What will it take for a European player to crest the Open podium, and who has the best chance in 2019?
July 16, 2019 by Patrick Aubyrn in Analysis, Preview with 0 comments
In my previous article, I sought to assess whether Simon Lizotte or Seppo Paju was having the better 2019 season. My plan was to situate these players within the specific historical context of the European Open and prognosticate how they might fare this coming weekend. Then came the shock.
Seppo Paju withdrew from the tournament. On its face, this turn of events appears to worsen the Europeans’ chances in the Presidents Cup and the Open. What exactly does Europe lose in his absence? Who will step up and fill the void? Let’s take a look at how Lizotte and Paju matched up historically with an eye to answering these questions.
Jesper Lundmark is the only European ever to win the European Open. The Swede claimed the crown in 2009, when the tournament was last played in Tampere, Finland. Timo Pursio of Finland and then defending champion Ken Climo tied for second — five strokes back — to round out the podium.
Lizotte and Paju made their EO debuts that same year. The 16-year-old, 1011-rated Lizotte was one of 18 players rated 1000 or higher. Fourteen-year-old Paju — still an amateur — was rated nearly 100 points lower at 920. Both significantly outperformed their ratings. Lizotte averaged 1037 and finished fifth; Paju averaged 965, including a 1016-rated final round, and tied for 40th.
With two Europeans on the MPO podium and three in the top five, 2009 was the host continent’s best showing at its flagship event. In fact, Europeans have only claimed four Open podium spots total in seven editions of the Major championship; Pursio also finished second in 2006 and is the only repeat name in the top three.
Top 3 European Finishers in Major Years
|Year||Euro 1||Euro 2||Euro 3|
|2006||2 - Timo Puriso (FI)||5 - Markus Källström (SE)||7 - Joonas Hynönen (FI)|
|2007||4 - Markus Källström (SE)||6 - Jesper Lundmark (SE)||7 - Linus Åström (SE)|
|2009||1 - Jesper Lundmark (SE)||2 - Timo Puriso (FI)||5 - Simon Lizotte (DE)|
|2011||6 - Jesper Lundmark (SE)||8 - Seppo Paju (FI)||8 - KJ Nybo (NL)|
|2013||4 - Pasi Koivu (FI)||7 - KJ Nybo (NL)||7 - Henrik Johansen (SE)|
|2015||5 - KJ Nybo (NL)||6 - Seppo Paju (FI)||13 - Juho Parviainen (FI)|
|2017||3 - Simon Lizotte (DE)||7 - Väinö Mäkelä (FI)||10 - KJ Nybo (NL)|
Traditionally a biennial tournament, Dave Feldberg won the fourth installment of the European Open when it moved 16 km down the road to its current venue in Nokia, Finland in 2011. Feldberg also won the inaugural EO in 2006. He is the only repeat champion other than Paul McBeth and the only player to log victories in Tampere and Nokia.
By 2011, Paju increased his rating 83 points to a cool 1003. He tied for eighth that year and bested the 1029-rated Lizotte by one stroke. The reigning champion Lundmark finished sixth and was the top European.
American professionals hopped the pond en masse in 2011 and it was the first time they outnumbered the Europeans in the top 10. McBeth made his inconspicuous debut and finished in 18th place, 25 strokes behind Feldberg’s winning total. Of course, no one’s beaten McBeast on The Beast since. He’s 4-for-4 dating back to 2013, taking home three Major championships and an even-year Disc Golf World Tour title in 2016 to boot.
Lizotte and Paju have been perennial top 10 finishers since 2011 allowing one exception apiece. With or without their worst performances, their average finish is virtually identical: Lizotte 7.7 vs. Paju 7 (with); Lizotte 11.25 vs. Paju 11 (without). In my books, Lizotte holds the slight edge thanks to his podium finish in 2017. His five-stroke margin of defeat two years ago is the closest either has gotten to the title.
Notably, Lizotte and Paju have never finished in Europe’s top 3 in the same year. Likely to no one’s surprise, Karl Johan Nybo leads this category and finished in the overall top 10 every year since 2011. The Dane hasn’t played as many tournaments of late and his rating has fallen steadily since September 2017, so that streak feels tenuous heading into this year’s tournament. Can he fill the void created by Paju’s withdrawal this weekend?
Lizotte vs. Paju vs. Nybo
There were 49 players rated over 1000 registered for the tournament last week. Current 1022-rated Nybo was tied for 17th best at the time. Lizotte and Paju were the only European players in the top 10 and the clear Euro favorites from that pool to win the Open Division, ranking fourth and eighth in the tournament by rating. Six (!) 1000-rated players including Paju disappeared from the registration list on Monday, July 15, but he was the only European to drop out.
All totaled, 26 of the remaining 43 1000-rated players hail from Europe. Ten rank in the top 25: Simon Lizotte (4) Väinö Mäkelä (9), KJ Nybo (12), Jesse Niemenen (12), Mikael Häme (14), Jalle Stoor (17), Linus Carlsson (20), Teemu Nissenen (21), Niklas Anttila (22), and Leo Piironen (23). Paju’s replacement for the Presidents Cup, the Frenchman Sylvain Gouge, ranks 26th with a 1011 rating.
The average rating of the 15 Americans in the Open top 25 is 1029; the average rating of the top 10 Europeans in the top 25 is 1020. Excluding the four favorites rated 1040 or higher, those numbers nearly level out: USA 1020 vs. EU 1018. Contrary to my initial assumptions, the field is rather evenly matched. On the flip side, the average rating for the top five Americans is 1045 compared to 1026 for the Europeans.
