Determining if there is a “peak” age for world champions
June 22, 2021 by Jesse Weisz in Analysis, Preview with comments
Ultiworld Disc Golf’s coverage of the 2021 PDGA Pro World Championships is presented by Skybreed Discs, a top online retailer and preferred vendor of the 2021 Ledgestone Insurance Open, and Aria Discs, a new disc golf brand making discs designed for beginners.
As we get ready for the 39th PDGA Professional Disc Golf World Championship many of the storylines revolve around who will win. Will it be the Paul/Ricky/Paige show again? Will it be someone from the new generation of the pro tour, like Eagle, Calvin, or Hailey? Will a veteran pull a Barsby and shock us all?
This article will examine the ages at which past champions took down this most prestigious of Majors in our sport. Before reading any further, try to guess what the average age of a world champion is. How about their age when they first win a world championship?
All of the player ages in these graphs represent the age they turned at some point in the calendar year they won Worlds, whether before or after the actual tournament.
This first graph shows the MPO winner in each year, including multiple-year winners:
This second graph shows the FPO winner in each year, including multiple-year winners:
This third graph shows only first time MPO winners:
This fourth graph shows only first time FPO winners:
A few observations:
- The oldest MPO winner was Ken Climo at age 38 in 2006.
- The oldest FPO winner was Beth Tanner at age 40 in 1996.
- The youngest MPO winner was Sam Ferrans at age 17 in 1984.
- The youngest FPO winner was Paige Pierce at age 20 in 2011. (Marie Jackson Elsner was also 20 when she won her first Worlds, but she was 2 months older than Pierce at the time of her victory.)
- The average age for an MPO winner was 27.3 years old. (The median was 26.5, the mode was 23.)
- The average age for an FPO winner was 27.6 years old. (The median was 28, the mode was 30.)
- The average age for a first-time MPO winner was 27.3 years old. (The median was 28, the mode was 31.)
- The average age for a first-time FPO winner was 26.9 years old. (The median and the mode were both 27.)
Ages 27 does strike me as a reasonable time of their lives for a disc golfer to be in their average prime. The fact that for MPO winning a Worlds and winning your first Worlds is the same age rounded down to the first decimal is a bit of a coincidence I believe, but it does show that you are just as likely to win below the age of 27 as above. The Mode (the most frequents number in a data set, so in this case the most frequent age to win worlds) for winners was all over the place, which shows that it isn’t as if 27-year-olds have any kind of inherent advantage.
Another way to think about it, one-time winners tended to win later than multi-time winners’ first victories. That makes sense, if you figure that multi-time winners are more talented, and they don’t have to wait until their peak (late 20s – early 30s) to win whereas a one-time winner might.
If you would like to learn more about the age trajectories of the top players in the history of the sport, please check out this article I wrote a few months back.
The GOATs of Disc Golf: Career Paths [Pt. 3]
Lastly, let’s look at a sampling of the competitors at this year’s World Championships. Remember, these are the ages they will turn at some point in 2021, whether before or after Worlds: