“Okay, everybody take a knee!” (and putt)

The DeLaveaga Disc Golf Club is hosting a 145-player C-tier event in December called the Faultline Charity Pro-Am. The tournament director, your truly, wanted to include a nice, unique prize for the person in each division that carded the fewest bogey strokes and opted for a great new disc golf product called a Sew Fly, made by a company of the same name.

Sew, er, I mean, so what is a Sew Fly? It’s a round pillow of sorts that is made of tough, waterproof material on the outside, but filled with plenty of soft padding on the inside. It’s primary purpose is to serve as a knee pad to keep pants clean and knees protected, but the Sew Fly also flies remarkably well and is perfect for a game of catch.

All Sew Fly products can be customized with a great deal of detail. Shown here are 'Small' Fly's with the DeLaveaga Disc Golf Club logo embroidered in a variety of different colors.

All Sew Fly products can be customized with a great deal of detail. Shown here are ‘Small’ Fly’s with the DeLaveaga Disc Golf Club logo embroidered in a variety of different colors.

Much like the Sew Fly, this post will serve double duty as both a product review and instructional post. I set out to put the Sew Fly through its paces against a very wet and muddy DeLaveaga, and it occurred to me that I’ve never dedicated a post to the benefits of getting in a lower throwing position when the situation calls for it. More on that shortly.

When my Sew Flys arrived in the mail, I naturally tested the flight characteristics. Much to my wife’s chagrin, I tried it out by playing catch with one of my kids in the house. The verdict: these things can really fly! The design provides a decent amount of float and glide, and hyzers and anhyzers can be crafted as with any other flying disc. The larger Sew Fly flies the best, not unlike a golf disc compared to a mini. They’re soft and light enough to not dent, scratch or smash, but they are heavy enough to send knick-knacks scattering or knock over a glass of grape juice. No that didn’t happen to us, but as my wife anxiously pointed out, it could have.

Next up was the test of it’s more utilitarian function of disc golf knee pad.

Once again the Sew Fly performed the job admirably. The padding is more than adequate to absorb whatever it’s sitting on top of, and the bottom is made of an extra tough material that seems like it will hold up for a long time without tearing. Also, there is no way moisture is penetrating the bottom much less reaching the player’s knee. It does everything you’d want a knee pad to do.

I was pretty excited when I heard about the Sew Fly because I throw from one or both knees, my butt, and on rare occasions my back whenever a lower release point can help me execute a shot. I sometimes put a towel down to kneel on, but usually don’t bother- especially when the course is dry. As a result I’ve suffered painful jabs from rocks and sticks many times. I plan to use my Sew Fly all the time now.

Let’s talk about why I feel so strongly about getting down and dirty (and I don’t have to get dirty now!) on the course.

Throwing from closer to the ground can open up a shot and allow a player to obtain more loft. which in turn makes it easier to throw an accurate layup shot.

Throwing from closer to the ground can open up a shot and allow a player to obtain more loft. which in turn makes it easier to throw an accurate layup shot.

The difference in a typical release point when kneeling is about a foot or so compared to a normal stance. Those 12  inches certainly make a big difference when trying to hit a low gap right in front of you, which is the scenario under which most players throw from a knee. But I’ll get down and dirty pretty much any time I’m faced with a low ceiling, because the lower release point allows me to get more air under the shot and therefore throw it harder with a lower risk of hitting the ceiling. By throwing from lower, my angle of attack is much more comfortable. Those 12 inches make a bigger difference the longer the required shot is.

One of the best examples of this advantage is when I’m throwing a low skip shot to get under continuous low foliage (branches and such). If I throw standing up, the disc is flying downward toward the ground, and energy is wasted when it hits from that downward angle. If I throw from a knee, the disc can truly skip and lose hardly any momentum, like a stone skimming and skipping across water.

The same principle applies when throwing an air shot. The lower release point and flat or even upward trajectory in essence buys me more room for the disc to fly. This in turn allows me to get more touch on a shot, preventing those ‘blow-bys’ that result from throwing the disc too hard when trying to clear a low gap.

Two thing to remember when throwing from a knee or two knees, or a sitting or kneeling position: Find a way to re-establish your center of gravity so you can maintain your balance; and try to get a good, solid foundation. The two really go hand-in-hand. When throwing from one knee, what you do with the other leg matters quite a bit. If your off-foot is behind your marker there isn’t much to think about, but if you are kneeling directly behind your marker it usually works best to splay your other leg behind you on the same line as your intended throw or kneel with both knees. The advantage of the two-knee approach is a superior, sturdy foundation, but doing so will likely limit power a little. Therefore it works best on shorter shots.

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Sometimes I need to get even lower than on my knees, and I’ll actually sit behind my mini. In most cases I’ll sit indian style as it solves the issue of what to do with my legs and gives me a very solid foundation. The larger Sew Fly is (for me) just big enough to sit on without contacting the ground.

