I asked a bunch of disc golfers who they wanted me to interview next and the most popular answer in a landslide was Zach Parcell. But the second most popular answer was Philo Brathwaite.
I have only met Philo a handful of times over the years and he has always come across as very likable, very serene, like a man at peace with the world around him. I’ve watched him play in person and on various online videos and what always strikes me about his game is his graceful style and approach. His technique and mechanics are fluid much like a ballet dancer, and are executed with impressive accuracy even under pressure.
Philo has yet to win a major but he is constantly in the conversation at the end of the day. The closest he’s coming to winning a major was the 2013 Steady Ed Master’s Cup. He was leading the tournament until the final few holes when Paul McBeth – as he so often does – was able to fight his way up from behind and take the win away from Philo. That was a tough one to watch.
It’s in these moments that Philo endears himself to disc golf fans around the world. As a fan of disc golf, you feel he is long overdue for that “big win.” Players can easily relate to Philo, with his trials and tribulations on the course. They’ve been there and know what it’s like to come so close and yet still be just a little short. So Philo’s name is always on the short list of, “…But I hope HE wins it” when disc golfers discuss tournaments. He is one of disc golf’s most dynamic players and you can’t help but root for him. His fans are called, “Team Philo” and his personal website is named after them.
He’s an elite player. One of the best in the game. According to the PDGA there are 135 players in the world with a rating of 1000 or higher and of these, only one… is Philo who holds a rating of 1025. And if you like to follow the Disc Golf World Player Rankings (and who doesn’t?) then you know that Philo is 36th in the world.
I asked some of the Touring Pros what qualities about Philo stand out the most when they think of him and the most common answer was, “He loves those Rocs.” This was followed closely by, “His intensity.” And, “His dreads.” As I think about it now, he might be the only 1000-rated disc golfer with dreadlocks. Oh yeah; every single one of the people I asked said that Philo was one of their favorite people that they know, not just as a disc golfer, but as a person.
It’s time to learn a little bit more about Philo and so I called him up and he was kind enough to share some details about himself for our readers.
All Things Disc Golf: Where are you from? Where were you born?
Philo Brathwaite: I was born in Los Angeles, California. I’m the third kid of a jack-of-all-trades master chef from Barbados who cooked on large boats so he could travel the world. My dad’s originally from Barbados and he met my mom who a nurse who is from Trinidad. They got married and moved to London. I have an older sister and brother who were born in England and are 13 and 11 years older than me. So I didn’t really see them while I was growing up. I was closer to my younger brother who was born four years after me. We’re closer in age and we grew up together. Anyways, after my brother was born, my dad took off. He’s a good guy but he had a few issues with being responsible. He moved up to Chicago and stayed there and started a new family. We reconnected over the years and I really love him, you know, he was really cool and he was an amazing man, he just had some things to work out for himself. After he moved he got involved with a woman and I got another little brother, but that didn’t work out and he met another woman who had a son and two daughters so I have this huge extended family of brothers and sisters and we’re pretty close. I moved up to Chicago three or four times to reconnect with them. I even spent some of my summer and holiday vacations with them.
My father died in 2009. I was real happy that we reconnected and I was able to know him. He was a great guy who knew how to do all these amazing things and a lot of what I know how to do comes from watching him. He could work on cars, he could cook; he could just do so… he was just so, so talented.
So now my mom had these kids to take care of and needed more income so she took this class at the local college and that’s where she met my stepdad. They didn’t date right away, they were friends for a long time. He had been married before and had a daughter who had died so when he married my mom, me and my brother became his family and he did everything he could for us. He left the discipline up to my mom. He’s a white dude so it wasn’t always easy for him to be assertive with us. I’m sure he had to deal with a lot of stuff like that but I respect him a lot.
I was raised in LA and after high school I moved for to Chicago for a year to live with my dad. I came back. Then I would go back and forth between Chicago and LA, but I belong in LA.
All Things Disc Golf: What were you like as a kid?
