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Most Dominant Disc Golfers of the Past 10 Years

Image of David Feldberg courtesy of Image of Valarie Jenkins courtesy of

Source: Most Dominant Disc Golfers of the Past 10 Years

The PDGA Year-End World Rankings were first calculated at the end of 2005. Now, 11 years later, who do you think would have the best average? Ken Climo #4297? Barry Schultz #6840? Juliana Korver #7438? Des Reading #15863? Elaine King #3090? Paul McBeth #27523? Those are all fantastic guesses, but the answers are 2008 World Champion David Feldberg#12626 and 4X World Champion Valarie Jenkins #17495. In fact, Feldberg and Jenkins are the only two players with a Year-End World Ranking (YWR) of 5th or higher every year from 2006-2015, with Jenkins having a six-year run at #1 from 2008-2013. However, as with most statistics, it’s not that simple.

Before diving deeper into these 10-year rankings, here’s some background info. YWR didn’t come into existence until the end of 2005 when Ken Climo suggested that the PDGA calculate World Rankings in a discussion at the 2005 Pro Worlds in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. The timing was good, as the National Tour and the USDGC had already been established for a few years and there was now more than just Pro Worlds as a PDGA Majorand the bi-annual Japan Open.

The YWR calculation process has essentially remained the same since, but the World Rankings updates during the year incorporate progressively declining weighting factors every three months, e.g. the more recent events carry more weight than less recent events.

To be included the following tables, a player must have been ranked in the top 20 at least five times in the YWR between the years 2006 and 2015. Additionally, those players in the YWR top 20 for 2005 also got credit for that year. Years when a player was ranked lower than 20th are not included in their Adjusted Average World Ranking calculation.

Note: The multiplier listed as “Mx” adjusts Year-End average rank proportionally upward the fewer times a player was ranked in the top 20 during that 10-yr period. This allows us to include newer top-ranked players like Paul McBeth and Catrina Allen.

10-Year World Rankings Average Rank – Men

Rank Name 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 Mx Average
1 David Feldberg 3 5 2 1 3 1 3 3 2 4 5 1.0 2.9
2 Nathan Doss 5 8 3 2 7 9 1 6 10 2 6 1.0 5.4
3 Ken Climo 2 2 1 3 9 5 12 8 23 11 26 1.2 7.2
4 Josh Anthon 25 6 5 11 1 3 5 14 1.4 9.2
5 Paul McBeth 17 30 11 11 4 1 1 1 1.4 9.4
6 Steve Rico 4 3 4 5 10 18 26 17 5 7 15 1.1 9.7
7 Nikko Locastro 37 12 2 1 4 19 6 21 4 1.4 9.8
8 Will Schusterick 27 19 2 1 3 8 3 1.7 10.0
9 Barry Schultz 1 1 8 8 5 17 19 8 28 13 1.2 10.9
10 Richard Wysocki 70 16 2 4 6 2 2.0 12.0
11 Avery Jenkins 18 4 7 4 4 25 14 27 29 29 32 1.8 12.1
12 Cale Leiviska 54 28 10 14 6 16 9 7 12 10 16 1.1 12.4
13 Steve Brinster 14 18 13 20 16 4 15 5 9 18 8 1.0 12.7
14 Paul Ulibarri 46 8 6 10 10 25 5 13 1.7 14.4
15 Jesper Lundmark 8 10 6 10 24 15 6 1.8 17.2
16 Matt Orum 6 16 27 7 14 7 58 15 7 47 23 1.6 17.3
17 Markus Kallstrom 7 17 17 13 11 8 7 1.6 19.1
18 Eric McCabe 78 13 14 9 35 10 8 20 42 57 53 1.7 20.6
19 John E McCray 13 9 11 6 18 23 28 15 23 21 1.8 21.6

