In 1995 Ken Climo posted an amazing record of 23 wins in PDGA sanctioned events. No player has been able to match that mark in the 17 years since — until now. Bradley Williams has equaled that mark, and has two opportunities this weekend at the Rivery Park Winter Meltdown and the Wilco Winter Classic to establish a new standard for victories in a calendar year. He was kind enough to take time out of his busy practice schedule to talk to Justin Davis #35000 about the record, lessons learned from losing to The Champ, and high-fives.
Q. Congratulations on a fantastic year. Do you feel like you're playing your best disc golf right now?
A. Thank you. Absolutely. This year has been an important stage in my development as a disc thrower. I was on the road for two seasons prior to this year learning from the world's best competition players. With the stress of playing strong fields every other weekend, I found I didn't have the time to implement the things I learned. Being home this year and playing on familiar courses, I have become stronger with the tools I acquired.
Q. When did you first become aware of Ken Climo's record for sanctioned event wins?
A. Paul Ulibarri sent me a few texts asking what my win status was. The next time I looked I had 15. I began to wonder if there was a record recorded. I searched around and found an outdated page that had Climo's record on it. I also found a discussion on a PDGA forum where the common win mark was 15+.
Q. Describe your thoughts & emotions when you realized you had a chance to break it.
A. I didn't think about it until I reached my 20th win. I felt I should do whatever I could to play enough events to give myself a chance to tie his record. Since that moment, I have made it a goal.
Q. You lost to Ken Climo in a playoff at the 2010 Steady Ed Memorial Masters Cup. What do you remember from that experience?
A. It was a very tight match going into my last 4 holes of that event. I knew I had the birdie locked up on my last hole, as long as I played well through the prior 3 holes I would have a shot at catching the leader.
As soon as I become conscious of the scoring situation I went into a state of nervousness and anticipation. I bogeyed my next hole.
With two holes remaining, I learned of Climo's score. I played the next hole poorly to the left of the fairway. I was anxious to not lose my chance of finishing in the lead, and I overshot my approach and was left with a 35ft headwind putt. With the gallery watching my reaction to this putt, as I was in a war with my thoughts and feelings, I thought, "This has to go in and I still must birdie the last hole." I putted and watched it catch chains and fall into the basket.
A wave of confidence filled my thoughts and I had little fear on my last tee shot on "Top of the World". I was left with a 20ft putt to tie Ken Climo! In my mind, the victory was achieved. I was guaranteed at least 1k and I proved to myself I could play at the level of the Best players.
On the playoff hole, Climo's tee shot was pure up the middle and I watched dust kick up near the basket. I looked over to Nikko (my travel companion at the time). I said, "He parked it! What should I do?" He said, "Throw it has hard as you can." My shot flexed right with the added torque and I kicked off the mando tree. O.B
I was shocked but still very happy in my performance. As we walked up to Climo's shot, I noticed he was much further away than I thought and had no putt, as the trees on the right offered no angle. I was deeply embarrassed to have been given this opportunity and handle it so poorly.
Q. Tell me about your history in disc golf. When were you first introduced to the sport? When did you become interested in playing competitively? When did you discover you were good enough to compete on a professional level? On a world-class level?
A. My friend's father introduced me to disc golf in 2006. We went out to his favorite course. He handed me an old DX disc and offered no instruction (as I played sports in High School). He laughed throughout the round as my throws sent the disc straight up and short to the left. I was angered by his mockery and I wagered against him. I asked for a rematch the following weekend.
I borrowed a disc and spent some time in a field behind my house. We battled it out at Pease Park the following weekend. I bested him with a score of 75 to 77. I lost interest in disc golf after that moment.
Then, I met Ian Hovey (a local legend) by chance at Pease Park later that year. With the time we shared together, I learned that disc golf can be played at a level I never thought possible. I picked up a few habits of his and my enjoyment for the game increased.
I became a member of the PDGA the same day as my first sanctioned event (the $10 discount was the selling point). I played in 40 to 50 mph wind gusts. I loathed that day.
In 2008 I acquired another friend through Pease park, Tim Engebretson. We had similar interests and were both not very talented at disc golf. We started playing together exclusively and that's when my competitive instincts thrust me from the realm of casual play. We battled throughout the year and our scores were always very close.
I scored three 1000 rated rounds in my last MA1 event and I told myself I was ready to play MPO. Since then, thanks to the PDGA and their data, I was able to see my rating increase with the more rounds I logged. I knew that the more I competed and the more courses I played my skills would increase.
My level of competitiveness doubled the moment I entered my first MPO event. It was out of necessity that I advanced in skill so quickly.
In 2009, Tim and I traveled to Kansas City to compete in the 2009 PDGA World Championships. I finished 11th, one shot ahead of Ken Climo. I had to make a 45 ft putt to do so on my last hole. From that moment I have been obsessed with disc golf and my experiences with Ken Climo (the greatest recorded player to date).
Q. What was the most memorable tournament you played this year?
A. I enjoyed The Vibram open. I love the people and atmosphere the event creates. Try the Yankee Pot Roast!
Q. Was there one that got away?
A. Several of the country's best events got away from me this year. I wouldn't have it any other way though. The time I've had to myself this year has been great.
