There is an aspect of every sport that people enjoy debating. Who is the best? They are perpetual arguments and drive serious sports fanatics to research. It convinces them that they must obtain as much historical evidence and data as they can to support their side. In the NBA there is the MJ and Kobe argument. (Some older, uninformed, relative will over hear the conflict and try to be astute by claiming, “Wilt Chamberlain was the GOAT. Just look at his numbers.”) Or, for Spurs fans like me, there is the argument that Duncan was the best power forward ever. (This is where the same relative from earlier interjects, “Tim Duncan wasn’t even a power forward! He was a center.”) For NFL fans then there is always the more current acclamation that Tom Brady has proven himself as the greatest quarterback in league history. All of the well-known sports have such discussions.
Professional disc golf fans have nothing to discuss.
Kenneth R. Climo, PDGA #4297. He goes by Ken and is also known as “The Champ”. It is IMPOSSIBLE to argue his greatness or his secure place upon the disc golf Mount Rushmore.
Before we jump into his career and stats let us answer a question. What makes an athlete great in their sport? There are many ways to make cases for greatness. In most sports you win by scoring the most points so the statisticians keep track of career points. More points make a player greater maybe? Or, greatness could be all the accolades that come along with their success, such as MVP awards or the Gold Glove and FIFA Golden Ball award.
When I look at an athlete and discuss their greatness I go directly to the championships column. Championships are the ultimate test and the things that athletic competitors live for. If a player competed for a lengthy career he should have multiple championships to be considered great. Sorry for another NBA example but this will show my point of view:
Playing career: 1956-1969.
Championships: 11, made the playoffs every year of his career and won a string of 8 consecutive championships between ’58 and ’66.
Playing career: 1959-1973.
Looking at this comparison tell me who was/is the GOAT. Guess which one has the NBA Finals MVP award named after him?
Greatness is exemplified by the champions who continue to win. Winning becomes a habit to them, and it is almost a yearly event. Not only did Bill win eleven championships in only 13 years of playing he did it against great competition. Wilt is considered one of the best ever, but they played at the SAME TIME. Bill obviously was the one doing something right. (I will address teammate quality shortly.) We will use the Russell blueprint to examine Ken’s disc golf greatness.
Ken Climo started playing disc golf late in high school but did not turn pro until 1988, when he would have been about 20. He still plays a few tournaments a year, and he continues to win now at the age of 49, presently competing in the Masters division. The most recent record on Wikipedia has him notched at 231 career professional wins with 103 recorded aces. If he has, in fact, been playing for 29 years that would mean he averages 3.6 aces a year. (I have yet to hit a single, lonesome one…) Here is the really important stat: Ken has 12 open division Disc Golf World Championships. He has 3 more World titles in the Masters division, placing his career total at 15!! He also is a five-time champ of the U.S. Disc Golf Championships.
Like Bill Russell, Ken won multiple consecutive championships, refusing to lose at Worlds from 1990-1998. That is unprecedented! Even more impressive is that he was solely responsible for the accomplishments. In the Russell vs. Wilt argument we have to consider that Bill might have just been blessed to land on productive and motivated teams while Wilt could have been stuck on teams of losers. There is not this margin of error when observing what Ken Climo has done. He did not require help from a team, he won 9 consecutive titles with his own hands.
If disc golf would have had as much media coverage then as it does now, Ken would be on the lead card of every YouTube video that SpinTV produced. If it had as much coverage as ball golf receives then he would be as coveted as Tiger Woods. Fans would watch his game no matter where on the leaderboard he sat. He would be more royalty than he already is.
As we come full circle the reality is that there have been many disc golfers that have won and many that are going to win in the future, just as in all sports. Ken just decided to win at the right time and for a long time. I want to be like Ken. (Not “Mike”, get it?)
If you would like to learn more about the man who represents disc golf’s Gold Standard, I would suggest watching the 1999 World Championships on YouTube. (Spoiler, Ken does not win that year, but he should’ve because I don’t know how Ron Russell made any putts with the form he used.) Wikipedia will give you a full account of his honors and accomplishments. You can also google the episode of Final Round Radio podcast that has Climo as their guest speaker. It is very insightful into his very confident mindset and the only lengthy interview I can find of him on the internet. I truly wish we had more footage of Climo’s game in his prime.