In 2018, Sarah Hokom became the first winner of the inaugural San Francisco Open. As we prepare for the 2019 San Francisco Open presented by Innova Champion Discs, I was lucky enough to catch up with her to hear her take on the start to her 2019 season, how she's preparing to defend her title this weekend, advice for up and coming players, and even some tough talk about tee pads and rules in disc golf. I hope you enjoy our chat as much as I did. For context, Sarah won the 2018 edition by eight throws over Paige Pierce and Catrina Allen who tied for second. Suffice to say she crushed it, oh and she made Sportscenter with her ace on hole 3. It was a great weekend for her and one that seemed to propel her into a dominant spot on the leader board for the rest of the season. You can get a great summary of last year's event in. For now, let's get to the chat!
Zach Podhorzer (ZP): First, thank you so much for taking the time to sit down and talk to day. I really appreciate it and am sure your fans will too. Since this is the first time we’ve gotten to talk this season, fill me in on how your 2019 has been going. How’s the new bag feel?
Sarah Hokom (SH): I think it's been going pretty good – a little bit of a slow start. I did get a couple of wins in Texas which was encouraging. I would say the first half of the season doesn't really suit my strengths. So this is kind of normal. I'm trying to not get down on myself for not finishing higher. A couple of factors would be the courses are long and windy, which is not really my strength, but in addition to that we've seen the inclusion of a whole bunch of new ladies on the road and they're really playing great. The field is way deeper so where mediocre play in the past may have gotten me a top-five finish, that's just not the case anymore. In fact, there's always that thought now in my mind "I could miss out on the cash, even." Which didn't happen in the past very often. I'm thankful that I've played well enough to get in the top 10 at every event and I've got a couple of wins against some really good players. I'm looking forward to playing more of the wooded courses and the technical lines I prefer though.
Percentage wise I could probably put the new bag in there a little bit - just when it comes to learning my lines. Playing with all new plastic it just takes time to get to know the discs. I'm excited because I know I'm going to just keep getting better with the plastic I'm throwing. I'm getting more and more confident with everything I'm throwing already. So maybe this year's performance so far is a tiny percentage due to the new bag, but I think it's really more that the first half of the season doesn't really suit my game and the field is way deeper. We got a lot of great ladies out there!
(ZP): I hear ya. That makes sense. Speaking of your new bag, Last time I was chatting with Paige Pierce she told me you had just filled the spot in your bag that the Jokeri had filled with the new MVP Entropy. How are you liking that?
(SH): Yes. Yes. I actually took three discs out of my bag and replaced them with the entropy. I had a little bit of a flippier putter, a stable mid, and a really overstable mid and I replaced all of three of those with the Entropy. It's been awesome to simplify things a a bit and get that disc in my bag that I know I really trust the line on. It immediately did exactly what I was expecting.
(ZP): Comparing your 2018 Season stats to your 2019 season stats thus far, you’re trailing yourself in 6 categories – everything but scramble and C1X putting. The biggest performance gaps may be two of the most important ones though – C1 and C2 in regulation are both down about 10%. What’s keeping you from making those opportunities this year?
(SH): That's a good question. Actually, I'm not really sure. I assume inconsistency off the tee, you know? I’ve had a few injuries already this year but I really think it’s just me getting to know the lines on my discs.
(ZP): When I spoke with Ricky about how his new bag is going he was talking about how it felt like he was seeing all of these tournaments he’s played for years in a whole new way with his new discs. Has that also been the case for you or has it been more of a direct translation from one disc to another?
(SH): To a degree I would say that is the case, I have three different distance driver molds in my bag now whereas before when I was with Legacy I just used one, in a bunch of different plastics. I actually really like the fact that I'm able to throw a bunch of different lines now. In particular, I'm able to throw a similar angle with different molds rather than manipulating the angle of one mold. So I think that's part of it. I'm getting to know all those different lines and I do even have some lines available to me that I didn't have at all before. But that also brings in more decision making and at first consistency issues. In particular, at Vegas and the Memorial, I didn't have much practice in the wind yet, and also at WACO. I'd really only played a couple of rounds in the wind before we had that major wind in Vegas and I had to completely adjust my game plan. I think that’s had something to do with why I’m not reaching Circle 1 and 2 as much now. What’s weird though is at GBO, my best round was the round in the wind. How did I shoot my best round on the windiest day?