Philo Brathwaite: I played a lot of sports and I was really into music. There was a drum line at my elementary school and I was a year too young (3rd grade) to play in parades or events but I learned the basics of it and I got to be in that environment. By high school I was into all sorts of sports and music.
I was really athletic as a kid and my little brother was really smart. He always wanted to be like me and play sports and I always wanted to be like him. I played all types of sports: I was the starting quarterback in my high school. I ran cross-country, played soccer, basketball, baseball – which is too slow of a game in my opinion so I only played one season. I played volleyball and I really loved ball golf. My step dad got me into ball golf. I love it; he took me to this course and I just was fascinated with it. I still am. I can’t say why but I just loved it. I still play a lot of ball golf and I try to find a new track when I can. But once I started playing disc golf… man, that was it. I was hooked.
All Things Disc Golf: Tell me about that.
Philo Brathwaite: Well, I had just moved back from Chicago and I was going to play football for Glendale City College but I only stayed at school one semester and just sorted screwed it up and didn’t do what I needed to. I didn’t take it seriously and that was the end of my college days.
I got this job working at In-and-Out burger and one day this dude I worked with named Kevin came over and started talking to me. I’m normally not a real chatty guy, I like to keep to myself, but he was like, “So what do you like to do?” And I said, “Play golf.” Then he said, “Well, when you’re done playing with your balls, I’ve got a real game to show you.” He took me to Oak Grove and that was it. I was just totally hooked. I just played and played and played. I didn’t take it real serious for a long time but I loved playing –And Kevin ended up becoming my best friend – Just a fun follow up to that story.
All Things Disc Golf: You started on the first ever disc golf course.
Philo Brathwaite: Yep. I know. It’s where it all started and I still love that course.
All Things Disc Golf: When did you start to take the game seriously?
Philo Brathwaite: Man. It was a year or two. I didn’t practice and I moved back to Chicago again where I didn’t play but maybe four or five times. But when I came back to LA that’s when I started taking it serious. These guys told me, “You know there is a Pro league” and I was like, “Oh yeah?” and that was it. I started playing those leagues and then I entered a tournament in 2004 as a Novice and just blew everyone away. I won that and that’s when I started playing more and more. I started to go out to a field to practice.
All Things Disc Golf: Do you remember those first few discs?
Philo Brathwaite: I think I still have them. I had a LS Polaris and a Cyclone. My first ACE was with a Roc and I still have that disc. I think that’s why I love Rocs so much. They just work for me and I carry, like, eight of them with me.
All Things Disc Golf: So what was it like out on the tour for you?
Philo Brathwaite: Well, everyone was really cool with me and I think I give off that vibe. I mean, I have never gotten any static from anyone. In the early days it was a bit nerve-wracking: Trying to compete at a high level. Making friends, not making enemies.
Just trying to find my way on and off the course. I did notice a lot of people trying to make me feel welcome.
All Things Disc Golf: I noticed you didn’t play Texas States.
Philo Brathwaite: Yeah. It’s Texas – You know what I’m sayin’? I keep hearing horror stories about the weather, cactus in all the wrong place, just some uncomfortable golf. And that’s cool if that’s their thing, it’s just not for me. They may have a lot of great courses there but I’m okay with what I got.
All Things Disc Golf: You are the only 1000 rated player who is black; Does that mean anything to you?
Philo Brathwaite: I’m aware of it. When I started playing at the Pro level I did it because I loved the game and I wanted to excel at it. It never crossed my mind that I was the only one. It is what it is. I hope I inspire others. I’ve been called the Kobe Bryant of Disc Golf or the Tiger Woods. I think most people are cool and I think it would be weird in this day and age if someone tried to be racist with me. You know? I think people would be more shocked by someone who WAS racist, so I haven’t gotten any serious comments. I don’t think they want to test me. And I am doing what I can to promote the sport. I want to be a positive role model and I do all I can to reach out in my community to promote the game. I put on clinics and I have reached out to local parks department to set up classes and offer exhibitions. I am trying to raise more awareness any way I can. So it can be more of a blessing.