How do I analyze this? Well, the Europeans need to exceed expectations to split the top 10 fifty-fifty with the Americans. They have nine more elite-level pros on the books and that depth of field is an advantage in this regard. Winning presents a significant hurdle to overcome as their top-end strength suffers with Paju bowing out.The Lizotte/Paju duo brought pedigree and consistency to the 2019 European squad.
PDGA ratings have their flaws, but on a course that’s seen relatively few changes to its layout since 2011, they are a great tool to evaluate individual play over the years in addition to the final standings. So how have Lizotte, Paju, and Nybo measured up?
Lizotte has performed slightly above his rating in Nokia, excluding his 22nd place finish in 2015,
Lizotte’s European Open Ratings Summary
|Year||Player Rating||Average EO Round Rating|
Paju outperformed his rating until the last edition of the Open in 2017. A somewhat worrisome statistic I noticed last week when considering his chances to win is that he played one sub-1000 rated round per tournament in both 2015 and 2017. His 996-rated opening round in 2015 effectively killed his chances to win, but he managed a high finish thanks to his 1048 average in rounds two through four. In 2017 he logged a 1058-rated second round — singularly better than all rounds in 2015 — but averaged 1001-rated golf in rounds one, three, and four.
Paju’s European Open Ratings Summary
|Year||Player Rating||Average EO|
Based on his history of top 10 finishes, Nybo is clearly more consistent than either Lizotte or Paju, averaging a 1035 rating since 2011 compared to 1031 for Lizotte and 1028 for Paju.
Nybo’s European Open Ratings Summary
|Year||Player Rating||Average EO Round Rating|
Nybo also appears to have a higher ceiling on The Beast based on his best individual rounds. He recorded a 1081-rated round in 2015 and a 1075 in 2011. Lizotte owns the next best three with a 1066 in 2017, a 1063 in 2013, and a 1061 in 2011. The problem for both players is that they typically play a round or two below their rating, lessening the impact of those great showings.
To win tournaments these days, you need to play above your rating. Of the Lizotte/Paju/Nybo trio, only Nybo has done so every year since 2011. In 2013, ’15, and ’17, McBeth averaged 1056-, 1051-, and 1054-rated golf, respectively. Over the past two months dating back to the San Fransisco Open (May 10-12, 2019), McBeth has averaged 1055-rated golf in all competitions.1
To beat the reigning champion, Lizotte and Nybo will have to significantly exceed their best performances to date. Here’s how they could do it:
- Lizotte can challenge for the win if he shaves approximately 1.25 strokes per round from last year’s performance.
- Nybo needs to break the mold. With only five ratings points separating his average scores since 2011, he needs to turn in a scorcher and then maintain at the 1040-rated mark.
For fun, let’s enter into the doubly hypothetical realm and attempt to predict a withdrawn player’s path to victory. Paju historically demonstrated the ability to play double digits above his rating in 2011 (+31) and 2015 (+14). If he played fourteen points above his current rating, he would have averaged bang on 1050.
Paju definitely has the ability to hit that mark. At the Portland Open and Beaver State Fling he averaged 1051-rated golf over seven rounds, including a 1074-rated closing round in Portland and a 1070-rated second round in Estacada. Obviously, these successes weren’t on his mind when he withdrew from the European Open. Surely it’s no small thing to play 60 points below your rating at consecutive tournaments and only break the 1000-rated mark once in six rounds upon returning to Europe, but The Beast feels like a Blue Lake or Milo McIver type course. Bread and butter. As such, we shouldn’t make light of Paju’s decision to withdraw.
Back to reality. If Lizotte and Nybo perform to the letter of my criteria for success listed above, and we assume McBeth turns in a perfect replica of his 2017 victory, here are the outcomes:
- Lizotte improves his score by five strokes and ties McBeth.
- Nybo nabs a 1073-rated round plus three in the 1040s, finishing at 221, two strokes out of first.
- (Paju hits 221 as well if he averaged 1050-rated golf.)
So which other Europeans have a shot?
Väinö Mäkelä played his first European Open in 2017 and finished in seventh place, better than Paju and Nybo. At the time he was 997-rated and averaged 37 points better than his rating. His rating climbed steadily to a high of 1027 in October 2018, but has been fluctuating in the low to mid-1020s since. He picked up his first win of 2019 at a B-tier in Tampere last weekend. Can he build on that momentum?
Jalle Stoor has had an up and down season. Stateside he finished 29th in Vegas and then on the podium in third at the Memorial. Back in Finland, he took 36th at the Prodigy Disc Pro Tour stop in Helsinki followed by a fifth place showing at the PDPT stop in Tampere. He hasn’t played a sanctioned tournament since May. Will we see top 10 Stoor in Nokia? He doesn’t have a warm-up tournament to shake off the rust heading into the European Open and needs to break the current low/high cycle to challenge.
Tied with K.J. Nybo with the third best rating of the Europeans, Jesse Nieminen is playing his first European Open. A year ago he was rated 983. Having risen nearly 40 points since then, he’s clearly on the up-and-up, but can he exceed expectations under the bright lights in Nokia? His recent performances at the Tyyni and last weekend at the Tahkovuori Open don’t particularly inspire confidence.
Something to inspire confidence in these dark horse competitors? The runner-up in 2017, Gregg Barsby, was 1015-rated when he lost to McBeth by one stroke. That said, the smart money’s on Lizotte and Nybo to lead the European field in 2019.
This includes his 986-rated second round at The Masters Cup and the three unofficial rounds from GLO. ↩