Many believe that the mental side of disc golf is the hardest part to master. Being able to consistently throw 400 feet or be deadly accurate when putting can certainly put you in elite company, but taming what sits between your ears is a different story. Not letting little mistakes eat at you and being able to remain focused on your next shot are key to taking victory on the PDGA National Tour.
For professional disc golfer Jeremy Koling, a small adjustment to his mental game proved beneficial when he won the 2015 Memorial Championships a few weeks ago. After playing consistent golf since day one, Koling found himself in a battle with three-time World Champion and three-time Memorial champion, Paul McBeth. In the end, it was his strong mental attitude that allowed Koling to remain focused on taking down the title.
We caught up with Koling to talk about the tournament and his outlook on the 2015 season.
First off, how does it feel to start your 2015 season on such a high note?
“Right now, I am just trying to soak it all in. Starting the season off this way is just truly unbelievable. Especially when you consider that only a couple weeks ago I was rehabbing a sprained ankle I suffered while cross training. The injury actually forced me to drop out of two events that I was really looking forward to competing in (Throw Down the Mountain and the Australian Open). Coming out to the Gentlemen’s Club Challenge and the Memorial without much off season training and still performing well was a very pleasant surprise and hopefully a sign of things to come…”
Before we talk about the very exciting final round, let’s start at the beginning of the tournament. You got off to a solid start and were sitting third after the first round. How important was it to get off on the right foot?
“It was very important! You can never win an event in the first round but you can always lose it and that is no truer anywhere than at the Memorial. The courses are very demanding and seem to bring out the best and worst in a players abilities. In previous years, I have taken myself out of the running early on and the result is usually near a 20th place finish. Coming into the Memorial you always know that a hot start is an absolute must if you want to be in the hunt at the end of the event.”Throughout the tournament, you never shot the hot round of the day. What kept you so consistent from start to finish?
“The consistency I maintained throughout the event can completely be attributed to a new mental state I’m working on. In the past I believe that I have felt the need to constantly prove to myself and to everyone else that I belong at the top. That extra pressure I put on myself made it very difficult to perform the way I wanted. At a certain point in my career I decided to relieve myself of that unnecessary tension. This year I came into the Memorial with no expectations, only goals. I wanted to finish in top 10 and perhaps even qualify for the USDGC. Throughout the event whenever I began feeling nervous I just reminded myself how much fun I was having and that win or lose everything would be fine. Honestly, winning the event wasn’t even a blip on my radar until midway through the 3rd round and at that point I was already having so much fun that I didn’t care what happened. Finishing well would just be a pleasant bonus as long as I could continue to have a good time. So yeah, I’d definitely have to say that my new approach to the game is what kept me in it from start to finish.”
This year the TDs added a third course to account for the high demand of pros. What did you think of Fiesta Lakes and the added course in general?
“I liked Fiesta Lakes. Paul Ulibarri actually called me when the Memorial staff announced the introduction of the new course. He told me that it would be a great course for my style of play, potentially giving me an advantage on the field. I felt like it introduced a technical aspect to the tournament that neither Fountain Hills nor Vista Del Camino had. My favorite events are ones that present a variety of shots. If I have to throw the same style shot for more than 75% of my throws than I don’t feel like I really have an opportunity to showcase my abilities. With addition of Fiesta Lakes to the lineup of courses the players were challenged with shorter placement shots that tested more than their ability to throw open 400’ hyzers.”
Let’s fast forward to the final round. You were trailing Simon Lizotte entering the first hole. As Simon’s title hopes were quickly dwindling, you found yourself in a shot for shot battle with Paul McBeth. With eight holes to play you guys were tied. At that point, what was going through your head?
“Anything BUT disc golf! The only time I wanted to think about disc golf was when it was my turn to throw. Had I started getting caught up in the situation I would have lost my mind! I mean think about it: the #1 player in the world is chasing me down during the last round at the Memorial, a tournament he has owned AND we’re at the course that he arguably plays better than anyone else in the world… Not a very inspiring thought to dwell on. I found confidence by reminding myself that I have always played the back 9 at Fountain Hills very well. With eight holes left and the score all tied up my mind was focused on things that make me happy, while trying to appreciate the awesome moment that I had put myself in.”
On hole 18 you were facing quite the putt with McBeth looking at a shorter, yet still difficult shot. Take us through your mindset before that shot.