All Things Disc Golf: Was that the reason for Barbados?
Philo Brathwaite: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Stuff like that. That was a big deal and I hope to do that again.
All Things Disc Golf: What happened down there?
Philo Brathwaite: My cousin Stephen – who lives in Barbados – was in town and he saw me putting at my parent’s house and thought this could really catch on in Barbados. It’s a skills game and they love those. So we started to develop the idea.
So Garrett [Gurthie], Dave [Feldberg] and I went down there to put on some clinics and introduce the game to the island but our gear didn’t show up until like the last day so we were sorta scrambling to make things work. We didn’t really have a solid plan going down there and we had to figure out things to do. And we were told that there was going to be all of this preparation on this piece of land but it didn’t get done. They had all this repurposed land that was going to be developed into a course but it wasn’t ready for us when we got there. But we went on TV, and we made this home made basket and it was a great experience. Everywhere we went people knew what we were doing. We got some attention but weren’t able to capitalize on it. There are only 300,000 people on the island and they all wanted the sport there but it didn’t come together in time for our visit. I hope to get back down there and get things going again. It was a lot of fun.
All Things Disc Golf: Did Innova help you with that?
Philo Brathwaite: Oh yeah, they sent down the baskets and some other gear and it’s in storage down there. They have some pop-top baskets that they take out from time-to-time and play. My next trip down will be better. I will plan it out better.
All Things Disc Golf: When did Innova pick you up?
Philo Brathwaite: You know, I’m just blessed and really lucky. I have always been lucky and I am always thankful when anything awesome happens in my life. I played with some guys who talked to Sam Ferrans who approached me and said, “Hey, we hear good things about you and we’d like to sign you.” And I was like, “Okay.” And that was it. I have been with them ever since. This year I got moved up to the Champion Team, which is another step up that ladder. I am so fortunate and I try to appreciate everything people do for me.
All Things Disc Golf: How many sponsors do you have?
Philo Brathwaite: Well Innova and Grip are my sponsors where I signed a contract.
All Things Disc Golf: Can you tell us about your early experiences playing tournaments with Steve Rico and other California players?
Philo Brathwaite: My early days playing tourneys against Steve Rico didn’t go well. He has the complete game and was a seasoned Pro by the time I came around. All I could do was work to catch up. Needless to say, I suffered many losses. Guys like Bobby Musik, Kyle Crabtree, Carlo Peig, Micah Dorius and of course, Paul McBeth, constantly stood between me and victory. I didn’t win much – and I still don’t really – but those guys keep me motivated to learn and grow. The times I almost won were just as gratifying as a victory – it told me I was on the right track.
All Things Disc Golf: What are some of your favorite disc golf moments?
Philo Brathwaite: Oh, where to start. I guess all the firsts: The first Ace. First win as an Am. First win as a Pro. First time playing away from home. First worlds. First time throwing a disc in Barbados. First international event. Am Worlds in 2005 was amazing – If you were there you know what I’m talking about. My favorite moments are usually not about me though; it’s usually when someone comes up to me and says, “Hey, my putting is so much better because I watched your clinic online.” I also like seeing our beautiful country with a few friends on a road trip. The journey is usually my favorite part – So excited for Sweden this year.
All Things Disc Golf: What changes would you like to see in the game?
Philo Brathwaite: I think our sport is more compelling than it will possibly ever be and we need to take advantage of that. We are more in control of our sport than the status quo would suggest. It would be awesome if we could reach out more and try new ideas. Call up Bubba Watson – He’s got a PDGA number – get him to do something with us. Do a combined Pro/Am tournament with ball and disc. Create a buzz. Hit up Tiger Woods; He’s got an awesome facility here in Southern California that is dedicated to youth; both academically and golf. Let’s have a disc golf explosion. Let’s get a little uncomfortable and challenge ourselves and not be okay with just doing “good enough.” We need to bridge that gap between the current disc golf community and the millions of potential fans and future avid players.
