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Mind Of A Champion: Ricky Wysocki And The Jonesboro Open

By Baker Helton
Ricky Wysocki, much like our other Mind of a Champion spotlight player Paige Pierce, is no stranger to winning back-to-back-to-back and beyond. When the GMC started years ago he started off winning it a solid handful of times in a row, then the Jonesboro Open started up in 2017 and we still only have two winners – Ricky and Paige. They have just dominated these courses, likely because they are both incredibly well rounded players. I got a chance to catch up with Ricky just before his first round at the Nick Hyde Memorial and we talked about everything from practice routines, to his new bag, to his thoughts on all these absurdly low scores we’re seeing in 2019. I hope you enjoy the read, I know I enjoyed the conversation thoroughly.

Zach Podhorzer (ZP): Thanks for taking the time to chat. Let’s start with hearing a little bit about what you think of your 2019 season so far?

Ricky Wysocki (RW): I’m feeling good. I’ve had a couple of performances I wasn’t quite happy with, but overall, when I wasn’t playing great I really tried to maximize my game. And that’s what the top players have to do. If we’re off with our putting or our driving, one part of our game has to bring up the other part of our game. I think that’s what makes me such a consistent top player. If I’m off with one part of my game I can still perform well and at a high level having played and seen how a lot of tournaments turn out. I think that obviously when we play at a high level and all the parts of our game are good, that’s what separates a top player from the step below.

(ZP): So in Texas, did it felt like you could really put it all together and make it happen there?

(RW): Yea. I feel like I got my confidence back in all parts of my game in Texas. Once I do it one time, that’s all the confidence I need for me to continuously do that. I think that was a good start for me.

(ZP): I was looking at your season, you basically moved closer and closer to the podium and now you’ve made the top. Now that you’ve moved on and are getting ready for the next event, how are you feeling about Nick Hyde?
(RW): Good Good. They’ve redesigned a bunch of holes so the course is a lot different. But I think it’s still a really good course and still a lot of really good holes. I think there’ll be a lot of birdies to be had and I think when I go there, there’s a lot of sidearm holes and I’m a sidearm player, so it definitely favors that. There’s also a lot of fairway driver holes that just go straight, so my Teebirds and Rocs are getting a lot of use. Overall, it plays to my game pretty well. If it gets windy I can play in the wind as well because we are in Texas.

(ZP): That actually gets at my next question then. I’m curious, now that we’ve seen a good handful of classic events this year that you’ve played so many times with your latitude bag in the past, what’s it like playing those same lines with a new bag?
(RW): Yea! It’s actually kinda interesting for me the way I play it. Now, when I step up to a tournament I’m thinking, “alright I gotta play this course and it’s almost a new course because I’m playing it with a totally different bag.” For me, being a veteran, it kind of spices these tournaments up. Some of these tournaments I’ve played six or seven years. Now, I’ve got a whole new bag and a whole new way of attacking the course. My game has also changed since I last threw Innova. It’s just really exciting to see the course and attack the course in a whole new way with these new discs.

(ZP): It’s like being a kid again! Were there any molds you were really excited to get back to?
(RW): Yea, absolutely. I was really excited about the Destroyer, Roc, and the Firebird. Oh, and definitely the Teebird, too. So, four classic molds. I’ve thrown a lot of different discs throughout the years, but those have always been staples in my bag. I could play a whole event with only those four discs and perform really well. So I think just having those and knowing I can reach for those in clutch situations is gonna save me strokes going down the stretch in big tournaments. I think that’s a big thing as a player, that’s my goal – to be in contention, but not only be in contention but win.

(ZP): It’s like riding a bike. So I was curious, as a player who leans on the Harp all the time, watching you absolutely dissected them with the harp was great. What are you turning to now for that part of your game?
(RW): Right now I’m using the pro pig. I’ve got two in my bag right now. A new one and a beat in one. I really like the grip. The Pro plastic is grippy, and really feels good in the hand for my sidearm. I went through all the overstable molds, the Gator, the Caiman, but was always just so comfortable with the Pig. That’s the disc that I want. That’s the disc I’m gonna use. I’ll probably end up carrying two or three for all my rounds. It also doesn’t skip. With the Harp, I sometimes had to really try and have it slide up to the basket. With the Pro Pig, the plastic is really grippy on the playing surface. I know I can run more of my shots from the fairway and have those shots sit, knowing it won’t skip too much and leave me with a big putt coming back.

(ZP): Alright, so you’re no stranger to defending a win. You’ve won it once you can win it again right? I think back to how many years in a row you won the GMC, and you’ve already won the Jonesboro Open twice in a row. How do you deal with those expectations?
(RW): There’s a lot that comes with it. Often, we’re in a feature group and there’s a bit more pressure. But the pressure’s good. I really like that. Sometimes in the first round, you get a little complacent – if stuff isn’t going good you might get compounding errors. But on a feature group, everyone’s looking, you gotta make sure to be on top of your game. I think it actually helps me. I like that. I’ve been in that position before and the more you’re in that position the more you’re going to thrive. Especially at Jonesboro coming up this weekend. I feel like I’m really good at defending titles and that just comes with confidence and knowing I can play in pressure situations really well.

