's so rare to see it getting thrown?

I actually think that it’s being thrown MORE than ever before. With all these stable and glidey high-speed drivers on the market, top-level pros are having an easier time throwing forehands when they need to. The thing is, why throw a forehand when they have a more reliable backhand shot that produces almost the same result with less effort? I definitely think that a lot of top players don’t have as solid of forehands as they should, but they’re still at the top at this point. Almost all of them have some sort of consistent forehand shot, but their backhands are so solid that there are only a few holes where they’d need to throw a forehand. Also, forehands are a very violent motion. A backhand is much easier on the shoulder and elbow than a forehand is so it’s also a preventative measure to throw mainly backhands.

Is there anything specific that you use to decide between throwing a back hand and flick if there's no obvious line to take? Is it just the comfort you’re feeling with a shot that day or do you try to stick with a type of throw in certain scenarios?

Being an ultimate player, I’m pretty confident in both a forehand and a backhand. If there’s no obvious line I’ll just go with what’s comfortable for me at the time. I’ll usually flick if I’m in the woods and I’ll usually throw a backhand hyzer if I’m in the open. It depends on what the wind is doing and whether or not I want to play a skip or not.

Do you feel like there's a path for a young pro to make a career in disc golf? Supporting yourself via sponsorships and tournament winnings seems to be an option for just a very few. How are you able to travel, practice and compete?

Is it realistic? No way. Is it possible? Yes, from what I’ve heard. You have to be the best of the best to be making decent money in disc golf, and even then you won’t make much. I haven’t been able to tour yet, but my plan is to finish school, work for a year and save up money to have as back up for when I hit the road. At this point I’m not trying to make disc golf my number one career, but I would love more than anything to be able to continue to improve and play well enough to support myself on the road for at least a couple seasons before I want to settle down, get married, start a family and so on and so forth.

A big tournament at a course you've never played before is on your calendar. Assuming you can get to the course before hand and have some time to familiarize yourself with it, walk us through what you'd do to get ready for it. Do you walk the course first and take mental notes on holes, routes to throw, hazards? Do you play it every day, multiple times per day leading up to the tournament or do you want to have a break before hand?

Ideally, if I had that type of time to get to a course ahead of time to practice, I’d take my time on each hole trying to find the ideal highest percentage shot, and drilling the shot into my memory once I find that shot. I make mental notes of where OB is and what angle the greens are sloping. If I want to play a hyzer skip to the bucket but the green is slanting in the direction of my skip, I may opt for a softer landing flick turnover that gives me a lower percentage of getting into trouble and a higher chance at a putt. I try to have a game plan for every hole ahead of time and use my intuition during the tournament if the conditions change.

Let's talk a little inside baseball... clearly there's some top tier pros who get emotional and have some vocal blowups. It seems to be that the opinion of the guys on the top cards is that "oh well, that's just that guy" and I've not really seen anybody calling unsportsmanlike behavior or giving warnings or penalties. Is there some talk among the people you play with about when somebodies behavior gets sideways?

Here’s what I think. It’s the fact that many open players are okay with other players blowing up since it usually is a vicious cycle that takes them out of contention. I personally will only give out warnings if it truly affects my play (i.e. someone kicking their bag as I’m lining up a putt). Otherwise, I have no issue letting a player continue to sabotage their chances of beating me if they’re not too out of control. The moment I hear a player complain about the weather or course design or bad baskets I immediately check them off my mental list of potential contenders for first.

There are definitely players who are sticklers for the rules and will consciously watch other players for even the slightest violations. This is completely fine with me; I’d hope someone would call me out if I were not following the rules correctly. But, I've also noticed that players who do this are not as focused on playing their own game and aren't usually at the top of big events, one of the reasons you probably don’t see many top players calling a lot of warnings.

There's always talk of growing the sport, growing tournaments, making disc golf a more popular sport. Dave Feldberg has talked about how the payouts are smaller today than they were 20 years ago, not even taking into account inflation. What do you think the hurdles are in terms of taking disc golf to the next level? What's holding disc golf back from doubling payouts - and have some well funded events and having disc golf seen as a serious sport?

This is something that’s been talked about ever since I started playing. I have interned at the PDGA’s headquarters and I will say that from my experiences, they are an extremely hard working staff that put their heart and soul into governing the sport at all levels every single day. They are not holding back anything from anyone. From what I've observed it seems that a number of people think the PDGA is full of extra money that isn't being used correctly. Here's the issue, what percentage of the PDGA’s members are touring, scratch golfers? It’s a very small percentage; so why put a majority of the budget towards the National Tour when an extremely large majority of PDGA members are amateurs who will never compete on that level? Unless there is enough talent and money to fund a separate pro-only organization that allows the current PDGA to worry about amateurs and grass-roots growth and another to govern the Pro Tour, I’m guessing things will stay relatively stable for a while.

Laying up versus running it. Let's say you're walking up to your disc. It's outside your putting range - so you're looking at floating a chain high backhand or aiming 10' in front of the basket and skidding it up for a drop in. What is that inner conversation like?  Are you going to run it with the confidence that you can hit the come-back whenever possible? Are you conscious of the score or are you blocking that out when making those calls?

I used to be extremely aggressive when it came to these putts but I’m slowly learning to use logical thought beforehand to assess the current situation and environment before letting my intuition take over. If I’m facing a 70-footer with a flat green and no chance of a roll away, I’m trying to make it 100% of the time. If I’m not certain I can make the putt and the risk/reward is not in my favor, I’m going to lay it up just to save myself stress in case something unexpected happens. There’s no use risking a 3-putt and shakiness on the next tee when a two putt and a self high-five for not being an idiot is 100%.

