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Introducing Your 2023 DGPT Comeback Players of the Year

By Nick Quargnenti

Introducing Your 2023 DGPT Comeback Players of the Year

Unveiling the latest addition to the End of Season Awards lineup – the prestigious 2023 DGPT Comeback Player of the Year. This coveted accolade is designed to honor athletes who have made a triumphant return from injury, shattered a career slump with a stellar season, reentered the full tour following a life-altering event, or otherwise reclaimed their position at the pinnacle of the sport after a hiatus. The selection process for this award involved a split vote, with fans and media members each contributing 50% to the decision-making process. 

The media and fans cast their votes for 3 contenders chosen by DGPT Tour Card players. Nominees in the MPO category included Paul Ulibarri, James Proctor, and Ricky Wysocki, while the FPO division featured outstanding contenders as well, Valarie Mandujano, Ali Smith, and Stacie Rawnsley. These athletes, recognized for their resilience and skill by their peers, stand as exemplars of determination in the dynamic realm of disc golf, eagerly awaiting a title that not only signifies a return to form but also encapsulates the indomitable ‘comeback’ spirit inherent in the world of sports.

Valarie Mandujano: Named DGPT FPO Comeback Player of the Year

Valerie Mandujano at the 2023 Des Moines Challenge. Photo: Kevin Huver / DGPT

Valerie Mandujano (PDGA# 62879) has etched her name in history as the inaugural Female Professional Open (FPO) recipient of the 2023 DGPT Comeback Player of the Year award. Mandujano’s remarkable achievement is underscored by not only securing the highest number of fan votes but also dominating the media votes, amassing over twice the number of fan votes garnered by the runner-up.

Valerie Mandujano’s standout 2022 campaign highlighted her prowess with 2 triumphant victories at the 2022 Portland Open and the 2022 WACO Annual Charity Open. Accompanied by an impressive 10 top-10 finishes, constituting 63% of her competitions, and an impeccable 100% cash rate, Mandujano showcased unparalleled skill. Unfortunately, the momentum of her 2023 season was abruptly halted by a Grade 3 ankle sprain, a 3-month recovery injury that compelled her to miss a substantial portion of the season.

Valerie Mandujano Celebrates her win at the 2023 LWS Open at Idlewild. Photo: Kevin Huver / DGPT

Upon her comeback, she seamlessly resumed her top-tier performance. In the 11 total DGPT Elite, Silver, Championship, and PDGA Major events she participated in, she secured a top-10 spot 7 times (64%), cashing in an impressive 91% of the competitions—10 out of the 11 events. Notably, she added to her accolades with a stellar 1st place victory at the 2023 LWS Open at Idlewild.

With an impressive average round rating of 963.909 (across DGPT Elite, Silver, Championship, and PDGA Major events this season), Valerie Mandujano sits in the FPO field’s top-20 in several stat categories, including 12th in Circle 1X Putting (76%), 13th in Circle 2 Putting (17%), 16th in Fairway Hits Percentage (72%), 18th in Scramble Percentage (39%), and 20th in Birdie Percentage (25%).

A PDGA member since 2014, hailing from Cibolo, Texas, Valerie Mandujano attained 514.13 tour points in 2023 (30th in the FPO Field) and she currently sits in the 11th spot according to UDisc FPO World Rankings. When given the award at The 2023 DGPT End of Season Awards Show (+ the Jomiez!), Valerie had this to say:

“I just want to start off by thanking everyone for thinking of me when voting for this award. It truly means the world to me to get nominated for this award let alone to win it. I just want to say thank you to all my fans, to my family and my friends for always supporting me especially in a tough time like this and a huge thank you to my sponsors for supporting me every step of the way and believing in me that I could do it.

Discraft, Pound, Lucky Ace, and Birdie if it wasn’t for you guys I would not be living my dream I will forever take this as one of my accomplishments but if it wasn’t for you guys I wouldn’t have that or I couldn’t say that so again thank you to all my fans everyone that has supported me everyone that has voted for me for this award truly means more I look forward to next year to see what I can do with you guys on my corner thank you.”

