What you need to know about the European disc golf scene.
February 2, 2022 by Steve Andrews in Coverage, Preview with comments
This is the first post in our European Re-Open series that highlights European disc golfers as international travel reopens in 2022.
Tyyni. Tattar. Carlsson. Jarva. Makela. Blomroos. Anttila. Konopiste. Salonen.
For many disc golf fans, these names are familiar. But European disc golf may be completely alien to the thousands of disc golfers who have discovered the game since the onset of the pandemic in 2020. For the past two years, some of the greatest players in the game have been out of sight of most American disc golf fans, barred from the United States by quarantines and onerous travel restrictions. And for two years, event cancellations and the pandemic have kept most American players away from some of the biggest tournaments in Europe and some of the most beautiful courses in the world.
But that is about to change. The Europeans are returning to the tour, and they’re chasing podium spots.
What has been happening in Europe for the past two years? How have the players most familiar to American audiences developed? Which new players are poised to explode onto the Pro Tour this year?
Here’s a primer on European disc golf.
Europeans on the US Tour
European players have been an important part of US disc golf for years. Long before COVID, Simon Lizotte moved from fresh-faced German young gun to one of the most popular players on either side of the Atlantic, and KJ Nybo, the multi-time Danish National Champion, placed in the top 10 at the USDGC and elite events like the Ledgestone and The Memorial. Since 2017, Seppo Paju has been one of the most successful European MPO players on the American tour. In that time, Paju has finished in the top six at Worlds, the Pro Tour Championship, and USDGC. In 2019, the Finnish star had four top-3 finishes at Waco, Goat Hill, Portland Open, and the Beaver State Fling.
And Paju has not been alone. At the start of 2019, Jalle Stoor jumped up to take third at the Memorial. By the end of that year, Estonia’s Albert Tamm had begun to find his footing with a 7th place finish at Delaware and a top 10 at the USDGC. In 2020, the new generation of European men started to show promise on the US Tour, with Finns Oskari Vikstrom finishing 7th at Vegas and Vaino Makela taking a top 4 result at the Memorial.
European women were already a constant presence at the top of the leaderboard before the pandemic hit. In fact, on the eve of the shutdowns, players like Kristin Tattar, Eveliina Salonen, and Henna Blomroos were playing their best golf and seemed ready to become fixtures on the podiums of the US tour. In 2018, Tattar took an 8th at Worlds, 4th at the USWDGC, and a 2nd at the Delaware NT. She followed that up in 2019 with a 6th at Worlds; 2nds at Delaware, Maple Hill, and the Green Mountain Championship; and a win at Canadian Nationals, along with her first US Women’s title, a Major. In 2019, Salonen won the Memorial and finished second at Worlds and followed that up with three straight top 3s to start the 2020 season, including a win at Waco. Blomroos was just behind her with her own 2020 hat trick of Top 3s at Las Vegas, the Memorial, and Waco.
The European women were dominating just as COVID shut down the US Tour.
European Players During the Pandemic
For the past two years, while they were barred from traveling to the US, European players have continued to improve. Tattar has owned the women’s golf scene in Estonia while, in Finland, Blomroos and Salonen have been pushing each other with one or the other winning nearly every event. Unsurprisingly, these three players finished on the podium in the 2021 European Disc Golf Championships, separating themselves from the rest of the field by ten strokes.
Blomroos, showing the talent she is poised to bring to the US this season, averaged a 988 rating to close out Tattar by two shots as Salonen faded from contention as she lost confidence in her putter. These top three European women will be joined in the opening US events of 2022 by other up-and-coming players like Estonia’s Keite Tatte and Norway’s Lykke Lorentzen.
The 2021 European Disc Golf Championships also showed the strength of the MPO division. It featured a battle between wunderkinds, with Finland’s Niklas Anttila managing to edge ahead of Sweden’s Linus Carlsson by a single stroke. Carlsson fired a scorching 1091 in the third round to close a 7-shot gap and set up a final round battle. In the end, both Anttila and Carlsson averaged 1050 golf and finished 11 strokes clear of the rest of the field. This year, they will be joined by players like Finnish national champion Vaino Makela and others like Tamm and Paju who are already regular competitors on the US Tour.
