For the love of the sport. A place for DG enthusiasts to share their thoughts.

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.

13 Responses

  1. Mike

    Naming the offending players at the A-Tiers would be a good way to help effect change.

    April 1, 2014 at 11:07 am

  2. mleefry

    Mike–My goal and intention is not to take on the role of babysitting pros and calling them out for every little thing they have done wrong. I decided to use these three examples of what I believed to be unprofessional behavior in order to make a larger point that disc golf is lacking in professionalism and to call upon all participants in the disc golf community to start improving.

    April 1, 2014 at 3:33 pm

  3. BaBaBooey

    Bradley Williams (A-tier final 9 tanker) is a turd.

    April 1, 2014 at 10:30 pm

  4. You have to “Be the change you want to see.”

    As you mention it takes the players representing the sport showing professionalism. This should be happening at all levels, not only the professional. I played in a PDGA sanctioned professional tournament last weekend where another player on my card asked if it was alright to drink alcohol. Figuring it might improve my chances at victory I didn’t oppose him. He continued to drink through the round, and we ended up on the same card the next round. Where he again continued to drink, there were multiple instances where he fell from the tee box, slipped on the ice, lost his balance and made a scene of himself out there.

    While I like to consider myself above the behavior and think that it doesn’t affect my game, truth is: it’s much easier to perform well with other players who are respecting you, themselves, and the game you’re playing together.

    Thinking about it now, next time I’ll let him know that I’d prefer if he didn’t drink.

    You make a good point about each individual having a huge impact on how people view the sport. I would hate to have a few spoil it for the many, especially when there is so much potential for growth.

    It’s important to keep in mind that all of this discussion is related to sanctioned events… people can do what they want in private, in their own space and during casual rounds at private courses.

    The major point that I would like to thank you for bringing to light, is the necessity for professionalism at ANY PDGA sanctioned event.

    – Jordan

    April 2, 2014 at 9:45 am

  5. mleefry

    I appreciate your example, Jordan. I have been in a similar situation myself. I played at a B Tier last year where they combined the Intermediate and Rec divisions because there were only 6 of us total. I was questioning myself if it was against the rules at the time and no one else said anything, so I let it go. Didn’t play the second round with her. I later found out from others that she has a reputation for drinking during sanctioned rounds and has many times become distracting or rude to other players. It’s all about breaking the cycle of letting these things go unnoticed.

    April 2, 2014 at 10:06 am

  6. Bradley

    Wow. Shut it up. The pdga collects fees. That’s about it. Also who are you kidding with this professionalism junk. Good players bet against other good players for their cash; TD’s give them a place to do it. Why are you watching them play ? I don’t know. Showing off is what a final 9 is all about. You’re a noob. You people talk more than you spend time getting your skills up for the course. Those rollers were awsome and I enjoyed throwing them. I don’t play on golf course quality fairways often so it’s all about having fun if you can’t win. Isn’t that what most noobs say?

    April 2, 2014 at 4:13 pm

  7. mleefry

    Bradley–In response to your statement, “Good players bet against other good players for their cash; TD’s give them a place to do it,” I’d like to point out that this would be a good analogy if you were talking about some sort of high-stakes league. However, most PDGA events do not simply consist of the TD taking everyone’s money, tallying up the scores, and redistributing that same money. Sponsors invest in disc golf by adding cash or merchandise to the tournament, and that covers a large portion of the costs. Sponsors get the “bang for their buck” when their logos appear on signs, t-shirts, players books, etc. If no one is there to see the logos except the players, then the sponsors aren’t getting as much value. I’m sure you already know how this works. This is why it is helpful for YOU when people like ME show up to tournaments. When sponsors see spectators, they’ll be willing to give more money. When they give more money, you get more cash. I receive nothing except the happiness I get from watching disc golf. I watch for the same reason people watch basketball, baseball, or football. Because it’s fun.

    As far as whether or not I’m a “noob” and if I’m spending more time talking instead of “getting my skills up for the course,” this is probably true. I’ve been playing disc golf for about a year and a half. I get in a round every other week during the school year if I’m lucky. Although I take pride in the progress I’ve made since I’ve started playing, I’m willing to admit that birdies are an endangered species on my scorecard. That being said, I wouldn’t consider myself a “noob” in terms of being a disc golf spectator, advocate, and fan. I’ve been keeping up with the pro tour for four years. I’ve been writing about disc golf on my blog since December 2012. My skill level on the course has nothing to do with my ability to analyze the problems and points of pride in the disc golf community.

    April 2, 2014 at 6:34 pm

    • I appreciate the level head!

      April 24, 2014 at 9:47 am

  8. Great write-up mleefry! I couldn’t agree more!

    April 7, 2014 at 12:04 pm

  9. Interesting read, “Putting the Pro…” and such an odd title. I don’t think I have ever paid much attention to a blog before. My understanding is that one can take it or leave it and that the writers don’t take themselves seriously enough to be bound by normal publishing standards.

    I did not see mleefry on your list of contributors and I questioned the validity of statements or the integrity Of her opinions. I wondered if her Williams story was from hearsay source. Was she at that tournament?

    It’s a shame “Bradley” did not continue responding because that is truly interesting. Thanks for creating a forum to spread information.I am hoping this site still live and someone reponds.

    Speedy Guerrero
    ADGO founder
    DGHOF Administrator

    September 9, 2016 at 10:03 am

    • mleefry

      Hi Speedy,

      Thanks for your interest in my piece! The beauty of blogging is that every blogger is different–some just writing for fun, some with serious ideas, and everywhere in between! I started writing for Dogleg in college when I was trying to find my post-high school hobbies and routines. I was taking a lot of journalism classes as part of my communications program, and this seemed to be the result! I’m probably not on the list of contributors because it’s been so long since I contributed…life gets busy, ya know?

      All three examples I posted in this piece are incidents I witnessed firsthand: two as a caddy, one as a gallery member. However, these are only stark portrayals of the underlying attitudes that can be seen at many disc golf events, and should not merely be considered as individual incidents.

      I do believe that since publishing this post that many pros and the PDGA have been working hard to give the sport a more professional image. There is definitely room for improvement, but I’m very proud of the progress that I have seen!

      September 9, 2016 at 10:22 am

  10. Well, apparently this is live and public. That was not the intention of my last post.

    I wanted to point out that some sponsored players have signed agreements to play with most discs made by their top sponsor, but not all. I believe this happened when a player does not want to change putters, especially.

    September 9, 2016 at 10:13 am

  11. mleefry

    Never know what you’ll find online! I haven’t checked the page in quite some time, but I do still get comment notifications.

    I’m all for having mixed bags, and think it’s great when a player is allowed that in their sponsorship contract. I’ve watched many friends struggle with their game after receiving a sponsorship because they have to abandon some of their favorite discs. The issue is when others are led to believe that a player is using a product that they are not, whether it be done through verbal announcements, wiping a disc, or restamping with an alternate logo.

    That being said, both in terms of things I’ve witnessed and rumors I’ve heard (or lack of), I believe this practice is much less common than it was 2 years ago when I wrote the original post.

    September 9, 2016 at 11:27 am

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