10-Year World Rankings Average Rank – Women

Rank Name 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 Mx Average
1 Valarie Jenkins 7 5 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 3 4 1.0 2.5
2 Des Reading 1 1 1 2 2 3 7 7 6 9 11 1.0 4.6
3 Sarah Cunnigham 9 8 3 2 2 5 2 8 1.3 6.1
4 Catrina Allen 6 2 4 2 2 2.0 6.4
5 Paige Pierce 35 35 8 4 4 3 1 1 2.0 7.0
6 Sarah Hokom 8 5 3 5 8 3 1.7 8.9
7 Elaine King 4 8 3 6 11 11 10 8 8 10 19 1.0 9.4
8 Liz Lopez 10 6 6 3 9 11 1.7 12.5
9 Ragna Bygde Lewis 12 12 12 7 5 10 1.7 16.1

In addition to the aforementioned Feldberg and Jenkins, Nathan Doss #11794 is the only other player to be ranked in the top 10 every year since the YWR began. Steve Brinster #10628, Des Reading #15863 and Elaine King are the additional three that have been ranked in the top 20 every year since 2005. Kudos to King, who could have been competing beyond the Open Women’s division for this entire time span. Cale Leiviska #24341, currently ranked 17th, is poised to join the next “Top 20 for 10 years” class at the end of this year.

Shout out to our international players, Jesper Lundmark #15239 (top rated end of 2008) and Markus Källström #13150 who made the list for several years until economics among other reasons lead them back to more mainstream occupations. If finances have been tough for U.S. touring pros, it had to be even tougher for international players with fewer tournaments and lower payouts during that time span. Now, Ragna Bygde-Lewis #8559 is the only international player making the list and even she has been out of top-level competition this year.

The winners of the World Championships each year are shown in red. About half the time the player that won the World Championships will end up with the #1 spot on the YWR. It’s interesting to consider whether these stats are a good way to determine who was the biggest dark horse, man or woman, to win a World Champion title by looking at their rank the year prior.

I’m not sure we have any players that could be dubbed biggest comeback player where they were hot, cooled off, then hot again. Nate Doss has roller coaster stats where he drifted downward for a year or two then regained the top 5 then drifted down and back up again.

Our apologies to the dominant players of the earlier years, e.g. Ken Climo, Juliana Korver, Des Reading, Elaine King, and the many before them who would have been at or near the top of a 10-year YWR table prior to 2005. As our historical archives continue to grow, we will look at the older data that has been carefully entered and do similar retroactive calculations in the years to come.

five of the best tips I can give

Taking the Next Step

Everybody is shaped differently, and their muscles and tendons fire and work slightly different than each other. For example, it is challenging to teach a player to adjust their acceleration point to earlier in their throw. But, if they understand that continuous acceleration without a break increases throwing consistency, wait until the disc is at the release point, and fully accelerate by the time their brain reacts to fire their muscles, the disc will be out too far in front of their body. This will cause them to pull shots to the right, putting an incorrect angle on the disc. The player can take this information and try to coordinate themselves in accordance to those principles. Each individual player’s solution may look different, but both the player and the coach will know when it happens. The coach will know by watching the release, and the player will know by feeling it. Players will stare in astonishment as they experience the feeling they’ve been waiting for. There are many tips I could give to someone aspiring to be a professional player. Here are five of the best tips I can give to help you achieve better times and flights.

#1 Take the time to completely understand how a disc flies.

Not just that it goes left or right, but completely understand why a disc goes left or right, why it lifts or drops, why it flies the way it does based on its design and the conditions of the course. Once a player completely understands how a disc flies and why, they can easily achieve better flights right away without having to do too much practice. I believe the understanding of the flight patterns is half the battle for most players when learning to play our game. They have the ability, but they don’t always make the right decisions, mostly because they don’t completely understand why the disc is doing what it does. Sometimes, they expect the disc to do something it’s not even capable of doing. For example, a less stable disc will go more left off the center line than a overstable disc for a right handed backhand thrower. This is because an understable disc, thrown properly with hyzer, is trying to go forward and flatten up. If it’s holding hyzer angle it will continue to flatten as it slows down. It will continue to go more forward and left than an overstable disc. When an overstable disc runs out of speed, it will dive to the left. I remember the moment I learned the difference between throwing a hyzer or a stall. Climo could make a Teebird look like a Firebird in the air with his clean hyzer release. While I was learning on the same holes, my Firebird would react like his Teebird. I realized I was relying on the stability of the disc to do the work against the wind instead of my arm and wrist. Just by understanding the aerodynamics, I was sure my Firebird would fight harder than a Teebird once I exposed its nose to the wind. But, not exposing the nose on any average stability driver, like Climo, is a better choice. As a beginner, it was hard for me to fathom this concept.

