I recently had an opportunity to have a chat with Sarah Hokom*. Sarah is one of the top female players in the world, with numerous major wins (including being the 2012 PDGA World Champion), and is a very strong presence in the disc golf community. She is sponsored by Legacy Discs, Cali Connection, Plastic Addicts & Paragon Disc Golf . Somehow, I convinced her to talk about disc golf with me…
MR – Does it bother you when people misspell your last name?
SH – I try not to let little things like that bother me, but I do appreciate it when it’s spelled right.
MR – What got you into disc golf?
SH – I started playing with friends as a way to get some recreation. I had been an avid volleyball player my whole life, but also loved hiking & backpacking—just nature in general. As I got older, volleyball became too much of a hassle to participate in regularly (need at least 3 other players, a net, court space, etc.), so disc golf filled my competitive void and kept me active, all while allowing me to enjoy nature at the same time!!! WIN–WIN!! 🙂
MR – Every player has that ‘one’ most memorable moment. You have played all over the world and have played so many different courses, what would you say is your ‘moment’?
SH – Making the final putt to win Worlds in 2012 is a moment that is hard to top, but when I aced “Top of the World” Hole 27 in the long position (550ft) at Delaveaga Disc Golf Course on a random Thursday, it felt like I won something even bigger!! I threw my disc down the hill, out over the road at the far telephone pole like always. It flipped a little more than usual and flew FOREVER until it finally hooked up, narrowly missing some oak trees and SLAMMED center chains!!!
My friend was down there practice putting for league and when I finally got down to the basket, my disc was full of money and a couple beers!! I’ll never forget that feeling of jumping into the air with excitement after acing AND the feeling of love from all the locals in Santa Cruz when I got to my disc filled with goodies!! I feel so lucky to have aced that hole in my lifetime.
MR – Everyone starts off as a fan. Who is the player you admire most? Whose play really inspires you?
SH – I really admire the women that paved the way for us to play professionally. It is still a long road to get respect and equal payout for women, but we will get there and it is thanks to these women and their struggle. Players like Vanessa Chambers, Patti Kunkle, Sylvia Voakes, Elaine King, Juliana Korver, Anni Kreml and Des Reading have been working hard to push the sport and show what women can really do.
There are also few women that really inspire me in additional ways: Elaine King & Valarie Jenkins-Doss. Elaine for her amazing drive to continue to improve even as good as she is, as well as the fact that she almost always competes in the open division, even when she is eligible to compete in age-protected divisions. And Valarie inspires because of her sportsmanship; showing kindness, encouragement and acceptance to every woman disc golfer she meets.
MR – Many amateur players may not be truly aware of what the life of a touring Pro can be like. When does your season start and end, and how many events do you estimate entering for your upcoming 2016 Tour Schedule.
SH – My season usually starts around Mid-February and ends in October sometime, depending on the year. I usually play 20-25 tournaments in a year, almost all A tiers, NTs and Majors.
MR – Are there aspects of touring life that are overly challenging?
SH – Touring is far more challenging than most people realize.
The hardest parts to adjust to are a lack of consistent routine, no guaranteed pay check, general homelessness and nutrition, as well as physical and emotional issues from touring for so many months at a time. Routines help keep life simple.
We do certain things automatically without much thought and effort, like brush your teeth, drink water, eating meals, taking vitamins, stretching, washing your face, going to bed, etc. When your environment changes constantly, establishing and sticking to basic routines is a real challenge. The financial side of touring is pretty daunting for anyone, male or female.
All players have to find ways to supplement their income even when they perform their best. Touring is quite risky on the financial side because you can train all week for an event and still not cash. Unlike a regular job, you cannot expect to get paid, even though you worked really hard for many hours. So, it’s important to get creative and find ways to earn money on the road. I started a disc golf clothing company, Cali Connection Disc Golf, and sell custom “Hokom” gear to help fund my tour.
As a woman, there are even more financial obstacles. We only have access to about 20% of the cash the men do (in the current PDGA added cash model, cash is added to pro divisions based on participation numbers, so we are usually only 10-20% of the pro field and are given 10-20% of the added cash). This makes touring even more challenging for women, who have to spend the same amount of money to travel and play, but only have access to 20% of the money to do so. In addition, due to lack of respect and media promotion for women, most sponsors do not award women the same value in sponsorship as men, making the road even harder.
While most touring players don’t consider themselves, “homeless”, most of us actually are. Being on the road most of the year, makes it nearly impossible to maintain a home, both because you aren’t there to physically maintain it and because you won’t make enough money on tour to pay for your home. I use my parents address as my permanent residence and live with friends in the offseason to make this work. I hope to own land and build a house in the future, but this is a pipe-dream at the moment.
This also makes offseason a little less productive than it should be because you spend a lot of time trying to find accommodations and work for the offseason that will be efficient enough that you can save money for the next year’s tour. Unlike a regular job, where you expect to accumulate & save money, disc golf touring costs more than most people can make doing it.
