August 27, 2022 by Josh Mansfield in Analysis, Opinion with comments
Gregg Barsby is one of the most unlikely world champions in the history of disc golf. He finished outside the top 10 in both the Disc Golf Pro Tour and National Tour standings in the 2018 season. He was 1020 rated at the time he won his first and only major. Indeed, it may have been by the sheer force of the “Barsbarians” will power that carried Barsby to the 2018 title.
Cinderella stories often draw the attention of casual and committed fans alike. There are three players this year who are most likely to play Cinderella at the ball this year.
The Odds On Favorite: Isaac Robinson
What’s to like…
Since becoming a professional in 2016, Isaac Robinson has been a fringe player at the elite level of disc golf. As a full time student, he has been a regular feature at the Ledgestone Open, but 2022 is his first full season on tour.
Robinson has shown key champion qualities now that he’s on the road full time. His win at the LWS Open at Idlewild of course demonstrated an ability to win at the top level of the sport, even with cameras trained on him and some big names trying to chase him down. Robinson also has solid major experience with an 8th place finish at USDGC last year to his name. He is 1033 rated and finds himself in 19th in the DGPT standings. It’s a robust resume given his limited touring and he has all the tools necessary to have a championship week in Emporia.
Isaac Robinson is a fantastic putter and his success this week will demand being dialed in on the green. Unfortunately for Robinson, that still may not be enough. The skill most tested in Emporia is your performance off the tee. While a 76% fairway hit percentage is good for 7th on tour, his C1 (38% – 63rd) and C2 (62% – 66th) in regulation leave much to be desired. Additionally, while he does manage to keep it on the fairway often, a 51% scramble rate will not be sufficient on a set of courses where OB is an inevitability.
The Favorite on These Courses: Ella Hansen
What’s to like…
Ella Hansen is one of the flashiest players on tour. The ultimate convert came over to the professional side of the sport during the COVID year and appropriately joined team Discmania, home of the crush boys, as their top (and basically only) FPO player. Known for her elite distance in ultimate, Hansen has converted her superior disc throwing skills to become the longest thrower in the FPO division.
Her distance converts to success on the course when the track is designed with distance as the primary feature. This season alone, Hansen boasts an impressive resume on bomber courses:
Las Vegas Challenge – 6th
Play It Again Sports Jonesboro Open – 3rd
Dynamic Discs Open – 3rd
OTB Open – 4th
The Preserve Championship – T2nd
As you can see, her first trip to Emporia this year resulted in a podium finish. With Jones Supreme new to the tour this year, Hansen’s inexperience will not be as significant of a factor compared to courses that have long been tour staples.
Ella Hansen is still new to the game of disc golf. That inexperience shows on the most technical aspects of her game. While top 25 in most of her stats, Hansen is 45th on tour from C1X (69%) and 39th on tour from C2 (12%). Putting may not even be her Achilles heel this weekend. Hansen has said herself in interviews that her upshots/short game are her greatest weakness. On a set of courses that features more than a few dangerous greens, Hansen may find herself out of contention quickly if she fails to capitalize on her superior driving game with sloppy approaches.
The Top European Contender: Niklas Anttila
What’s to like…
The beginning of this year brought much anticipation surrounding the European competitors. While the women’s side has lived up to the hype, the men’s side has been a bit lackluster (save for Simon Lizotte). There are a few European men who could fill this slot, but Niklas Anttila has a few advantages over his European counterparts. First, he is the reigning European disc golf champion. The European Disc Golf Championships, while not a major, hold prestige in the European scene and showcase an important mental fortitude necessary for winning in high pressure situations. Additionally, his 1030 rating is the highest of the Europeans and in a five round tournament, rating is often an accurate predictor of result. Finally, his strongest skill is circle one in regulation, which has him sitting 24th (39%) on tour.
We have yet to have a European MPO player not named Simon contend for a win in the United States in more than 10 years.1 A lot of things would have to break right for Anttila to perform at the level needed to win a five round tournament. Last year, James Conrad averaged a 1062 over five rounds in his world title tournament. Anttila has only three rounds on his current rating over that mark. To shoot five rounds at that level would require a Herculean effort.