(ZP): At last year’s inaugural SFO you crushed the competition, winning over Catrina Allen and Paige Pierce who tied for second 8 throws behind you. You were the only player to finish a round under 60 (with a little help from a sweet Sportscenter highlighted ACE!!) and the only player to finish any round with a 100% scramble (round 2) bogey-free round. Looking forward to the event what are you psyched for?
(SH): I’m excited to get out there and see the course with my new lines. The course seems like it’s open and big and long, which people might not think is my strength, but because of the elevation change, it ends up being very technical. I’m really excited to get out there and see what I can do on that course. A lot of it comes down to keeping it in bounds and giving yourself those opportunities. And the tee pads at SFO are a far cry from what we've played so far here. Outside of WACO, I haven't had access to very many birdies. Even though we had women's tees. They've basically been designing the women's tees for a 400' power shot rather than what the average female throws, which are more like 330' or 340' power shots. So SFO is one where they designed the course appropriately for the ladies in my opinion. I have access to a lot of birdies out there while so far this season has been more about mitigating bogeys. So, combine that with some technicality and I think I have a chance here.
(ZP): As I mentioned earlier, the SFO was a real turning point for you. It was the first time you beat Paige Pierce in 2018 and after that, your worst finish was a fourth place at your next event – the Beaver State Fling. You would go on to finish the year with a podium finish at every event, including four wins. Do you think that the 2019 SFO could be where you get the momentum going this season?
(SH): Yea. I mean, it has a lot to do with the course design. A lot of people like to say “oh, everyone has to play the same hole. Everyone’s playing the same thing” but people’s games are different so when the tee pads are designed in a way that gives me opportunities to score then certainly that is way better! At GBO I could only get six birdies out of the 18 there.
(ZP): so there were 12 holes you were just playing for par?
(SH): Yea, and several of those even the par felt like a birdie. A lot of times a par on a hole that’s just a little bit out of reach you’re like “okay, this is an easy little up shot and then I’m gonna tap out my putt” but there were at least three holes where getting even par was hard. You had to throw two really good shots and make a putt just to get a par.
(ZP): What’s your practice routine on a monster course like this? I’ve heard it’s quite the hike just to walk the course and I can hardly remember a flat spot on all the coverage.
(SH): Definitely trying to play one round a day - multiple shots though. One round each day in the morning and the final day before the tournament just throwing a few of the holes. Just a couple of the ones that I need an extra shot on or I wanna try something different. So not playing the whole course the day before. And actually, I'll probably have my caddy out there pulling my cart during my practice rounds. I remember last year my knee really started acting up by the end of the week. Just blew up like a grapefruit just from walking up and down those hills. And it's already blown up this year so I'll have to make sure to keep off of it and get my Disc Golf Strong recovery in!
(ZP): Alright, important question, what are you gonna throw to ace hole 3 again this year?
(SH): I’m gonna throw a Photon on that one. Yea. I think I got that same line. My beat in photon, my Neutron Photon.
(ZP): Since we’re talking about distance, I’d love to hear your thoughts on adapting holes at the elite level. In 2018 there were eight modified holes at Gleneagles. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the topic as a player who isn't known for her distance like Paige and Catrina but still, you're able to not only score, but win, against them. In my chats with Paige, she is obviously very anti-short tees. She has told me you two disagree on this at times so I'd love to hear your side of things! You've already told me there's a difference in how well certain events do it – somewhere it's not helpful and not even creative, and then some courses – like Gleneagles you said – really get it right. Where’s your stance on the direction the women’s game should be going with the tee pads.
(SH): In general I really appreciated, even at the GBO, that people took the time to think about what would be better for the ladies - what could make this course play better for the distance ladies throw. However, I’ve really been noticing some things about how that is done lately. If we assume that the course design of a gold level course is based on the men’s game, with that assumption in mind, the course designers are not designing par 3s where only the top distance throwers can get to the green. You don’t see 600’ par 3s, the reason behind it being, “oh well, Simon can get there.” If they designed courses like that for the men, and most of them couldn’t get there they would complain and be upset about it. They’d all be saying “This is not fair. I can’t get to any of these holes but these four people can”. But on the flip-side, on the women’s division, they do design the courses and the tee pads for the Simon of our division.
