The converted Ultimate player uses the security of a job outside of disc golf to promote change inside of it.
March 26, 2020 by Christopher Wiklund in Interview with comments
Andrew Fish, sponsored by Discraft and Upper Park Designs, boasts a 1027 rating, and has 47 career wins at a mix of A, B, and C-tier tournaments stretching back to 2013.
Andrew Fish is one of the few disc golf personalities who is active on Twitter.
Andrew Fish is an outspoken advocate for women and minority communities in the disc golf world.
Andrew Fish is educated, well spoken, and oftentimes hilarious.
Andrew Fish is almost guaranteed to show up on round coverage of the Delaware Disc Golf Challenge.
Andrew Fish is one of the most interesting players, voices, and personalities in disc golf, and not nearly as present due to a geographically-limited tour schedule. Once you get him talking, the man whose 2019 custom stamps proclaimed, “I solemnly swear to play boring golf,” is anything but boring.
Fish, like so many players, came to the sport after playing Ultimate Frisbee.
“I started playing ultimate in high school in Orlando, and then went to Georgia Tech for college,” said Fish. “I went there knowing that I was going to be doing some kind of engineering, knowing that I wanted to play Ultimate. And the Ultimate thing really, really stuck with me.
Fish was able to play five years of collegiate Ultimate and graduate with a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Environmental Engineering with a concentration in Water Resources. His Tech team made college nationals in 2012, but fish was hobbled with an ankle injury not unlike Paul McBeth’s current ailment.
“When I ran out of eligibility I was, you know, I was pretty broken, and I saw the Georgia Tech Club Disc Golf team at the Student Rec Center,” Fish remembers. “They just had a table out they were selling discs and trying to get people to come join them and I figured what the heck. So I went out and played with them. A month later, I played the Southeast College Open at the IDGC and didn’t play too well, but I was basically throwing a DX Shark for everything. That doesn’t work on the W.R. Jackson course real well.
“A few months later I played college nationals. I don’t remember what I finished, but it was decent. It was probably top 15 or so. My first rating was 978. And that meant nothing to me like I legitimately was out there just throwing and having fun, and, you know, getting frustrated because I couldn’t make golf discs dance the way I do an Ultrastar.”
It would be fair to suggest that the transition was a relatively quick and successful one. Fish first registered with the PDGA in 2013. The the spring of that year, Fish competed in three tournaments in the Advanced division, including a ninth place finish at the National Collegiate Disc Golf Championships as an individual, a 10th place finish on the amateur side of the Hall of Fame Classic, and won the 2013 International Disc Golf Center Amateur Championship by eight strokes, averaging 980-rated golf over three rounds.
“Framing myself as happy go lucky or playing boring golf, I think is a necessary counterpoint to that.”
After his win at the IDGC, Fish moved to Open full time and has only missed cash twice since then: the Madisonville Open in 2013 and the USDGC in 2015.
“I missed cash [at Madisonville] not because I played poorly but because of a scoring error. The next Open tournament I played, I won…it was in Greenville, South Carolina and Sarah Cunningham asked if I wanted cash or to stay amateur,” Fish said. “I asked where Amateur Worlds was. They said, Kansas and I said, ‘I’ll take $500 please’.
“At that point, I started traveling with Matt Dollar a little bit to some tournaments. We approach the game very differently, but it was good to have somebody who could push me to go other places because I’m just out of college, unemployed, broke.”
After interviewing for a career in his field with Baltimore County, Maryland, and accepting despite having never been to Maryland before, Fish has been loving Mid-Atlantic life for the past six years, even purchasing a home three years ago. Over the same time period he soldiered on with a weekend warrior mentality, except usually lacking the soldier discipline.
“Truly, even like well into the thousands [rating] I was legitimately goofing off,” Fish says. “I don’t think I learned to throw with a power grip until I was probably rated 1010. You can go back and look at my kind of funky mechanics where I would transition my grip from a forehand to a backhand as I was in my run-up. I can look back now and wonder how I was at all successful with the limited game that I had that point.”
Fish comes across as a laid back, thoughtful guy. His posts on Twitter, while often offering keen insights and commentary, are always laced with a bit of humor and the implication that the tongue is at least working towards being firmly in cheek. In the (relatively) limited camera time he gets, either via coverage of rounds or in his own promotional videos, he is always smiling, giving off a vibe of genuine credulity. He never seems to be on the verge of losing his cool, or like he is trying to get one over on his cardmates or audience. This affect, or public persona, is something Fish has worked to cultivate, in part for his own mental health and well-being.
“In Ultimate, it’s very important to take match-ups personally. It’s very important to continuously have a belief that you are the most capable person of making a play at any time,” Fish said. “The difference with Ultimate is that you can affect the game in so many more ways than just throwing. And that means that even negatively directed emotion toward your teammates, toward your opponent, can will you forward.
“It took me a long time to be able to address that in disc golf and not be continuously mad. I’ve honestly had some truly shameful meltdowns on the course. It’s been a while since there’s been, you know, something that’s obviously public. For the most part, I can keep those in check, but it’s a very willful suppression. My desire to win and to be the best and to be perfect is continuously burning, so framing myself as happy go lucky or playing boring golf, I think is a necessary counterpoint to that.
“If I get stuck in the mode of like, ‘I have to win, I have to compete, I have to perform,’ then every round is a four-hour grind of misery. It’s placing expectation on myself and my mode of operation recently, and this has been a big evolution to get to this point, has been to avoid andor eliminate expectation.
“If I go into a tournament expecting to win, or a hole expecting to make a putt or whatever, if you succeed, if you meet your expectations, then there’s no joy in that. And if you don’t meet that expectation, then you’ve failed. You invited that failure onto yourself. It’s a heads I win, tails you lose. Golf isn’t like that.
Fish continued: “The tournaments that I play best at are the ones where I’ve done good mental preparation before and during and after each practice round, the travel there, the night before, and all the way into the rounds to just allow myself to play naturally. I would be foolish to go into an elite tournament with the many very good players out there and say that I was going to win. But you know, you have to will yourself into that; you have to be selectively truthful so that you can believe that you’re the best.”
Given his early and continued success and desire to be the best, why then, did Fish not hop on the road and join the ranks of full-time touring pros? Why not channel that abundant competitive energy, sharp intellect, and talent with a disc into making Disc Golf his full time career like so many would if they had the tools and abilities that Fish does? That is a big question, with a lot of answers, as it turns out.
“Frankly, I am not interested in playing at least half the courses on tour,” Fish admits. “A lot of them look poorly designed. They look uninteresting. They look like the shots are unimaginative. I would be sick and tired of touring after half an event if I started with the rest of the tour in February.
“I think you could fairly say that there’s a little bit of design elitism to that, because a lot of places like that you can’t help because of where you live. You can’t help what the terrain is. And it would be very rude of me to walk all over the hard work that the tournament organizers have put into fundraising and making these events staples on tour. You know, there’s a lot of local infrastructure that goes into making these events successful, but I’m not interested in doing it.”
Whether or not you agree with Fish on the quality and relative merits of desert and Midwestern courses, it’s not hard to argue with the fact that except for the top names in the game, disc golf is not always going to pay the bills.
“I have a car payment, I have a mortgage, I have utility bills, and just general living,” Fish says. “Going on tour means that I’m gambling everything on myself. And I do not currently have the disc golf resume that would persuade Discraft or any other sponsor to want to pay the same amount of resources that I currently have through my job, so the safety and stability of not just a paycheck, but having a home base and having health insurance. If you’re on tour, you’re always one back injury away from walking home with nothing. I had that for Worlds. I had that for Delaware, and then I dropped out of Maple Hill and Green Mountain Championship. both of which I was planning on attending, and I have had success at both those venues before.”
Ironically, Fish sees his day job and obligations at home as something that gives him more freedom to express himself, and move the conversation around issues he is passionate about.
“It gives me some freedom to not have to cultivate a particular image of myself,” Fish says. “For many of the touring players, they’re scrapping for everything — views, likes, disc sales — so curating a likable and positive public image is really important to them. With a little more distance from that lifestyle, I don’t have to hustle just to make it to the next stop. I appreciate those things from fans and viewers, but in my position, I think it’s important to be honest and ask tough questions.”
Fish is an active and outspoken proponent for gender, racial, and economic equity in the game. Fish has called out the PDGA, National Tour, Disc Golf Pro Tour, and media outlets for talking out both sides of their mouths, by stating the importance of #growingthesport for women, while simultaneously treating women’s disc golf as second class citizens when the rubber hits the road.
“I want everyone, regardless of race, socioeconomic status, nationality, I want everyone to be able to experience the magic of that disc and flight without restriction.”
To Fish, this issue speaks to a deeper, more structural issue with the culture of the sport
“Supporting women’s disc golf is important for me because it’s an obvious place where the demographics of disc golf don’t match up with the demographics of states, countries, heck, the world,” Fish said. “The PDGA membership is traditionally between seven and nine percent women, and there’s a lot of societal reasons for that, in that women are not necessarily socialized or encouraged at early ages to play.
“I think that it’s important that when we say, ‘Grow the sport,’ that we think very deliberately about both the ultimate target and the steps that it takes to get there. Because growing for growth’s sake often doesn’t lead you to where you want to go. Just having more people playing doesn’t mean that you’re going to have better courses, better tournaments, better players. And I think it’s really relevant to explore within our structure, why there aren’t more women playing, or why there aren’t more people of color playing?
Fish sees a lot of himself out on the course, and not in an endearing way.
“I can legitimately show up to any course in the country and…I’m always going to see people who look similar to me,” Fish said. “I’m always going to see a whole bunch of 30 year old white dudes out there. But if my partner shows up, she won’t have the same experience. It’s rare that there’s going to be that critical mass of women playing. And in a lot of ways that makes it difficult to interest or retain women in the sport. And I can’t blame them for walking away when there’s other activities that they can feel more welcomed in.
Tweeting about the issue may not solve it, and Fish recognizes that. He’s also taking a more active role in changing it.
“It’s a much bigger problem than something I can personally solve,” Fish says. “But I want to use my platform, whatever that platform is, to be able to… not speak for, but advocate and be an ally for people that are not well-represented in our sport, and amplify their needs and reasons.
He continues: “My side is more grassroots. It’s important to applaud the PDGA or the Pro Tour when they are doing the right thing and offering equal coverage to the women that they do the men.
“But consider something like payouts for touring pros. The women have exactly the same fixed cost as the guys in terms of travel, lodging, entry fees. But in general, they have a lot less earning potential because their purses are smaller, and their purses stay smaller because not as many women will sign up because there aren’t as many on the road. It’s a self-defeating cycle. It’s really important that the causes for that are recognized and we work to rectify them.
“Frankly, I am not interested in playing at least half the courses on tour.”
“It’s not realistic to expect that we’re going to be a 50-50 split 10 years from now. You can’t undo hundreds to thousands of years of society. But we as a sport can make an effort to improve that ratio and provide women with an opportunity to play a sport that is in an environment where they feel safe and comfortable and welcomed.
“More important than anything here, I really, really like throwing Frisbees. I like watching them fly. I like watching them go to my target. I want everyone, regardless of race, socioeconomic status, nationality, I want everyone to be able to experience the magic of that disc and flight without restriction.”
To that end, Fish and Allie Stone have been running the Women’s Open of Maryland for several years. The event, annually help in the fall, aims to offer the environment Fish and others see as actually helping to #growthesport.
“Our goal is to provide a kind of a safe space, provide an opportunity for women and girls of whatever age, whatever experience in disc golf, to be able to come out and play in a tournament environment that is tailored more towards them,” Fish says. “Where they are served by volunteers, where the layout and players pack makes sense for them.
“I mean, I could be doing more I’m sure. But I want to really draw awareness to the needs of our community as a whole, and recognize that a more diverse range of people is in need of support.”
Players should not only be encouraged to be ambassadors for the sport, but critics and stewards as well. Disc golf has plenty of sales people and brand builders, but there’s more to growing a sport than moving plastic.
Fish straddles the lines between touring pro, regional pro, and critic-laureate, providing the sort of value to the game that can’t be measured in sponsorship dollars or YouTube views.
Fish is a man of action, and one who should be heard.