With all the ads filling the airwaves and podcast sponsor breaks about the wallets, lawn equipment, or beer sampler packages that will make dads happier than they've ever been, it's been hard to miss that Father's Day is approaching. In those countries that adhere to the US date of the event, it's this weekend—Sunday, June 16, to be exact.
This upcoming celebration of dad-hood got us thinking about what it's like to be a professional disc golf papa. Given how few players can truly make a living off professional disc golf at the moment, how do they feel about their child's choice of profession? Since many fathers are also competitive players, what was it like to lose to their kids for the first time? What are some of the moments that have made them feel proudest of their children?
To get some answers, we sent the same five questions to four dads of pros whose last names, at the very least, will likely look very familiar to you: Doug Bjerkaas, Dave Lizotte, Pat McMahon, and Allen Risley. Despite each man getting the same questions, the answers varied widely and in interesting ways. Read below to find out what each dad had to say.
Note: All interviews were conducted in writing, so you may spot a smiley face in one of the responses.
Doug is the father of Paige Bjerkaas, reigning Open Women World Champion and one of the top 10 female players in the world. Doug is also the Events Coordinator for Dynamic Discs.
1. What is your first memory of you and Paige connecting through disc golf?
I will never forget Paige playing her first sanctioned event—the 2007 Colorado State Championships. This was the first of many road trips with our family to play tournaments together. A family cannot help but grow closer when spending so much time in cars and small hotel rooms!
2. How did you feel when you realized Paige was going to make disc golf at least part of her professional life?
Paige had always been told by folks she had a natural ability to throw a disc. I think when she won Junior Worlds in 2010, Noemi (mom) and I suspected she could make disc golf something bigger than just a hobby. When she left school this past fall to pursue touring full-time, we fully supported her decision and are very proud of the results!
3. What moment connected to disc golf has made you proudest of Paige?
I guess the easy answer would be seeing her win the 2018 [Open Women] World Championship. However, for me it was one of many times when Paige was committed to growing the sport. About six years ago, Paige and I loaded her Jeep up with three baskets (two bungee corded to the top) and went out to a local park to set up a temporary three-hole course.
We gave a quick clinic to the participants and then proceeded to play disc golf with the first-timers. Paige has a great knack for making new players feel good about themselves. Times likes these—and many other examples of her conducting a clinic or playing with first-timers—are my favorite moments.
4. What’s the best Father’s Day present Paige has ever given you?
This came from her and her brother and it's still on the wall of my office:
5. Describe the first time Paige legitimately beat you in a round of disc golf.
It was definitely bittersweet. While I do not remember the specifics, it was disappointing for the competitive side of me, but joyful for the “dad” side of me. It has now been safer for me to avoid keeping serious score when we play together!
Dave is the father of Simon Lizotte, the current European Champion with a crushing backhand who's currently ranked fourth in 2019 Disc Golf Pro Tour points. Although Simon was born and grew up in Germany, he is actually a dual citizen of Canada and Germany. Dave is a Canadian who moved to Germany with his wife in 1992.
1. What is your first memory of you and Simon connecting through disc golf?
Since we'd been playing frisbee off and on since Simon could walk, it's really hard to tell exactly when it was that we started playing disc golf together. I do recall that we were in the park one day, tossing a frisbee back and forth and I positioned us so that a tree was between us and had him throwing hyzers and anhyzers. That is the day I noticed that he was getting really good with control. He must have been 7 or 8.
2. How did you feel when you realized Simon was going to make disc golf at least part of his professional life?
After Simon completed his first tour in the States with Avery [Jenkins] ( I believe 2014) where he performed quite admirably and actually won the Glass Blown Open (A-tier), placed 13th at Worlds, and 13th at the USDGC, I knew that he had 'made it' becoming a pro disc golfer. I was extremely happy for him. It took another three years for me to become completely relaxed and confident that he would probably be doing this in some form or other for just about ever.
3. What moment connected to disc golf has made you proudest of Simon?
There are so many moments that have made me proud of Simon. Like, ALL of them! :-) ...But to name a few, his big win at the Ledgestone 2015, being an NT and the hype about the largest payout in disc golf history. It really showed that Simon could not only do trick shots and big bombs but could also play with control and brains and finesse. Plus, $6,600 ain't so bad. His world distance record, being German Champion six years in a row (I think), a room full of trophies.
But those examples are just about him being good at frisbee throwing. I guess what I'm most proud of is how well he's liked out there by fans and other players and the way commentators in videos always are so supportive of him and excited to see him play. It's so nice to hear the likes of Nate Doss, Avery Jenkins, Big Jerm, and Nate Sexton saying crazy fun stuff about Simon. So I guess I'm really proud of the man he has become.
