Who Is the Greatest Disc Golfer of All Time?
The old age debate in all of sports,
Who is the "Greatest _____ of All Time?"
aka, "The G.O.A.T"
Michael Jordan or Lebron James?
Tom Brady or Joe Montana?
Babe Ruth or Willie Mays?
Pop into any sports forum or social media page and you can find these types of arguments, discussions, and debates going on everyday with both sides citing their evidence and reasoning as to why they think their player is the "GOAT".
Disc Golf is not exempt from this same discussion, and the 2 names that get thrown around the most are...
12x World Champ Ken Climo, and 5x World Champ Paul McBeth.
On one hand you have the "old school" player in Ken Climo who absolutely dominated the sport throughout the 90's and early 2000's.
On the other, you have Paul McBeth who has been dominant in his own right from the late 2010's through today.
12x Champ Ken Climo finishing a putt, photo from discgolf.ultiworld.com
In this article, we're not going to outright say who is or is not the greatest of all time, but we're going to offer some points from both sides of the fence to leave you to think about and come to your own conclusion with as to who is the
Best Disc Golfer of All Time!
Let's dive in!
Who has won the most disc golf world championships?
First, we have to talk about the number of world championships.
And if you're going strictly by the hardware, Ken Climo hands down wins the competition, and probably always will.
Paul is sitting impressively with 5, but with the popularity of the sport exploding and the competition as tough as ever, one could say that no one will ever win 12 world championships in their career again.
But is it as simple as that?
One could argue that back in the early 90's through early 2000's, the competition was not near as fierce as it is today.
Players then were not often full time disc golfers, and there were far fewer players enjoying the sport world wide than there is today.
Today, not only are players sponsored as they were then, but you have players signing contracts worth millions, designing discs to their exact liking, and can spend every waking day practicing and playing disc golf if they so want to.
Combine this with the insane amount of players in today's game, and you can see how the perfect storm is there to make for some great competition.
The best cross-sport example of this would be comparing 11x NBA champ Bill Russell to 6x NBA champ Michael Jordan.
Obviously, basketball is a team sport so it is a bit different, but do we value 11 championships in a time with less teams and competition more, less, or the same than 6 championships in a time and era of the sport where competition was extremely high?
But more, full time players doesn't necessarily mean that players of before wouldn't and couldn't compete today, and this is probably the most difficult part of the argument for anyone to provide proof of to support "their side" or opinion of who the greatest player is.
It's all comparative and it's very difficult to compare players from different generations in a head to head manner because they would each be in different parts of their respective careers.
We were lucky enough to have Paul McBeth and Ken Climo competing in some tournaments together, but by then Climo was on the back end of his long and successful career,
while McBeth was the upcoming star of the sport who hadn't quite reached his full potential that we see on display now.
To help make this comparison, we have to go to the quote on quote, "eye test", to help us decide.
And the only way we can do that is to watch old film of each player when each player was in their prime.
After watching some of the highest level disc golf from the early to mid 90's and comparing it to the play that we see today,
For me, honestly,
Today's game seems to be played at a much much higher level of skill and consistency than what it was then.
Drives seem longer, shots seem more accurate, and putting is more consistent from longer distances.
Players were missing 25 foot putts and laying up 50 foot putts, where today those distances don't even seem to phase most professionals.
But again, is this because of better skill, or is it something else?
Two things come to mind that could be effecting the game from not looking as impressive back then:
The quality of the courses, and
The quality of the discs.
While watching some of the older World's coverage, I was amazed to see the pros throwing from tee pads that were made of grass.
Which is the equivalent of hosting a Superbowl on a grass high school field!
This would never slide today as only the best courses would even be considered to host such an event.
Even though they are professional players, the best disc golf is going to be played on the best of courses, period.
Moving onto disc quality, while I don't have any experience with handling or playing with discs from the 90's, it's not hard to imagine that the progression of the game has made today's discs significantly better.
Better in terms of what they are made out of, how they are made, and the consistency to which they are made.
Not to mention the pure amount of brands producing discs and the amount of options each brand has in their lineup.
As mentioned, pros of today also sometimes have a hand in designing the discs that they want, whereas before there was a limited amount of discs and disc materials to choose from.
With so many options out there today, a pro can easily fill their bag with discs that cover every possible shot and condition that they may face on a course.
While these two reasons support players of the 90's, there is something to consider in favor of players today, and that is course difficulty.
Courses may not have been as high of quality as today, but were they more difficult?
Longer holes, tighter fairways, and more OB's seem to be more of a common thing for players of today.
This increase in difficulty can easily make it appear that any modern player would beat any former player, but today's players are also playing with better discs, so it could be argued that these two points kind of negate each other.
Which forces us to circle back ultimately to player ability, player numbers, and the level of competition that is played today.
There is no doubt that players of today look better, but they are playing with better equipment and with much more pressure to perform.
Regardless if they have better discs to use or not,
If they're not practicing or playing everyday and learning their courses and bags extensively, they're trailing the pack from a competitive stand point.
And there are SO MANY good players in today's game!
Going into the World Championships in 2021, you could probably make an argument for at least 10 players in the field as to who would ultimately win it all, the competition is simply that good, and that tight.
This isn't even throwing in the underdog sleeper here and there who could show up with their best game and surprise everyone with a win.
Players are starting to play earlier and earlier as young children and have more years under their belt as teenagers than many players today have total in their lives, some pros included.
This level of competition has certainly propelled the sport in an upward direction, but this doesn't mean that players of before wouldn't have been able to keep up.
If they were being payed to play and practice year round, would they too be playing at this level?
I like to think yes, but it's impossible to truly know for sure.
Just as we'll never know if baseball players from the 1800's would be able to compete with baseball players of 2000's.
They don't look as good on paper or in person, but they were professionals and would undoubtedly have the same opportunity to improve their game as players of today do.
So who is the best disc golfer of all time?
We're not sure!
I know this an ambiguous answer, but because of the complexity of the topic and discussion, we felt it was fair to give all angles of the argument and leave it up to you to decide.
Although we may never all agree on who the Greatest Disc Golfer of "All Time" is, there is some room for some mutual agreement on the Greatest Disc Golfer of "Their Time".
Ken Climo was definitely the greatest player of his time, and Paul McBeth when it's all said and done will likely go down as the greatest player of his time.
Whether or not either of these players is the "Greatest of All Time" is going to be continued to be discussed forever, but at least now you have some points to ponder the next time someone asks you for your input on the subject.
Just remember to keep the arguments civil, because these discussions should be fun, not something to get mad or upset about!
In the end, the real answer does not matter, and we should all be in it together in continuing to enjoy and grow the sport.
So with that being said,
Happy Disc Golfing!
And best of luck in your own pursuit of being named the Greatest Disc Golfer of All Time!
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