Schusterick talks about his road back to the top and the work he's doing along the way
August 2, 2018 by Christopher Wiklund in Interview with 0 comments
Will Schusterick was Eagle McMahon before McMahon was McMahon. He was the wunderkind who went pro in 2008 at age 16 and won just under a third of the events he played in while cashing in nearly all of them. From 2008 until 2015, Schusterick was one of the top five players in the world and by the end of that time span arguably one of the consistent top three alongside Paul McBeth and Ricky Wysocki (the more things change, the more things stay the same, right?).
But in 2016 it became apparent that something was a bit off with Schusterick. He only won one event that year and had more finishes outside the top 10 than not.
Speculation swirled, and the lovely people of the internet offered all manner of theories and speculation as to why the former whizzkid had fallen off. I’m sure you can imagine that not all of the speculation was particularly friendly or remotely accurate.
His rating plummeted. In September of 2015, Schusterick was rated 1035. By May of 2017, it was at 1011. In June of 2017 Schusterick revealed via social media that he had been battling a shoulder injury which had clearly impacted his game. Despite seeking treatment, it was clear throughout the 2017 season that he was still hurting, and it showed in his finishes and rating. By the start of 2018, Schusterick was rated 998, the lowest he had been rated since 2008.
The Road to Recovery
Cue the first stretch of the 2018 season — Schusterick opted to start his season off slow after an offseason of physical therapy — the Jonesboro Open. Schusterick shoots a 1069 rated first round, but stumbles in round two, playing 983 rated golf through two days in Arkansas. He recovers on day three with a 1022 rated final round. That was good enough for 13th place, his best finish in a Disc Golf Pro Tour or PDGA National Tour event since the 2016 Vibram Open. And, as of the most recent ratings update earlier this week, he’s back up to 1000.
Since Jonesboro, Schusterick is averaging 1011 rated golf at Disc Golf Pro Tour, National Tour, and PDGA Majors. He has nine top 10 finishes on the season and three wins. He most recently placed sixth at the Konopiště Open and is playing the sort of golf he is capable of.
It is at once very easy and very difficult to imagine what it would feel like to be at the top of one’s chosen field or profession and to fall from such a height so quickly. What is undoubtedly hard to imagine, is how one would pick themselves up and, in the words of our dearly departed Aaliyah, try again.
Schusterick credits his steadily improving play this season to rehab, training, and taking his body seriously. “The majority is the type of training I did over the offseason and getting back into a really good routine of traveling, practices, playing, that type of stuff,” he explains.
Taking care of his body is something that Schusterick prioritizes. He has seen what happens when it betrays him and has observed what happens to his fellow competitors when they don’t necessarily take their physical well being seriously.
“Its gotta be the next level that everyone takes,” Schusterick continued. “Your God-given talent will take you as far as you want but there’ll be a time when you face adversity or injury, or you’re trying to figure out what to do to get better and when that happens you have to seek out professionals in the field to take your game to the next level…There’s a reason LeBron has people to help him get bigger, stronger, faster. Disc golf isn’t necessarily about muscle mass, but mass builds stability and allows you to be more controllable with all muscle groups.”
Schusterick cited one of the all-time greats, and arguably the best player in the world right now, as living proof of his point.
“Even when I got into the sport there was no training or almost no training. Ken Climo is a true athlete and he did some training,” Schusterick reflected. “You look at Climo and he’s very flexible and very strong. You don’t necessarily have to be the fastest person out there, but to be confident…you [have to] have control over muscle groups and you’re not getting tired because your legs are built up. I did about three or four hard months of training without throwing at all and those months of training are paying off now.
“Training will pay off in the last third of a season when you need it the most. In the beginning, you can go off of excitement because you haven’t played a tournament in a while. But now, at this point in the season, it’s determination, confidence, and training from the offseason [that] can carry you through. That’s true about Paul [McBeth], too…he can rely on his training and conditioning to carry him through and help him succeed.”
Schustrick says seeking out professional help in dealing with his injury and training has allowed him to be stronger and more resilient through the first half of this season. All that work has translated into a throwing motion that he trusts, is comfortable for him, and has allowed him to have more confidence in his game.
“I was feeling the injury for almost a year and a half,” Schusterick said with a little frustration leaking into his voice. “Feeling confident that I won’t feel that way anymore, and to feel confident and able to get away from the bad swing, takes a bit of confidence in tournament play.”
