With yet another PDGA World Championship now just days behind us, we’ve inevitably found ourselves rehashing one of the sport’s most prevalent and persistent debates: Could Ken Climo hack it with today’s pros?
Or, more accurately, does Climo get to claim GOAT status on account of his twelve world championships, over a guy like Paul McBeth, who carries only five such honors to his name?
(‘Only five’, right?)
Fair warning: This is one of those debates that isn’t ever going to be fully dispatched. Ken Climo himself could come out of hiding from the deep swamps of sweaty Florida and declare P. McB the greatest this afternoon, and there would still be some lid-chucking, mids-smoking old heads out at the local frolf track refusing to let the dream die.
And no one is debating who would win in a pickup match tomorrow; it is readily apparent that Paul McBeth is the world’s supreme slinger in 2019. What we’re more interested in unpacking is whether or not Climo at his best could hang with McBeast today. After all, that’s the only way that this would be any fair.
So, let’s take a look at some of the facts as they stand, in relation to Kenny’s dozen World Championships versus Pablo’s handful:
Winning Percentage, Lifetime for all PDGA Events:
Ken Climo stands at 0.489, with Paul McBeth at 0.378.
The sheer amount of data is what stands out here; Climo has participated in 456 career events to Paul’s 325. That means, to hit Climo-esque numbers by event number 456, Paul will have to win 100 out of his next 131 tournaments, which would be a winning percentage of 0.763. That number is sheer madness, and will be difficult for Paul regardless of whether or not he revamps his relaxed touring schedule as he ages. His move to Discraft has seen the current world champ take some unprecedented amount of time off from the National Tour, and time is not on the side of an aging golfer.
“bUt ThE cOmPeTiTiOn’S bEtTeR nOw!”
Relax, every-guy-on-Reddit, we hear you.
Average Win Margin in World Championships
For Climo’s twelve World Championships, The Champ bested his competition by an average of 7.25 strokes.
Pablo, on the other hand, wins worlds by an average of only 4 strokes, having won 2019 by only 1, and 2014 in a playoff.
“bUt ThE cOmPeTiTiOn’S bEtTeR nOw!”
We heard you. We’re getting there.
Age When Winning World Championships:
Kenny Boy started winning World Championships at 21 years of age, and did so every year until he turned 29. He then won them again at the ripe, old ages of 31, 33, and 37.
Paul began his Worlds winning ways at 22, and his latest victory came just weeks after the preeminent modern pro turned 29.
From ages 22 to 29, Kenny comes away with 8 titles to Paul’s 5.
To match Climo’s feat of twelve World Championships, Paul will have to compete at this level until at least the age of 36 – and that’s if he doesn’t let Eagle McMahon, Kevin Jones, or Anthony Barela sneak a couple in there.
Ratings, Longevity, and Age:
Just before McBeth cemented his 5th world title, he also took the entire game of disc golf to another level by reaching an unheard-of plateau: A player rating of 1057, which he achieved at the age of 29.
In comparison, Climo peaked at only 1044, but all the way back in 2002, when he was 33 years old.
Today, Climo’s rating is still a respectable 1024, although he hasn’t logged any PDGA rounds since 2017 when he was already 48 years old.
If McBeth can continue to play at this level, there is little doubt that he could push past the 1057 mark in the years to come, but will he be playing 1024-rated golf in two decades? Perhaps, and if so, the state of the sport will certainly have something to do with that.
McBeth’s Distinct Generational Advantages:
Here’s where the argument regarding “bEtTeR cOmPeTiTiOn” gets complicated.
Sure, the guys that McBeth is playing against are absolutely shredding courses to bits in the 21st century, and we have to thank disc golf’s surging popularity for this. It’s no accident. The PDGA’s “Grow the sport” campaign fuckin’ worked, and the disc golf economy has grown by leaps and bounds thanks to the perseverance of those cats in Appling, Georgia.
This also gives the players of today distinct and somewhat-quantifiable advantages over trailblazers like Climo: A fiscally solid support system, a better understanding of the physical and nutritional needs of disc golfers, and far better equipment.
Imagine shooting a 1044-rated month back in 2002, with whatever molds and plastics were available nearly two decades ago? Building even a 1000-rated bag full of Rocs, Condors, Eagles, and Teebirds sounds like a headache to us; the spoiled generation of golfers who have both better discs and a whole lot less trouble finding them thanks to the explosion of the internet marketplace.
And what sort of discomfort would you discover when grinding out 4 days of A-Tier level golf without a true backpack-style bag or Zuca cart?
This list could go on and on. Dry-Fit clothing, footwear, even the double insulated canteen have all found themselves improved upon vastly in the waning days of the Climo Era. Paul is reaping all of these benefits, as will future golfers with their future advancements.
