Although the sport of disc golf is rapidly expanding overall, one aspect that is exciting to watch is the growing female segment. Disc golf sponsors and manufacturers are putting their money where their mouths are when it comes to total support for the female divisions. An Innova team member Christine Jennings PDGA #88568 is beginning to make a name for herself as she moves through the divisions and fans of disc golf are starting to take notice.
The amazing sport of disc golf seems to find a way to bring in new players or hook its claws in the most competitive of us and Christine is no exception. I asked her what fueled her first moments of the sport, “A friend of mine played a lot, and I started to walk some courses with him and his friends during casual rounds. Little did I know that my competitive side would come out and I would want to join. I played volleyball all throughout school, so I loved being competitive. Disc golf had me hooked because of the aspect of playing against yourself and the course rather than with a team.”
A disc golfer’s roots are nearly as important as where they are heading in their career. Christine has had to find a way to grind out victories and learn her craft while dealing with a sometimes low female turnout. I asked her if this was the reason she moved to the Open division so fast and she commented that, “I moved up fairly quickly because of the lack of women that competed in my general area. A lot of the local women played in the FPO division and I was the only one that lingered in the lower divisions.”
The challenge, of course, is to gain enough experience through competition to get to the next level. I wanted to know how she was able to gain that invaluable experience. “In 2017, I started playing many events locally and non-locally. Throughout this time, I would spend a lot of my days at my local courses practicing or participating in leagues. I was very intimidated at first as I was new, and didn’t throw as far as most people in general. The community here in Dayton, Ohio is filled with great talent and great people. The local disc golf shop Hazy Shade, were quick to add me onto their team and I felt so special to be a part of something like that. They were welcoming from the start, helped me grow as a player, and cheered me on when I would go out of town to compete. I am very thankful for the support of this community.”
As the female divisions grow and their ratings continue to rise, it’s a more challenging time to join the sport, and a far more difficult time to stand apart from the field. In order to be recognized by a manufacturer, a female player must have the total package concerning skill, but also possess a media savvy to drive eyes to their accomplishments and growth. 2019 will be Christine’s first full year competing professionally, but what was the catalyst for her evolution last year? “2018 was when I really saturated myself with competition at big events. Once I started traveling and competing against women at a higher level, it pushed me to keep up and sharpen my game. I worked hard on my upshot game, particularly with putters. My putting has always been something I could rely on. If I could get my upshots close enough to the target, it would put my mind at ease to be able to save some mental energy for the next hole ahead.”
For a young player on the rise, sponsorship from someone like Innova makes all the difference in the world. Innova saw something special in Christine and I wanted to know what that was like. “I made the Crew Team for the first time in 2019. I started out as an ambassador last year, as I was helping grow our local ladies league and hosting free clinics with friends to grow the sport. Outside of all of that, I have been and am continuing to work hard to be able to compete with the best. It was extremely exciting for me to be moved up and I am very fortunate and thankful to have an amazing company to believe in me.”
Moving from one level to another on Innova’s team is no small feat. A player must be focused and determined throughout the season in order to sharpen their skills enough to progress. I asked Christine what she did to bring attention to herself and draw the eyes of Innova and she mentioned that, “As I became more interested in disc golf, I quickly started playing many events to expose myself to the larger tournaments around my region. I also noticed the lack of women that played competitively in my local community. A friend of mine, Stephanie Penrod, started up our Dayton Ladies League just a few years ago to try to recruit more women in general. I try to help as much as possible to help the growth of the ladies in the community as well as being involved in the community as a whole. I also started using Instagram as a log of everything I have been doing at the time, and that picked up fairly quickly. I believe that between being locally involved, and regionally playing in events, it helped get me recognized by Innova.” The hard work on her game is beginning to show and her social media expertise is second to none.
Along with a respectable rating and a career wins total of 27 out of 46 (59% winning rate), Christine is coming off of a stellar 2018 season that saw her record eleven 1st place wins and three 2nd place finishes at some legitimate A and B tier events. Playing in high profile events can rattle the best of us and I pursued the questioning further to find out how she kept her focus as bad shots entered the picture. “Being calm and focused is something I learned to do quickly during a tournament after playing in many of them, and learning to shake off the jitters. Being confident helps me mentally as I often don’t doubt my shots or putts. I shake off bad shots by knowing that I statistically am not likely to execute all of my shots one hundred percent. Part of the game is learning to scramble out of unplanned situations, so I just make the best of it and take it as a learning opportunity.”
Christine isn’t just a pro player concerned with her own game, she is a big part of the female disc golf movement. But what advise does she have for those who have picked up a disc for the first time? “I always recommend starting at lower speeds, not really going higher than about 7-9 depending on male or female. Also, try to keep in mind the weight and stability. Just because your friend bags a max weight Star Destroyer, doesn’t mean you should too. Putters are great to start with, and you can always start to disc up when you are ready. If I were able to be a beginner again, I would start with more beginner friendly discs. I mainly play with men, which throw significantly more stable discs than I should be using, so I would always bag what they threw. It resulted in poor form, which now I am still working on correcting.”
So, what’s in store for Christine Jennings in 2019? “My goals for this year are to play in as many events as possible and gain as much knowledge as I can playing with the best women in the game. I try not to hold myself to high expectations, as that often leads to disappointment. I prefer to aim at small personal victories such as placing in cash, shooting above my rating, and working on my mental game. I am very excited for this year.” Aside from her passion for disc golf and a drive to improve, Christine isn’t a touring pro with the means to travel and stay on the road full-time. “I work a traditional weekday job, so I try to attend as many events as I can within my schedule.” Unfortunately, this is a reality that most aspiring disc golfers must face to make it to the next level.
Christine Jennings has all the tools, all the drive, and all the passion to become a breakout player this season. With a full PDGA schedule and armed with the talent to progress her game even further, the chances of finding herself on a lead card or in the hunt at a high profile event seems quite inevitable. If success is “opportunity meeting preparation” then it will be exciting to watch Christine in 2019.