The question remains whether these strong results against smaller and thinner fields in Europe reveal the level of play we will see on the US Tour in 2022. However, Tattar gave a glimpse of the impact the European players might have during her blistering US mini-tour in 2021. Tattar, after jumping through all the hoops of traveling in the pandemic, walked off the plane and onto the course at Worlds. She finished fifth. She then owned the summer, winning four of the next five tournaments, including two A-tiers and two Elite Series events at the Great Lakes Open and the Preserve. In just five weeks, Tattar built a resume that merited Player of the Year consideration. When she left for Estonia with her luggage full of trophies, everyone in the disc golf world had to wonder what could have been if her barnstorming July had lasted all season.
There is no doubt that the return of European players will shake up the US tour. Tattar, Salonen, and Blomroos should immediately fight for wins. However, the impact of European players may extend far beyond the Big Three. A mix of new faces and tour veterans have been preparing for two years to push for spots on the lead cards of early events. If the high quality of golf shown at events like the 2021 European Championships is any indication, the opening weeks of 2022 are going to be exciting.
The Americans Return
Hopefully, this season will also mark the return of American players to events on the European Tour. What they will find is a European disc golf scene that has evolved and expanded during the pandemic. National tours, like Finland’s Prodigy Disc Pro Tour, are well established and were popular during the pandemic as many players could not travel outside of their home borders. Now, this year, both the PDGA EuroTour and the European Pro Tour will be running high-profile events across the continent, and many of these have appeared on the touring schedules of top American players.
After two years of cancellations, the PDGA EuroTour is returning in 2022 with nine events that take the tour through the center of European disc golf in the Baltic and Nordic countries but also includes stops in Scotland and Croatia. This year will also feature two events at the Beast, the world-class course in Nokia, Finland. In June, the EuroTour will visit for the Nokia Open and then return a month later for the continent’s Major, the European Open.
This season will also see the debut of the full European Pro Tour (EPT). Juha Kyto, the CEO of the EPT, appeared on an episode of the Upshot last year and said that the goal was to provide “an option for players to practice their profession full time” with a series of pro events. The EPT has promised at least €5000 of added cash this year at every event with the hope that this is just the start of the regular expansion of payouts on the tour. Like the PDGA EuroTour, the bulk of the events are on northern European courses in Estonia, Finland, and Sweden. However, the tour concludes in November with an All-Stars event in beautiful Mijas, Spain. This event is scheduled after the conclusion of the US Tour to entice the highest possible number of the world’s top professionals to attend.
The EPT has also created a new supporting tour called the EPT-X that parallels the Silver Series events in the United States. These eight events add five more countries to the pro disc golf scene, including Hungary, Italy, and the Netherlands. The last two years have seen a massive expansion in the infrastructure of European professional disc golf with three tours offering events that stretch across the continent and giving professional players a chance to compete nearly every weekend from March to August.
European disc golf is also going to have greater exposure from EPT’s new Disc Golf Stream. This subscription service will provide live disc golf with English commentary for six events starting with the Copenhagen Open and concluding with the EPT All-Stars in November.
Between the PDGA Euro Tour, the EPT, and the EPT-X, the top tier of the European disc golf scene will offer more than 20 events between March and November. The middle of the tour will feature a stretch of events on the EPT and the Euro PDGA that build towards the European Open on July 21-24th.
The month prior to that event is the most likely time for American players to join the European swing, as late June will bring the Jarva Open in Sweden and the Nokia Open in Finland, the latter played on the same course as the European Open. The two weeks before the European Open will offer the Tyyni Open in Finland, always one of the largest events in Europe, and the PCS Sula Open, also a DGPT Silver Series event, in Norway. These events will offer the best in European disc golf – great fields battling on some of the most beautiful courses in the world, culminating in a major event played on the Beast.
Pros will have to make tough choices about where to play during this stretch of the season, as the weeks before the European Open also feature premier events in the US like the Preserve and Idlewild. Paul McBeth has already announced that he will play the Nokia, PCS Sula Open, and the Alutaguse Open in Estonia before he competes in the European Open. McBeth will be joined at Sula by Ricky Wysocki, and others will certainly arrive on the continent to acclimate to the time change and prepare for the event. It will be exciting to see how the Americans fare when they relinquish home field advantage and play the same courses European pros have been dueling on during the pandemic.
The hope is that this year will bring back the kind of international competition that made the beginning of the 2020 season so exciting. But this is not a return to the past. The last two years have produced changes on both sides of the Atlantic. The game has had unprecedented growth and young players are rising up to fight for their place at the top of the leaderboard. They will do so on reorganized European and US tours and in an expanded media landscape that marks a new chapter in professional disc golf.