A Moment with Juliana Korver

Because the history of disc golf is relatively short in comparison to other more established sports, we are able to look back on the great ones that have come before us much easier. One player who has won 223 out of a total of 314 tournaments and is holding a winning percentage of 71%, easily one of the highest among the pros, is Juliana Korver PDGA #7438.

If you look back on the career of Juliana Korver you soon begin to realize that her accomplishments are among the greatest in disc golf. There is no doubt that Juliana was a pioneer for the sport and if she never picks up a disc again, she will leave a lasting legacy for future golfers. When I got the opportunity to speak to someone that I consider a living legend of the sport of disc golf, I absolutely jumped at the chance.

Ink Slingers: Who introduced you to disc golf? What was it about the sport that hooked you?

Juliana: I was first made aware of the sport during my sophomore year of college. My Computer Science instructor, Thomas Hausmann PDGA #4418, was a disc golfer and occasionally talked about it in class. He had a mini that he would fidget with, and for a time, I thought disc golf was played with minis. However, it wasn't until my senior year in college that I started playing, thanks to Jason Steffen PDGA #4113, who was one of the top pros in Iowa at that time. Before getting into the sport, I thought Jason was a little over the top in how consumed he was by it. My view changed instantly one day while we were on a Geology field trip. He brought his disc golf bag with him and I made fun of the fact that he had so many discs. Then I heard, “OK, Korver, pick something out.” I pointed at the middle pine tree in a grouping of 3, a little over 300 feet away. He pulled out a red Condor, took a little run up and let the disc fly. I was enthralled. It was beautiful and immediately obvious that the disc was on a direct line straight towards the tree I requested. The disc landed very close to the base of the tree and I was highly impressed. I looked at him and in all seriousness asked him to teach me how to play.

I played my first round very soon after that at a Monday league night at Tourist Park in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Five days later I played my first tournament. I loved the sport from the moment I saw that red Condor in flight, and I wanted to be able to control a disc like that.

Ink Slingers: Juliana, you have achieved a lot in the sport of disc golf. What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

Juliana: There are a few moments I will never forget. In 1993, not yet a year after my first throw, I went to the PDGA World Championships with Jason. I didn't play; instead I watched him play and met the larger disc golf community. It was the best thing I did for my disc golf future. Prior to this, I enjoyed playing and I enjoyed competing in regional events, but when I saw the top 4 pro women putting prior to the women's final 9, something happened. I couldn't take my eyes off of them. I thought they were amazing. Then it hit me. If I want to be there, in the final 9 of a World Championships, I can be. I made a promise to myself while watching them practice putting that I would be good enough to be in that group. I didn't care how long it would take, but I would get there one day.

📸 PDGA.COM Juliana Korver

5 years later (1998), I won my first professional World Championship title. I had a solid lead the entire last round, but I didn't take anything for granted and pushed the likely results out of my head. On the last hole, after my last putt was resting in the bottom of the basket, I removed the mental wall and let all the emotions through. In that instant I fell to the ground and wept. It was such an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment. To this day I will instantly cry if I put myself back in that moment. That was by far the most gratifying moment for me in the sport.

It is not; however, what I believe is my greatest accomplishment. I am most proud of the things that I did and where I stood out above the crowd, the whole crowd and not just the women. The most significant of these is cashing in the USDGC. I remember players talking to each other throughout that week, asking if they were above or below the Juliana line, which was thrilling for me. Unfortunately, it was also bittersweet, because back in that day, the Women's National event was held the same weekend as USDGC. It felt a little like a no-win situation for me. The first of the (I think) 3 years that they overlapped, I played Women's Nationals and despite a win, went away wishing I had played USDGC instead. The next 2 years I played USDGC and never regretted my decision, but had to forgo the opportunity to play in the only women's major.

