When Ella Hansen joined Team Discmania back in March 2021, we had no doubt she was something special. She'd only played competitive disc golf for a few months, but she already had a number of podium finishes and even a B-tier win in Open Women under her belt. We also knew she had the heart of a champion as she'd played key roles on National and World Champion Ultimate Frisbee teams while at the University of Oregon.
Now we couldn't be more excited – if, admittedly, fairly unsurprised – to learn that Ella's talents made her first pro disc golf season a truly special one: Ella Hansen is the 2021 Professional Disc Golf Association Rookie of the Year in Open Women! With this title, she joins a club that includes multi-time World Champs like Paige Pierce, Catrina Allen, Valarie Jenkins, and Des Reading.
We caught up with Ella to talk about standout experiences from her first pro disc golf season, what the Rookie of the Year title means to her, and her goals for next year.
How do you win PDGA Rookie Of The Year?
The "Rookie of the Year" title is awarded to players (one male and one female) who earn the most points from PDGA tournaments during their first year as pros. In 2021, a "rookie" was anyone who first registered with the PDGA as a Professional or accepted cash in an Open division after July 31, 2020.
Tournament caliber and the number of competitors a player ties or beats determine how many points a performance is worth (i.e., the bigger and higher-tier the tournament, the more points are up for grabs). Ella hadn't played a PDGA-sanctioned event of any kind before September 2020, making 2021 her rookie season. Her strong play throughout the year earned her a very comfortable lead in the Rookie of the Year points race.
Ella Hansen's 2021 disc golf season: big moments
Ella's highlight performance in 2021 was undoubtedly her third place showing in the stacked field at the U.S. Women's Disc Golf Championship (USWDGC) in late May. The USWDGC was a Major, which is the PDGA's highest event tier. At that tournament, our upstart rookie finished ahead of eventual 2021 World Champion Catrina Allen, eventual 2021 Disc Golf Pro Tour (DGPT) Championship winner Missy Gannon, and a host of other more experienced pros. The USWDGC was a jolt of self-assurance for Ella, and she thinks it propelled her to later great finishes at the DGPT's Portland Open and PDGA Pro World Championships.
But confidence wasn't her only takeaway. "At U.S. Women's, I had a short putt on hole 18 that would have put me in a tie for second place," Ella recalled. "I let my nerves get the best of me and missed, taking third. A few weeks later I had a similar putt on 18 for a birdie to tie for third [at the Portland Open]. This time I made it, and it felt great to know that I had learned from the nerves and the experience at the previous tournament and was able to grow from it and improve."
Along with on-course moments that clearly showed development, Ella drew motivation from the warm welcome the disc golf community gave her. She said people asking for pictures with her and wanting her signature on their discs "has been such an amazing experience." The Discmania family showed up in a big way for Ella in 2021, too.
"I got to play practice rounds with a number of Team Discmania players throughout the season, which really helped me get a feel for courses and tournaments," Ella said. "It was also amazing to see how vast the Discmania community is and how supportive everyone has been!"
How does it feel to be PDGA Rookie Of The Year?
It wasn’t until after her breakout at the USWDGC that Ella learned she was on track to be Rookie of the Year. Loved ones, coaches, and the Discmania family all buoyed her as she stayed the course and went on to earn the title. Though the former Ultimate star is proud of the achievement, she hopes it’s just a milestone on the road to greater things. She explained those thoughts by comparing how she felt about winning Rookie of the Year to being a finalist for college Ultimate’s prestigious Callahan Award, which goes to just one male and female player each year for outstanding on-field success as well as leadership and sportsmanship.
"For the Callahan Award, I had the honor of being nominated by my teammates towards the end of my college career, so it felt much more of a reflection on my successes in that sense,” Ella explained. “And for the Rookie of the Year, obviously I am only eligible for one year so it's a little different in scope. But the amazing part of the Rookie of the Year award is that it's more of an indication of my potential as a disc golfer. Knowing how many now-world champions have won this award makes me so excited about my future as a player.”
Ella Hansen's 2022 disc golf plans
Ella says: "I'm honored to be making the step up to Discmania's Tour Team for 2022! Discmania stepped up to support me as a first time FPO player last year and I'm really excited to have their support for the next two seasons of full time touring. Being a full time professional athlete is a dream come true for me, and I couldn't imagine a better team to do it with. I'm stoked to make a big impact in the coming years, get ready!"
Someone else who’s excited about Ella’s future is U.S. Team Discmania Manager Avery Jenkins. The 2009 Pro Disc Golf World Champion and a former Rookie of the Year himself, Avery thinks “the sky is no limit” for Ella if she keeps her nose to the grindstone. She has just signed a 2-year contract extension with Team Discmania.
"Ella has definitely progressed tremendously over the past 12 months," Jenkins said. "She is one of the farthest throwers on tour, which absolutely gives her an advantage over a majority of the field. Now it all comes down to how much she dedicates to her short game to truly gauge how successful she’s going to be within this sport. When she puts it all together at an elite level, I definitely feel that she has what it takes to be a Disc Golf World Champion!"
Thanks to her experience at elite tiers of Ultimate, Ella is no stranger to doing the long, hard work it takes to reach a sport’s top level. This offseason, she has focused on refining her disc golf practice regimen.
“One of the things I've tried to bring into my disc golf training is repeatability,” she said. “Struggling at a certain skill (missing a putt, hitting a gap, etc.) is hard to work on during a round, but turning skills into drills has been really helpful for me."
Her practice has also included getting used to Discmania’s new Italian plastic, but it seems like that’s been more of a joy than an effort for the 2021 Rookie of the Year. Ella was in love with the DD3 even before she joined Team Discmania and bagged five of them throughout 2021. The new versions have quickly replaced her old stalwarts as go-to drivers. Additionally, despite not finding much use for previous runs of the FD in her game, the soon-to-be-publicly-released model in the new plastic has made her a believer. She’s digging its “feel, flight, and versatility.”
Ella hopes that her honed skills, new arsenal of discs, and strong support network will help her achieve a lofty 2022 goal as a follow-up to her impressive Rookie of the Year season: winning a minimum of two big events on the pro circuit.