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.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.