By Dan Ninham
Everyone may have a hidden talent. Oftentimes someone finds it by chance. Other times it may stay hidden. By continuing to practice the talent efficiently, one may master the gift.
Daniel Polk, 41, is a gifted professional disc golfer. He is from the San Carlos Apache, Quechan, and Diné Nations. He, his wife Dyani, and two daughters Nina and Tusweca live in Shakopee, Minnesota.
“I first learned the sport of disc golf in 2005 while I was in college at Haskell Indian Nations University,” said Daniel. “I played basketball there from ’00-’03. When I ended my collegiate career, I felt a little lost for a couple years not competing at a high level. I was definitely looking for something to do because I’ve been an athlete since I was a young child.”
One day Daniel and his girlfriend Dyani, now his wife, were driving around Lawrence, Kansas. “I noticed some people were throwing frisbees at a metal target. It looked like a lot of fun. Dyani said it was called frisbee golf,” added Daniel.
“I remember wondering about the game including how to keep score, how to throw, what were the rules in this game,” said Daniel. “I was very curious but I just didn’t know where to start.”
Daniel watched someone throw a disc farther than the whole football field. As he watched he could also visualize himself throwing the disc long distance.
“Right then and there, I was hooked,” said Daniel. “I was so in shock and excited that I wanted to learn to throw an entire football field length before learning anything else. That is exactly what I did.”
Dyani had a friend named Henry Pohocsucut she knew from the university who played disc golf.
“Henry taught me the form in a stand still formation, where and how to pull the disc through, and what height to throw,” said Daniel. “He also taught me the X-step to build momentum to throw the disc farther, but not to use any steps until I controlled my pull through and height of the disc. I practiced this for a complete month.”
“My goals were to learn the form and throw at least a football field length,” said Daniel. “I went to my first course, Centennial Park, in Lawrence, Kansas. However, it was very different from throwing on a football field. I saw trees in the way, baskets not straight ahead and far away, some a little closer to the tee-pads, and water obstacles. I still remember I shot 30 over par after my first round. Even with that score, I still wanted to play.”
Daniel was an intermediate player in his first tournament when he won The Centennial Open in 2005. He also became a member of the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) that same year. As an advance amateur player, he won his first A-Tier at the Colorado State Championships in 2006. Winning his first pro tournament at the Ale Asylum Open in Madison, WI in 2010 followed. He continued improving and won the A-Tier as a professional in the Master Pro 40+ at the Des Moines Challenge in 2019.”
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world.
“My competition came to a halt,” said Daniel. “I usually play a tournament every weekend during the disc golf season.”
When the regional in-state and out-of-state events were canceled, Daniel focused on off-season training as he does during the peak of the winter months.
“I had to adapt and make changes in order to keep up with my game and health,” said Daniel. “This is how I kept up with my training, health, mentality, and sanity.”
“As a few weeks went by, I started to go to the course to play, but I was playing solo rounds, using my hand sanitizer, social distancing when others were out, and learning how to just be outside and be safe,” added Daniel.
The mental toughness of competing at disc golf coincides with all individual sports.
“Mentally, what I need to work on is learning to calm my nerves,” said Daniel. “Everyone has them. I need to discipline myself to work on the weakest shots in my game, like side-arms, forehand rollers, and always more putting.”
“The few accomplishments I had stuck out the most in my mind,” said Daniel. “It takes me back to where I started in this sport. I love and appreciate my journey in the sport of disc golf.”