I couldn't get to any of the par 3s except for the one island hole at GBO. All of them were over 400' or if they weren't they were uphill. I came to this one hole in practice and it read 315, par 3, and it was a sidearm line, I was like "SWEET!" I could barely get within 100' of the basket. I was 70 or 80 short every time. So it really just played like a 400' hyzer. So I think that that's the part the course designers are missing. They’re designing the courses for a 400’ power shot when that’s the elite distance of our division. That’s not what the average touring woman throws. If you ask the touring women what their power shot is, it's 330-350 it's not 400 feet. So we're being put in a position where the courses are being designed for the elite distance throwers in our division and leaving the rest of the players behind.
When I say this isn't fair, people tell me, "Oh well Paige can get there." And I think, "yea, she can". And Paige and Jen Allen and Cat should be rewarded for their distance but what people don't realize is they're being rewarded for their distance even on short holes. They’re rewarded for their distance on every par 5 and every par 4. They get to smash it as far up the fairway as they can and have a way easier approach. And on the par 3’s they’re able to throw a way slower disc, even a mid, whereas the less powerful throwers are having to throw a much more technically difficult shot to cover the same distance. I think that's something that the disc gold community and some of the designers are missing.
I think it's actually really hurting the women's division right now. I think it's really discouraging, especially for up and coming pros who are playing courses that aren't suiting the average distance that they throw. I really don't think par 3s should be out of the range to most of the players. I'm not saying I should be able to get every birdie but the average female in our division should be able to get to most of the holes. If you look at the stats, and I know I'm biased, but that's why I ask people to look at the stats. Look at the stats from GBO. Look at the stats from Texas State Championships – I won that tournament and I got one birdie the whole weekend. That is not the kind of golf that will grow the sport for the women. It was boring. As was the golf at GBO for me. It was boring.
I'm throwing the same shot over and over again then throwing a little upshot and tapping in a putt. I'm not even putting most of the time. If you look at GBO there were 10 holes that basically no one got. 5 of those literally no one birdied. 5 only one person did. More than half the course and no one is getting birdies? That's not right. Thankfully it still allows scoring separation because there's OB everywhere and if you miss a shot you're gonna pay for that. But we see a huge discrepancy between 2nd and 3rd place, we're talking 15 strokes! And I know Jen Allen was that third place and we'd expect her to be up there with Paige and Cat, but honestly she doesn't get to practice, she's flying in and out. We know the distance is there but she just doesn't get the same chance to dial in her game. It's not rocket science to see that the course is distance heavy when you have all of the distance throwers at the top. And it happens all the time, the whole first half of the season has been like that.
(ZP): Right. If that’s the only thing we’re testing on the course then why aren’t we just having distance competitions?
(ZP): Since it came up a little bit in that last question, what advice would you give to any up and coming players who want to take their game to the next level?
(SH): Absolutely. I have a good handful of pieces of advice.
1. Practice, rather than play scored rounds, correcting errant shots.
2. Set your bag up with less molds and multiples of the same disc to practice with.
3. Take video of yourself and analyze your form. Then, work on your weaknesses.
4. Commit to specific routines before each type of shot.
5. Play big events to gain experience with pressure, to gauge your progress and learn how to play difficult tracks.
6. Read Bob Rotella to begin developing your mental strategy.
(ZP): Alright before we get to predictions, anything else you wanted to cover in our time here?
(SH): Actually, I did really want to touch on the rules situation at GBO. It's been a bit of an issue over the years with a couple of players in my opinion kind of bullying people for calls. Inside the group we're all just a little more friendly with each other in my opinion. On the course, it's a little weird and I think women tend to take it a little more personal, not only when you get calls made on you but in general our interactions are more personal in our gender. It's a real problem that these calls are coming down to people fighting for the benefit and we're not getting an appropriate actual call made. For example, the call with Cat this weekend [on hole 16 at GBO] was exactly the amount of strokes she won by. And the fact that when Paige called her on the courtesy violation, Cat fired back with a courtesy violation for over-celebrating. Is that even a thing? Can you call that on someone for over celebrating when they can a huge death-putt in the wind? Is that something you can even do? As far as I'm concerned that is not okay. It's not okay to bully people out of calls, it's not okay to start making calls on them because they made calls on you. I'm not perfect either. I mean, I let a foot fault go this weekend. I watched a girl step on her disc and I didn't call her. Overall we need to find a way, and I don't have an answer, other than we have to stop taking things so personally and we have to start making calls.
