Road To 1000, Chapter 2: Finding Mental Toughness

The author's journey hits some roadblocks as he adjusts his adrenaline

The author practices approaching from the woods in an attempt to mimic tournament round adversity.

I’ll start with the good news.

Since Chapter 1 of Road to 1000, I’ve stuck to my practice routine. In fact, it’s even expanded in some ways. During my lunches, I’m able to make it to the park to get an extra 20 to 30 minutes in. My weekend rounds are in full swing, and I’m shooting better rounds than I ever have before.

Consistent putting practice has noticeably improved my consistency. I’ve purchased several of my preferred putter — a 165-gram R-Pro Aviar — to get more out of my time near the basket. I’m trusting my midranges more and more during my rounds, which makes the tunnels seem wider. I’ve brought my distance under control, too; I have been able to throw over 450 feet for the last year or so, but now I can do it without endangering the lives of players on neighboring fairways.

To help gauge my progress, I visited a course where my best round was 4-over par. I played two rounds, shooting 2-under and 1-under, respectively. All in all, things were trending up.

Now, onto the bad news.

In my first two singles tournaments since adapting my practice routine, things fell apart. Everything that had improved in my usual rounds was nowhere to be found when it counted. Putts were missing their mark, and some fairways were no longer in play. That same course that I had shattered my personal best on just weeks earlier hosted the most recent tournament, and I finished 9-over par.

It came to a tipping point when, on hole 16, I picked up one of my midranges that I’ve thrown over and over again: my Dynamic Discs Truth. In that moment, my go-to midrange felt wrong in the hand. It felt like something I had never thrown before, and I realized that I was shaken.

This is not an unusual phenomenon. Professionals I’ve talked to have had similar struggles, and have found ways to overcome them. But this mental instability is new for me, so for the next few months I’ll be exploring ways to overcome that.

A little background first: If you weren’t aware from Chapter 1, my sports background is mostly in Ultimate. There, I experienced the same mental struggles that now plague me on the disc golf course. But there’s one major difference that I have had to come to terms with. In Ultimate, if I were to make a mistake I felt the same frustration that I’ve always felt in sports. But I would then harness that anger and turn it into an adrenaline push. Running harder, jumping higher, and diving to the ground were all a bit easier now that I had made that transition in my mind.

I noticed myself trying a similar approach in my tournament — but with the opposite results.

After throwing slightly into the woods on hole 11 during the second round, I pulled out an XT Nova to go for a high anhyzer forehand that would settle under the basket about 100 feet away. Had I practiced that shot? No. Is that the right disc for it? No. Could I have pitched out for a possible save at par? Absolutely. But in my frustration, I attempted to harness that anger into an improvement of technical ability. While that my work for some aspects of explosive athleticism, it can’t work for those mechanically precise moments on the course.

The other road block I encountered was the pressure of being watched. It’s not an easy thing to admit, succumbing to pressure, but here I am.

To move away from sports for a moment, I have a deep background as a performer. I started playing piano when I was seven, and singing when I was 14. My initial program of study in college was vocal performance, before later switching. All of that is to say: I was prepared to go into a career in which I would be valued by people watching me perform.

That left me thinking: Why am I feeling the pressure here?

Just like with Ultimate, there is a distinct difference in the type of mentality required. If disc golf were a musical performance, the equivalent would be playing or singing the first page of a piece, then having to sit silently while you thought about how well it went for four minutes before beginning the next page. What I was in fact used to, I realized, was being able recognize my nerves, take one deep breath, and concentrate on what I was doing for however long it took to finish.

That’s what makes disc golf different. An entire tournament of golf can be summed up in a little over 100 short bursts of technical movement, with hours of thinking mixed in.

This is a mental challenge unlike anything else in my life.

So I’m presented with a problem, and it’s time to find a solution. There are two things that I think could really improve my mental stability on the course. The first is very simple: play more tournaments.

It seems obvious, but the more I am able to put myself in high-pressure situations, the more I will be comfortable in them. Playing a tournament every weekend seems like a stretch, but I can find ways to play local rated rounds, or make my casual rounds worth something. Putting on 18 is one thing. Putting on 18 for the right to take home a disc or get a free lunch can test my stability.

Second, I need to find ways to relax on the course. As stated earlier, I’m trying to change the way I play sports. That is not something that I take lightly, but there are little tricks that will help me remember why I’m playing after a tough three-putt:

  1. Manage expectations for each hole — Going into my rated rounds, I’ve often thought too much about the end results of my day. I’ll step up to a tee shot that I’m not comfortable with and think, “As my round stands right now, I have to birdie this to be competitive.” In reality, I should be thinking, “Play this shot for par. The birdies will come later.”
  2. Find a personal connection to my discs — It seems silly, but when it comes to my psyche I’m willing to try anything. Instead of buying stock runs of discs, I’m getting tornament stamps or custom dyes that make me laugh or just make my plastic feel a bit more unique. It’s already working, with my new Champion Roc3 feeling much better than an older Roc3, simply because the new one has the Spiderman logo on it.
  3. Practice adversity — When I’m playing a casual round where my scores aren’t important, I’ll have a friend I’m playing with throw me into the woods from the fairway. As frustrating as that sounds, having someone say, “No, actually that drive landed behind this layer of pine trees,” can help prepare me for the inevitable. I need to learn how to scramble to save par not just technically, but mentally as well.

These were problems on my journey to 1000 that everyone — including me — saw coming. What I need to do now is focus on solutions and get back on the course. I’ve appreciated the support from readers that are interested in my road from amateur to professional. It may take my entire career, and I don’t plan on letting up anytime soon.

***

What are your suggestions for improving my mental game? Have you had similar problems in the past? Comment below or Tweet at me @Pston3.  

  1. Preston Thompson

    Preston Thompson is a reporter for Ultiworld Disc Golf.

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