Tomorrow morning I will play my 50th PDGA sanctioned event in 3 years.
My first PDGA ever was the Winter Jam of 2017, at Kentwood. I placed 18th of 20, thanks to a DNF on one player's part and barely eclipsing another by one stroke. My first rated rounds were 706 and 680. The following year I was elated to "place" for prizes for the first time ever at the same event, my 14th PDGA tournament. ( I came in 5th ).
I have had a good time. In the 49 events, I have played in MA3, or Recreational, for 42 of them. Until the 49th, the six times I played in either MA40 or MA2 it was because MA3 simply was not offered.
For the past three years, playing MA3 "felt right" - it is the entry division ( There is no Novice offered in the area in general). Obviously I was an entry player, and then simply didn't improve well enough to justify moving to MA2.
Each event, I approach it with the mentality before the first throw that I am going to finally take home a sanctioned win. Usually it only takes about 3 holes or so to change that attitude to I will make top card in the next round, then only another 3 or so to start doing the math on what is going to be the cut line.
Recently I have felt a shift in my goals and how I view tournaments. I still want to win - but I realize I may have been placing an undue pressure upon myself, partially because of my insistence to remain in MA3 among some friends and teammates. It's hard to explain, but I am going to try.
It does not take many events to realize that often the AM side, and Rec / MA3 in particular, are not really taken seriously . On one hand that makes sense - its the entry division , the scores are going to be erratic, and the final spread for first to worst is usually wide and sweeping. In a way a competitor can only lose by winning - if he wins an event, he's immediatly peer pressured to "move up" into MA2 or higher, being called a bagger ( usually in jest but sometimes in seriousness ) and reminded " there are no repeats in Rec".
And on that hand, it makes sense - come into the game in MA3, play and gather experience until you grab a win, and then move on so there a chance for someone else to do the same.
But the water gets muddy - both due to ratings but for two distinctly different reasons: the haves, and the have nots.
The players that have a rating are by the guidelines allowed to stay in MA3 until they reach 900, which triggers their advancement. With a rule in place, then someone can always follow the rule and despite what may be culturally and or locally tradition, prevail. If someone wants to win 5, 7 or 10 events, and if their rating remains under 900, then MA3 is within their right to select. Do this and you called a bagger, even while you play within the rule.
The players without a rating, or the have nots, create a whole different issue. These can be local guys who play just 3 courses within 20 miles of their house, or advanced skill level players with no record to force their entry in a higher division. With no rating forcing their hand, they sign up for the local events and crush the field. It is not uncommon to run across events form time to time where the MA3 division is won with a score that would also win MA2 and place high in MA1 - won by a player with no PDGA number. This bagging , in my opinion, is more egregious than the player who points to the rating rule because in general this player knows had they a rating they would not be allowed. Simply put they exploit the open measure of the system. ( This is one of the more compelling reasons I think that membership - current membership - should be a requirement for sanctioned events.)
All of that to say I had come to the realization that :
1) While I had not won yet , I was no longer a beginner
2) The likelihood of being "forced" to move up due to rating was still a ways off ( Currently rated 824)
3) My closest circle of teammates and friends were all on the way to moving up - their ratings were climbing as well as some of them had collected some wins - and while I don't think any of them were staying around just to play with me, I also do not want to be the weight that slowed down the flow.
4) Realistically - there was no reason for me to keep on the train of Rec -> Intermediate, because the likelihood of my reaching Advance and eventually pro was simply unrealistic. Following that path was also mentally wearing on me, because each round even if it was above my rating was feeling like a small bit of failure once ratings were tabulated for updates.
5) As much as I enjoy sharing the game, and as much as I enjoy talking to people at their first events, I slowly came to realize that I played my best golf when with better players and had some abysmal rounds when some of my focus was shared with explaining things like minis, foot faults, the circle, etc. I have often heard folks say either " move up to get better" or "You'll always settle or rise to the level of competition" and I was starting to see the value of both sentiments.
6) My two oldest sons play - and we're in the same division ( for now). I'd like to give them some space, some room, where there is not a comparing of how we did on rides home mixed with who finished better than who.
So what to do? Moving to MA2 prematurely does not appeal to me. That's just taking my same lower skilled game into a division of typically younger than me players who are focused and honestly more serious about their performance than I am. That is a recipe for coming in DFL every event and getting my psyche hammered week in and week out. No thank you . I had played MA2 - and I didn't come in last - but both times the field was also occupied heavily by those who would have played MA3 were it available. So then I looked at my last 10 events, confirming had I played up a division I would have been either last, or within 2 positions of last, in every single one of them. While winning may not be my most compelling driving factor, I had a period where everywhere I played I was last and it was miserable no matter how many jokes I made about it .
Then I recalled how much I enjoyed playing in the age protected MA40 division. I dont know how to quantify it, but its a different kind of disc golf. The ratings dont seem to bother me as much - look at any event that has MA40 and you as likely to see a 940 player along side a 780 rated one. You also see a , for lack of a better term. smoother game. Pace is even, folks have a good time - most are seasoned in the ways of tournaments, helpful, and let's face it - we can relate to one another because we're a bit closer in age. Chuck told me one that the difference in MA40 and Rec was what music groups you heard talked about on the tee box. As more often that not, Chick was right - and I am ready to spend some time with the guys who have had some of the same time earning their bald spots and grey hair as I have for a while.
So , for the first time without it being an "only option" I played in the MA40 division at a recent event - The Jammin the DMZ. And guess what? Just like MA3, I managed to finish mid pack - but it was much more relaxed, mentally I was more in my game because I didn't feel like I had to "watch" a new kid, and I had fun.
That's still the point, right? For me it is. Playing the event confirmed to me that it was time. I had fun and I actually played over my rating as well. That's a win-win in my book.
Sure - in the coming months, I may drop down to a MA3 field if its a B tier or A tier and has a large field as a way to challenge myself. But I think , for now, I'm going to get out of the way, and let the guys who are climbing the ranks battle it out while I walk some fairways and talk about Steely Dan and The Steve Miller Band .