In your reddit AMA, you mentioned that a Wraith made a huge difference in your distance. Disc selection is hugely important and tough because everybody throws with various amounts of hand speed and snap - but is there any specific discs that have really blown you away in the last couple years?

My bag is pretty simple. I like to try new stuff every now and then for fun but usually there are a few old staples in my bag that never leave. Drones, buzzes, destroyers, and tsunamis (old-mold predators) have been in my bag for years with random trick shot discs making their way in and out every now and then.

As for new stuff I've tried and liked, I had an Innova Shark3 that I was throwing around before I left it behind at a course, and WOW that thing had the perfect stability for a stable to overstable midrange. I’ve thrown others that were flipping up on me, but the one I had flew just like a nicely beat drone, which is my favorite disc on earth. As for new drivers, the Prodigy drivers go very far and the plastic feels great. They aren't enough to make me toss out my destroyers, but they definitely go boom-boom, much like almost every new distance driver on the market.

Finally, 2014. Are you planning to play more tournaments than last year or going to try to hit the road and do part of the tour? Any personal goals that you want to share?

I've definitely worked harder this off-season than ever before to prepare for 2014. I’ve probably played the least amount of rounds this winter ever but I’ve put in at least 10x more hours putting than I ever have and it's paying off already. I’m hoping to come out strong and bang a lot more putts than I did last season, which should put me on some more lead cards. I’m planning to play more than I ever have, but when it comes to goals, I have less than I’ve had in any other season.

I basically have two goals. One is to never know what my player rating is, and the other is to line up my beliefs and my actions when it comes to being a professional in the sport. If I know in my mind that working hard means winning and winning is what I truly want, I need to work hard with no excuses. If I know that I want to see more pros conduct themselves with the utmost professionalism in terms of dress and etiquette, I need to practice that as well, with no compromises. If I can do that, it doesn’t matter what my rating is, I will play how I train to play and I will rest easy knowing that I earn every score that I end up with. 


WHEW! Alright, Jason here again and was that great or what?! Want to just say a huge thank you to Brian for patiently and thoughtfully answering all my questions. I'm hopeful that we can have Brian back soon as a guest writer or for another interview. I'm sure 2014 will be a big year for him and to all you disc "industry types" - I hope you know you owe me a finders fee when he's your next poster boy! 

Stay warm and as always, happy discing!

Friday, January 3, 2014

MVP Servo Review

Disc: MVP Servo (Fire Engine Red)
Weight: 169g
In the hand feel: Very good.
In the air: froze rope to fade.
Beers were harmed in the
making of this review.

Buy it here: 

So I've done a few short reviews on discs before. It's rough because disc selection is absurdly personal. I have played with a guy who throws max-weight meat hooks for his forehands. Certain discs, that no matter what a reviewer says, is not going to work for you because of  a million reasons. Also, take into account that elevation does affect discs substantially and I live in Denver. So what can I share that will help you decide if you want to pull the trigger sight and flight unseen? If you fall into my boat - which is the following boat - then this could be a helpful guide. Also, if you live at a typical lower elevation - you can expect less stability and more glide.

My Backhand: 300-400' (Typically in the middle)
Forehand: 250-275'

Current Fairway drivers: 171 Star Teebird, 169 Disccraft Mantis (Ace Race Ti)

Alright, new plastic arrives on the door step from Infinite Discs and was I ever stoked to get the latest offering from MVP into the field and Uncle Rico them up.

Bottom line: straight flier, predictable fade, very little turn. Responds better to a higher speed throw.

Out of the box, this disc is going to be a completely different beast than after you beat it up. I mean really beat it up if you want some turn.

Like Ike beat Tina*.
Like Chris Brown beat Rihanna*.

Due to my lawyer's repeated requests, I've had to change the above to the following:

Beat like a 13 year old boy who is taking his 3rd shower of the day.

Inbounds has this flight pattern.
Taco it 8 different ways and then throw it against a few trees. That'll get you some turn. If you've got a snap that than can hit 400', you'll get it to turn a bit of turn late in the flight otherwise it's laser straight.

I live in Denver - elevation 5000'+ so take that into account - but this thing dumps glide like a high school girlfriend on a hyzer line. Thin air. Which leads to the predictability right outta the box - straight for 250-275' then  25' of  fade. Any hyzer and this disc is going to fade early. It's stable to the core. Anhyzer it and I feel like it's throwing on a hockey stop mid air.

Pull this disc out, flat release, aim accordingly to the right or left and it's not going to surprise you. I have no doubt this disc is not turning over with a flat release... I'm not sure I can turn it over with anhyzer that would turn over a Valkarie. Tunnel shots or throwing against an OB line, it's a perfect disc.

Next up head wind. FANTASTIC. I threw this into a substantial 15mph head wind and it held straight like a thing of beauty. 171 Teebird would definitely be turning right (RHBH) in this wind. With a head wind I get the exact flight pattern seen in the Inbound's flight pattern. Typically when I am throwing into a headwind, I"ll grab a 170-ish Champion Destroyer and throw it flat and it'll stay straighter and I can eek out 325-350' pretty consistently.  The problem there is that I don't always want to throw a full 350' and taking some arm off a driver like that is not good, but a with the servo I feel like I can put 80-100% into it and get that 275' very accurately.

Tail wind... a disc with more dome is better choice. This thing dropped pretty quick with a tail wind.

In the hand it feels wonderful, grippy but not mushy. The plastic, like all the MVP I currently own (5 anodes and an Axis) is terrific and I expect it to hold up as well as they have.

*Allegedly... HeavyDisc attorney Kyle O'Neill.