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Mind of A Champion: Paige Pierce and the Jonesboro Open

By Baker Helton
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Paige Pierce is no stranger to winning and after enough wins it starts to become more and more likely you win the same event again, and again, and in some cases again. In this case, Paige Pierce has won the young but challenging Jonesboro Open every time it’s been held. This week Pierce will try her hand at a hat trick of wins at Disc Side of Heaven and her first big win of 2019. In 2017 it was a battle with Sarah Hokom that Pierce won on the last hole and in 2018 while everyone was battle for second place Pierce locked up the win with a 10 throw lead. The course certainly plays to Paige’s proficiencies, measuring in at almost 9000′ of play for the women, unsurprisingly Pierce wants more – more distance and more equity. I was luck enough to chat with Paige yet again as she was ramping up for the event. We talked everything from practice routines to stat talk to even a shout out distance challenge. You’ll find it all below for your reading pleasure. For transparency, we spoke before Paige’s win this last weekend at the Nick Hyde Memorial.

Zach Podhorzer (ZP): Thanks again for taking the time to talk again. I was thinking that we could start with a question a lot of people are going to be curious about. Comparing your 2018 start to your 2019 start, I think we all want to know, where are the wins, Paige? Is the field catching you? Or are you not playing up to your scoring potential?

Paige Pierce (PP): I think a little of both for sure. People are playing really hot. Catrina’s game looked amazing at WACO. I didn’t go to Belton but I saw she shot really well there too. And you know Eveliina shot really well at the Memorial. I think at Vegas it definitely was the latter, but for the other two, it was kind of a mixture.

(ZP): You had some good hot rounds in those second two events – memorial and Waco – but there were definitely some blips in your performance there too. That leaves me wondering, what has felt like your strength this year and what do you need to improve on heading into the rest of the season?

(PP): Hmm. I think that’s the problem, I feel like I’m playing some good holes, I’m putting well, I’m driving well, I’m throwing upshots well, but not all together in one round.  I’m having bad holes and to be at the top of the game you kind of have to avoid that. So I think that’s been the thing, just not putting a full round together yet.

(ZP): I can see that in your rounds. You’ve had some great stretches bu as we already discussed, no big wins.  So is there a hole this year that stands out where you really put it together this year?

(PP): Well, I got an eagle at WACO so that’s probably the one.

(ZP): Good choice. What about the other side of the coin. Is there a hole you look back on and think, “that’s exactly what’s been the problem with my game this season?”

(PP): Yea, I think the second par five at WACO, hole 12, I took an eight on it. Sure, it’s a par five, but you know, triple bogeys are just not good. I early released off the tee and left myself in a terrible position. Had to pitch out. From the pitch out I had another early release, and just barely progressed down the fairway. A lot of small errors but on a tight par five like that it’s gonna be very detrimental to your score.

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Paige followed her own advice in 2018 – trusting that practice will translate, she earned herself a comfy cushion over the field for the final round.
(ZP): For sure. Playing those par fives from the rough doesn’t offer you much chance to advance towards the basket. So how do you think your game this season will translate to a course like Disc Side of Heaven for the Jonesboro Open?

(PP): It’s mostly open so it leaves you more room for error. There are some holes you have to hit a slightly tight gap but nothing compared to the bEast we just came from. Towards the end of the weekend at WACO, I was starting to get my release point really dialed in. That’s something that’s not just me but a lot of people struggle to stay consistent with. For me, I notice when I’m off that it’s my release point. It’s not like my timing’s off or my angles are off. I’m either letting go of the disc early or holding on to it. Out there at Jonesboro that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Like I said, I’m worried more about just finishing a whole round – playing a consistent round.

(ZP): In terms of playing that consistent round. Are you finding it’s a mental problem? You were mentioning not finding your release point. But for example, Memorial and Vegas there’s a little bit more room for error on your release point but we’re still seeing you not quite get those rounds together. Where does that come from?

(PP): Definitely mental. I think disc golf is such a mental game. Clearly, something’s not there. I’m thinking a lot instead of just throwing. So I think I need to try and channel blank brain. Just wipe the brain and rely on what I’ve been doing in practice and trust that it translates into the round. It’s the same thing but it’s different feelings because you don’t really practice these pressure situations – chasing the lead or having to get yourself a lead and then hold it. You can practice learning your discs but you don’t practice for those situations. So I just need to get back into the swing of it and focus on calming my brain down.

Honestly, I was trying to break it down for myself personally, I don’t really use my mini unless I go out of bounds or if I make an error it’s just kind of a mental note for me. You know how in tennis they count on forced errors, I kinda count that for myself. So however many times I put down my mini I know I made that mistake. I’ve had just way, way, way too many of them at the last couple events. You know earlier we were talking about hole 12, it kind of set me up for errors, so I have to minimize those errors big time.