(ZP): I think you've identified a really good point here. As we become a bigger and bigger sport it’s only going to become more of a problem. I know I’ve seen something and not called it because I think “this isn’t a big deal”. Or even if someone calls it, no one else will say they saw it and second it.
(SH): Even when I saw it this last weekend the words wouldn’t even come of out my mouth, I couldn’t even say “foot fault!” And when I have called it in the past, all of a sudden everyone’s calling foot faults. Now all of a sudden everyone is watching my feet like a hawk and it’s a pretty subjective call. Is it where they plant versus where they pivot to? There’s a lot of ambiguity there. It gets more important and clearer if they're reaching behind a tree or something versus if they're in the middle of a fairway and taking a run up and then they're a centimeter away from where they should be - that's an ambiguous call that I don't have a solution for. But what I do know is that it's not working.
(ZP): Totally, somehow we're supposed to know where their foot was the second they let go of the disc. That's impossible.
(SH): Yup. And the jump putt rule needs to be fixed as well. The way that the rule is defined is unenforceable. You’re supposed to watch a person's hand and their foot? You can’t even tell on video without slowing it down and freezing it. So we’re asking people to look at two places and one time and make a determination. In reality, our sport is backwards on how the rule is defined. In every other sport you can take off from behind the line and as long as your foot was behind the line when you left the ground it's legal. Doesn't matter if you land in front of it, it doesn't matter at what point you hit the volleyball, it doesn't matter at what point you hit the tennis ball, doesn't matter at what point the jump shot leaves your hand, it matters that you took off from behind the line. Physiologically it’s completely absurd that you’re going to jump at the same time you’re letting go of the disc. Physiologically they are going to come one-millisecond after each other. You’re gonna jump and the energy’s gonna come up from your feet through the rest of your body and out your hand. When it comes to athletes in any other sports that's how it works. But our sport for whatever reason is not worded in the same way. I'm an advocate that we switch it to what all the other sports in the entire world and what our bodies suggest that we should do.
(ZP): I love this. These are the conversations I wish we were having more of. People just think that's the rule so that's the rule. But no, the PDGA changes the rules plenty. Thanks for bringing that up, it's great to talk about. Alright, before we wrap up got any predictions for us?
(SH): Gosh, I don’t really have predictions at the moment. There are so many people that could play well this weekend. McBeth, Paige, and Cat are all streaking really well right now. I don’t think these courses will be particularly difficult for any of them. It’s not that it’s not difficult, but it doesn’t play against their game. And they’re playing well right now.
(ZP): Got it. those are some solid picks right now for sure. Before we wrap up, how can everyone find you online?
(SH): I have my standard Instagram and Facebook and I also just started a Patreon. Through that I'm trying to provide some behinds the scene footage for what’s been happening for the media team at the Pro Tour. My goal has been to show people who these people are behind the camera. The loyalty is already so established with the other media teams and people just don’t know who these folks are. So I’m just trying to help them understand that these are really good people, they’re working really, really hard, and they’re getting better.
The part that is kind of frustrating is that the public is almost going tribal on disc golf media. What I don't understand is that it's a free service. They're not paying anything for this. I would totally understand people being upset if they bought a product and it was sub-par. You should get your money back in that case. When we're talking about the Pro Tour, most of the public didn't invest any money into that but people are coming out and saying you're taking the sport back ten years. That's not true. I was here ten years ago, it's way better now! And yes it hasn't gone as well as we wanted it to and every tournament they've had to readjust and do a whole new thing. Growing pain after growing pain.On top of that it doesn't help that the public has been so critical. The name calling and saying "I'm not watching it" I don’t get it. The women didn’t even get any real coverage until the pro tour came along. So I just want people to understand who it is that they are talking about.
