A household name in the Montana community is Christian Dietrich. He is known for being the king of the elevation game and is also a Lawyer when he isn't Disc Golfing. He has an impressive background and an impressive story to back it up. When you get the chance, please give his story the read, it is definitely worth it! Enjoy!
1) How did you get your start into Disc Golf?
I grew up playing competitive soccer and running track, but always enjoyed throwing around an ultimate disc and played a good amount of ultimate at my high school. I played disc golf a few times casually when I was home from high school (I went to a boarding school in New Hampshire), but started playing more often when I stopped playing soccer and track midway through college due to injuries and the intense time commitment of Division I sports. Disc golf is a really popular casual sport in the college town where I grew up, Missoula, Montana, so just about everyone has played our beautiful local courses at least a few times. In the summer of 2003 I starting playing much more often with old soccer buddies--still with just a disc or two--and on a whim entered a local unsanctioned benefit tournament. I did well in the Advanced division, had a great time, and was blown away by how good the pros were. One of the best local golfers, John Willard, was a former soccer player and coach, and I was inspired to see someone with a similar sports background take disc golf seriously and excel at it. From there I started playing a lot and tried to follow advice of better players--expanding my bag, learning about the pro game, and playing all the time. I had a fun experience in 2004 when my car broke down on spring break in Florida. I was stranded for the weekend waiting for the mechanic to open, with nothing to do but go out and spend all day at the local course, Cliff Stephens Park in Clearwater, Florida. One day I got to play half a round with none other than the Champ himself on his home course: Ken Climo. Needless to say it was pretty inspiring to get to play with the world's best player so early in my career!
When I graduated from college in 2005, I moved back to Montana and played my first few PDGA events. I lived in Billings over the winter with my grandparents and played out at Diamond X just all the time. I improved quickly that year and in 2006 I won my first Open event. In 2007 I was picked up by Innova and have been proudly representing them ever since!
2) Who or what inspires you to continue to play?
I am fiercely competitive by nature when it comes to athletic events so that is a big driver--filling that competitive void left when I quit team sports. Disc golf is also a great motivator to get in shape, and hitting the course helps keep you in shape as well. But most of all, I've made many good friends in the disc golf community over the years and I love seeing everyone at all the beautiful locations we get to play disc golf out here in Montana and all through the Rocky Mountains.
3/4) What is it like to be sponsored and on Team Innova?
I love being on Team Innova--it is a tremendous honor to be considered for sponsorship from the world's leading disc golf manufacturer, and there's a great sense of community with other Innova players. From a practical perspective, it's really helpful to be able to get a bunch of the same run of discs at once so that you can practice with them and so you can have exact replacements when discs get beat up or lost. And of course it helps you free up time and money to go play tournaments when the financial incentives are increased and Innova does a really great job at making sure Innova Team members have what they need to dedicate themselves to the sport.
I am also incredibly fortunate to be sponsored by Pound Disc Golf. I have know Levi Buckingham (Pound's owner/designer) for a long time since he has roots in Montana. It's pretty easy to be an advocate and representative for both Innova and Pound since they really are far and away the best in the game. Other disc companies make some great plastic but nobody can compare with the full lineup available to Innova throwers, and Pound just aims for a completely different stratosphere as far as quality and design than any of the other bag manufacturer. Levi came to disc golf backpacks from a long career at one of the world's best backpack manufacturers, Mystery Ranch, and there's really no substitute for that sort of knowledge and experience, especially when you combine it with a desire to use all top-quality materials and build the very best bag possible.
Lastly, I still have a great relationship with my very first sponsor, Stimpi Ridge Disc Golf out of Spokane, WA. When I first started playing in Missoula, Spokane had a big percentage of the PDGA-sanctioned events within a 3-hour drive, and I had a lot of great experiences learning and competing at those events. Stimpi Ridge has a fully stocked pro shop and has always helped me out with anything I need. If you don't know Steve "Stimpi" Simmons, he represents everything great about the disc golf community--super friendly, dedicated to the sport, and an all-around great guy who I am lucky to call a good friend and sponsor. He even comes with a guitar and a great voice for those nights around the disc golf campfire! Shout out to Nancy, Dario, Chris and Tara as well :)
5) What was it like to win your first event?
My first Open win was at the 2006 Montana State Championships, the same year I first started playing Open. After three rounds and a final nine in my home town in Missoula, there was a three-way tie for first place between me, John Willard (who I mentioned above), and another up-and-coming local golfer, McCoy Connor (who is still active and is just about 1000 rated now). We had a sudden-death playoff and I squeaked out the win with a birdie putt on the third hole of the playoff. It was pretty awesome to win the State Championships on the course where I learned the sport, Pattee Canyon--definitely felt like all that hard work had paid off!
6) Favorite disc?
Gotta say an Innova Teebird! I really love throwing Champion Classic Rocs as my do-it-all approach/midrange disc, and I love Destroyers and Aviars as much as the next guy, but I think learning how to throw Teebirds well and often has been the best thing I have ever done for my game. Too many folks skip the fairway driver and go right for the distance drivers, which is a huge mistake! My favorite plastic is Star, although I've got an old CE plastic one and a few others I'll throw every now and again. I am comfortable with my Teebirds well past 400 feet and try to throw them as often as I can, and on just about every type of line. They are extremely accurate and controllable and work well in a huge variety of situations.
