There’s not really a “battle” per se, as no one was keeping score, but Simon Lizotte and Paul McBeth joined ultimate player and known trick shot aficionado Brodie Smith for a video a year in the making.
The trio teased the Jomez Pro-filmed video around this time in 2018 — McBeth was spotted in the Discraft shirt before his move from Innova was official — and we’ve been waiting for the final cut to make it through Smith’s editing queue.
Smith did also promise he’d enter his first disc golf tournament if the video hit 10,000 likes, so you know what to do.
Jomez Pro also put out their own video featuring the three playing a casual round at Turner Park Disc Golf Course in Grand Prairie, Texas.
The 2019 disc golf season is behind us, which means it’s time for us to look back and figure out which players had the best season. I am me, so of course that means I am going to do this statistically. However, I’ve measured the statistical best before, and I don’t want to do just the same old thing. So, I am also going to look at who had the “luckiest”1 2019 season.
The best and luckiest are non-independent from each other, really, because you need to be able to measure skill or performance in some way and then measure how players’ results deviate (luck) from skill (best).
To measure skill, I developed a statistical model that used UDisc Live data going back to its inception to explain players’ final scores in tournaments,2 and the model works very well for both the MPO and FPO fields. The UDisc stats explain about 86% of the variation in scores. That is a lot of explained variance! And in layman’s terms basically means that if you throw the disc better (hit greens in regulation and putts, etc.) you score better.
It should surprise no one that Paul McBeth and Paige Pierce did the “best” according to the models for MPO and FPO, respectively. They have the highest number of standardized strokes gained over average.
“Standardized” means we put all of the scores on the same scale, which is important because we want to be able to combine data across all tournaments even though they have different par scores. “Over average” just means that we standardized scores using the average score for each tournament as the baseline value.
For further reference, one unit of standardized strokes equals, on average, about 15 actual strokes for the MPO model. So, on a per tournament scale, Paul McBeth outplayed Ricky Wysocki (the second best player according to the model) by about 3.4 strokes. Interestingly enough, the pattern holds for the FPO division, too. Paige Pierce out shot Catrina Allen by about 3.5 strokes per event.
But the plots above have two bars per player. The first bar is the expected (or predicted) number of standardized strokes according to the model and the second bar is the actual number of standardized strokes over average. And this is where the idea of “luck” comes into play. Presuming that the UDisc stats capture a vast majority of the skills players display on the course (which seems probable given the amount of variation in scores they explain), the difference between the actual and expected standardized strokes over average is a measure of random effects, or “luck,” on scores. Pretty cool!
According to the model, the MPO player with the most “luck” was Eagle McMahon. He had 3.7 standardized strokes (or throws) of unexplained success on the course. On the FPO side, Jessica Weese had the most “luck,” with 3.4 strokes difference between her actual and expected standardized scores.
One thing you hopefully notice right away is that a lot of good players top these “luckiest” player lists. I think there is some “luck is when preparation meets opportunity” happening here. These are not rate stats, so the players that play more tournaments — have more opportunities — are going to have higher values. Also, I don’t think this difference between expected and actual scores is reflective of only random processes. I think there is some skill that the UDisc stats do not capture.
However, let me be clear. I think the majority of the difference I mentioned above does reflect randomness. One way to test this idea is to see how repeatable these values are between years. If the difference between the actual and expected standardized scores are due to some repeatable, underlying skill, the values for 2018 would be similar to or at least predictive of the 2019 values.
When I compare the 2018 and 2019 values, I find that there is some predictability in the MPO field, but not much. Only 7% of the variation in 2019 values can be explained by 2018 values. For example, Eagle McMahon’s value was the highest in 2019 at 3.7, but his number in 2018 was approximately 0. There is even less predictability in the FPO data. Only about 1% of the variation in 2019 is explained by 2018.