(ZP): Alright, Sarah, thanks so much for taking the time to talk today. I really loved getting to hear all your thoughts. Best of luck this weekend!
(SH): It was great to talk, and thanks for all the work you're doing. I really appreciate it!
You don't want to miss any of the coverage we have planned for this week so make sure to stay tuned to our Watch page, check back for a new S.F.O. article every day this week, and make sure you subscribe to Sarah Hokom all over the internet and chip in on her Patreon! Keep disc golf alive and thriving by supporting the people that make it all happen. Until the rounds start up on Friday though, Spring has finally arrived in New England so I'm gonna get off this keyboard and go play some disc golf! see you on the course!
Article written by Staff Writer & Editor Zach Podhorzer. All photo credit to Alyssa Van Lanen, the great disc golf photographer we've ever known.
In just a couple of days, our beloved touring pros will be taking back to the same course for the first time since last year. In a few weeks the 2019 Disc Golf Pro Tour will officially kick off at the at the Memorial Championship presented by Discraft. The disc golf scene has never been bigger: off-season routines are all over social media, vans are getting tricked out beyond belief, and it seems like almost everyone has changed sponsors and every sponsor has picked up a number of new names. I was lucky enough to catch up with a contemporary legend this week to see how she is preparing to defend her title at the first pro tour stop.
That’s right, we’re talking with Paige Pierce, four time World Champion, three-time US Champion, the 2017 Pro Tour Champion, and most relevant to this article she’s walked away victorious from six out of her eight total showings at the Memorial. That’s a whopping 75% win rate. This year we want to bring you not only more of the action on the course but more of the story that brings our players to each event and how they prepare. I’ll be interviewing the champions of every 2018 Pro Tour event to get a look inside the mind of a champion. Let’s dive into it.
Zach Podhorzer (ZP): Can you start by tell me a little bit about the off-season? You’ve got a ton of projects going on right now.
Paige Pierce (PP): As soon as the season ended I started traveling back home, but Alyssa Van Lanen and I did a new series called Disc Golf Tourist. So we made a trip to on the way home and did an episode there. I spent a couple weeks at home with the fam, you know, visiting everyone I miss while I’m on the road. Then I went to Europe for a month with Alyssa and did another Disc Golf Tourist trip. This time was a little bit different, people paid to be on a road trip with us. Essentially, they had an option where they could pay to come with us. It included everything, all their meals, all the transportation between the various stops, lodging, everything like that. They had to fly there. Within these nine days, all these things were included. I thought it was cool because it’s like how we travel year round on tour. This allowed them the opportunity to join and do it with us.
ZP: How many people came with you all?
PP: Fifteen. There were nine-day, five-day, and three-day options. We’re definitely going to do it again. After Europe I came home to Kansas for a while then I left Emporia and I headed to Nashville, and I started working on my van a little bit, a couple minor adjustments that seem small but their gonna be huge. You know, after living in it for a year you’re like I need this, I need this. I worked on the van and did a lot a lot of field work and putting. Now I got to Dallas yesterday and I’ll be here for a week before I head to Vegas.
ZP: So Vegas will be your first tournament of the season?
PP: Yes. Vegas is the one that kicks it off, for sure.
ZP: How are you feeling about that?
PP: Good, I'm excited, it's not really hard, you know, you just have to stay mentally ready. Let me clarify that. The shots that are called for aren't difficult. There's not a lot of navigating or shaping of shots. You just have to throw it and then finish the hole out. So it's more of a mental thing, which I feel ready for. It can be hard to stay focused but it also can keep you really in it. If you throw one really good, you throw the next one good, you're like "alright there it is. I just gotta keep doing it."
ZP: I saw your announcement of Nice Line. I think with all the media that’s been going on to see something coming out that is focusing on the FPO game is really important. Even though there’s lots of media out there, it often feels like it’s MPO first. It’s great you’re bringing this piece of the game - following someone into the woods and watching their shot. That’s part of why I play too. it’s really fun to see how everyone is imagining their throws.