Valerie Mandujano at the 2023 Ledgestone Insurance Open. Photo: Kevin Huver / DGPT

Special acknowledgment is reserved for the FPO Comeback Player of the Year runner-up, Ali Smith (PDGA# 147050). Not only acclaimed as this year’s DGPT FPO Most Improved Player and the triumphant 2023 Kansas City Wide Open champion, Smith secured an impressive 12th overall position in total tour points during her inaugural full year on the tour. In 3rd place, we find Stacie Rawnsley (PDGA# 122208), who faced a challenging recovery from an elbow injury in 2021. Rawnsley showcased significant progress this season, achieving a remarkable 3rd-place finish at the 2023 Des Moines Challenge and finishing in the top-8 at the 2023 DGPT Championships.

James Proctor: Named DGPT MPO Comeback Player of the Year

James Proctor at the 2023 Cascade Challenge. Photo: Kevin Huver / DGPT

James Proctor (PDGA# 34250) has made his mark in disc golf history as the 2023 (and first-ever) MPO recipient of the DGPT Comeback Player of the Year award. In a fiercely competitive MPO field, all 3 finalists for this prestigious accolade garnered over 30% of the fan vote each. Proctor’s outstanding accomplishment is highlighted by not only securing the highest number of media votes but also clinching the 2nd-highest number of fan votes, with only Paul Ulibarri ahead in the fan vote tally.

James Proctor made the leap from a 1040 rating as a Regional Pro to joining the Pro Tour in 2021. In the subsequent year, 2022, he engaged in 16 DGPT Elite, Silver, and PDGA Major events, achieving one of his notable placements at 15th in the 2022 United States Disc Golf Championship. However, his average round rating declined significantly, settling at 1020 (1019.75) by the conclusion of the season. Aside from a couple of A-Tier events, Proctor struggled to break into the top-10 in most competitions.

James Proctor at the 2023 Open at Austin. Photo: Kevin Huver / DGPT

Jumping ahead to 2023, Proctor showcased a significant transformation, participating in 22 DGPT Elite, Silver, and PDGA Major events, which included the DGPT Championship. Remarkably, his average round rating surged to an impressive 1036.455. Demonstrating a noteworthy improvement, he secured a spot in the top-10 a total of 10 times, marking nearly a 50% increase from the previous season. Notably, Proctor clinched 2 podium finishes, including a remarkable 2nd place at the 2023 PCS Open, where he narrowly missed out on a victory to the 6x World Champion, Paul McBeth, and a commendable 3rd place at The 2023 Open at Austin.

Proctor showcased exceptional putting prowess this season, securing an impressive top-5 position in both Circle 1X Putting, claiming 2nd place with an outstanding 91%, and Circle 2 Putting, where he attained 5th place with a noteworthy 36%. Additionally, he boasts one of the MPO field’s top Birdie Percentages at 44%, earning him the 11th position overall.

A PDGA member since 2008 and proudly representing Rohnert Park, California, James Proctor amassed 794.5 tour points in 2023, securing the 11th position in the MPO Field. His current standing according to UDisc MPO World Rankings places him at a respectable 16th spot. Upon receiving the accolade at The 2023 DGPT End of Season Awards Show (+ the Jomiez!), James shared his thoughts on the achievement.

“First, I need to thank my amazing sponsors Infinite, Thought Space, and Clash, you guys were incredible. Throwing the disc was so fun, I love the support from you guys this year and I can’t wait for 2024. Next, I need to thank Eric Oakley, my touring partner, I love you buddy, you made this year so fun and I had such a good time hanging out with you. And last, my friends, my family, all my supporters back home, and all over the world. I love you guys so much and this dream of mine wouldn’t be possible without you so thank you. This means a lot and I’ll see you in 2024.”

James Proctor at the 2023 Preserve Championship. Photo: Kevin Huver / DGPT

Recognition is also due to the MPO Comeback Player of the Year runner-up, Paul Ulibarri (PDGA# 27171). Ulibarri has battled injury for the last few seasons. His injuries extended into the start of this season, and he had almost no points in the first half of the season. Once he got healthier, Uli charged back with 5 top-20s in the back half of the season to make the 2023 Tour Championship for the first time since 2021.

The second runner-up belongs to Ricky Wysocki (PDGA# 38008). After winning the 2022 Tour Championship last season, Wysocki had to take time off due to complications with Lyme. He missed the first part of the season before rejoining the tour at 2023 Music City Open, going on to win the 2023 Preserve Championship and defend his title at the 2023 Tour Championship.

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