Two weeks ago on the UpShot, Sean Jack suggested that Seppo Paju was having a better season than Simon Lizotte. My gut reaction was to give the German the nod over the Finn. Heading into the Presidents Cup and the European Open, I thought it would be fun to consider how Europe’s top two stack up against one another.
First, I asked the Ultiworld writers’ room why Paju appears to be trending toward Europe’s no. 1 spot in the court of public opinion. Benn Wineka suggested that the extra coverage from the Daniel Boe Memorial and the Challenge at Goat Hill boosts his stock. Paju finished in third and second place at those two events, respectively.
Chris Wiklund thinks we have higher expectations for Lizotte because he’s won more big events in the past. Though neither player has won a PDGA National Tour or Disc Golf Pro Tour event in 2019, we rate Lizotte’s performance lower because of his pedigree.
Empirical observations aside, I turned to the stats. Only six ratings points separate the two as of the July 9 ratings update: Lizotte is rated 1040 (+1) and Paju 1034 (-1). They rank fourth and 10th highest in the world and are the only Europeans rated above 1024. Finn Väinö Mäkelä sets that benchmark, followed closely by Marvin Tetzel (Germany, 1023), Jesse Nieminen (Finland, 1022), and K.J. Nybo (Denmark, 1022).1 Based on rating alone, the next best international player following Lizotte and Paju is Japan’s Manabu Kajiyama (1030).
In the 13 rating periods since June 26, 2018, Paju incrementally increased his rating by seven points and spent five rating periods at his high-water mark of 1036. Lizotte’s rating fluctuated between 1034-1041 during that same span but he averages higher than Paju’s all-time max and spent five ratings periods at or above 1040. Considering the five ratings updates this year, Lizotte is averaging 1038.8 and Paju 1034.4 in 2019.
That said, the gap is closing. Factoring in the last two rating periods from 2018, Paju eclipsed Lizotte for the first time ever on December 18, 2018 and again on May 14, 2019. Including their tie at 1036 on November 28, 2018, Paju has occupied the no. 1 spot three times in the past 12 months. Lizotte has been rated higher than Paju for the entirety of their professional careers save those three occasions.
The German’s average rating over the past year fell from 1040.5 between June 27, 2017 and June 26, 2018 to 1038 today. Paju’s average jumped eight points from 1024.9 to 1033. In other words, what was a 15 point advantage in Lizotte’s favor shrunk to five points. Another telling data point: they were separated by 23 points in July 2017. Two takeaways based on these observations.
- Lizotte seems to have plateaued and may be playing at the upper end of his capabilities (i.e. talent vs. desire to win).
- Paju’s rise from mid-level touring pro into the elite echelon remains in progress though it appears to be leveling off.
Their 2019 UDisc Live stats show us that each has room to improve. Paju leads Lizotte in all five throwing categories: fairway hits, Circle 1 in regulation, C2IR, parked, and scramble percentage. While Lizotte averages 4-5% fewer greens in regulation, he makes 7% more C1 and C2 putts. Less accuracy from tee to green combined with better putting means Lizotte records more birdies and more bogeys than Paju.
If we simplify the UDisc below/above percentages to -1/+1, eliminating eagles and multiple bogeys for the sake of comparison, Lizotte will finish 39-under par over 100 holes with Paju one behind at 38-under par. Their ratings suggest Paju will surrender between 0.5-1 stroke per round; this thought experiment indicates they may be even closer than that.
We know that each player has a cannon for an arm and is an expert shot shaper. What becomes clear when comparing footage is that Paju’s tee shots are often more direct and less risky than Lizotte’s. We know the latter loves to put on a show for the gallery, sometimes to the exasperation of the fans cheering for a victory over heroics. Based on the stats, their relative confidence on the green could factor into decision-making off the tee.
The area where they show the greatest difference is the results page. Lizotte and Paju have played seven elite events head-to-head this year.2 Here’s the breakdown:
|Las Vegas Challenge (NT)||7||36|
|The Memorial (DGPT)||2||14|
|Waco Annual Charity Open (DGPT)||10||3|
|The Masters Cup (NT)||2||30|
|San Fransisco Open (DGPT)||6||10|
|Portland Open (DGPT)||3||3|
|Beaver State Fling (NT)||5||2|
Lizotte averages a fifth place finish in head-to-head competitions with Paju at elite events and has not finished outside of the top 10. Factoring in the remaining NT and DGPT tournaments when only Lizotte played, his average worsens ever so slightly to 5.56. The only time he missed the top 10—not included in his average finish—was at the Glass Blown Open (58) when he withdrew due to illness.
Paju has finished outside of the top 10 three times and his average finish at the elite events is 14th.
Though not an elite event as defined by the PDGA, it is worth noting that both players turned in duds at the Tyyni, their eighth match-up this year. Lizotte entered the final round tied for second place, one stroke off the lead, and finished his tournament with a 949-rated final round, surrendering 12 strokes to Eagle McMahon and plummeting into a tie for 21st.
Paju turned in a real stinker, beginning his tournament with a 981-rated opening round and closing with a 931-rated final. He finished tied for 40th and missed the cash line for the first time in 2019.
Also notable, only Lizotte has a win this season: the Newton Huck, a C-tier in Massachusetts.3 He earned more money at the GBO for his post-cut, 58th place DNF than he did in his springtime victory.
So where does this leave us? Well, Lizotte remains the man to beat, but Paju is narrowing the gap. For me, it comes down to that elusive W. A victory at an elite series event would tip the scales in favor of the winner, but if neither player tops the podium this year, the stalemate seems likely to persist.
Coming soon… Lizotte vs. Paju 2: European Open Edition
Notably, Tetzel’s rating only includes the results from 10 PDGA sanctioned tournament rounds over the past year, compared to 48 for Mäkelä, 28 for Nieminen, and 34 for Nybo. ↩
Elite events include Majors, NT, and DGPT. ↩
He was the only 1000+ rated player. In fairness, he averaged 1059-rated golf over two rounds. ↩