PP: Like you said, it's super fun to watch, I've been doing it for years and years. You know, maybe in the beginning, in 2011 or 12, it was like "what are you doing right behind me?" now it would be weird if I didn't. Now it's just a very common thing and we talk about it afterward. I watched Kona throw this shot last year at Worlds at Brewster, and she came out of the woods and we high-fived like normal. The rest of the round I was thinking, "people need to see that shot. That shot was amazing." It’s gonna get lost in the footage, because you know the round is 20, 25 minutes long, what if I just videoed that and had her talk about it on camera after the round? So I asked her "hey, would you be down to do that?" and she said yes. I started asking a bunch of my other competitors, “hey, would you be down to talk to the camera after the round?” and all of them said “yes”, so I was like “alright I’m doing this!”
ZP: With all of that going on what kind of practice routine are you fitting in?
PP: I practiced before I left for Europe quite a bit, but on that trip, I didn't bring my discs with me, I brought my third string discs with the intention of giving them away at the end. Just to get some Paige Pierce gear in their hands, just share the love, you know. Now: mostly fieldwork, I might go throw today at a course but I don't really keep score when I’m practicing so it doesn’t really matter. I just need to throw and make sure my timing’s right and my mechanics feel good but that’s just more of freshening up.
Practice for me is making sure I know all my discs on every angle and every power percentage. Just re-familiarize myself with my discs. I’ll do putters and mids one day, and then fairway drivers, and then drivers. On each one of those days I say, “okay let me throw this as 50% on a hyzer, 50% flat, 50% anhyzer and then 75%, and so on”. Because you never know what shot you’re going to be faced with. I think that’s something that’s super intriguing about golf and disc golf - you're never faced with the same shot. So it's a lot about adapting and improvising. I know I can never be fully prepared - none of us can - for what we're going to face.
ZP: How long do you spend before an event getting ready at the course? What about at the Memorial?
PP: At Memorial, I want at least two days, I don’t want to play more than two rounds in a day if I have to. Only really one round a day for practice. I’d like to have three days, just to be safe. I'll play both courses once for sure, and then depending on which one I feel I need a little more work on then I’ll go back to that one.
ZP: Which do you think that might be?
PP: Typically, it's Vista, because Fountain is pretty straightforward - stay in bounds on the front nine and on the back nine go for birdies. Vista has a little bit more trouble to get in if you're off. I just need to make sure I throw the correct choices there that don't have me getting into trouble off the fairways.
ZP: You’ve been talking about timing today, I’ve seen your posts emphasizing timing, what do you do to practice timing?
PP: Just repetition over and over and over. A lot of times I won’t even have a disc in my hand but I’m just making sure that my leg comes through at the same time that my arm does. My foot, my hip, and my elbow should all be hitting their front most point at the same time, and then my hips open. So on your pull through, your hips are just moving sideways, they’re not opening. They don’t open until after the disc is released. A lot of people have a misconception about that, and they start opening their hips and in turn your arm opens and it causes a big room for error as far as your release point.
ZP: That is great advice. You have quite the history at the memorial, correct me if I’m wrong but I think it looks something like this: in 2011, your first Memorial, you win; 2012 – you take 3rd behind Val Jenkins and Catrina Allen; from 2013-2015 you win back-to-back-to-back; in 2016 you placed 2nd behind Catrina; and in 2017 and 2018 you brought home wins. Eight times, 6 wins, and 2 podium finishes - And most of your wins are by a handful of throws. In 2018 you threw the hot round (or tied for it) every day. How are you feeling about your chances in 2019?
PP: I mean the courses haven't really changed, I saw the order changed a little bit, but for the most part we're playing the same kind of course. I think that's really the common denominator in these types of things, well, me and the course. I play well there and that's not really going to change this year. I feel good about myself there. So we’ll see who else feels good about that course too.
ZP: With all that history, is there a year, or a round, or even a single hole that stands out as really defining the event for you?
PP: Yea. in 2015, Ken Climo was there and for two rounds I was beating him. I was beating the entire Master's field. After the third round it didn't hold still, but for two rounds I was beating the best player to ever play the game. It was really memorable for me.
ZP: That’s a great story. The courses at the Memorial are known for more space to air out the disc and power can be a big separator. Do you think 2019 will be the season where we see more of the women’s field catch up to your drives?
