Have you ever wondered if a player’s height in disc golf increases their performance? After some research, I believe on average it does increase performance. But is it that significant compared to other elements of the game?
While I was on the course the other day waiting for my turn to take the box, I saw a player in front of my group who was fairly tall. I’d put him at 6’4”.
When it was his turn to throw, he was absolutely smashing the disc down the fairway. Much further than what anyone else on the course that day was capable of.
This got me wondering, does a player have an advantage in disc golf if they are taller?
Intuitively, most people would say yes, being taller gives you a natural advantage to throw a disc farther. But is there any proof of that? If so, by how much does this increase overall performance? Plenty of short players throw REALLY far and plenty of tall players do not. But on average, what do the numbers show?
Instead of getting into the specifics on arm length, step length, and fulcrum leverage, I’d rather take a numbers-based approach. Because if we did look at those areas, I feel the discussion would never end.
Approach to analyzing the data
I started out by looking at the PDGA player statistics from the 2017 & 2018 seasons. This isn’t baseball we’re dealing with here, so there isn’t an incredible amount of statistics to pull from. As the sport continues to grow and age, I imagine statistics gathering will also grow.
For now, this is what I was able to gather for 40 of the top PDGA pros in the 2017 and 2018 seasons:
- Cash Earnings
- Green Hit %
- Bullseye Hit %
- Player’s Height in Disc Golf
I only took players with a rating above 1000. Of those players above 1000, I was only able to find the height of 40 of those players. Perhaps I could have found more if I continued to look, but I believe 40 is an adequate sample size for this exercise.
I did not vet the original data collection process of the statistics I’m using, so I’m going to assume that this information is materially accurate. Some of the player’s heights could be slightly off here or there, but overall, I don’t think this will skew the results.
Also, I believe there are other numbers that we could analysis which would give a better picture of this question if only those numbers were readily available. Alas, this is the best I could find.
For each area, I’ve plotted the data and graphed a simple trend line. If the trend line is going up, this indicates that taller players are performing better in that particular area. If the trend line is going down, this indicates that shorter players are performing better in that area. The ‘height in ft’ on the X axis is expressed as a decimal.
Cash Earnings to Player’s Height
I chose to include cash earnings into the post more for fun. This is probably going to be the least accurate area to answer my question of height in disc golf.
I simply took total cash earnings earned on average by each player for the events they participated in. This eliminates the factor of the players that attended a large number of events throughout the seasons, and instead normalized the numbers.
So, if they were in 10 events and had a total of $7,500 from all of those events, they were given an average earning of $750 per event. Most of the players fall around this number.
It seems that a player’s height in disc golf brings it more money. For this area, every extra inch a player has in height ends up equating to approximately $18 more in earnings per event, with a max opportunity of about $200 depending on the height gap.
The data is probably scuffed a bit since some tournaments have higher earning potential, while others have lower earning potential. Not all events are created equal.
Green Hit % to Player’s Height
Green Hits are recorded when a throw lands inside the 10-meter circle around the basket. On a par three, the first throw must land in the 10-meter circle to be considered a Green Hit. On a par four, the 1st or 2nd throw must land in the circle to register a Green Hit.
Clearly, if a player lands within the 10-meter circle on their first throw, they have a high probability of scoring a birdie.
From this area we learn that for every extra inch a player has in height, they are hitting the green about 1% more often, with a max possible benefit of around 10% in this population.
Hitting the green 10% more often would likely result in 1 or 2 strokes a game. Nothing to scoff at.
Bullseye Hit % to Player’s Height
A Bullseye Hit is the same as a Green Hit, except it must be within 3-meters of the basket instead of 10.
Here we find our first stat that favors shorter players slightly, but is pretty much flat.
Rating to Player’s Height
The PDGA player rating is probably going to be the best statistic I have which is going to answer this question.
If you are unfamiliar with the ratings system you can read more about it here. In short, a players rating is calculated by taking their average scores in comparison to the course rating. The higher the score, the better.
Even after the forgoing results, these findings still surprised me:
Before seeing the results of these numbers, I had predicted that height (on AVERAGE) would play a moderate role in a player’s rating. However, these results show height playing a VERY, VERY small role in a player’s rating. The trend line is almost flat. For every extra inch in height, a player is seeing an increase of about 0.5 to their rating, with a max difference of 5 points.
Up to this point, there hasn’t been any stand out factors that indicates height significantly increases a player’s performance in disc golf. Albeit, there is a slight favor in the argument that on average height plays a minimal role in increasing a player’s performance.
Exclude the outliers
After looking at the graphs for a while, I noticed that there was always one dot on the top left of each graph. Going back through the data this turned out to be none other than Paul McBeth, multiple world champion and arguably one of the best to play the game.
Not only is he one of the shortest players on the list, he is also the top performer in all the categories except for Green Hit %, which was taken by Ricky Wysocki. Paul was 2nd in the category.
In this case, Paul McBeth would be considered a significant outlier from the rest of the player base when it comes to height-to-performance ratio. What happens to the trends if we were to exclude the shortest top performer, Paul McBeth and the tallest top performing, Jeremy Koling (we could also swap in Ricky Wysocki as the tallest top performer, but the results would be fairly similar)?
With the exclusions, we see all areas sloping more toward the taller players advantage.
Does a player’s height in disc golf increase their performance? Yes. But not by much.
Interestingly, if we were to also exclude Ricky Wysocki and Eagle McMahon from the graphs, we would see all areas trending fairly flat.
In my opinion, based on the data, I would have to say skill and technique far outweigh any biological differences. The benefit that taller players may have isn’t enough to lead to a significant advantage out on the course.
Looking back at the day when I was saw that 6’4” player crushing the disc towards the green, I have to hand it to him. And also chide myself for attributing his success to his height. He had obviously put in the hard work that it takes to succeed in this game.
The good news is this also gives me hope that anyone (including myself) can find success in disc golf if you have the dedication to get there.