By P.J. Harmer — Rattling Chains staff
Disc golf is largely an individual sport.
Though there are sometimes events with a team aspect — such as the Collegiate Championships or a doubles tournament — the sport is highly individual.
Whether one competes against a course, another player, the field of a tournament or against themselves, there’s not a lot of room to blame others for things that happen during a round.
It also leaves the opening for people to show off their personality. That type of expression can come in many forms, whether it be clothing, bags, disc designs, the way they act on the course, or, even, tattoos.
In the professional ranks, individual expression is there, but it’s often tame. Some top-level players may have a tattoo or two, or wear a certain type of clothing. Others may be known for outspoken comments or actions on the course.
It all depends on the player.
For Californian Kristy King, her expression is on her right forearm.
That’s where, adorned for all to see, is a tattoo of the signature of “Steady” Ed Headrick, the father of disc golf. As a DGA-sponsored player, the tattoo makes sense.
What makes a disc golfer go that far? Being connected to the game and to the sport.
The 28-year-old King has been a professional since her second year playing. King doesn’t participate on the tour full time, sticking closer to her West Coast roots.
As a kid, she grew up fewer than two miles from the famed DeLaveaga Park. The setting used to be a place where she would ride bikes. In high school, she dabbled with disc golf as she had some friends who played.
“I was competing with my friends,” she said. “Everything was a par 5 for me. We’d play skins. I just went and had a good time.”
The sport didn’t stick right away, though.
King played softball competitively during college. But with the seeds of disc golf planted, she eventually found her way back. Then she met some of the people who were behind the scenes, so to speak, at DeLaveaga.
Four months into playing, she met TJ Goodwin, the tournament director of the “Steady” Ed Memorial Masters Cup, a PDGA National Tour event. He eventually took King to her first tournament.
“I had so much fun,” she said. “I kept playing. It was my leisure time.”
That first year went fast for King. Still young and new to the sport, she moved through the ranks quickly.
She played seven PDGA-sanctioned tournaments in 2005, winning three and never finishing out of the top five. That trend continued in 2006, when she played in 15 amateur events. Of those 15, she won seven — including the “Steady” Ed amateur event.
King played in the amateur worlds that year, finishing in a tie for seventh.
But in those tournaments she was dominating? King even started hearing the “sandbagger” catcalls.
“I didn’t quite understand how it worked,” she said. “I feel I prematurely moved up. The first four or five years (as a professional), I felt like I was donating. But I learned a lot.”
“It happened so fast,” she continued. “I got the hang of it pretty well.”
King moved into the professional ranks before the end of the year, playing four events. She even had a win in one of them.
It took her time to get acclimated to the pro life, though.
“I took a while to develop a longer drive,” she said. “My upshots were good, so that helped with my scores.”
Within the first year or so, she scored a sponsorship with DGA. She said she was contacted by team manager Derek Kotval. He inquired if she was interested in being a sponsored player.
“I couldn’t ask for a better family,” King said.
King’s form of expression appears to be tattoos. And it’s not something out of the ordinary in Santa Cruz, she said.
“Everything here is OK in certain means,” she said. “It’s a big place for tattoos and piercings.
“I thought a lot about all my tattoos,” she said. “At least a year for each one. Some are combined. Some have had things added.”
In all, she says she has about nine or 10.
“I am who I am,” King said. “Tattoos or not, it doesn’t change me. I express myself.”
As she also notes, the tattoos don’t define her. She still dresses and acts like a professional when playing disc golf or in everyday life.
And it shows a little individualism.
“I don’t think it matters,” she said. “Everybody is so individual. A lot of times, I wear pants and long sleeves. My tattoos have grown. It used to be easier to hide.”
There is meaning behind each one — such as music notes on her leg, which show her attachment to what music means to her. Or the disc golf basket, on her right arm, to show her connection to the game.
Then there’s “Steady” Ed, the father of disc golf and somebody King never met.
“He brought this whole world to us,” she said. “He went out there and believed in it.”
Of course, Headrick also was the man behind DGA. His wife, Farina, is still involved, King said. The two of them share a bond.
“She believed in him so much,” King said, “and what he was trying to do.”
When the idea first came about for a tattoo tribute to Headrick, King said she didn’t want to do a portrait. So, after mulling the idea, she thought about his signature. She sat on it for a bit and said she realized it was what she wanted because, even if she quit the game today, she said it was still a massive part of her life and the tattoo would be very meaningful.
One thing King said she wanted to avoid, though, was people finding out. She wanted it to be a surprise, which made getting copies of Headrick’s signature a little more tricky.
Once her arm was inked, she said Farina Headrick was shown a photo. A month later, when King got to show Headrick the tattoo in person, King said she was appreciative.
“She was pretty moved,” King said. “She was in tears and hugged me.”
This sport likely wouldn’t be what it is today without “Steady” Ed Headrick. And no matter where Kristy King goes with the sport, she’ll have a permanent reminder of that and what the sport has done for her.
P.J. Harmer is the founder and executive editor for Rattling Chains. E-mail him at: email@example.com.