“Plain and simply, it was match play. For unknown reasons, match play has brought out some of the very best of my abilities where I end up doing things that I can’t explain later. This is one of those moments. Coming up to that putt I knew that laying up was not an option. You simply don’t give the best player in the world a free shot to take down the tournament without at least making a run at the title. What happened next I can’t really explain. Throughout the entirety of the event I had only hit a couple putts from outside the circle and not one time had I even attempted an anhyzer putt. It was completely improvised. My instincts took over and the disc found it’s way into the chains. To be fair, I felt absolutely no pressure as I approached my lie. Of course I knew what was potentially on the line but if I miss that putt who cares? It was a 65 footer and Paul would still be left with a very difficult putt looking downhill towards the water. In that respect, the putt that McBeth hit was just as impressive to me, if not more. Everything was on the line and he canned it. It was awesome.”
As it hit chains your face clearly had some energy to it. Then, you see McBeth walk up and drain his long putt to force a playoff. You shared a moment near the basket after he made the putt. What did you guys say to each other?
“We didn’t say much. Nothing needed to be said, really. We both knew immediately that we had just experienced a moment in our lives that we’d never forget. At some point I seem to remember him saying something along the lines of ‘you didn’t think I was going to make it easy for you, did you?’ That’s the kind of camaraderie that I love!”
Right after the adrenaline rush from making the putt you had to instantly refocus and prepare for the first playoff hole. Was it hard to set your mind straight again?
“Not really. I was still in the zone. I was ready to go the moment after our scorecards were checked and officially turned in. I was already at the point where I didn’t feel like I had to win the event to feel like a winner so my nerves became a complete non issue. More holes meant more fun!”
You saw the shot from McBeth hit the water prior to your throw. Did you adjust your plan at all?
“No, I didn’t. I thought about playing a safer line for a moment but then went back to my original game plan when I realized that he was still inside the circle. I had a lot of trust in my 400G D1 that day and I knew that the playoff could be ended with one good shot.”
Did you finally relax after sinking the final putt?
“You would think that would be the case but no, not really. It can be a bit overwhelming winning a tournament with that many people following live and online. It would have been nice to have had an hour to myself right after the tournament ended to reflect on what had just happened. At the same time, I really enjoy the being in the spotlight so it was a lot of fun being greeted with so many congratulations from friends and fans from all around the world.”
Throughout the tournament, what discs were you reaching for the most? What was working for you?
“The theme for the week was fast and overstable. You need a solid hyzer game to do well at the Memorial: Flexes, low skips, high spikes, etc. That being said, my D1’s were spot on all week. Also the rollers I threw with my D3’s were always crushed and in the middle which gave me a huge advantage on my approaches. I had no penalty strokes all week so I guess you could say that my whole Prodigy bag was working well for me!”
Those were the discs that you were familiar with. Another story to come from the Memorial came when McBeth’s bag was stolen and he had to fill a bag with discs he wasn’t necessarily used to. From another pro’s stand point and not to take anything away from your tremendous weekend, was McBeth’s effort even more impressive due to this fact? How big of a factor do you think this played?
“It definitely made his performance more impressive. Although he had backups available, the majority of his bag consisted of discs that he had never thrown. That being said, I know that Paul is a good enough athlete to be able to quickly adjust to any situation. Personally speaking, I know that my go to discs at the Memorial are actually brand new overstable drivers. Also, Paul routinely switches out his putters so I doubt that putting was an issue. The shots that he was probably most effected by were his approaches. It’s hard to say exactly how big of a factor it played in the outcome of the event, I’ll leave that one up to him ;)”
What was a sweeter feeling … This win at the Memorial or the win at the Maple Hill Open last year?
“That’s a tough one… Maple Hill is a magical place for me for so many reasons. In some ways, it’s kind of like my home away from home. I’ve always played well there and for some reason winning there last year just felt right (even though it required a bit of bad luck on Ricky’s end on the 72nd hole). Right now I have to say that I have a sweeter feeling winning the Memorial. It was truly unexpected and felt earned from start to finish. I don’t want to be classified as a one trick pony so it means a lot to me to win each event. One is tight wooded and the other is long and open.”
Now that you got 2015 off on the right foot, what’s up next on your disc golf schedule?
“Two weeks of fun and sun in Florida (oh yeah, back to back A tiers as well) and then back home for a few days before I head off to the Virginia Team Invitational.”
Thanks to Koling for talking with us. Find Koling on Facebook for all the latest as he travels the country in 2015.