There are some players that buck this trend, such as Garrett Gurthie, who has consistently scored better than his UDisc data suggests he should. This made me think that UDisc wasn’t able to capture the benefits of his ability to throw the disc far, but counter to this idea is Elaine King on the FPO side. She has had positive “luck” in both 2018 and 2019, but she is not considered a masher of the disc. Therefore, either I am wrong about Gurthie, or more than one unmeasured factor can influence this measure of “luck.” Gurthie does perform better on technical courses than his reputation suggests he should
All of this finally leads us back to the question I posed in the title of this article. Is it better to be “lucky” or good? Hopefully, the answer is as clear to you as it is to me. It is way better to be good.
Eagle McMahon, who had the most “luck” according to my model, was still the fifth best player according to my expected strokes over average estimate, and across-the-board players actual and expected strokes above average are very close to each other. Only a small portion of scores are not currently explainable. So, do not fret, your favorite player on tour is not “lucking” their way to success, they are still really good at disc golf.
I use quotes here because I am not able to 100% dissociate luck from skill, but I feel pretty confident that I can get a pretty good idea of both. ↩
Using UDisc data for all MPO and FPO players and tournaments going back to 2016, I ran multiple linear regression where standardized (z-transformed) score was the response variable and fairway hit, circle one and two in regulation, scramble rate, circle one and circle two putting, and OB rate were the explanatory variables. I ran separate regressions for MPO and FPO. The percent variation explained metric that I used was adjust R2. ↩
It’s a late August afternoon in New England, and the slightest hint of fall is in the air
I’m cruising along 495 North approaching the Mass Pike, heading from my 9-5 on Cape Cod to meet up with Brian Earhart to play a casual round at Maple Hill before the MVP Open. I love this drive, not just because it makes me nostalgic for my college days in Worcester, but because at parts it can be truly beautiful. With the late summer sun beginning to slowly slide from afternoon zenith to early evening the hills of the Blackstone Valley are looking lovely.
Back in February when the Ultiworld Disc Golf Staff was picking potential breakout players for 2019 I highlighted Earhart based on his strong putting game, well rounded strategy off the tee, and that his sophomore year on the road should show some growth. On top of that, he has a strong social media presence, he’s a lefty, he throws fore and backhand — he flicks Comets.
Earhart calls to warn me that it’s league night at Maple Hill, the course is still open to members during the lead up to the MVP Open. I ask if he wants to audible to play Pyramids or some other local course. He declines, saying he’d really prefer to keep practicing here ahead of the tournament. I take that as a sign that we need to get to the first tee fast, and decide like so many of my fellow motorists, to take the 65 mph speed limit as more of a strong suggestion, and see if I can knock a minute or two off of my Google Maps ETA.
After changing out of my work clothes in the remarkably pristine porta-potty, Earhart, Tim Barham, and Alan Wagner, all members of Team Discraft and Earhart’s travel partners, meet me at hole 1.
I introduce myself and decide exactly how much pride I am willing to swallow as I watch them easily clear the opener’s water hazard. I don’t clear it. At least it’s near the edge and retrievable.
Earhart declines to throw, telling me on the walk down to find my drive that he got his main practice out of the way earlier in the day. We haven’t done a good job trying to beat the crowd. Barham and Wagner break off to beat the league and practice on their own, as Earhart and I skip over to hole 7, easily accessed through the back of hole 1’s green, to avoid interfering as much as possible.
At first I fear I’ve misread things and encourage Earhart to go play with Barham and Wagner if he’d prefer, and I can be a fly on the wall.
“Nah, I mean things when I commit to them,” he says.
Earhart has made efforts to be active in the game beyond his play on the course. The Discraft-sponsored pro hosts a podcast called The Buzzz,1 has done commentary for Jomez Pro and Central Coast Disc Golf, is active on social media, and even wrote a couple columns for UWDG. It would be fair to call him entrepreneurial, and it becomes clear that at least some of his drive comes from a place of wanting to be accepted by a community, a deep well of energy and enthusiasm, and a sort of scrappiness that a player like Earhart needs to make ends meet in the career he has chosen.
We officially start our “round” on with a tight uphill 375-foot shot that calls for a tight, slightly drifting flick for the lefty, and a dead straight, maybe a touch of turn and gentle fade, for the righty who has the arm for it. I decidedly do not have the arm for it, so I throw a Meteor on a hyzer flip. It flies true — a massive relief — and nestles at about where the short pin is located, maybe 50 or so feet short of the long. Earhart misfires on a flick, and ends up short and left in the rough. We lazily chip our way to the pin and move on.