We also cannot ignore the fact that we are likely living in the golden age of disc golf. The sport is booming like never before in its history. Tournaments are selling out faster than ever. Kids’ parents are pushing them to play. There are actually more than two manufacturers.
Folks like Disc Golf Strong and others are pushing the sport into new, far more athletic directions, and toward a future that’s brighter and more mainstream than many of the older players would have imagined possible. If Climo had any inclination of where disc golf could have taken him, would his life choices have been different? Would he have been in the gym, stacking plates and getting royally jacked? Would he have quit smoking? Would he still be competing in the PDGA? We’ll never know.
And then there’s Paul McBeth’s million-dollar meteor strike that slammed into the industry in early 2019. That’s not the sort of thing that Ken would have seen as possible or likely coming up in the 1990’s, and that dangling carrot has now pushed disc golf into unprecedented territory.
Outside of sponsorship cash and clinic attendance dollars, how do Paul and Ken’s wallets compare?
C.R.E.A.M. of The Top of The Crop:
Touring pros need to keep winning to keep touring, it’s as simple as that, and this should become easier as disc golf grows. Cash purses balloon, pro-clinic attendance is up, and auxiliary sponsorships from outside the industry are now finally a thing.
In tournament winnings, however, a strange statistic rears its ugly head when it comes to Kenny Clams and Paul McBank.
In career PDGA contests, Ken Climo took home an average purse of about $950 per event entered. Moneybags McBeth averages $1,446.94 per event. That means, in order to make make Paul McBeth-level money, Climo would had to have played 35% more golf than Paul during his heyday….but then we adjust for inflation and something peculiar comes into focus.
Climo’s $950, if won in 1995 during the height of The Champ’s reign, would be worth $1,599 in 2019 – meaning that Paul actually makes less money than Climo did per event when adjusted for inflation. (Of course, this doesn’t take into account all of the aforementioned superfluous income, only PDGA winnings).
“bUt ThE cOmPeTiTiOn’S bEtTeR nOw!”
It is, but…
A raising tide lifts all ships:
This incredible growth of the industry, and the spawning of stiffer competition that it has provided, may mean that 1995 Climo would have a hard time keeping up with the young guns of 2019 – but perhaps only in the hypothetical situation where you pluck him out of the late 20th century and place him directly into Paul McBeth’s path.
That linear thinking doesn’t help us solve the G.O.A.T. argument.
In disc golf, as in most other athletic or artistic pursuits, you tend to perform at a level pursuant to your competition. You either rise to the occasion or you play down to their level. The former is what you see in all of the classic underdog stories, and the latter is something that haunts NCAA football coaches long after they lose a late-season rivalry game and, subsequently, their jobs.
If Primo-Climo was brought here in a time machine from 1995, he wouldn’t immediately be able to beat Paul McBeth – that’s certain.
But, what if he stuck around for a while? What if King Kenny was given all of the advantages that disc golfers in the 21st century currently enjoy? Would he rise to the level of his competition?
McBeth is only averaging 4 strokes better than his competition at the 5 World Championships that he’s won, and Climo is averaging 7.25 strokes better in his 12 wins, making it clear that Climo is not one to play down to his competition. In fact, after so many wins on the sport’s biggest stage, you’d think that he would begin to coast or relax. He most certainly didn’t, with his second largest margin of victory, (14 strokes), coming during his 11th Worlds win in 2002 at the age of 33.
I’m not insinuating that McBeth is playing down, either. The point I’m trying to make is that Ken could have coasted and didn’t. Paul is scratching and clawing his way to World Championships – at least by statistical comparison.
There is no objective answer to be found here. I hate to be anticlimactic, but we can’t remove Climo from the past and then believe that Paul McBeth would be the modern day deity that he is. Climo’s revolutionary impact on the game through his form, bag-building, disc design, and shot selection are major stepping stones that elevated the sport to where it is today; a place where Pauly-Boy can make a million bucks for switching brands.
If Michael Jordan hadn’t completely dismantled and rebuilt the game of basketball in the 80’s and 90’s, LeBron James would not have been able to dominate as he has. Basketball was reborn in Jordan’s image, and LeBron was a student of the new game.
Without Kenny in the 90’s, there is no Paul in the 2010’s – it’s as simple as that.
And with the inability to objectively determine whether or not Climo would have risen to the occasion, if given the modern day advantages that this new breed of disc golfer has at their disposal, there’s just no way of knowing if the fiscally-secure, booming environment Paul enjoys would have had made Ken Climo even more prolific.
So, for the next decade or so, the great GOAT debate will live on.