Interview with Elaine King

Elaine King – PDGA #3090
1997 Disc Golf Hall of Fame Inductee

1-Elaine-King

How did you get your start in Disc Golf?

I started playing waaaay back in 1983, the summer that I got married. My husband (Eric Vandenberg) loved to play catch with his friends. He always wanted to attend the Canadian National Frisbee Championships but had never found out in advance when the tournament was being held (pre-internet days). We noticed a flyer announcing the 1983 competition and went to see the competition, expecting to see freestyle, but instead when we arrived the competitors were playing disc golf. Eric was immediately excited about the discovery of a Frisbee sport that could be played solo, rather than needing a partner of similar ability. The next weekend we were out on the Island with our 110g pro models trying to putt into heavy chained baskets. Soon after we bought “state of the art” Midnight Flyers and Ben-Wal 21cm discs. In September the new high-tech Innova Aero had arrived in Canada and we started buying these for ourselves, our family and our friends. I would certainly have quit the sport if it had not been for the Aero since my short fingers could not get a good grip on the Midnight Flyer and I was pretty much hopeless at that point. In contrast, I could get a nice grip on the Aero and it actually flew a little bit for me. 

It’s too bad that there is no video of me playing during my first year. I had little arm strength, no wrist snap and there was absolutely no indication that the situation would ever improve. It is only because Eric was well and truly hooked on the sport that I continued in any fashion at all. In 1984 Eric started competing and I tagged on as a groupie, observing the female players. The year after that I had improved enough that I felt ready to start competing myself.

Tell us about your major highlights and achievements in Disc Golf.

C/O Alyssa Van Lanen
  • 5x Women’s Open World Champion (1991-1994, 1997)
  • 2x US Women’s Open Disc Golf Champion (2003, 2007)
  • 2x Master Women’s World Champion (2009, 2017)
  • Disc Golf Hall of Fame Inductee (1997)
  • 4x Women’s Player of the Year (1990, 1993, 1994, 1997)
  • Senior Player of the Year (2012)

I have had the opportunity to play disc golf in North America, Europe and Japan and have competed in more than 550 tournaments. One fun statistic is that I have the most PDGA wins of any player (female or male) at 293 and counting.

How would you describe your approach or mentality to the game?

I try to clear my mind and focus on one shot at a time. Sometimes the game is fun and easy and other times it is difficult and frustrating. I focus on making good decisions and trying to execute shots cleanly, not obsessing about landing the disc in the perfect position, but rather avoiding the immediate obstacles and progressing up the fairway.

Are you involved in any clubs/volunteer work/outreach?

C/O Matt Peckham
  • PDGA Board of Directors from 1990 – 1999 (Regional Director, Commissioner) and 2017 – present 
  • Founding member and secretary (2002 – 2017) of the
    Disc Golf Foundation, a charitable organization
  • PDGA Europe Board of Directors since 2017 – 2019 
  • PDGA Women’s Committee chair (2017 – present)
  • PDGA Medical Committee – established in 2017 and currently PDGA Liaison

What is one important lesson you’ve learned from your time as a professional athlete?

People don’t remember what you won or lost. They remember how you treated them and treated others. I learned so much about the game from others and I try to pass it on whenever I can.

Do you have any tips for beginners or specifically women getting into the sport?

Throw only midrange discs. It is discouraging to see so many women (and men) playing with discs that are much too overstable for the amount of spin that the player can provide. This leads to the woman throwing every shot with a huge anhyzer in order for the driver to land in the correct spot, and as a result she never learns to throw a disc straight. By starting with a midrange you learn how to control the disc rather than adapting your throwing style to the particular disc. Once you master throwing a midrange straight, hyzer, and anhyzer you are ready to start throwing a driver.

C/O Alyssa Van Lanen

In your opinion, what are the best things about Disc Golf today and what could be improved upon?

Disc golf is a unique sport because players appreciate everyone who participates. I still marvel at the fact that you don’t need to look athletic or possess advanced skills to be welcomed unreservedly into the community. I hope that we can retain this vibe as the sport grows.

We need to attract a wider demographic of women to the sport. This is definitely starting to happen with outreach in schools, after-school centers and local communities. Support of kid’s disc golf will also ultimately result in a pipeline of girls playing the sport to bolster female numbers in the future. I would love to find a way to recruit teenagers who are already competing in individual sports where the competition opportunities dissolve after high school (except for the very elite athletes), for example track and field events. These females have the competitive urge and are comfortable in individual sports and therefore might be a source of our future disc golf population.

We’d like to thank Elaine for sharing her story with us.
You can keep up with her on Facebook and Instagram.
Stay tuned next week for another Women’s Hall of Fame spotlight!

Comments (3)

  1. I can’t express how thankful I am for this article!! We live in a world of instant gratification and here is the perfect example of patience and fortitude all for the passion of a sport!! We are on the precipice of great things in Disc Golf, let’s use this wonderful woman as an example that patience is more than a virtue, that it leads to innovation and success!

  2. Great interview with a wonderful sports woman who has done so much for the sport and the athletes.
    Elaine won the FP40 = Master Women division also at Worlds 2019: she is thus holding the title since then and has at least 8 world titles under her belt.

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