My overall assessment of the Sew Fly is that it works great as both a kneepad and a catch disc. I personally prefer the smaller one for use on the course as it’s easier to store, but the larger one is better for playing catch. The small one flies fine too, but is harder to catch. These make great gifts for the disc golfer that already has everything disc golf-related. Check out all the ways they can be customized at http://www.sewflyoriginals.com/

Posted in DaLearning Curve, DeLaBlahg, disc golf, disc golf book, disc golf instruction, disc golf product reviews, Disc Golf Technique, frisbee golf, instruction, Jack Tupp, Pinto Lake, santa cruz | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Playing Disc Golf like a Machine. A well-oiled machine.

If I tell you to play disc golf like a well-oiled machine, and leave it at that, it would be no more useful than saying ‘It’s beneficial to execute all your shots on a consistent basis’. Thanks a bunch, Captain Obvious!

Thankfully, for the purposes of this post I’ve come up with something a little better than that. My goal is to use the term in a different way in hopes that a couple concepts stick in your brain like a spike hyzer landing in soft, wet grass.

(Slight digression- feel free to skim past) Experience has shown me that being an effective disc golf instructor has two distinct components. First of all, of course, the techniques and concepts I communicate need to be valid and hopefully sometimes new and insightful. But equally important is the communication itself.

Excelling at a sport is no guarantee that a person will be any good at teaching that sport to others, even if that person has a good understanding of why he or she excels. If you can’t explain it to others in a way they can understand and internalize, you won’t have much success as a teacher. Part of this is a basic ability to communicate clearly- having a good vocabulary that can be adapted to a variety of different audiences. And then there is the careful selection and use of well-known (or sometimes original) metaphors, similes and sayings that will resonate and penetrate people’s long-term memory. Like a spike hyzer (or the use of the imagery of a spike hyzer, for all you literary buffs). And now on with the actual concepts I want to share- of which there are actually two.

You are a disc golf machine

The title of this post (Playing Disc Golf like a Machine-A well-oiled machine) offers a hint to the fact that the whole ‘well-oiled machine’ phrase can actually be co-opted to convey two distinct disc golf tips. We’ll first just tackle the idea of playing disc golf like a machine.

The idea here is not so much playing like a machine as it is focusing only on the shot you’re about to attempt in an automaton-like way. In other words, once you’ve decided what to do think only about the mechanics of your throw, not what’s at stake, or what might happen if you miss. In ball golf they refer to these thoughts about mechanics as ‘swing thoughts’ – the specific keys to proper form that you’ve found give you good results. For instance, when driving backhand remembering to rotate hips and shoulders, or when throwing sidearm to keep the wrist from turning over.

Ken Climo is the closest thing to a machine the sport of Disc Golf has ever seen. His unparalleled resume is matched only by his ability to focus only on the shot before him.

Ken Climo is the closest thing to a machine the sport of Disc Golf has ever seen. His unparalleled resume is matched only by his ability to focus only on the shot before him.

Another way to explain it is to use the stereotype of the science fiction robot. Superior intelligence untainted by emotions. I know some players think they can elevate their games by getting pumped up, or mad at themselves, but in golf this is rarely the case. For every time that guy runs off a string of good holes after throwing a fit over a missed putt, there are four or five times when his tantrum has the opposite effect.

Now picture a graph with a baseline that is ‘emotional zero’. The goal should be what on an EKG machine would be called ‘flat-lining’. Not good at all on an actual EKG, but the ideal state for competing in a game like golf. (Side-note: notice I wrote ‘competing in’ just now rather than ‘playing’. This advice applies to situations where your score is the most important thing. If your only objective for the day is fun, then of course letting the emotions spike upward into the manic happy zone is encouraged.)

However, if you are focusing on score then flat-lining is what you want. Remember that a robot (a machine) is devoid of ALL emotion, not just anger or despair. Elation and excitement distract a player from focusing on good decision-making and mechanics just as much as negative emotions. (For more on this, check out this post from the past on controlling emotions. But finish reading this one first!)

Every machine is designed to perform a particular function, and that function is all it knows. We are not machines, of course, but our best and most consistent performance is realized when we can emulate them as closely as possible. Our thoughts during a round should always be related to performing the functions of a disc golf machine- specifically the next task in the queue: the next shot.

Since we’re not robots but complicated tangles of among other things hopes, fears, anxieties and excitements, we’ve no chance at succeeding at this 100 percent of the time. But being aware of when our thoughts stray outside that little box and shoving them back inside is the next best thing.

Getting back to the robot analogy, it occurs to me that when we talk of machines being able to think for themselves the term used is ‘artificial intelligence’. For the purposes of being a disc golf machine, then, staying locked onto our sole purpose of executing the next shot would show the opposite of that- or real intelligence. Right?

Well-oiled

Now that the ‘play like a machine’ concept is established, let’s examine the ‘well-oiled’ part. No, I’m not talking about the use of sunscreen, although that’s always prudent. And I’m definitely not referring to being ‘lubricated’ by pumping alcohol in the bloodstream.