Early on Earhart talks about his experiences working in the tech industry, his time working with the local parks and recreation department, his time working with kids as a music and physical education teacher. He is eager and passionate in describing both the positive and negative aspects of his life in a “regular job.” He tells me he loved teaching kids and finding ways to get them enthusiastic and engaged with the material. He tells me he hated a couple other jobs he had because when he tried to approach a task in a unique way or address an ongoing problem he would get shot down because “that’s not the way we’ve always done it.”
At least now Earhart is in a profession where very little has ever been done a certain way,
Earhart describes himself as a nervous kid who would seek out validation and require others to be the source of my confidence. It’s something that he has worked on, and is still working on. He’s been open and public about his struggles with depression, his efforts to improve his mental health, and how he has worked to improve his mental game on the course.
“I’ve learned that failure is a matter of perspective, and that just because I missed putt doesn’t mean that I’m a crappy person, just that that one thing was bad,” Earhart says as we walk. “Not bad, maybe, just, I didn’t execute what I wanted to happen.”
We play the shorter tee on hole 8 so the is water carry is about 30 feet shorter than the gold tee, but still a healthy 280 feet. I’m not complaining. I’m no sucker and flick my Opto Fury, sailing it well long yet not in the drink. My disc selection and ability to keep the thing flat flabbergasts Earhart. “Did you just flick a Fury? I don’t care that it went long, that thing is flippy!”
I assure him that a (low level) am like me is just trying to avoid losing my plastic. I’d be lying if I didn’t feel pretty proud of myself at this moment. Earhart throws a Banger, scaring chains on a pure hyzer.
There is a group ahead of us, which judging from the iconic flowing blond locks includes Cory Murrell. While we wait for the noodle arms ahead of us to clear out, I ask Earhart a dud of a question, but the vagueness somehow manages a nice pull quote.
“So how’s the season been?”
“Well,” Earhart starts, “It’s been a grind. I’m not gonna lie. You know at the start of the season everyone is all hyped up and ready to go. I think sometimes it’s easy to forget that we’ve been at this since February.
“The initial plan was for me and Uli [Paul Ulibarri] to be in the RV together, running clinics and selling discs, but when he went down, things obviously changed. I’ve been playing and doing a lot of the other stuff by myself. I love it, I love doing things to help promote Discraft and grow the game and be involved with things outside of just my play, but it is a lot of work. And it’s easy to get down or exhausted sometimes but I’m out here doing what I love.”
Hole 11 is one of the opportunities on this course to let the disc take a ride over some Christmas trees-to-be. We do just that. For those of you who can throw 450 feet plus, good for you, I’m happy for you, honest. For those who don’t, I really recommend trying to find a way to watch or play with someone who can. By tour standards, Earhart is not a huge arm. By the standards of, you know, us, he has a howitzer. For me, this hole is two full flight sidearm throws, an upshot, a missed putt, and a tap-in for bogey. For Brian, it’s a drive, an approach, and a putt — easy birdie.
At this point Matt Orum and his random draw doubles card play through and we go up the hill to 13. Neither of our drives are great. Earhart leaks left, I leak right. Earhart jump putts and approach for a tap-in. I throw a forehand roller and hit a huge putt. I usually get one pretty putt per round, and I am a-ok with using it right there.
Sitting on the bench behind hole 14’s tee pad which the Open Women will play from we wax rhapsodic about the difference between playing a casual round and playing in tournaments, let alone on the tour.
“You get your local pros who have all the talent in the world but they show up to a big event and just can’t hang,” Earhart says. “It’s such a different thing and it requires so much consistency and a strong mental game.”
He thinks he is making progress and becoming a better touring player and the numbers bear that out.
In 2018, Earhart’s first year on tour, he played in 12 Disc Golf Pro Tour and National Tour events. His best finish was a 15th place finish at the Delaware Disc Golf Challenge. It is worth noting he finished fourth at the Silver Cup XVIII in a very strong field.
When we were talking in 2019, Earhart had played in 15 DGPT, NT, or Major events. He placed eighth at The Memorial, 14th at Glass Blown Open, and 12th at Great Lakes Open. He’s been on a good amount of filmed rounds as well, including an ace at GBO.
What’s more, he has improved in almost every statistical category. He is four percentage points better in fairways hit, Circle 1 in regulation, and Circle 2 in regulation in 2019 than in 2018. His putting inside C1X is down a single point, but he has played more tournaments in 2019 than in 2018, and his C2 putting percentage is identical.
Earhart has a well rounded game, and throws the disc with power and accuracy both fore and backhanded. He’s got a great floaty putter flick shot he uses for approaches. Being a lefty in a righties world, shots which are easy little chip backhand hyzers can be a bit touchier when you’re a lefty. For almost our entire round he has thrown two discs: a white Zeus, and a gray-ish Banger. To my eye, all the physical tools are there.
“I feel like this season my lows have been lower, but my highs have been higher,” Earhart says. “I’ve been shooting a lot more like 980 rounds and 1030 rounds. You know, I used to fire off a lot of 1002, 1003, 1010-rated rounds and those are just kind of meh, now I feel like I’m starting to have a glass cannon moment. I’ve been reading a lot about the glass cannon and how the explosive potential is there but it’s not quite under control yet. It’s not quite where it needs to be in order to be as effective as it can be.
“So much of it is mental. I’ve made that putt or thrown that drive before. I know I have the ability to do it once, so I can do it again. It’s about consistency and staying sharp.”
Earhart’s approach to the game, and his self assessment of his abilities on the course carries on to how he views his future in the game.
Earhart describes himself as someone who is trying to find ways to grow the sport through the democratization of the language and lingo of the game, and change the way that established players and fans welcome and treat newer players and fans.
“One thing I like to talk about is clockwise and counterclockwise spin. Anhyzer and hyzer, those are great terms for people who are established in the game,” Earhart says. “If you’re a newer player you don’t know what those terms are and it can be intimidating.In my commentary and when I’m talking about the game I like to talk about things like multi-angle shots, clockwise spinning, counterclockwise spin, and things that everybody can understand.”
Earhart has the type of personality, which to me having only known him through his commentary and our short time together on the course, thrives on enthusiasm. He is not the type of person who likes to leave thoughts uncompleted and make you feel like he’s not giving you his full attention. His enthusiasm is infectious and he makes it feel like I’m playing around with my buddies instead of a top touring pro.
Earhart, like so many players out there, is risking a lot and working hard to find a way to make disc golf a lifelong and viable career for him. He is eager to share and bounce some of his more entrepreneurial ideas off me, and there are plenty. The line “I was talking to [Discraft Team Manager] Bob [Julio] about this idea…” comes out more than a few times.
Locastro has eschewed the traditional primary disc sponsor route and elected to throw a mixed bag his entire career. He has a bit of help in this department as his uncle, David McCormack, owns and operates Gateway Disc Sports. Through Gateway deals over the years, Locastro has had the ability to throw discs from other manufacturers, not just Gateway. Of course, the Westside Discs sponsorship does mean he can continue to throw from the Trilogy brands — Westside, Latitude 64, and Dynamic Discs.
Locastro has long been associated with the Gateway Wizard putter. He has also almost always had an Innova Destroyer and Innova Firebird on him.
Back when he was the no. 1 ranked player in the world, Locastro was still going strong with the Gateway sponsorship and throwing a mixed bag. Curiously, he had both Innova Rocs and Buzzes in the bag, as well as an Innova Shark. The rest of the bag that wasn’t Gateway was Innova.
Also, note the Dynamic Discs stamped discs. Locastro was one of many pros with a DD affiliation before the company began supplying its own discs.
The move to Prodigy didn’t stick. While he announced in February that he’d be throwing Gateway, Legacy, and MVP discs after winning the Otter Open, Locastro was working with all kinds of discs. Those three brands made up the bulk of the line-up.
This was the first time we noticed Locastro throwing any of the Trilogy brands, having added a Westside World, Latitude 64 Havoc, and Dynamic Discs Enforcer to the rotation.
