The GOATs of Disc Golf: Career Paths [Pt. 3]

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A three-part series comparing disc golfers across generations.

Part 3: Career Paths

BY JESSE WEISZ

This is the third and final part of a three part series. If you haven’t read the earlier parts already, please read Part 1 and Part 2 first. We will now look at the career arcs of players in the top ten. I have taken each player’s birth year and then plotted their accumulated Career Points at each age. I decided to use the points without Era Adjusting past years as I thought that seemed more appropriate for this cross-generational comparison.

I decided to also include some young players that have a chance to break into the top ten if they have success for many years to come (Eagle McMahon, Simon Lizotte, Evelliina Salonen, and Henna Blomroos). Ken Climo and, even more so, Elaine King really distort the graph, so I have created a series of graphs showing the career arcs of these select top ten MPO and FPO players at different ages.

I’ll start with players at 20 years old:

Check out how quickly Ricky was successful on the tour. At 19 years old, he was the second highest-ranked player in MPO. As you can see, the young Finns Evelliina Salonen and Henna Blomroos are off to an amazing start to their careers.

Here are the players from age 20 to 25:

The two best career starts by the age of 25 belong to Valarie Jenkins Doss (599 points) and Ricky Wysocki (586 points). Wysocki and McBeth both started playing competitively at 18 years old, yet by 25, Wysocki ranked higher using this metric. I was not expecting that. However, McBeth had nine major titles by the age of 25 whereas Wysocki had just a still-impressive 6 major titles, which, at the time of this writing, is still his current total.

We can see that Eagle McMahon is only second to Wysocki in terms of points for MPO at age 21. As talented and likable as Simon Lizotte is, he will need to stay in the game a long time to end up in the top ten at his current pace.

Here, we also see the two chart breakers enter the picture, with Ken Climo starting at age 21 and Elaine King starting at age 23. In terms of career points, by the age of 25 McBeth and Climo’s lines are already moving on a similar trajectory within a small margin of 20 points between them. However, by the age King started playing, Paige Pierce already had 357 points!

Here are the players between 25 to 30 year old:

At age 30, Valarie Jenkins Doss still is the highest-scoring player at 1015 career points, but Pierce at age 28 in 2019 is on pace to have more points by age 30. Wysocki is only 26 years old in 2019 and will need to have finished in 3rd place or better between then and age 30 to remain ahead of Climo at the same age. Mcbeth falls 45 points behind Climo’s pace due to McBeth’s injury-plagued 2016 season at age 26.

Several significant players started earning Career Points in their mid to late 20s. Barry Schultz and Catrina Allen started at 26, Sarah Hokom at 28, and Des Reading at 29.

Here are players from 30 to 40 year old:

In 2018, the married couple of Valarie and Nate Doss stepped away from professional disc golf to start Bevel Brewing, retiring earlier than any other players in the top ten. At age 32, Val was well ahead in Career Points of any other woman at that age. At age 33, Doss was only second to Climo in Career Points among men at the age he was when he retired.

Once they retire, you can see Climo is way ahead of anyone else in this age range. King is far beyond everyone else in FPO by age 40.

We can see many players stop earning Career Points in their mid-thirties, such as Steve Rico, John Ahart, Juliana Korver, and Dave Feldberg.

Speaking of Feldberg, I really wanted to factor in Late Night with Conan O’Brien appearances into the Career Points formula, but it just didn’t seem fair to everyone else. Feldberg is second all-time in terms of MPO National Tour wins with 18, only surpassed by McBeth. NTs only started in 2003, so it did not make a great metric to use towards Career Points.

Feldberg’s career does show some of the flaws with the ranking data that I have used as the backbone of this project: his player ratings in 2003 and 2004 were not in the top 20, so they did not score him any career points. Yet, he was one of the only touring players back then and was consistently among the top 5 finishers at NTs. I hope to correct for these issues in version 2.0 of the GOAT series at some point in the future.

Shout out to Birgitta Lagerholm, the only non-American who made it into the top ten in either FPO or MPO. She is also a very accomplished Dragon Boat athlete.

Three names that stand out to me are Anni Kreml, who starts at age 33, and Ron Russell and Carrie Berlogar, who start at age 34. It is incredible that they were still able to end up in the top ten with such late starts to their careers.

Lastly here is the full data set:

Climo and Schultz kept earning Career Points well into their 40s. Even more impressively, King is still earning Career Points as of 2019 at 57 years old.

There is a lot of data in this graph, so you can click on the box at the top of the graph to compare players with one another.

Prime Age

The final data visualization of this series shows the age of the players when they achieved a number one ranking. As one would expect for most sports, the prime ages for a disc golfer seem to be the mid to late 20s. This is too small a sample size to draw any conclusions from. It includes nearly all of the #1 ranked players from 1988 forward.

What’s Next?

As I alluded to earlier, one of the flaws of this series is that it is based on inconsistent ranking metrics. From 1975 to 1997, the yearly rankings I used are based on a player’s performance at just one tournament in that year. The PDGA’s player ranking system, which began in 2005, is the most balanced way of determining a yearly player ranking. This system uses multiple data points generated from top-level tournament results that are weighted for importance.

My next project is to create a retrospective player ranking for pre-2005 seasons based on the PDGA ranking system. This will give us a more accurate representation of the competitive scene during those pre-player ranking years. This will be most difficult for the early years of disc golf in the ’70s and ’80s, as some of the earliest tournament results have not been digitized and added to the PDGA website.

Here is the plan:

  1. Audit what tournaments the PDGA has recorded from the early years of disc golf. This has already been done. Pre-1983, there is very little data on the website.
  2. Work with the pioneers of disc golf to collect important missing tournament results. Work has begun with the help of Dan “Stork” Roddick and other pioneers of the sport. Anyone reading this article with missing tournament data from 1974 to 1983 can comment on the Google Doc above or get in touch with me at jesseweisz@gmail.com.
  3. Work with the PDGA to enter these tournament results into their publicly available website database. I have already begun to work with the staff at the PDGA.
  4. Weigh the importance of pre-2005 tournaments using data analysis and consultation with players from different periods. I will cross-reference which tournaments drew the top players in the game to figure out a “national tour” before the NT was established in 2003. I will also factor in major regional events that drew in top pros. In addition, I have already spoken with several players from the past to get their input and will reach out to players from earlier periods once I have all of the missing tournament results gathered.
  5. Generate pre-2005 player rankings using a formula based on the current PDGA player ranking formula. I have met with the PDGA and they will be working with me on this project.
  6. Redo all of the data visualizations in this project using the new data. I hope to write a version 2.0 of this article sometime in 2021, which will include 2020 end year stats and use Player Ranking throughout instead of the inferior ranking metrics that were used out of necessity in this version.
  • Jesse Weisz

    Jesse Weisz

    Jesse Weisz dabbles in disc golf data visualizations. His hobbies include sustaining injuries through ultimate and disc golf. He also runs a non-profit that helps teachers travel at geeo.org. You can reach him through Twitter (@jesseweisz).





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