Play Angry – A Zenless Guide to Disc Golf – Chapter 16

Note: This is part 16 in a series of posts which make up the chapters of a tongue-in-cheek look at the game of disc golf and why we love it so much. It is not actually intended to improve your game…unless it does…in which case we’re happy to take the credit.

Chapter 16 – Pros are People Too

During the last few years, I’ve been able to attend more and more tournaments, and more recently, I’ve been able to hang out a little bit with some professional disc golfers and get to know them. Just like regular people, they vary in temperament and personality. Some are introverted and focused, others are boisterous and love the spotlight, others are friendly and down-to-earth, and others are irritable and fussy. But there is one thing they all have in common– they can absolutely kick my trash in a round of disc golf, and shred most other players on the course.

I should probably qualify my use of the word “professional” in terms of disc golf competitors. There are a lot of Open players out there who are striving to become professional. Just playing in the Open division alone doesn’t make a player a pro. There are some Open players who score well under the upper crust of advanced division and intermediate division players in tournaments. They just play Open because A) They strive to fit in among that crowd of elite players, and B) They are stupid enough to pay the astronomical tournament registration prices associated with playing in the Open division, even when they know there is no hope of getting any payout. So, when I say “pro” or “professional” I refer more directly to players who actually make a little money playing disc golf– if not through their winnings, then at least through brand sponsorship and fan support.

There are a small handful of players who currently make an actual living playing disc golf. That living might be on the side of upper middle class in the case of…well…one…maybe two players. But even the living of a professional disc golfer isn’t much of a life. It’s more like being homeless while having barely enough money to buy food and gas to get to the next tournament.  Sometimes they have a snazzy RV to function as vehicle and home, or they have a pickup towing around some little camper, or they just putt around in a 1974 Ford Pinto and crash on the living room floors of admiring local disc golfers, wherever they find themselves. Yes, we’re not talking about a lot of players when we talk about professionals who make money off of disc golf.

Though a consistently competitive professional disc golfer may make anywhere from $300 – $1200 every week or two by always landing high enough on the score card for payout, he or she must be routing themselves to all of the biggest tournaments all season long to be able to maintain that income. Most tournaments don’t have enough payout, or enough Open players to result in meaningful payout. If a C-Tier tournament is paying $30 or $40 to a player in the top 10, then you can see how that would not amount to much. A couple of hot pizzas and that kind of payout is long gone. Taking that many road trips to hit the right tournaments at the right time is costly. Filling the tank on an RV or truck is going to suck up a lot of cash on even a trip of moderate distance.  So, Google the name of some popular players and add “PDGA” to the search. You can go to their PDGA page and see their annual earnings for this year, as well as their career winnings (divide by how many years they’ve been playing). You’ll discover that aside from the top 3 or 4 players, these folks are maybe at $8,000 – $10,000 or so for the year, and their season touring season will come to an end. That’s not a lot of money when living on the road and then having to make it through the winter months (probably at their parents house in most cases).

Aside from winnings, some players make money through sales of signature discs, if they have good sponsorship deals with major brands. Some make a little extra money selling their own branded merchandise at tournaments. It’s really a business when it comes to trying to survive on the road. I’ve talked to players that are good at it, leveraging their names and popularity to market and sell products directly to fans, while also doing clinics for locals or for video posts, getting paid for their experience while at each stop. But I’ve also met some players who haven’t figured it out yet.

The point is, while getting to know these players, I feel like I can tell who is going to survive longer on the road, even discounting the level of skill, and which players won’t be out there for long. The natural charisma and charm of some of these players wins them fans wherever they play. They actually talk to people, treat other, lower-ranking players with respect (while crushing them on the course), and act grateful for any little bit of financial help that is given them. Other players talk the talk, but then act grumpy, frustrated, and ungrateful to fans and other players, almost as if to say, “leave me alone– I’m too good to associate with substandard players of your ilk.” Basically, pros are people too. They have their ups and downs and try their best to make a living playing a game that won’t provide them as much financial security as they’d enjoy working full-time at a fast food joint. Help them when you can. Find the ones who earn or win your support and buy their stuff. They will appreciate it.

Or, just go out and play disc golf. Not everybody is a fanboy. Not everybody cares what pros are doing in the disc golf world. While I find it understandable that not everybody cares about individuals who choose to pursue a life in professional sports, I still think every disc golfer owes it to themselves to show up at a major event at least once and watch these players throw. It has an awe-inspiring affect. You’ll find yourself responding in one of two ways– you’ll be amazed and realize how far you have to go.  Or, you’ll be like me and instantly think, “well, if they can throw that far, I should be able to cross this pond.”

I was at the Utah Open playing a C-Tier round before the main event, and a lot of professional players were practicing on the same course that day. It is a course that I’m now fairly convinced has more square footage of ponds than of dry earth. We let those pros play through because…well…they’re pros! I watched a group of pro players throw well over 400 feet across a pond and park their discs within putting distance of the basket. I felt pretty confident after watching them. So, I stepped up to my shorter tee position and launched a prized prototype disc straight up into the air, landing it right in the middle of the pond. I then went to the edge of the pond where my disc had gone out-of-bounds. I figured, “OK, that last throw sucked, but I can surely make it across from here with my last remaining collector edition driver.” After all, it was at least 150 feet shorter than the throws that the pros had made with ease. It was a valiant attempt, but I was still 25-30 feet short and landed in the pond again. I lost two precious discs on that hole and took an eight on a par three.  Stupid confidence. I hope the pros weren’t watching.

In my defense, I did birdie an island hole right after Ricky Wysocki practiced the hole and parked it every time. See? I’m as good as him…minus the other 70 throws it took me to finish the course.

Support your pros! Or don’t. But at least realize that when it comes to disc golf, they’re not exactly living the glamorous life of pros in other sports. One day the sport will grow enough that professionals can take their game to the bank. At least I hope so.

Read More:

Chapter 1 – Why Do We Play?
Chapter 2 – Be the Basket / Be the Disc
Chapter 3 – It’s Always the Disc’s Fault
Chapter 4 – Achieving True Disc Lust
Chapter 5 – The Need for Companionship
Chapter 6 – Rules of Communication
Chapter 7 – Keeping Score
Chapter 8 – Disc Golf and Sports Injuries
Chapter 9 – Disc Prejudice and Brand Elitism
Chapter 10 – Golf with Frisbees
Chapter 11 – Properly Marking Your Disc
Chapter 12 – Crash Course Course Design
Chapter 13– Maintaining Relationships Outside of Disc Golf
Chapter 14 – How to Carry Your Plastic
Chapter 15 – Are You Ready for Tournament Play?
Chapter 16 – Pros are People Too
Chapter 17 – Loving the Hazards
Chapter 18 – Coping With Loss