(ZP): Tell me a little bit about the course, what defines Disc Side of Heaven for you?
(RW): The first thing that pops into my head when I think about that course is the rolling hills. It’s in Arkansas, its got the rolling hills, the tough par fours, I can’t remember if there are any fives…

(ZP): Yeah, there’s one, hole 16, but you eagled it two out of three rounds last year, so…
(RW): Yes. Yes. Haha, I remember now. So there is a par 5! So like I was saying, there’s a lot of variables, a lot of shot shaping. So every shot you’re having to throw sidearm, then backhand, then a shot that drifts right before coming back. The angles out there are really challenging to the players. I think that I play really well-on challenging, really hard courses. My skill set is basically any type of shot. I wouldn’t say I really have a weakness as far as throwing angles. Yea, some shots I throw better than others but, on command, I can throw pretty much any shot I want. I think having a course with that much variety actually favors me because I can manipulate all the different angles – sidearm, backhand, and putting. There’s not really one hole I step up to feeling nervous there and that really translates to a consistent round.

(ZP): That’s a great point. I think as courses are forcing players to have a broader range of shots it actually lends an advantage to the players that already have all the different shots. I came up playing with ultimate lids with my friends, playing frolf in the woods, that was an immediate advantage for me when I started playing disc golf more seriously.
(RW): oh yeah, for sure.

(ZP): Okay, so let’s talk preparation. What’s your practice plan for the event?
(RW): I normally show up two or three days ahead of time. For the Jonesboro, I’ll be there Tuesday and practice Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. So three days of practice. I’ll have probably one or two rounds the first two days but Thursday – one round. I like to put in more rounds earlier in the week so I’m not tired for the event. But basically, I like to get a lot of reps in. Throwing three or four shots on every hole; trying different upshots; trying all the different angles; putting on all the baskets to really get the heights and distances dialed. There’s a lot of things, but repetition is my biggest thing. Just getting a feel for each hole. The best way to do it is to play a lot of rounds and throw a lot of different shots to see what works and what doesn’t.

(ZP): So in 2018, you s tarted the final round with a two throw lead over Gurthie with Conrad and Montgomery right behind him. Last week you won Texas states by a good handful, what’s going through your mind when you step onto the tee and only have a two throw cushion?
(RW): I’ve learned that it’s actually tough to play with a lead. Depending on how big the lead is, if it’s six strokes it’s easier, but even then you don’t know, certain times, whether you should lay up or go for the shot. It’s easy to fall into the category of “oh, I’ve got six strokes so I don’t need to be aggressive.” But, in our sport everyone is getting so good it doesn’t matter if you are up by two or six, you have to be aggressive until the last hole. If you’ve built a lead coming into the last three holes or so, then you might adjust, but otherwise, there’s really no other reason to not follow my game plan. I think that’s something I’ve gotten a lot better at though, I don’t have to go win by six, I can win by four or three by not taking the same risks and still take home the win. That’s tough to do when at first. It’s hard to not fall into the wrong mindset. Then you’re a couple of holes in and that six ahead is only one or two ahead.

(ZP): Right. You have to stay on top of your game the whole time. What about when things go wrong though?  In the final round, Hole 6, over the water to the island, you came up just barely short, making dry land but still OB. With 12 holes left, you had five on the card but the drop-zone makes a circle 3 a throw-in, not just a putt. How do you recover from an errant drive when you’re facing a possible two throw swing and you just threw your first bogey of the event?
(RW): It’s definitely a hole I feel I should at least birdie. Like you said though, it was the first bogey of the tournament. I was feeling really good, I was playing really well, but I knew, when it comes down to a final round and you’ve got a lead, stuff like that is going to happen. Obviously, you try to minimize it. You don’t want it to happen, but in the moment it can be really hard to snap out of it. You just have to make sure you don’t let that compound on the next hole, and the next one. Compound errors – I see that a lot in newer players and people who aren’t used to playing under pressure. They throw a bad shot, then they run the basket and go too far, and then they miss the putt. Instead of just playing a safe shot and taking your bogey. “Live to fight another day,” as they say. Keeping yourself from letting that happen when you’re in contention is the most important thing. You might have a bad hole and come out on the next hole wanting to try and ace. But you wanna take it slow, build that confidence back slowly, not right in one hole. I think consistency comes from not only knowing how to play well but knowing how to handle when it doesn’t go well. You have to step up to the next hole and still feel confident.