All Things Disc Golf: Would you ever consider taking a more active role in the governing of the sport?
Philo Brathwaite: If the opportunity presented itself, yes. My current focus is to play well; help grow the sport; and seek avenues to help us get to the next level of professional sports. It may be too ambitious but I like a good challenge.
All Things Disc Golf: What are your plans after disc golf?
Philo Brathwaite: I’ll worry about that day when it comes. This is going to be a long life-journey of that I am most certain.
All Things Disc Golf: What do you like to do when you’re not playing disc golf?
Philo Brathwaite: I have a day job, which is pretty cool. They give me all the time I want off to play tournaments so I love that. I work for a promotions company and I interact with consumers about their purchases. I promote products. I also play in a band.
All Things Disc Golf: Tell me about that.
Philo Brathwaite: I play drums in this cover band that plays 90’s Alternative Rock. We play a lot of Chili Peppers, stuff like that. The band’s name is “Your Mom’s Face” or YMF. We just liked the way it sounds and kept laughing every time we said it. So now it’s our band name.
All Things Disc Golf: How long have you been playing music?
Philo Brathwaite: Since I was eight. I started in the drum line and in fifth grade I played the trumpet, which I played through high school. Music and sports are really my two favorite things and I use them to get my mind right.
(The conversation became about Music for a solid 45 minutes and it could easily be its own interview, but we had to stay focused)
All Things Disc Golf: So let’s get back to disc golf – What is the tournament you want to win the most?
Philo Brathwaite: I would say Worlds is the one everyone wants to win the most. I mean, it’s Worlds. But I would also love to win USDGC.
All Things Disc Golf: The last time we saw each other was before your final round at USDGC last year; When I asked how you were doing, you said you were in a lot of pain.
Philo Brathwaite: On that Sunday I got in an accident where I got t-boned. Then I left for Rock Hill on Monday. Tuesday I was on the course. That first day on the course was hard. I was in massive pain. I was in my prime playing-wise. I mean, I felt the best I had felt in years with my game and my body and mind. Then bam. I got nailed. You know you’re not going to have your best week sometimes but you go out there and show some fortitude. I was doing everything I could to overcome that soreness and stiffness in my body but I could tell I just wasn’t in it. And you can’t force disc golf. I mean, I don’t always win, but I am in the conversation. I want to win. I want to win really badly and that may come across as intensity and moodiness but it’s just me wanting to win. This year I learned to be at peace with myself out there. I’m competing with me and the course, not the other guys. I just have to keep my mind right. I know I care a lot about this game and I want to be successful. I don’t have a coach pushing me so I have to motivate myself. I never ever quit. I never EVER quit. I keep trying to do my best and I just don’t quit. I think that’s what comes across as moodiness.
I will not be denied the chance to play. Ever. If I can, I’m out there playing. I wrecked my car on Sunday, I left on Monday and I was playing on Tuesday. It was a major and everyone said to stay home and heal up, but I was really looking forward to the event and I was like, “why not?” So I went out there and did my best.
All Things Disc Golf: “I will not be denied the chance to play.” That’s strong. Tell me about what happened at the Memorial this year. It seems like you and [Steve] Brinster have a habit of dominating the first round at Majors.
Philo Brathwaite: I was playing really strong and I felt great in that first round. I had a dude on my card who had never played the course and so we just kept the mood light and laidback. I was helping him figure out the course and I guess that kept my mind on just playing the game for fun. At the end of the round I was in the lead. Then in the second round, we get out to Fountain and I give up like five strokes in three holes. I had the lead and suddenly it was serious golf time and I had a series of unfortunate events for eight holes, which kicked my ass. Bad breaks happen and it was a hard day but I learned from it.
All Things Disc Golf: What sort of pressures do you feel when you play?