7) Favorite course?
Course, as in, only one? C'mon now! Ten of my favorites are below. But, if I had to pick my very favorite course I'd have to go with Blue Mountain in Missoula--it's a beautiful setting, it's where I learned to play, and I've got just tons of great memories there. It also happens to have incredibly well designed lines and offers a great mix of wooded holes, open holes, and elevation. Just about all it doesn't have are the longer par 4s and 5s that you see at some of the tough, championship-level modern courses.
Blue Mountain (Missoula, MT)
Bohart Ranch course complex (Bozeman, MT) (In danger after a change in ownership! Please sign the petition to keep the course alive!)
Milo McIver course complex (Estacada, OR)
Farragut course complex (Couer d'Alene, ID)
Maple Hill (Leicester, MA)
Renaissance Gold (Charlotte, NC)
Hornet's Nest (Charlotte, NC)
Patterson Lake (Dickinson, ND)
Blue Ribbon Pines (Twin Cities, MN)
Highbridge Hills course complex (Highbridge, WI)
Honorable mention: Vision Quest (Twin Cities, MN), Winthrop Gold (Rock Hill, SC), Diamond X (Billings, MT), Swards Ranch (Norris, MT), SeaTac (Seattle, WA), Solitude (Salt Lake City, UT), Whistler's Bend (OR), Pier Park (OR), Sky Ranch (outside Missoula, MT), Four Mounds (Spokane, WA), South Hills DGC (since it's about a five minute walk from my house).
8) How do you balance your Work life and Disc golf life?
I am extremely lucky to work at an organization where I can have a great work-life balance--not too many full-time attorneys can say the same. I serve as the General Counsel for a large "land trust," a type of nonprofit organization that works with private landowners to permanently conserve their land for open space, agriculture, and fish & wildlife habitat. I've been at my current job for two years and before that I worked in a law firm for about six years. It was difficult to play too much while I was at my law firm job--only so many vacation days and not all of them can go to disc golf events! I'd love to play even more than I do now but it would be difficult to do so living in Montana and working full-time.
9) What can we expect form you in 2018?
I'm excited to get out there more this year--going to try and attend the World Championships for the first time since way back in 2008. And I'm planning on a number of DGPT, NT, and A-tier events. In 2017 I won two A-tiers but had my season cut short with a knee injury and a mystery illness that knocked me out of work for over a month. So--I'm extra motivated to get back in top shape and go prove I can still compete at the very highest level.
10) What do you think you do to help grow the sport?
I try hard to encourage up-and-comers to keep improving, and I pitch in around my local community here in Helena and around Montana. Hopefully we'll be installing a few new courses in the next year or two!
11) What advice could you give someone who wants to step up their game?
There's no real mystery to how you improve at disc golf: you practice the right things, and you put in the practice time you need to put in to improve. I think the best way to structure your practice time is "from the basket out," by which I mean that you should spend more time putting than anything else; then you should spend more time approaching and throwing putters and midranges than you should throwing drivers; and you should spend more time throwing fairway drivers than distance drivers. There are plenty of 1000-rated players who don't throw very far, but there are no 1000 rated players who don't putt and approach at a really high level, and most 1000-rated players would still play at a 1000-rated level even if you took out all the distance drivers from their bag. Plus, throwing slower discs and learning flight paths will naturally result in you having better form and that will greatly increase your "ceiling" to throw drivers well. Learn on understable plastic so you develop more control over the flight of the disc; if you are throwing only stable plastic you won't develop the ability to shape your shots like you should be able to. Play as much as you can with better players and learn from them, but realize just about everyone can teach you something, especially players who've been at it for a long time. Study the game and watch the great footage that is out there these days--you can learn a lot from the shot selections that you see on film.
I also strongly recommend dedicating yourself to having a top-notch mental game so you don't get in your own way. One of the most helpful ways to do that is to use the resources that are out there for ball golf, because a lot of it really translates well to disc golf. My favorite author is Dr. Bob Rotella--he explains things in a really easy-to-understand way that I have found really helpful. Check out "Golf is Not a Game of Perfect" to start out with if you're just getting started.
12) Is there anything else you would like people to know about you that they may not?
I'm probably most well-known for winning the Beaver State Fling back in 2010, but another fun career highlight I had came at the 2008 Worlds, where I was leading after the first round and turned in the hot round in the Open division in two of the first three rounds, setting course records both times. Since then, I've managed to win at least one A-tier in five of the last six years and have maintained a rating in the 1020-1030 range. Happy to have a few of my latest A-tier wins on film from Central Coast Disc Golf (Thanks Ian!).
Off the course, I've been married to my law school sweetheart Michelle since 2012, and I love backpacking and natural hot springs (best when combined together). I'm still a big soccer fan and am an avid Portland Timbers and USMNT supporter. I also made it onto sportscenter with this ace at the RMC! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3gy6AYQO0c
I would like to thank Christian for taking the time out of his day to answer my questions and for letting me interview him in general. He was an awesome guy to learn form and talk to and I hope that he has a great 2018! If you want to know more about him you can find him on social media. Look out for more coming soon!
Picture credit goes to Christian Dietrich