A Busy Man Doesn’t Stop
Even if he wasn’t playing, Schusterick would still be one of the most important people in the sport and wider world of disc golf. He is part owner of Prodigy Disc, roughly half a year ago he launched a web-based lesson and coaching platform Disc Golf Instruction, and is extremely active in growing the game at home in Tennessee. When we spoke, Schusterick was at the Amateur World Championship in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“I’m reppin’ Prodigy,” Schusterick said. “I’m a part owner and I do a lot of stuff on the side to really work in and grow the product as a brand and get it out there. We are a very big sponsor of Am-Worlds this week. Typically the past couple of years I’ve been at Am-Worlds to sell product and work the booth. It’s a lot of work, more work setting up and selling and vending than playing.”
Hard work is one of Schusterick’s favorite pastimes. There’s the saying that if you do what you love you will never work a day in your life. Schusterick has some of that in his voice when he talks about his role with Prodigy, his play, DGI, and his work with the community in general.
“This week there is no…tournament, and I’ve just come off five tournaments in a row where the routine is something like, on Monday I’m getting stuff together, emails for DGI, see if anyone needs help. I go through my phone, find social media content to post,” Schusterick says, pausing to take a breath and presumably turn the page in his daily planner.
He goes on to tell me about the impressive amount of time he dedicates to making sure none of his various roles and responsibilities get neglected and that when he is on the road he puts his unlimited data plan to work, and wi-fi is a must-have. As he goes on about his daily routine and the amount of work he puts into his multiple jobs, I keep thinking that it has to end soon. Wrong again, I should know better at this point. Schusterick goes on to tell me about work he is doing in Tennessee to build and install courses.
“Recently I’ve been working on three-course designs in the Nashville area,” he explains. “One will be at a brewery, Steel Barrel Brewery. It will be a par 63 or 64. I’m working on hosting an event there August 18 for the grand opening. There’s a winery east of Nashville which will be an 18 hole course between Nashville and Cookeville. That course will be a par 59 or 60, and they’re all about disc golf there in the Cookeville and Lebanon area. There’s a state park south of Nashville that just bought 19 portable Prodigy baskets, and I designed a course on the golf course there, and helped put together player packages for a tournament.”
At this point, I feel like he might mention sleep, food, bodily functions. Nope. He goes on.
“I’m a jack of all trades in terms of doing things for disc golf,” he says with a small laugh. “Outside of just playing, [in] every city I try to set up promo or clinic, I try to get in touch with the local community, I try to set up a small tournament or visit a league or store.”
Because of how long Schusterick has been in the game, how much he has embedded himself in the business of the game, and how much his game has fluctuated in recent years, it is easy to think of him as a grizzled vet, a holdover from simpler times. But he is only 26. Will Schusterick is only 26 years old. Remind yourself of that every once in a while.
Because of how long Schusterick has been around — 10 years a pro — he has a unique blend of youthful energy and wise-beyond-his-years perspective which he thinks not only benefits him but the game in general.
“Looking at it like that, of course, I have a different perspective,” Schusterick pauses here and goes on with a level of conviction and confidence that feels almost built up. “I’m honestly all about hard work. I’m not the type of person to talk about myself ever, I’m the last person to brag on an ace. I’m all about hard work and determination. You get out in life whatever you put in and I want to get the most out of life at any point, on and off the course and in my life away from disc golf.
“I’ve always been the type of person to put my nose down and whatever I touch will be successful because I don’t stop working. I don’t watch TV, I pay some attention to social media because that is part of the job. I feel like I have good visions for a good company and the sport and can help people take their game to next level. People travel with me and excel — going back to Zach Melton. I took him with me, showed him the ropes, in 2011 I think the first time went to The Memorial Championship and he qualified for USDGC…he just took second at Idlewild. I kind of hope to be a mentor to some of those players — I know what wins tournaments. I can go out there and be anyone’s caddy because I want everyone to do well. I’ve taken a little more of an ambassador role for the game. I work hard to get better in every aspect of my life. My marriage, Prodigy, DGI, Nashville, Knoxville — I want everyone to be successful and leverage my position for the greater good of disc golf. I’m just a hard worker.”
Don’t let any of what Schusterick is involved with make you think that he is any less the competitor, or any less dedicated to the pursuit of greatness on the course. It’s amazing how quickly some people forget just how good Schusterick was at his peak. It’s not as if that talent is gone, or that his involvement with Prodigy and DGI have distracted him from being the best player he can be. I congratulate him on his Konopiště performance and this is his take:
“I’m a total competitor and when playing a big tournament,” he relays. “Sixth place is good — I haven’t placed super high in a large tournament in a little bit, but I’m always looking for wins or top two or three finishes. It was kind of like, it was cool, but I’m looking to do even better. To get excited off something small takes your attention away from larger things. I’m not super happy with sixth. It’s great, it’s a good step forward but I’m still full foot on the gas pedal and wanting to move on and do better.”