(ZP): You managed to start peeling early, and pretty quickly, but through it all, the rest of the lead card was putting down some great shots. Whether it was Gurthie airing out past your drives, Conrad canning almost 50% of his circle 2 putts, and Colten playing so smooth and unassuming, how do you stay focused on your game?
(RW): Yea, I think the biggest thing when you’re playing at this level – obviously, we’re in the same group and we’re playing together – but you have to be selfish and focus on what you’re doing. Obviously, you’re watching their shots, you’re seeing what they’re doing, but when it comes down to it you wanna be selfish and focus on what you’re doing. You have to dedicate so much effort to every shot: dissecting all the variables, the angles, the wind, and the slope, all of it. You have to really focus. If I break away and focus on what they’re doing too much then I’m taking away from my game. So obviously, subconsciously, I’m watching their shots. It’s like this, you know Garrett crushes, I’m just making sure to not take away from focusing on my game by focusing on his. That’s the biggest thing.

(ZP): Alright, last questions about Jonesboro. Any predictions? Assuming you’re on the lead card day 2, who’s gonna be there with you this year? How low is the winner gonna go?
(RW): A lot of the same characters. I think Garrett is a really good thrower and that’s a thrower’s course. Conrad, yea, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him too. For the fourth, hmm. Someone like Cale Leviska. He’s smooth, he can shape a lot of different shots, he’s great at course management, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him sneaking into the lead group if not in contention for the win. It also depends on the wind as well. If it’s calm you can shoot 10, 12, or 13 under and even better. But if it’s super windy and you’re at 5 or 6 under and you’re shooting really well. You add the wind to all the other variables that are already on the course, then it makes it really tough. It’s a great run tournament and the venue challenges the top players. That’s what we want.

(ZP): But do you think you can take home the win again?
(RW): I do. I think I can go for the three-peat. I’m psyched. I’ll be putting my practice in. I’ll Try to put myself in position on day two and get myself in the lead or close to it. That’s my goal. If I can come down to the final stretch and I’m within three or four strokes, I know I can win. It’d be nice to be leading, but even if I’m not and I’m within a couple after round one, that’s a win for me.

(ZP): I look forward to seeing it! Before I let you go I just wanted to pick your brain for a second on one more thing.  What do you think about how scores are getting lower and lower, including these 18-unders. The numbers are pretty big. What do you think that means for our sport?
(RW): It’s crazy the consistency level. Like in WACO, Paul shot an 18-down but there were also two 16-unders. There’s just so many hot scores, it’s not like back in the day where if someone had shot an 18-down they’d be ahead by 8 or 10 strokes. Nowadays, you throw a perfect round, you’re only beating folks by 2,3, or 4 at the most. That’s the most impressive thing – the level of everybody, not just one guy. It’s made the sport look better and it’s made everyone work a lot harder. You can’t get complacent. I think a lot of players are noticing that if you aren’t putting in the work in the off-season, somebody else is and they’re gonna pass you up. Now we’re treating it like a professional sport, which it is. We’re doing workout routines, we’re doing stretching routines, we’re eating healthy. All the things professional athletes need to do to be successful, we’re doing it. And I think it’s translating into the course and the scores we’re shooting.

(ZP): So do you like seeing these types of low scores or do you prefer seeing a tournament with a closer pack and a final score closer to par than we are these days?
You know, I think if I had my choice, then I would choose a tournament with lower scores. If we’re playing a three-round tournament then we’re seeing people winning with 30 or 35-under and maybe even closer to 40. I’d like to see it closer to 20 or 25, if possible. It’s just so hard to challenge the players because a lot of players are so good at so many different shots – we can go over the trees on certain shots, we can throw certain angles and certain distances that course designers haven’t caught up to yet. All the players are so much better, I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s gonna take a minute for the course design to catch up to our actual skill level.

(ZP): That’s a  good perspective on it. Do you think there’s any course on the tour that offers that challenge right now?
(RW): I think a course like USDGC is close. That’s really challenging because of the OB’s there. That’s one. And then a totally different style would be the Delaware course for the NT. That one’s super wooded, super challenging. Those are two opposite courses that both offer that kind of challenge in terms of scoring par. That’s what I like to see. Having a par three that’s a really good two, and a par four that you have to work hard to get a three. Now the courses are all birdie-or-die. If you’re not shooting 10, 12, or 13 under, you’re not gonna win.

(ZP): I total agree with you. Alright Ricky, thank you so much for taking the time to talk today. Best of luck to you out on the course!

It’s hard to beat all that wisdom from a world champ. I know I’ll be thinking about that advice the next time I’m staring down a pressure putt. If you hear someone yelling “Wysocki!” on a course near you it’s probably me trying to cash one. Make sure you follow Ricky on all his socials Twitter and Instagram @Sockibomb13 and on YouTube at Ricky “Sockibomb” Wysocki. Oh and don’t forget to watch the Play It Again Sports Jonesboro Open Live this week starting on Friday at 10:00 AM for FPO and 4:30 PM EST for MPO.

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