(ZP): Right. Especially at a course like that, for a player like you who can really excel on the open shots, just getting through the wooded ones can give you a much better shot at winning.

(PP): That’s my favorite kind of golf though.

(ZP): Playing in the woods like that?

(PP): Yea, I Love it.

(ZP): Comparing your 2018 Jonesboro stats to your 2019 Season stats, I like to look at the discrepancies. For example, In 2018 at Jonesboro you were 14% better at hitting fairways than your 2019 season so far. Some of this is the result of how the different courses play, but do you think that might have something to do w ith the mental block you’ve been facing this season?

(PP): Even if I can’t shake this mental thing I think it’s going to be quite a bit higher because the fairways are so wide there. Literally the first year we went there, a lawn mower company was the sponsor because there’s that much grass that we’re playing in. I don’t think that one should be a problem. I think the bigger problem is that the Birdie Percentage is down by 9% and Circle 1 Putting’s down quite a bit as well.

(ZP): Right. Looking at this year’s FPO stats rankings, C1X Putting is the only category you’re not in the top three still. You’re leading or close to leading in Fairways, Parked, Circle 1 & 2 in Regulation, and even in Circle 2 Putts at 18%. At that rate, you’re making a lot more than most people. But at Jonesboro last year you only made 9%. What do you think causes that? Is it the course? The way you’re putt’s feeling? The snow?

(PP): Sometimes you’re on. Sometime’s you’re not. You know, on a Circle 2 Putt you’re essentially throwing up a prayer. For me, I’m always aiming at the basket, so that parts not different. But it’s just farther than a lot of us practice. We’re trying to perfect our putts inside the circle because we’re intending on getting closer. We’re not really going out and practicing circle 2 putts. That one is just gonna come, if you’re hot, you might land forty feet away but it feels like twenty.

(ZP): Looking back at the short history of the Jonesboro Open I have to say I’m pretty frustrated there was no camera on your first round in 2018 when you shot a 54. The closest round to that in a tournament is a 60, and that’s still your score. Can you give me a sense of what brought that round together compared to the other great scores you’ve put down at Disc Side of Heaven?

(PP): I think honestly, I was just on a roll. I was only thinking “how do I get my disc closer to the basket.” Sometimes you’re thinking about “what angle? What percentage of power? How far to the right?” You know sometimes though, you get tunnel vision – “there’s the metal get it close”. Honestly, it is so much of a mental game that sometimes you’re just in the zone and that’s what happens when players shoot rounds like that one.

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It wouldn’t be the sport we love if it didn’t make us smile like this!
(ZP): Let’s get into the competition a little bit. Catrina Allen – much better start in 2019, riding the WACO win right now and the Open at Belton, even though she had a tough final round on the green at JBO in 2018, how do you expect her to play this year?

(PP): I don’t think so. Putting in a certain round doesn’t transfer to the next year.  If she was on a bad putting streak, certainly it might be a factor, but her game and her putt is looking great right now. But that’s not something I can control, I just have to play my own game. I think she’ll be right there, if I’m messing up it’ll be someone else’s to win. I just have to minimize my mistakes.

I think also you’re going to see a good showing from Hanna Blumroos, she’s from Finland, she was number two in the world at one point last year, and a really good young player sponsored by Prodiscus. So I’m assuming she wants to put on a show for her sponsor on her first trip to the US and get her name out there.

(ZP): Speaking of Europeans. I heard you signed up to play the European Open just to play Eveliina again.

(PP): Yea. Eveliina, and Henna.

(ZP): I lo ve seeing it become even more international and getting them over here which really bolsters the FPO field.
Back on this side of the pond I’m curious to hear your take on M
adison Walker. She just won Throw Down the Mountain and finished last year’s Jonesboro Open charging in the final round to tie your hot round for the day. Where do you think she’ll factor in this year?

(PP): She is getting better and better for sure. She’s getting a much better backhand. The course is really long though, so I don’t see her getting quite enough birdie opportunities. She might get herself some Circle 2 Putts, but like we just talked about, those are maybes, you can’t really count on them. She’s a great player, but she’s not the person I’m thinking of who’s gonna be right there with me coming down the stretch.

(ZP): How about Sarah Hokom? She was only two off in 2017, and was part of the battle for second in 2018, but that battle was 10 throws behind you. How do you see her backhand improving more and that plus her forehand on this track?

