Every tournament, no matter the venue, will have a high measure of competition between players. As with every sport, the closer you get to the ending, the desire to win causes everyone to ratchet up their intensity. This weekend in Leicester, MA was no exception as the country’s top players battled to win the Vibram Open.
The first and most visible sign of this tournament intensity was seen in Nikko Locastro. He was visibly frustrated when he missed putts or hit trees on an approach. He clearly wanted to execute his shots with perfection, and when it didn’t happen he lashed out- at one point I even saw him stomp on one of his own discs. Personally, I’m a fan of his game and those types of things don’t bother me. Most of the people I hear lecturing about how he’s constantly a ‘courtesy violation’ are older and uptight. However, I’m not a professional disc golfer and I’m not the one trying to play my best side by side with his outbursts with $5,000 on the line. It doesn’t seem like a person like Nikko could ever dial down his intensity to the place where everyone would be happy with it and he would no longer invite any criticism. He’s a magnetic figure in the sport, and he’ll always attract more attention as long as he keeps winning. I agree that it can be a distraction, but in the disc golf world, I’ve witnessed much worse temper tantrums to the point where I assume I’m seeing a complete meltdown. Nikko plays intense, and so his reactions are also intense.
On the other side of the spectrum, there are players like Will Shusterick. Will is one of the youngest players finishing in the top ten at most major events, yet he isn’t viewed as a hot head in any way. In fact he’s seen already, as one of the more smooth and mellow players on the tour. I saw Will attempt a putt on hole 14 at this weekends Vibram Open on Saturday, and throwing into a headwind, his disc sailed high and carried out about 20 feet off the shore an into the water behind the basket. This was presumably his “go-to” putter, and he just threw it where nobody could reach. His reaction however, was notable. Being on the lead card at the time, the gallery following his group was probably over 100 people strong, and all the eyes were on him. His only reaction was to stand in place, cover his mouth, and think about what just happened, letting his eyes get a notch wider. There was no whining or pouting to speak of, and he certainly didn’t thrash around any of his own equipment.
It is interesting to see how players handle pressure. All of these top pros play in ‘pressure’ situations, but they all handle things in different ways. On the same hole that Will lost his putter, Nikko made a long putt from a similar area for a deuce birdie, yet Nate Doss, the eventual champion, laid up for a par three. In an interview by Terry Miller, Nate noted that he simply made the decision, and did it with confidence, so it didn’t interrupt his mental focus or fluster him. During the last nine holes of the weekend, if you watched them live, you could see Josh Anthon’s intensity level drop notably. He had a couple tough breaks earlier in the day, and it seemed as if once he knew he didn’t have a shot at winning, he rushed his shots and didn’t put in half the effort or thought he did earlier. Some people perform better angry, some perform better when they’re on top. Not only does tournament play bring out a raw intensity in people, but it does so in different ways. Nate Doss clearly played the best all the weekend at the 2011 Vibram Open, but he lead the entire way. I wonder how this might have changed if he was always two strokes behind. At what point does the intensity and the pressure start to effect each player, and in what way does it effect them? With all the best players in any sport, there’s an ability to use the pressure and intensity to increase their actual focus and execution. It seems that for someone like Nikko, an outburst is a way for him to reel it back in and re-focus all the energy on the next shot. On the other hand, for a player like Will Shusterick, that type of outburst would probably cause him to lose focus. No matter what the reaction to adversity a player has, the best way to handle pressure has always been to avoid it. Play like Nate Doss just did this weekend, leading the entire way, and you’re always focused on the task at hand, never dwelling on a mistake you’ve made because no big mistakes even happened.