Originally published on The Courier – October 2, 2017
The world’s youngest professional disc golfer has a ponytail and signature purple Ray-Bans glasses. And she lives in Upper Sandusky.
A two-time world junior champion, Lacey Brugler regularly beats out women and men of all ages — sometimes twice or more her age. And the men, at least, don’t take too kindly to losing to a girl who hasn’t yet finished high school.
“I usually beat a lot of men and they do get mad and they’ll even cuss at me,” Lacey says with a shrug. Some have even been known to drop out of a tournament, rather than suffer the agony of defeat to a 16-year-old girl.
Lacey, however, is unphased by her detractors. She’s got her eyes fixed on the six-figure salary that’s available to a professional disc golfer.
And with 65 career wins in 17 states, a national championship, a slew of record-setting performances and several major sponsorships under her belt, she might just be on her way. Sponsors include Keen footwear and disc makers Innova and DiscZilla Sports, which has made several discs specifically for Lacey. One features her smiling face and her hand forming a peace sign and celebrates Lacey’s two junior world championship wins — in 2011 and 2014. These are just a few of the 20-plus discs Lacey lugs across each course she plays, with her disc bag weighing in at about 60 pounds.
In essence, Lacey explains disc golf as a sport following the same rules as golf. Athletes aim to sink flying discs into baskets that are placed anywhere from 200 to 1,000 feet apart. Courses are typically nine or 18 holes and a par 54. Important is learning which discs to use when, with the main varieties including putters, distance drivers, fairway drivers and midrange drivers. “Sometimes you’ve got to play with the wind a lot,” for example, so a special “windy disc” should be employed, Lacey adds.
Putting, too, should be an area of focus, as it’s the athlete’s last shot to land their disc in the basket. It’s also the shot most likely to trip up even the professionals, and Lacey keeps at least six putters on hand at all times.
These tips and more are shared during her regular disc golf clinics, taught at area schools, state parks and even at the Ohio State Fair.
Lacey recently returned from a four-day trip to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where she hosted a series of clinics teaching middle-schoolers from the Lakota tribe how to play disc golf. She was personally invited by descendants of Chief Red Cloud and says the students liked the sport so much she’s already planning a return trip next year. In the meantime, she left them with a basket and a few discs to practice with.
Of all the things that draw her to the sport, including spending time outdoors and checking out the different topography and layout of each course, what she’s come to enjoy most is the travel aspect. As just a junior in high school, Lacey has visited 20 states including much of the East Coast and has driven the iconic Route 66. Her recent South Dakota trip put her up close and personal with buffalo and prairie dogs, and in Oklahoma she learned the value of checking for snakes before reaching for a wayward disc in a creekbed.
“I think that’s what we really enjoy, is when we travel,” says her dad, Jeff, who is always by her side. “We try to do 20 tournaments a year.”
Disc golf has always been a family affair for Lacey, who started playing at age 5 with her dad and sister. She admits she wasn’t a natural, but with lots of practice she won her first world title in Rochester, New York, in 2011. She was only 10 years old.
Because of her early success with the sport, Lacey enrolled in the Ohio Virtual Academy as a sixth-grader. The online public school allows her to complete her schoolwork anywhere with an internet connection. Her favorite subjects are history and math, which she says she uses in practice and tournaments to keep track of scoring and distance.
Lacey has plans to pursue some type of law degree down the line, but for now she works “every single day” she’s not on the road as a team leader at the Burger King in Upper Sandusky.