Putting The “Pro” in Professional
Posted by mleefry
Think of the perfect restaurant. The food is incredible. The waitresses are welcoming. The prices are great. It’s your go-to with friends and you’re considered a regular customer by the staff.
Then, one day at lunch, you find a bug in your mashed potatoes.
You’ve been to this place dozens of times with flawless experiences, but chances are, you’re unlikely to go back again because of the one horrible experience. One bad impression simply carries more weight than several good ones.
While this analogy may be a little extreme, it is very applicable to disc golf. While in the past I’ve primarily followed amateur players, this year I’ll be watching more professionals. Already in the past month I have been shocked at the lack of professionalism in the professional division, not because unsportsmanlike behavior is rampant, but because the bad examples are more memorable than the players that do everything right. The following three cases highlight the diversity of unprofessional behavior in the Open Men’s division at PDGA sanctioned events that I have witnessed in the last month.
The first incident occurred during the first round of a C Tier. While I do not find it uncommon to see smoking at disc golf courses, I was shocked to hear a player say, “So, this is a C Tier, right? What are the rules about smoking pot?” This was obviously not a comment about the tournament rules for smoking, considering this took place in a state where marijuana is still criminalized. The implications run deeper. The player who phrased his question this way was degrading the legitimacy of a PDGA event, essentially comparing a C Tier to any other casual round or league.
The second incident occurred at an A Tier. I was watching a professionally sponsored player during a round. As part of this player’s sponsorship deal, they are only allowed to throw discs produced by the sponsor. This player was using discs made by another manufacturer. Can you say false advertising?
The third, and most appalling incident, took place at an A Tier as well. The top four players from the Open division were set to compete in a final nine in front of a large gallery. The fourth player was 5 strokes out of third place and decided that, because his place in the top four was secure, he could just “show off.” This “showing off” included rethrowing a putt after missing (more than once), throwing out of bounds three times on one hole because he was trying out his left-handed skills, laying up on 10 foot putts for no reason, and throwing ridiculous rollers that more often than not either went out of bounds or far enough away that it delayed the speed of play. The player verbally acknowledged loud enough so that the gallery could hear that he was just showing off.
What may be more disappointing than seeing a high level professional player simply give up during a tournament is that he got away with it. When he received his payout, the tournament director personally shook his hand and thanked him for coming to the tournament. The final nine was rated as a 918, while the player is rated in the 1020s; since it is more than 100 points below his rating, it will probably not be figured in to the next ratings update. The worst consequence the player had to face on that day was a loud, snarky comment from a member of the gallery during his round and a lack of applause when he made his final putt.
These three incidents are just a few examples of the spectrum of unprofessionalism that occurs in disc golf at all levels of competition. They each have a multitude of consequences and implications for not just the individual players, but the integrity of the sport as a whole. They all make a mockery of PDGA events and professional disc golf. They set horrible examples for new and lower-level players. During the aforementioned final nine, I spoke with an intermediate player who thought the player’s behavior was acceptable because “he’s just having a good time.” Next time that intermediate player is 5 strokes out with nine holes left, how do you think he’s going to play?
Those consequences are just assuming that none of these would be bad enough to turn people away completely. An individual may choose to stop (or never start) playing because of the lack of professionalism. Parents and schools may decide it’s not a suitable environment for children in terms of safety or sportsmanship. Big name sponsors that disc golf needs in order to become “mainstream,” like Nike or Adidas, are not going to spend thousands of dollars to sponsor a tournament where these types of behaviors can be spotted at the professional level.
Now, let’s move into the future five years or so. Optimistically speaking, there will be cameras from ESPN if we’re lucky, or even just local television stations, at every large PDGA event. Right now players are allowed to think their behavior is no big deal because very few people are there to witness it firsthand. But what will happen when their actions are no longer instantaneous, and they are replayed over and over on YouTube, the news, or just through word of mouth? This is going to be the case very soon at the rate disc golf is growing.
My intentions here are not to complain about the things I have witnessed. This is meant to warn disc golfers that unprofessional behavior is not acceptable. Change is necessary, and can come from a variety of sources. First and foremost, the players themselves need to be aware of how unprofessionalism and bad sportsmanship reflects on not only their own character, but disc golf as a whole. Players and officials who witness inappropriate conduct can also help by enforcing PDGA rules, including calling courtesy violations. Tournament directors should consider enforcing rule 3.3 of the Competition Manual, which states, “Any conduct deemed to be unprofessional is subject to disqualification by the Tournament Director, and may also be subject to further disciplinary actions from the PDGA.” Finally, sponsors should stop condoning unprofessional behavior by holding their players to higher standards of conduct. Just because someone can consistently throw 1000+ rated rounds does not mean they deserve to represent your brand—in the same way that Nike cut ties with Lance Armstrong in 2012, sponsors need to make sure that their players are not only excellent golfers, but display good character.
Until these people are willing to step up and take professionalism seriously, disc golf will continue to have the reputation of a casual game and its advancement will be hindered.