#2 Throw all of your discs every possible way.

Instead of picking a disc to throw to the left, and a disc you throw to the right, and having discs for certain shots, learn to throw all of your discs at every possible angle. Take your most overstable disc and learn to throw anhyzers, rollers, forehands, overhand shots, and hyzers. Take your understable disc and throw all those exact same shots. Do that with every disc in your bag and learn all your discs from hyzer to roller. This will help give you the confidence of knowing that you’re making good decisions when picking certain discs for shots when it matters most. You have seen what they are capable of, so now you have the confidence to throw a line you might be forced to throw in a competitive round that you have not attempted before. You will easily be able to imagine how to make that shot with all of your discs, then you will select your disc solely on the conditions you are facing. You will have a lot more lines in your arsenal when you have learned all your discs different angles and flights. I have seen many players in tournaments attempt to throw a turnover into the wind with a disc they considered to be a certain stability, but they hadn’t yet thrown it on that angle in those exact conditions. They expect a result they will not get. They turnaround off the tee pad and say, “Man I can’t believe that disc flipped”. The truth of it is some disc designs just don’t come back when you turn them over as well as others, based on their design. That is why lesson number one was so important. Just because a disc is very overstable hyzer disc, doesn’t mean it’s going to flex into a head wind. To make it flex into that wind, it may require throwing it with hyzer, even if it is your go to hyzer disc. You have to test your discs, and be prepared, and that’s one of my best tips.

#3 Practice, practice, practice: then apply new skills immediately.

Many pros, in many articles have told you to go out into an open field to learn how to get better at throwing. I also agree with this theory but I’d like to add that many people go out and just throw until their arm hurts. They just throw wildly in the field back and forth and then go pick them up. You should head to the field with intention. For example, you might want to work on a certain type of shot one day, like anhyzers. Go and throw all of your discs on anhyzers. Throw every one you have over and over again at different heights and speeds. Throw a couple hundred times, or until you can barely lift your shoulder. Then the next day head out to the course and apply what you just practiced, only throwing anhyzers where it is possible and see if you made any improvement. If you are not seeing improvement after entering the practice field, then maybe it is time to look at your technique.

#4 Constantly work on your technique.

It is very important to understand that golf is a lifetime game and that no matter how good you think you are, you can always get better. In my opinion, one thing that has kept me at the top for the past 15 years: I constantly have worked on my technique trying to improve every type of shot there is, looking to see what I was doing wrong if I couldn’t. If somebody else was doing it better, I’d watch them to see how they were doing it differently. Almost any technique I witnessed, I attempted myself at least once to see how it works for me. I believe many players reach a plateau where they think that they have their technique down, so they stop working on technique and just play courses and tournaments. Still to this day I work on my technique all the time, try to make improvements and increase my timing. If you want to be a world-class pro you have to humble yourself and realize that you can learn something from every player you play against. If you absorb just a little bit from every player, then you will be able to increase your overall skills until you become a world-class player who can play against anyone, anywhere.

#5 Sign up as a pro.

My final tip is to sign up as a pro. To be a pro in the PDGA all you have to do is check the box professional. So if your goal is to be a world-class professional player then you have to start by checking the box professional on your membership application. Once you do that, you’re halfway there, like I mentioned earlier, mentality is half the game. If you don’t believe you’re a pro and enter the tournament with the confidence, you won’t get the results you wish to achieve. Being wishy-washy going back-and-forth between amateur and pro is not healthy, if you want to be a pro and that’s your goal then stick to it and own it. Just being around the other pros and playing against them in tournaments will increase your level dramatically. I have many friends who didn’t practice much with me, but dud spend many days hanging out with me and other top professional players. They became better just by hanging around “positive minded” people. You create your own reality, if you think you can do it, you can. I am living proof!

~Dave Feldberg