PP: It's really hard to say definitively because I haven't been with any FPO players during the off-season. It's hard to imagine that I would be at a disadvantage now when it comes to power. It's been a constant that my disc is the farthest down the fairway. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it requires something in between a jump putt and an upshot. It puts me in this weird little realm of a shot, but for the most part, it does really feel like an advantage. Like I said, I don't really know, but I feel like in 2019 it will be the same story.
ZP: Do you think that year might not be too far off? With folks like Hailey King throwing +400 ft from what I've heard?
PP: Yea, her backhand is close, but it's not quite there, but her sidearm – she's throwing a Zone sidearm 300 ft on a hyzer, it’s crazy. Her sidearm power is unparalleled. Then again, she’s not throwing those shots off the tee a whole lot. Definitely sometimes, when it’s necessary, but I think it’s more common to be more of a backhand player until the sidearm is needed. So I think in a couple years, for sure, if she already has that power. It’s not necessarily about the power that you have either, it’s about how you use your body and she's figured out how to do that with sidearm. If she can just mirror that into her backhand you know she'll definitely be one to compete with within a few years for distance.
ZP: In 2018, during round 4 you threw almost as many bogeys as you did in the three previous rounds and never threw a par on the back 9 (bogeys and birdies only) even with a “comfortable” double digits lead does a roller coaster like that get the emotions going?
PP: Yes, because most of the time I’m trying to shoot par golf and if a birdie comes I’m stoked, but my goal is just par golf. Bogey’s are definitely not good, especially out at Memorial. There’s four rounds, so honestly, I really shouldn’t be getting more than four, maybe eight bogeys at most. Two a round and I can justify eight. If it’s more than eight then it’s going to be a little bit disappointing. I’m being honest and it’s not supposed to be arrogant, it’s just not that hard of a course. But, when you’re seeing the water at Fountain it gives you this added factor of mental hesitation. If any of those holes didn’t have water I’d be landing in the circle all the time. We all would. When you see that water, it just tweaks your brain a little bit. I hope to overcome that this year, and I definitely hope to get more pars than bogeys.
In 2018 Paige won the Memorial Championship presented by Discraft by a cushy 11 throws. There wasn’t a single round of the tournament where Paige didn’t play the best round of the day – on a couple of days the field mustered at least one round that tied her. To really round out the numbers, in her sixth win of eight showings at the Memorial she lead the field in six of eight stats. Falling short of top honors in only Circle 1 Putts and Scramble. You can learn a lot by comparing a players performance at one event to their performance over the season. Especially when you look at the first event of the Pro Tour you can see the trends of not only their game but also how the courses change as we move from the Southwest, through the Northwest and then all the way across the country.
ZP: Comparing you memorial stats to your season stats (DGPT) you were crushing it from the tee pad but struggling on the green. You also made 33% of your circle two putts. Is that just a product of the course or was something really clicking? Any other patterns standout?
PP: So I gotta get better at scrambling and Circle 1 Putts! The circle two putts are definitely a product of the course. The greens are wide open and the basket is right there. It's hard for me to comprehend that 10 other people putted better than me last year though. I know had a little section of the season where I was struggling, but ten people putting better than me? It's hard to think that. So that's definitely motivating to look at right now.
And scrambling, I can see that. There's a lot of time when I'm in the rough that I just pitch out, and try to just take it for what it is. Recently, I've been told I need to stop doing that and at least try to progress down the fairway. I ‘m going to be trying to do that a bit more this year. And then I'm first in every other category. Fairway hits I’m kinda surprised on. Sometimes I feel like “man I didn’t even land on the fairway today” so I’m kinda surprised at that, but I’ll take it. Other than that, I just really, really, really want to get my putting up. That’s pretty much what I’m summing up from looking at this.
ZP: Sounds like the right strategy. I want to turn to a little bit of a different topic now. I remember once hearing you say that you liked the gold lines at maple hill better than the ones the women were playing. In 2018 there was a couple handfuls of shorter tees for FPO at the memorial between the two courses. What are your thoughts on women’s tees in this new season?