The PDGA announced post-produced media coverage for the 2020 PDGA National Tour this week, with video stalwarts Jomez Pro and Central Coast Disc Golf handling Open lead card and Open Women lead card action, respectively, and Gatekeeper Media joining all six stops to provide Open chase card.
Positive reactions from fans followed the announcements, as all three crews have a proven track record with timely and quality post-produced coverage. Jomez Pro alone has set the new standard in audience and innovation.
“The reason we decided to go the agreement route for 2020 is because it will be the first year the PDGA is the sole media rights holder on the tour,” said Steve Hill, PDGA Communications Manager. “In the past we have shared that right with the TDs of the events, and since the TDs were willing to put their faith in us to take over the media rights we wanted to return that faith by executing what we thought were the best arrangements possible for the tour.”
Agreements in 2020 include exclusive post-production rights to designated cards and a varied level of support, either in financial contributions or in-kind benefits such as website advertising and social media partnerships. The PDGA said it would not be releasing the specific details of each agreement, and that the process for awarding National Tour media rights would be changing for 2021.
“I was unhappy that there was no option for other crews to bid for the positions,” Van Deurzan said. “The PDGA just choose the teams. There is a lot of value in some of this coverage and the PDGA more or less “picked” winners and losers.
He continued: “Clearly I am very biased, but Terry [Miller] (The Disc Golf Guy) has covered more FPO than every other group COMBINED. He has been covering disc golf longer than any other crew out there, and he was never even reached out to. The PDGA wanted consistency in their coverage this year but he was never asked if he could make all the events and given an option for FPO 1 or MPO 2.”
Hill confirmed that the PDGA was most concerned with consistency of coverage in 2019, but that the current agreements do not preclude other media from attending events.
“Other teams were considered, but one of our biggest goals with these agreements was to bring a consistent, cohesive feel to the tour,” Hill said. “That necessarily meant working on agreements with teams we were confident could commit to the whole tour as opposed to a few events. Media teams that we do not have formal agreements with are still welcome to come film at the events, though.”
The 2020 PDGA National Tour starts at the Texas State Disc Golf Championship March 27th in Tyler, Texas.
Having won the 2019 Finnish national championship and earning an invite to his first United States Disc Golf Championship, teen Finn Oskari Vikström had a big season and has been rewarded with a two-year contract extension with sponsor Discmania through 2021.
“Oskari’s game at this point is strikingly similar to that of Simon and Eagle in their teens,” said Jussi Meresmaa, CEO of Discmania. “It’s still hard to believe that Oskari is only 16 years old. I see him making big moves on the international scene in the upcoming year or two.”
The comparisons to the Crush Boiz aren’t far off on the distance front. Vikström made it to the final four of this year’s USDGC distance showcase. Vikström is currently 1015-rated, down two points from his career high set in August of 2019.
When the investment is less than $20 it’s pretty easy to justify that limited edition burst disc. And grabbing that special stamp to support a touring player is important in the current pro climate.
But listen, what are you doing with all those extra discs just lying around? It’s fun to joke that your partner has again called you out for another package from Infinite Discs arriving on your doorstep, except they probably have a point.
Just watch Simon Lizotte’s newest vlog and you’ll see what I mean.
There are a little more than 120 discs1 on Simon’s rack that he says makes up his entire collection. That’s not accounting for the discs he had in his bag, or some he says are probably back in Germany. Still though, when you think about it, that’s not a lot of discs.
Simon has been a sponsored pro for the better part of a decade2 and has seemingly unlimited access to discs, yet he only has 120-ish in his possession.
How many discs are you holding onto?
And maybe Simon isn’t the best pro to compare disc stashes of. He has given away complete bags in the past with runs of molds Discmaniacs generally hoard. He doesn’t travel around the country in his own van selling plastic. He even says in the video that he doesn’t really overdo it on his yearly allotments, as if Discmania would tell him to reel in his requests.
If one of the most naturally-gifted Frisbee throwers of all time isn’t out here with a storage unit full of discs, maybe you don’t need to be either.