Philo Brathwaite: When I first started playing I couldn’t beat [Steve] Rico. And it just seemed like I was never going to get over that hump. Now every time we play a tournament it seems like it’s either him or me and everyone just sort of expects that. It was a lot of pressure to play like that and I had to learn how to just relax and play. I think the more pressure I put on myself the worse I would do.
All Things Disc Golf: What is a course that you just can’t seem to play?
Philo Brathwaite: Oh man. Hmmm. Probably Toboggan. I played the Great Lakes Open last year and I just couldn’t figure out how to play that course. It just owned me. It doesn’t suit my game. It’s not a Philo course.
All Things Disc Golf: What is a Philo course?
Philo Brathwaite: Santa Cruz for sure. That is definitely a Philo course. It’s just like Oak Grove and I love it. I love the lines and the shots and the land.
All Things Disc Golf: Is there a tournament that you don’t play well?
Philo Brathwaite: For all of the great courses – and I love playing there and go every year – I just don’t seem to do that well in Kansas City. I just can’t put it together. Maybe it’s those big elevation changes that I don’t do well on. What is it Blue Valley? Yeah. I can’t seem to figure that one out. I will still play there.
All Things Disc Golf: If there was one piece of advice you could give a new player about playing tournaments, what would it be?
Philo Brathwaite: This is hard for people to understand but “Make it as normal as possible.” Play the tournament like it was your normal everyday game. You have to find a way to keep it normal.
All Things Disc Golf: What is the one throw you don’t have in your bag?
Philo Brathwaite: Honestly, I am not that great at throwing putters as a driver. I know you need it but I haven’t figured it out yet. I mess that up. I’m working on it though.
All Things Disc Golf: How long do you think you’ll keep touring?
Philo Brathwaite: I think I’m good for a few more years. I will keep playing as long as I can throw. But I would hate to think that just as I was going to stop playing that suddenly the game started getting television coverage. If that happens, then I am going to burn out my arm trying to keep up so I can get on TV.
All Things Disc Golf: What does your family think of all of this?
Philo Brathwaite: My family is the best. They are Team Philo. They are the most supportive of everything I do. When I told them you wanted to do an interview they all cheered and were so excited for me. They are always here and I love them all. I’m blessed.
All Things Disc Golf: Is there a Mrs. Philo Brathwaite?
Philo Brathwaite: (pause) Ha… Well… I’m not married if that’s what you mean. I guess I don’t feel like I’ve grown up enough, or I’m not ready for that sort of thing. I might some day in the future but I’m just not that comfortable with ME yet. I need to grow up and figure some things out.
All Things Disc Golf: Do you think that is what your father was doing?
Philo Brathwaite: Honestly, I don’t know what was going on in his mind. I just took notes on the positive qualities and the not-so-positive qualities and I tried to be the best person I can be.
All Things Disc Golf: And finally; How do you want to be remembered?
Philo Brathwaite: I want to be remembered… as… The People’s Pro. I don’t play to be just a player. Not anymore. My role has evolved. I embrace being a coach, a mentor, a friend, an open ear, a voice of reason, all of these things are just as important as winning to me. I wanna win but it doesn’t define me. Enjoying the opportunity to play, travel and be myself is winning in itself. I may never have the amazing legacy of wins like my great friend, Ken Climo; or throw as far as my boy Double G; or sink crazy incredible putts on the regular like Rico, McBeth and Feldberg, but my relentless determination to grow out of failures and be open and work for success – on and off the course – will create all the memories I’ll ever need to create my own legacy.
All Things Disc Golf: Wow. That’s impressive. I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to me, Philo, I really enjoyed it.
Philo Brathwaite: Yeah, you too. I’m honored that you wanted to interview me.
All Things Disc Golf: Of course. You’re one of the most recognizable players in the world.
Philo Brathwaite: That just messes with my mind. I’m so blessed and thankful. I heard that all these people knew who I was in Australia… Australia! And I was just blown away by that. I mean, I play disc golf and someone halfway around the world knows who I am. That’s crazy. I just try to appreciate everything that happens.