Another challenge is nutrition. On the road, it’s very difficult to cook your own meals due to lack of kitchen equipment/running water/spices/ingredients, so you have to eat out a lot at restaurants or eat fast food. Neither of these options is really good because restaurant food is too expensive and fast food has very little nutrition. I try to cook as much as possible but many times it’s not an option.
Physically, the wear and tear on your body from playing all year and travelling in a vehicle for so many hours, leaves my body ragged and injury-prone by the end of the season. Every year I see non-touring players come out late in the season and crush some of the tour players, simply because the tour players are so beat up by the end of the season. Emotionally it’s difficult to maintain your best disc golf state of mind all year. As a tour player, you usually have to play for financial reasons even if your mental or physical state isn’t in a healthy place. This can snowball and create some major issues in your game and negatively affect your confidence.
These are just some of the challenges that players face on tour. I struggle in these ways, but I accept the challenge and wouldn’t change it for the world!!!
MR – How do you balance a healthy lifestyle with life on the road? Do you have a workout/regimen that adapts to being mobile?
SH – I try to cook as much as possible and even go to the grocery store deli for meals when I don’t have a kitchen to use. But, I do end up eating out a couple times a week. In addition, I do workouts that don’t require much equipment or a gym so I can keep working out on the road to keep my body healthy and strong. However, maintaining a solid workout schedule while touring has eluded me over the years and it is one of my main goals this year.
MR – You spend a large portion of your year touring. What would you say is the thing you miss most about your pre-tour days?
SH – I miss relaxing in my own home and having a dog.
MR – What do you see as the biggest challenge in trying to balance a personal/family life with the life of a touring Pro?
SH – Full-time touring would be nearly impossible for someone with a spouse and children. The financial benefits are not enough to support a family even if the family was left at home will the touring pro went out to earn the cash. Then, the touring pro would only be home a few times during that 8 months of the main season.
This doesn’t seem probable for any family: no face-time or financial gain. Until the purses are higher, sponsors are bigger, exposure more widespread, pro disc golfers and families don’t seem to mix.
MR – With the rise in popularity of disc golf, there are now players that are becoming more household names. Players like McBeth, Lizotte, Pierce and yourself (and many more) are breaking out into the mainstream media/consciousness. Do you find that the increased awareness has been beneficial and does it have any direct effect on you or your game?
SH – I think it’s great to have role models and disc golf is no exception. This increased awareness keeps me motivated and helps me gauge progress in our quest to grow the sport.
MR – As Canadians, we tend to experience the top Pro players only from afar or on the Internet. What do you see as a stumbling block when Canadian tournaments try to attract top level Pros to events?
SH – I think that there is very little hype over most Canadian events, and that lack of exposure, history, and excitement could be part of the answer. In addition, it’s a little far to drive on many occasions and border restrictions to get into Canada can be a little strict.
Clubs may need to cover some of the costs to get a few top players in town or give them opportunities to do paid clinics at first. Once top players have attended the event for a few years in a row, you may see more hype and more top pros considering making the trip. Of course, a good payout is always helpful.
MR – Currently, the PDGA allows female players more choice of Divisions than they do the male players (i.e. a female player can elect to play MA1 or FA1, but a male player is restricted to MA1). Do you see this as beneficial to the female players as a whole, or does it reinforce a disparity in the level of play? Should the PDGA be encouraging mixed gender divisions?
SH – I don’t agree with encouraging mixed divisions. I even think the number of divisions available to women should be decreased. Right now there are 19 different divisions offered to both men & women, but women are only 8% of the population. I think we should only have 5-6 divisions designated for women until our numbers support the addition of more divisions.
The fact that women can play in men’s divisions, but men can’t play in women’s divisions is not unfair in most cases. Men have a distinct physical advantage over women, so at the most elite levels of competition a woman playing in a men’s division is not unfair to the men, but the reverse would be. I can see how it could be unfair if there is a woman who should play open women, but chooses to play intermediate men and keeps winning without moving up, but this situation is so few and far between, it’s not something I feel the need to take a stand on.
MR – What do you think needs to happen to reduce the disparity in purse amounts between Men and Women Pros?
SH – Ultimately, if there were equal numbers of men and women playing the sport, the purses would be equal, because most of the purse calculations are based on participation across the different pro divisions. However, in order to get equal numbers we need to take measures that will push women’s disc golf, specifically, not just grow the sport as a whole.
We have seen the sport explode over the last couple years, but women’s participation percentages have not. I think we need to take a multi-faceted approach:
- Increase media exposure equal to that of men. Women do not get equal media coverage or any, sometimes. Due to the fact that media has such a huge impact on social perceptions, when media does not give the public equal access to genders, the public does NOT believe that women are of equal value!!! Media may claim that when they cover women, they get less views, but this is just a by-product of our gender history in the sport and will eventually even out once coverage is also equal. This is an extremely important part of our push. If women were given equal coverage, it would make more sense for sponsors to give equal bonuses. Tennis and UFC have recently given top women en elite stage to compete on and record audiences watched!! We have to take a similar route to changing the perceptions. Give the women a top stage and we will show you great competition! Disc golf is NOT just a sport for men, so let’s cover the ladies too!