PP: This is something Steve Dodge and I talk about a lot. I really enjoy him as a tour manager because he makes decisions based on what he really believes, and I think every human should do that. He’s also really receptive to feedback so I make sure to talk to him every time: “Steve, come on, why is this one short?” Because back in the day, before the Pro Tour, Steve was only the Tournament Director of Maple Hill. Back in those days we didn’t have women’s tees. Every year since my first year at maple hill we’ve had more and more women’s tees. We started out playing none and a couple of years later we played three short tees, then five short tees, and now we're playing something like eight or nine short tees.
For me, it’s very frustrating, probably the most frustrating, thing about our sport right now. Not because it's short but because it's less challenging. Since that first time I played maple hill I know I've gotten leaps and bounds better as an athlete yet now we're playing easier holes. Unfortunately, this is happening at almost every tournament. I don't see why our shots are digressing. I really dislike that so, I make sure to voice my concerns to Steve.
So far, it hasn't really been overruled because I think there are quite a few women who would prefer shorter tees, so I think I'm in the minority, I'm also trying to speak to those competitors I know are voting for them and ask “why? Do you not want to be challenged?”. Sarah Hokom is one of the ones who's very adamant about short tees or ladies tees and we had a two-hour conversation at Hall of Fame at the end of the year last year. It was nice to get her feedback and hear where her brain is at on the topic. Unfortunately, it didn't sway my opinion. I'm still very strongly in favor of the more challenging holes. I want to get better and that's how I'm going to do it, by playing those harder holes and learning that skill.
ZP: Have you even played all of Maple Hill Golds yet?
PP: Oh. I’ve never thrown 14 gold, that’s semi-new. I went up and looked at it for the first time. When we go from 13’s basket to 14’s tee ,it's right there for us. So I’d never even been up there, and I was like ohhh. It looks fun! I don’t know, I just wish we played the long tees. That one, I can see, for sure we should play the ladies’ tee. A lot of time could be lost losing discs in the water or looking for discs on the other side. I think there's a certain time and place for it. I'm never going to say I don't want any women's tees because I do know there's an appropriate time for it, but I do think a lot of the ones we are playing aren't necessary.
ZP: I’d like to see the women’s game go back the direction it came from. I’ve never seen a course designed any way besides the biggest layout being “the layout” and all the other tees are added on.
PP: There’s a really good course that was specifically designed for FPO, it’s called Camden II, it’s in Illinois I think. It’s a really, really good - in my mind perfect - women’s course. It’s not super short, there are par threes and three-and-halfs through the woods. Great distance and really nice shapes.
ZP: That’s so cool. I didn’t know about that course, I’d love to check that out. So before we wrap up here, I have to ask, got any predictions for this year’s Memorial?
PP: Kevin Jones. And I'll go 25% parked. I feel good about my discs. I know exactly what they're doing when they're leaving my hand, so it's just releasing them correctly and that's an easier goal to obtain. But I mean what is parked though? Inside that little bullseye?
ZP: Yea. 11 feet.
PP: Oh. Okay. Alright. That’s gonna be a little bit more challenging. It's different though, you know, people's definition of parked are all over the place. Someone's like, “oh I parked it!” and you're like, "cool! nice birdie.” and they're like, “oh no, I missed the putt." I was 24th in putting last year, this year I’m going to be in the top 3 for sure.
My deepest gratitude to Paige for taking the time out of her busy schedule to talk. We covered so much, from everything she’s been working on during the offseason to equity between the women’s game and men’s to predictions for this year’s Memorial. I can’t wait to see it all unfold in Arizona at the end of the month. And if this just wasn’t enough Paige Pierce for you, don’t you worry, we’ve got three more pre-tournament mind of a champion interviews with her coming this season so make sure you keep checking back for more. Don’t forget to follow Paige just about everywhere She’s on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @PPierce29190 and you can find her on her YouTube channel and her Disc Golf Tourist series with Alyssa Van Lanen on her channel. Trust me, all the content you’ll find is well worth the time to check it out.
You don’t want to miss any of our coverage of the 2019 Memorial Championship Presented by Discraft. So follow this link to our watch page to find out where, when, and how you can tune in. Until then, don’t let winter keep you indoors, get out and play!
This article written by Staff Editor and Writer Zach Podhorzer. All photography credit thanks to Alyssa Van Lanen.
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