(PP): Sarah plays really well there. I remember the battle with her in 2017 pretty vividly. That was a really fun one coming down the stretch. It came down to the last hole. Sarah Hokom is a world champion and a fierce competitor. You always have to be thinking about her, that she’s going to be there. Also, she just got a new mold in her bag. I just hung out with her a few days ago and she was super stoked. Last year before the MVP switch she was throwing Legacy but had a mixed bag with the Jokeri in there. When she switched to MVP she didn’t have an overstable putter or approach disc. S she’s been struggling with that, but she got one two days ago and she’s loving it. I think she’s gonna be shooting even a couple of strokes hotter now. You know when you have a gap in your bag and you find that replacement? It definitely saves you a few strokes.

(ZP): Totally. you can just lean on it then.

(PP): Exactly. And like you said she’s been working on her backhand. I don’t know how much she’s gonna bust it out at Jonesboro. She really only does it if the shot absolutely calls for it but she’s getting more and more confident off the tee with it and any time she needs it, she’s getting more comfortable. Definitely, one to watch.

(ZP): Watching the 2018 coverage she was doing commentary for, the thing she pointed out time and time again – “I should have gone with the backhand here!” I’m curious to see if she’ll lean on that wisdom from 2018.

Okay, last player that was in the mix, of course, a distance player, Jennifer Allen. She was competitive last year but she can struggle with the putt too. Have you played with her at all this year? How’s her game looking?

(PP): No, I have not this year. Maybe one round at Vegas, but I’m pretty sure we didn’t play yet this year. She is a hot and cold player and she hasn’t experienced a big win yet. She puts up really big rounds and gets way down the fairway, but without having that big win, she hasn’t really overcome that kind of pressure we talked about earlier. Not to say she can’t break through that, because that’s how you get the big win. You break through. Like with Madison, I know she’s capable but I don’t see her being the one that’s right there.

(ZP): Totally. You’ve gotta get it off your back. While we’re on the topic though. Who throws further? You or Jen?

(PP): I’ve never lost a distance contest. And Jen was at every one of them. I’ll challenge you Jen, any day of the week, let’s go.

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It might be cold out, but Paige has got to be comfy with her double digits lead!
(ZP): I would love to see that!  While we’re on the topic of distance I do want to touch on the number of teepads that have been shifted. Going off last year’s numbers, half the holes were shortened for the women. There was a total 1200’ discrepancy between the tees MPO played and the tees FPO played. I’m curious, on a course like Jonesboro does it feel like it’s better for the parity in your division, or does it still feel to you like you need to be playing the same tees and pushing your game on those lines?

(PP): Yea, you know my stance on it, but I can talk about it again. If you want?

(ZP): I hear ya and I agree. Specifically, Jonesboro is one of the longest tracks you’ll play all season. Does that make a difference?

(PP): Right, but that’s why we travel the country to play these courses. Why shorten them all? we might as well just play the same course every week if you’re gonna just keep shortening them. One of the things about going to Jonesboro is that it’s a big property with rolling hills that you’re having to throw over and really flex your disc out there to get yourself close. When we keep shortening half of the holes it’s making the course easier than it was  and we’re getting better. It doesn’t make sense.

(ZP): I totally agree with you. I think that property is one of the perfect places to say “let’s open it up and let everyone really rip on the disc”. How about hole 15? downhill across a little valley to a raised basket next to the trunk of a downed tree. Y’all play that as a par 4 while the men play it as a par 3 from the same teepad. What do you think of that “solution”?

(PP): I don’t think it’s a par 4 by any means. Distance wise it’s the same as a par three. I think that women don’t really know how to control angles as well as the men and so when you’re throwing downhill like that a lot of them have a hard time not getting the disc flat. So it kinda feels long because you’re going down hill and then it fluffs off into that OB left. You can see the top players in our division control the disc well and get down there for a putt though.

(ZP): Definitely. you would have had a Circle 2 Putt last year in the final round, but that was on a less than ideal drive that left you in the rough with a frustrating lay up for birdie. Birdie should never be that kind of frustrating!

Alright, we’ve covered a lot but we have one big question left – Predictions?

(PP): I think I’m gonna battle it out with Henna Blumroos. But I’m gonna win it. Henna, I love you. But I gotta root for myself, right?

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Disc golf is great and all, but it’s hard to compare most any round to a big win like this.
Hard to say it better than that, Paige. It’s always a treat to talk with such an incredible player and genuinely awesome person. Since our interview Paige has picked up her first real win of the year – just in time to ride that momentum through another win at Jonesboro. So what do you think? can Pierce threepeat? Or will Henna Blumroos or Catrina Allen steal her spotlight? Make sure to find out by watching live all weekend. Also, don’t forget to check out Paige just about everywhere on social media: 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 . There are some great new Episodes of Nice Line! and Disc Golf Tourist just waiting to be consumed! Until then, please go make the best of Spring and Day Light Savings and get those weekday evening rounds in!

This article written by Staff Editor and Writer Zach Podhorzer . All photography credit to Alyssa Van Lanen.