Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Nate Sexton - A Player and a Gentleman

Photo: Stuart Mullenberg
Nate Sexton (PDGA # 18824) has been racking up wins against top level pros for over a decade. He just won his first A-Tier of the season at the Spike Hyzer Invitational, and if you haven't watched the footage yet - you're in for a real treat. (McFlySoHigh Coverage) He's sponsored by Innova, Discmania , huk lab, Grip EQ,  and Keen Footwear.

I'm a Nate fan. Flat out I'll say it, I'm a BIG FAN. I always love watching tournament coverage of Nate because I know I'm in for three things: sportsmanship, skill and a world class putting clinic that borders on the absurd!

Nate, thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions. You've been cashing and winning in tournaments for a decade now (says my in-depth research of your PDGA page!) If you could hop in a time machine and have a conversation with the 2004 Nate Sexton, what would you tell him? Any advice that you know now that would have made the last 10 years easier?

This is a great question! (editor's note: yes, it is) I would probably tell the scrawny 19 year old me to practice his weaknesses (the backhand, versatility around the green) more than his strengths. I would tell him to enjoy the climb up through the ranks of professional disc golfers. Confidence is vital to success in a game as mentally difficult as disc golf and you have to work to be inwardly confident and outwardly humble. I don't think I would change much though, it has been a fun 10 years!

Typical fare for one of the sickest putters in the game.
To follow that, are there some discoveries that you're still making about your game? For those of us that are in the first years of disc golf, it feels like we're always on the cusp of a new discovery: proper form, gaining distance or accuracy, how to handle different wind, learning molds, or what disc weight to throw. It helps keep the hunger strong to stay out in the field working out new skills, but it's also a very slow process. I have to believe that after playing competitively for so long - discoveries come much more rarely?

I don't discover things about my game very often anymore, although I do work on adding new skills. To me at this stage in my disc golf career I feel like I find things to key in on that help me commit to my shots and execute consistently. Every type of shot has dozens of aspects you can key in on and it is impossible to focus on all of them at once. Each little thing (like breathing out on the release or picking up my chin on the follow through) only lasts so long before I have to move onto something else to keep me sharp. Hopefully focusing on one or two aspects for a few weeks or months ingrains them into my routine so that I won't have to think about them anymore.

No trees were harmed in the making of this birdie.

Third question and already I'm hitting with the hard stuff: the USDGC. You've been going there for a long time! A couple open players that I throw rounds with have described it as the hardest tournament they've ever played, by a wide margin. This year you really stepped up and played a fantastic tournament and ended up taking 5th place. Do you have a mental strategy during the tournament? I am always very impressed with how cool you stay during high pressure situations. It's a real breath of fresh air, especially when it's becoming more common to see very vocal melt-downs.

The USDGC is the most difficult tournament to play mentally. The Winthrop Gold course is so demanding and punishes mistakes brutally.

This year I focused on a detailed game plan making sure I knew exactly how I wanted to attack each hole. This included picking certain holes where I planned to play for par each round. I putted well and did not go out of bounds until the 31st hole of the event. Getting out to a fast start help my confidence and throughout the event I went from T3rd to T4th to 5th to T5th with each round so I stayed consistent and executed my plan. I had my dad, Jay, fly out to caddy for me for the 2nd time and that was a great asset to have him not only carrying my discs but making sure I was eating throughout each round and staying hydrated. He also helped me stick to the game plan even when I had a bad hole and was tempted to try to force the issue and get the strokes back with risky play.

Professionalism has always been important to me and I strive to stay calm even during a terrible hole (like hole 9 in the 3rd round when I took a quadruple bogey 8!) I certainly feel nervous in pressure situations and feel frustration when things don't go my way but I refuse to give up and allow that frustration or nervousness to ruin my round, or worse, the rounds of my card-mates or the image of the sport I love!

Alright, let's get to some practical advice. You're playing a tournament: walk us through your routine between waking up and throwing that first shot.

I like to get up and shower if I have not showered the night before, get some breakfast and get out to the course. I usually start with some putts and then a game of catch with my trusty R-pro Dart if I can find a willing partner. I then go out and play a few holes, usually preferring to play the holes where I will be starting the round so I can re-enforce my confidence in the game plan I have for those holes. Getting out to a good start is the easiest way to have a stress free solid round!

5. Putting. Holy smokes.

I'll just leave that there (Youtube Link) for folks to get some idea of what you can do with a putter. Can you talk about how you developed your putting game? I watch a metric ton of tourny footage, and your putting is such a strong suit and a treat to watch. Was there a point when you made it a real focus or has it just evolved with the rest of your game? Do you practice putting daily now, and if so how much/what kind of practice?

Putting is the place where most players lose obvious strokes during a round. I used a putting drill where I putt 2 putters starting at 5 paces from the basket. I move back a step if and only if I make both. If I make 1 I stay at the distance I was, if I miss both I move in a step. This drill allows me to spend the majority of my time at the edge of my consistent range.

Over time that range expands and you can get farther out on the drill. I used to practice putt more often when I had a basket, now I live in an apartment but I still try to get out to the course and use that drill to stay sharp. This off-season I plan to work more on my putting than I have in the past. I feel I am in my prime and coming off the best season of my career I am excited to see what I can do when I work harder than I have in the past 4 or 5 years.

Has there been some players that have had a big impact on your disc golf career? Any advice that has stuck with you?

I have learned from a lot of players over the years. I think everyone at the top level of the sport has some aspect of the game that they are better than me at, I try to learn from my competitors even to this day. I learned a lot from playing against elite players like Climo, Schultz, Feldberg, and Jenkins when I was starting out as a pro.

This is a question that I've asked before, but it is such a good one... 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?

I think I do have that trait, I think I am patient both with my career and in my style of play. I pride myself on being able to manage a difficult course and play to my strengths. I think my career has been largely a very serious hobby up until this point and I am very happy with the success I have had. I know that I can take my career and my game to the next (and highest) level in coming years!

Last question, and since this is HeavyDisc and I write mostly about form - let's end it on a form question. Driving for distance - what were the biggest keys for you to start tapping into the really long drives? 

For me throwing long is about being explosive. To be explosive you have to be as loose and relaxed as possible in the back-swing and the follow through. I always try to make the moment of exertion as quick and powerful as it can be, only exerting maximum effort for a fraction of a second. Before and after exertion I try to stay loose and smooth.

Anything else you want to expound upon or ramble about? If there's one thing I'm good for... it's rambling.

Thank you for reading! Check out my facebook fan page if you would like to keep up with my disc golf career or ask me a question!  https://www.facebook.com/sextondiscgolf

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