Yes, he’s on a cold streak, but it’s not as bad as you think.
November 1, 2022 by Matt Thompson in Opinion with comments
On Saturday afternoon — moving day at The United States Disc Golf Championship — there was a great migration on the grounds of the Winthrop Arena course. Gaggles of spectators were abandoning the lead card and the previous tournament leader to catch up with Paul McBeth, Calvin Heimburg, and Gannon Buhr. The Disc Golf Network’s camera men hustled over so every shot of the chase card could be watched at home. This bustle of activity was precipitated by Ricky Wysocki going four over par on the front nine and effectively taking himself out of contention for his first USDGC title.
At the start of the day, the headwear icon was sitting on a three stroke lead, had only taken one bogey through thirty six holes, and had a 46% likelihood to win, according to UDisc’s (still nascent) win probability metric. Things were looking up for the Disc Golf Pro Tour points champion, but through only five holes, it seemed his tournament was already over. It was a whiplash-inducing “blink and you’ll miss it” fall from the top. He finished moving day one over par and dropped six spots into a tie for seventh place. Even with a solid eight under on the final day, Ricky remained in seventh place as Gannon Buhr went scorched-earth with the putter en route to a 12-under Sunday and his first major title. 10 years ago, when Buhr was only 7 years old, his self-professed idol Will Schusterick took the same title from Ricky by 2 strokes.
It’s been a long and successful career for Ricky Wysocki in the decade between the two victories by Prodigy’s prodigies, but recently there has been a growing chorus of criticism surrounding his play at major championships. The chatter was exacerbated by Ricky’s own comments after a perceived lackluster performance at the World Championship where he said “It’s kinda weird that one week out of the year determines a world champion” before going on to extol his own consistency on tour. This was seen as, I think fairly, sour grapes from the biggest rival of the six time and reigning world champion, Paul McBeth. While Ricky does not express it in the best way possible, when taken generously, his comments do make a certain amount of sense. Ricky Wysocki believes he is the best player on the planet right now, and I think he’s correct, but it still does not make him world champion in 2022, and it does not change the 14 majors that have now been played since he last won one.
So why can’t the best player on the planet seem to win a major? It has been five years since his 2017 World Championship, his second in a row and fourth major win out of the previous five. There’s no denying what a heater of a run that was, inevitably making any follow up seem like a falloff in comparison, and while it may seem like the field has caught up to Ricky, in the years since, he has continued to win Elite Series events at a rapid clip and maintained one of the top three player ratings in the world. He’s finished second at majors twice in that span, including a 1073 event rating at the 2019 World Championship in Peoria where McBeth edged him out of the winner’s circle yet again.
Taking the long view, he has still won almost 17% of professional Majors he has played. But I want to zoom in a little closer on the drought timeline. Let’s cut the fourteen major events in half. From the time of his last World Championship in 2017 to that classic with McBeth in 2019, he played seven majors with an average finish of 4.7. Two things are immediately clear. 1. That is very good. 2. It’s obviously not as good as his 1.6 average in the previous seven. And here’s where things get interesting, and where the chatter really picks up: the last seven played he has an average finish of 6.4. Distinctly less good. These might seem like an odd, unrelated set of numbers, but I have not chosen them at random.
At the 2019 European Open, Ricky was bitten by a tick. He did not experience symptoms immediately and was first diagnosed in the offseason. The final grouping of seven are the majors he has played since experiencing the symptoms of Lyme Disease. I am not a doctor and would never pretend to be. I don’t want to discuss the noticeable physical effects Lyme sometimes has on Ricky’s body. We’ve all seen him with his swollen knee limping around the course over the last couple of seasons. It has not hampered his ability to play disc golf at an incredibly high level. I do want to talk about the mental side of it.
Whatever Ricky might think about world titles being given out in one week, it is undeniable that the major championships are more of a grind than a standard tournament. They are four rounds at minimum, with worlds adding a fifth, the field is deeper, and the crowds are bigger. It is a mental slog. To win, a player has to be able to navigate the pressure added by these elements, and in recent years, Ricky has not been able to do that and has not suggested that any physical ailment has held him back from winning. Is it possible that he has just lost his edge and won’t get it back? I suppose so, but I think it’s eminently more likely that he is a player who is still learning to deal with an additional mental obstacle and has not found a way to put it all together yet. Have you ever played a round of disc golf with a bad sock that kept falling into your shoe? Or run out of snacks? Or gotten too sweaty? These little things shouldn’t affect your game very much, but they often do. Ricky Wysocki has played 36 professional majors, only seven of them with this particular rock in his shoe. To my mind, that is not a sufficient sample size to say he’s washed at Majors. It is obvious that there is a monkey on his back, but I’m willing to give him a bit more time before calling out the time of death.
Ricky Wysocki is not an amateur at league night who needs an excuse. As a professional athlete, it is his job to figure this out. He made a big splash with his Dynamic Discs signing, styles himself as the best player in the world, and most of the time backs it up with his play. He is responsible for his public image, which he’s obviously spent a lot of time working on in the last few years, and part of that is his public insistence on his place at the top of the game.
If he wants the strain on that image to lessen, he doesn’t need to get back to 2017 levels of dominance, but to simply get back on the major train. Maybe he becomes a disc golf Dan Marino and never gets there again, but for my money, another seven majors aren’t going to go by without Ricky in the winner’s circle.