4. What’s the best Father’s Day present Simon has ever given you?
Neither Simon nor my other two boys have ever given me anything for Father's Day. It was never really celebrated in any way. Also doesn't bother me in the slightest.
5. Describe the first time Simon legitimately beat you in a round of disc golf.
I've looked back at some old tournament results from the German Tour back when I was doing pretty well. Simon was still playing Juniors back in 2005/2006. When Simon was around 12, we all noticed that he was going to be really, really good, very, very soon. When he was 14 (2006), he was beginning to beat me often. Since he turned 15, I've never beaten him again. And the only thing that had me beating him when he was 13 and 14 was that I was more experienced and a smarter golfer. But he's always been a better putter than me because he used to practice everyday after school for hours.
Pat is the father of Eagle McMahon, the second highest-rated player in the world and current leader in both PDGA National Tour points and Disc Golf Pro Tour points.
1. What is your first memory of you and Eagle connecting through disc golf?
Eagle and I started going to Johnny Roberts [a course in Arvada, Colorado] doubles every Sunday morning, and I remember it becoming a ritual to go get coffee, play doubles, and then go play more disc golf all day. It was the beginning of disc golf just being what we did come the weekend.
2. How did you feel when you realized Eagle was going to make disc golf at least part of his professional life?
It was such a natural progression and happened at such a young age that I really just grew into the idea of him being a pro. I knew from an early age, around 12, that he could be a pro someday and saw the potential and mindset when it came to competing. In his amateur days and at tournament time he just became better when it was time to compete.
3. What moment connected to disc golf has made you proudest of Eagle?
I am pretty much most proud of Eagle when he makes it through struggles. Of course winning in Vegas [in 2018] for his first big win was amazing and a weight off the shoulders, but all the close victories and challenges that he persevered through have made me most proud.
4. What’s the best Father’s Day present Eagle has ever given you?
Nothing. We agreed long ago that we do not celebrate by giving gifts on labeled special days. When he caught on to that and did not feel obligated to buy a gift for me just because it is Fathers Day, my birthday, or Christmas, that was a great gift. That does not mean that he does not acknowledge Father's Day, and he even still does something nice for me.
5. Describe the first time Eagle legitimately beat you in a round of disc golf.
He was 13 and it was on one auspicious day. It took him a solid four years of playing to get his first win. He started to be able to outdrive me and then I would catch back up, and then he would be driven to outdrive me again. The same in putting games. We had quite the comptetive thing going and at many times I beat him on the last hole with a ridiculous shot. I did not want to lose. The first time he beat me I was mad, but knew it was coming. I am finally used to it eight years later.
Allen is the father of the gregarious A.J. Risley, known for making waves on lead cards, joke-filled disc golf commentary, a love of waffles, and throwing right-handed despite being a true lefty.
1. What is your first memory of you and A.J. connecting through disc golf?
We had a basket in our backyard—a Mach 1 that I had won in 1983 ([Steady Ed] Headrick gave baskets to anyone getting an ace in a PDGA-sanctioned tourney—I won mine at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, AL). I set up a putting course in the yard and would go out and play casually. He eventually followed me outside and joined in. I made sure not to force the game on him—he picked it up at his own pace at first. Then I brought him out for casual rounds at Morley [Field Course in San Diego]. Then our first disc golf road trip was in 2004.
2. How did you feel when you realized A.J. was going to make disc golf at least part of his professional life?
At first? Scared, maybe a bit skeptical. I love my son, but I wasn't sure if he had the game to play at the highest level. But I believe in following one's dream and this has been his dream for a long time. If I were in his place, it would be my dream too (I just was born 30 years too soon).
3. What moment connected to disc golf has made you proudest of A.J.?
Watching his off-season transformation this winter! He came home in October totally exhausted and had played that way in his final three events (USDGC, Hall of Fame, DGPT Championship). He dedicated himself to getting in better shape: three hours of gym work each day, three hours of field work/putting each day, 30,000 steps a day, clean diet, and reading inspirational sports biographies and golf books. He has become a better, more confident, more resilient player. He believes he can be the best. And so do I.
4. What’s the best Father’s Day present A.J. has ever given you?
I don't remember any specific Father's Day gifts. But he did give me my first Revolution disc golf bag for Christmas about 15 years ago. That was an amazing gift from a 12 or 13 year old.
5. Describe the first time A.J. legitimately beat you in a round of disc golf.
It was probably on our 2007 Tour de Rizbee road trip. Maybe the 9-hole course in Grand Junction, CO. But you should probably ask him; he would be more likely to remember. We played 60 courses over that 3-week road trip. That's when he started catching, then passing me.