- Make the women’s side more exciting by making scoring opportunities more accessible. This can be done by simply adding shorter tees on SOME holes of gold level courses, so the women’s division has access to more birdies and are not playing “layup golf”—which is boring to watch. The Maple Hill Open (Vibram) has been doing this for several years and it has worked out great!
- Increase sponsorship opportunities and sponsorship equality for women. Companies should start sponsoring more women and work toward giving the same bonuses for winning in the women’s division as winning the men’s division.
- Increase tournament spots available to women by several each year to ensure that women have the opportunity to participate. Eventually, men and women will have the same number of spots available. TDs can distribute any tournaments spots not taken by the women to the waitlist when the event gets closer.
MR – Many players are aware of the near-death experience (and ensuing penalty strokes) you had during the 2015 PDGA Professional Disc Golf World Championships. You demonstrated a level of professionalism and determination that would make players in any sport proud. What was the most important thing you took away from that experience?
SH – I learned that winning isn’t everything. I thought I already knew that, but so much of my professional career seems to depend on winning that I had lost sight of this. I learned that people are inspired by more than just physical skills, that commitment, drive, compassion, friendship, and sportsmanship can inspire even more than being the champion.
MR – You have one of the best forehand drives around, period. What makes the sidearm your preferred drive and which disc is your weapon of choice?
SH – I find the throwing sidearm/forehand gives me a huge advantage in accuracy and consistency in hitting my lines. I love Legacy Disc’s Outlaw for a majority of my teeshots. I have also been incorporating a backhand into my game and look forward to pulling it out a lot this year!
MR – We all have superstitions or routines that we stick to when we play, would you say that those can be beneficial to a player? Will you admit to having one yourself?
SH – I think routines are VERY important. They make the complicated process of producing your best stroke much simpler. There are too many things to think about that actually contribute to a successful shot. Your routine will help you do those things without thinking too much, to allow you to think about the important things in that particular shot (target, power, angle).
I think superstitions are a totally different thing, and can also be important, but may also inhibit. Anything that puts you into a state of mind that gives you confidence is good. So if it’s that favorite hat or pair of socks that makes you feel like you are going to do well, then wear them!!!
However, if your superstitions are too complicated, trying to follow them for every tournament may stress you out more than they help. I’d say a good balance of superstition is fine, just don’t go overboard!
I have a lot of routines, but not much superstition. Mostly, I like to have certain things with me for functional reasons, not superstition, like my favorite type of towel, my favorite kind of shoes, and my iPod.
MR – When striving to achieve all that we can, most people have that ‘Holy Grail’. What is the one thing you’d love to accomplish with your disc golf career?
SH – I’d like to win every NT and Major someday—not necessarily in the same year (although that would be amazing), but at some time in my career. I find that there are events that I consistently don’t play well at and sometime think, “I don’t know if I could ever win this one”. But, I’d like to think that I can overcome that mental block and those holes in my game that are keeping me from the top spot on the podium in that particular event. 🙂
MR – If you could build your dream course, what would it be like?
SH – My dream course would have at least 18 holes that were all very different from one another. They would all have special character and would be named something clever related to the challenge of the hole. Each hole would have 3 different teepads and landscaping would be beautiful. There would be awesome bridges and water from which you can easily retrieve your disc. There would be fabulous amenities (bathrooms every 3 holes) and a place for everyone to hangout and party.
MR – Personally, I won’t throw a tie-dye disc. They are nearly impossible to find in the rough, especially in autumn. Is there a type/colour of disc you just won’t throw, regardless of how ‘amazing’ someone says it is?
SH – I won’t throw floppy plastic. I prefer my plastic to be very stiff, with a decent amount of grip. I think floppy plastic exaggerates any natural speed wobbles, so stiffer plastic will have a more consistent flight path overall. I would only throw floppy plastic in cold climates and I don’t typically play when it’s cold enough to need it! 😉
MR – What is the top piece of advice you would give to a person just getting into playing?
SH – If you are trying to get really good, I would check your form with video right away and get some good coaching. Bad habits can be difficult to break and not having proper form from the beginning will make all the shots harder and less consistent.
MR – 1lb of bacon, a small deluxe flatbread pizza or a Quinoa and Tofu salad?
SH – Quinoa & Tofu (extra firm) Salad Please! 🙂
[Ed. First run of the stamp is actually already sold out, so consider yourself lucky if you managed to get one or find one somewhere. Second run will be available soon.] This stamp is now available in limited quantities on the Legacy Outlaw, Mongoose, Glow patriot, Glow Phenom and assorted putter molds. To get your hands on one of the beauties, visit the Legacy Discs Collector Group on Facebook, PM Sarah Hokom directly or know that they’ll be coming to the Cali Connection Disc Golf and The Disc Cellar stores soon.
Michael is an admitted disc golf addict and member of the LDGC. When he isn’t playing, he is frequently used as a jungle gym by his kids and can be seen fumbling with pixels and vectors to design pretty things. Some of those things include the new stamps for Sarah Hokom’s 2016 signature tour discs.