There is one other instance that really stands out to me. It was at a C tier event in College Park, Maryland in 2000. It was a 2 round tournament and we played one course with 2 different layouts. I played great both rounds shooting -9 the first round and -8 on the more difficult layout the second round. The second round was one of 2 tournament rounds where I was really in the zone and it felt like I could do no wrong. I remember laughing to myself after making one fairly long putt. In the end I shot a course record of 46 for the second round. Not a women's course record, the course record. I beat everyone on the course that day for that round. I beat the Pro Open winner by 2 strokes that round and he was the only one who beat me for the event. I would have loved to see what my ratings would have been for that tournament, but that was before they existed.

Ink Slingers: There have always been stories of you preferring solitary practice while training for disc golf. Is this one of the reasons you gravitated toward Freestyle after your disc golf career?

Juliana: Yes, I practiced alone most of the time and mostly not on a course but in a field. This was partially due to the fact that there weren't very many courses around and partly because I was a grad student and I wanted my practice time to be efficient so I could get back to my studies. I thought it was a waste of time to go to a course compared to throwing in a field. But it is also simply my nature. I am considerably introverted and I am very happy to be by myself.

This has absolutely no bearing on my love for Freestyle and if anything would potentially keep me out of Freestyle, rather than attract me towards it. Nearly all the videos I post are of me alone, practicing a Freestyle move. This is not Freestyle. This is akin to me working on dribbling a basketball, showing video of me doing dribbling drills, posting it and exclaiming, “Wow, I love basketball!” I am a firm believer in working on fundamentals. That is what I'm doing with Freestyle. But me doing drills alone in a park or a corner of my sewing room is not Freestyle.

📸 Rick LeBeau

Freestyle is mostly spontaneous play with others. I'm finally to the point where my fundamentals allow me to experience the true joy of “free” play with friends (typically on the beach on weekends). It is far more interesting than the drills I do and perhaps I should spend more time getting video of the end product. But when we are on the beach playing, I just want to do that - play.

Ink Slingers: The discs with your name are still sought-after. What was it like the first moment you knew your name was going to be on a disc? Which disc was it?

Juliana: It is a great feeling seeing someone playing with a disc with your name on it. I had my name on a few discs early in my career when I still played for Discraft, but those were just special stamps with my name on them. That was nice, of course, but it didn't feel like it was a big deal.

The Aviar X was different. When I switched to Innova, I went through the factory with Dave Dunipace PDGA #987, and he was pulling discs off the shelves, handing them to me. “You are going to throw this and you should throw this...”

📸 PDGA.COM Dave Dunipace

When he handed me an Aviar and told me I should putt with it, I handed it back and told him I didn't like the feel of it. He looked at me like I was crazy and said it was their best-selling disc. I had been throwing soft Magnets and I told him I preferred a softer, grippier plastic. A week later I got a box in the mail with about 8 blank discs that just said JK TEST on the top of them. I loved the disc instantly and that became the JK Aviar X. Now when I see someone throwing a disc with my name on it, it's akin to getting a warm hug from a smiling stranger.

Ink Slingers: You have said in the past that you spent 4 years living in a van. What was it like on the road back then?

Juliana: I toured during the summer of 98 with a home base. Then in 99 I quit my job, sold my house, bought an RV with my then husband, and went on the road full time. The road was not easy on an already strained relationship, and my marriage broke up during that season. We sold the RV, and I finished the year in a small pick-up truck. The following year, 2000, I switched to Innova and they helped me find a van. I wish I would have known how nice vans can be. Mine was not. It was an extended Ford utility van that I couldn't come close to standing up inside. It was either cold or hot and it was noisy! I loved the freedom of it, but there was a lot of strain involved and I have no desire to relive those days.

Juliana Korver’s recollection of her life in disc golf is often delivered in a matter-of-fact way that shows the state of disc golf at that time, the difficulty sustaining a life in the sport, and the ups and downs of even one of the most successful women during her era. I wanted to create an article that highlighted the life of Juliana Korver, but her story was too large to encompass only one. Juliana had so many wins, so many stories that one article would never be enough. Please stay tuned for the continuation of A Moment with Juliana Korver.