Q. Do you plan on competing in more NT events in 2013?
A. I plan on playing at least 2.
Q. What is your main motivation in playing? Rating? Wins? Money? Self-fulfillment?
A. My motivation comes from living. I've tried many physical challenges throughout my existence and to find one that I can maintain throughout the remainder of my aging process has been great. I've been searching for an activity that I can pursue as my primary sport. Living in America has either afforded me the chance to play a game or blinded me into thinking I'm living a happier life by finding an outlet to compete at something I enjoy. Either way, I'm going to keep playing disc golf for as long as I can.
Q. It's no secret your reputation as the "Bad Boy" of disc golf precedes you. There are many examples of less than optimal behavior being discussed and/or captured on video (e.g. refusal to high five, intentionally missing the putt in skins, drinking during the Final 9 at Red Rock, not providing your opponent congratulations after loss in Player's Cup) What is your feeling about these incidents? Have you made a concerted effort to prevent such incidents in the future?
A. I don't feel the need to high-five a group of men before starting a competition. I feel as I do about many other things, giving high-fives is a useless tradition that has been passed down and is something that's expected to take place before a round begins and ends. People play games in various fashions, I don't need to be a part of your high-five tradition.
As for the Fly Ink Skins, if two or more people score the same on a hole, the skin pushes. Double G's drive was closest to the pin. My score was not needed to push the hole. Also, as playing on the road can be hard to earn dollars, many players collude before such events to harvest as much money for their cause. I was the odd man out for the Fly Ink Skins match.
At the time of the Final 9 at Red Rock I was not aware the PDGA had guidelines for what I believed was a exhibition round. For the record, I had a leftover can of beer in my bag from lunch. As there are no trash cans on the course, I left it in my bag. During the round, I finished what was left of it and returned it to my bag. I was immediately disqualified and the PDGA put me on a 6-month probation for consuming alcohol during a sanctioned event.
Q. What do you say to those who feel you show a lack of respect to the game and your opponents?
A. I obviously respect the game of disc golf. You can look at my progress to see that. My opponents must earn respect for themselves. Just because you want to give me a high-five doesn't mean you have earned my respect.
Q. You've always had the tools to post great scores, but it seems as if you've acquired a talent for winning. How would you describe the difference between the two?
A. Playing in smaller events this year has helped alleviate the pressure I sometimes put on myself when playing against a stronger field. I've noticed that I play better when I'm joyful and focused. I use my tools better when I maintain a healthier mental climate.
Q. You have two chances to get a win this weekend, at Rivery and Wilco. How do you feel about these courses respectively?
A. Wilco's par 4's and 3's are suited for players who throw low and control their distances well. I'm strong in those areas. Rivery is short, rocky and fluky. Maintaining a positive outlook on the round and throwing well are going to be a challenge.
Q. Your dedication to improving your game is apparent. It seems you concentrated on becoming a great putter to start, then worked on distance, forehands, rollers, and even throw left handed on occasion. Rumor has it you're working on your overhands. Is there any aspect or shot that you're currently concentrating on, or one that you'd like to be more proficient in?
A. I stay away from hyzer flipping a disc as much as I can get away with. I feel that if one can throw flat and straight, there wouldn't be a need to play a hyzer flip. That being said, I typically am less proficient at playing that angle. I keep up with the angles I feel help me score best.
Q. Describe your mental approach to the game. What do you do to prepare for a tournament or round? Do you have a pre-shot routine?
A. I overheard someone boasting that the cream always rises to the top. I have since borrowed that mentality when I go into 3 or more round events. I've noticed I stay unconcerned about my play and let my score stack how it may against other scores. As far as pre-shot routine, my checklist has shortened over the last year. I set my grip and throw the angle I've imagined.
Q. You've had some great finishes in NT events, but no victories. Do you think you're ready to make the leap next year to winning an NT event?
A. Winning big events outright by a large margin has yet to present itself to me. In my experience, near victories over large fields have always come down to a mental climate change for the worse. By failing over and over, I'm learning how to handle myself better. I won't be ready to win until I do.
Q. Texas States has moved to Austin next year, maintaining it's NT status. Do you think the combination of home course advantage and the multiple course format will be enough advantage for you to get the W?
A. My knowledge of the obstacles we'll be facing is going to give me an advantage over the majority of the field, as the majority of people that compete are not my equals on the course. Hopefully I'm mentally and physically in position come Sunday to put my name in the running for a victory.
Q. Austin is in the middle of a state that seems to have a sanctioned event every other weekend, and you've taken advantage of that by playing in a great number of them. What's it like being able to compete so often within driving distance?
A. Sleeping at home and eating the kinds of foods I prefer outweigh touring on the road. Unless a cloud sweeps me off my feet, I don't foresee myself hopping back on the road warrior life path. My goal is to increase peoples' awareness around the state of Texas to the possibilities of disc golf. I have been lucky to be a part of the upper class of throwing discs, and I wish to share my knowledge with my community through lessons and course design. Staying near home has been amazing for me this year.
Q. Thanks for your time, sir. Best of luck this weekend.
A. You're welcome. Thank you.