This bit of common wisdom (which is applicable to all active sports that require fine motor skills) is an important caveat to the discussion above. Yes, by all means, play like a machine. But while focusing on those mechanics, make sure your form isn’t too mechanical. KnowwhatImean?

Terms like ‘smooth’, ‘fluid’, ‘loose’ and even ‘relaxed’ are all used in relation to this concept. Smooth as opposed to hurky-jerky. Loose rather than tight. Relaxed instead of anxious and nervous. And fluid, well, fluid more than the others is directly analogous to the imagery of a well-oiled machine. Picture water flowing downhill and conforming to the terrain, compared to rocks tumbling down that same hill.

Smooth follow-through and good balance are good indicators that you're playing like a well-oiled machine.

Smooth follow-through and good balance are good indicators that you’re playing like a well-oiled machine.

One final example would be the most obvious- the way motor oil keeps the piston in your car’s engine firing smoothly, rather than seizing up and causing you to . . .  shank your drive!

That’s my subtle way to bring the discussion back to disc golf.

So how do you make sure you play like a machine on one hand, but also stay loose, relaxed and fluid on the other? Well, first of all keep in mind that ‘play like a machine’ refers mostly to your mindset and ability to focus only on the things that enable to properly execute the shot, while the ‘well-oiled’ reference is a reminder to stay loose and relaxed at all times. They’re really two separate bits of advice that go together in a yin/yang kind of way.

When your mind gets too cluttered with all the things that go into good shot planning and execution (not to mention all the extraneous stuff a ‘machine’ would never factor in), it can create tension in your body in a very surreptitious kind of way. You might not feel it until it’s too late. Therefore preventative measures are often in order. Maybe you just perform a little last-second checkup to see if you’re feeling tight or loose- or just assume that a certain amount of tightness will always creep in and takes steps to prevent it. Ever see someone take a deep breath before every putt? Sure you have! That’s exactly what they’re doing. Flushing out the tension and letting the natural fluidity flow back in.

So there you have it. Play disc golf like a machine programmed for that singular purpose, eliminating everything else from your thought process. But don’t let that turn you into a Wizard of Oz Tin Man in need of an oil can. Loosen up and have fun!

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The perfect playing partner, and the almost near-perfect round

Today was a good day.

More specifically, today was a very good disc golf day in the life of a player whose days of high-level competition are mostly behind him.

At the risk of boring those who could care less about the disc golf exploits of others I will recount my round today, because it gives me the opportunity of sharing yet another lesson on one the sport’s finer points. Specifically, we’ll examine what I think is the appropriate way to act when someone in your group is having a potentially personal-best, or-for-some-other-reason historical round.

A little backdrop: I had been camping with the family and hadn’t played DeLaveaga for almost a week. In that time, the baskets had been moved (some of them at least) for the first time in a couple months. Ten of the 29 baskets were in different spots than the last 20 or so rounds I’d played there.

My friend Asaf and I met for a casual round this afternoon, and for the sake of brevity I will tell you that he shot a +10, which is a little worse than his average and significantly above his recent scores of between +2 and +6.

The round started off for innocuously enough for me with a par on hole 1  (basket in the A position). But I did feel an energy, or strength, on the drive, and it gave me confidence to play Hole 2 aggressively. Hole 2 at DeLa is uphill and also a fairly sharp left dogleg with plenty of trees. As a left-hander it requires a technically near-perfect S-turn drive with premium power. I felt as I released it that as long as it didn’t roll away it would be good, and it was. Close enough to putt with the Ape driver that did the heavy lifting. Birdie number one on the day.

Hole 3 provided the first opportunity for a big putt. I pulled the drive left, leaving a 50-foot jump/straddle blocked by low limbs. Dead center, -2 after three holes.

This 50-footer from an obstructed lie on hole 3 slammed dead-center into the chains.

After a par on hole 4 in the short position (one of the new pin positions), I birdied 5, 6, 7, and 8 (the final of these while playing through a group from the Bay Area Chain Smokers clan- one of whom helped me out big-time in a School of Disc Golf event recently. Thanks Ryon!). Holes 5 and 6 required short ‘tester’ putts, while both 7 and 8 were in the 25-30 range. At this point I was -6 after eight holes and it was hard to ignore the fact that I was off to a rather hot start. It’s worth noting two things at this point: First of all, I try very hard to NOT keep track of my total score during my round. This has been well-documented in previous posts, so feel free to do a little research to understand why I am so passionate about this philosophy. Second, my friend Asaf was also well aware of my hot start, as he later revealed- yet he took pains even at this point to NOT comment on that fact. He is quite familiar with my efforts to not dwell on cumulative score during a round.

Holes 8A through 14 (six holes total) were all pars, but even that attests to the magic of this round. 8A and 10 were both missed birdie opportunities for me, but 9, 11, 12, and 13 are all holes on which I average more than par. Hole 9 is a tough lefty hole, but I played it safe. Hole 11 in the long-left position is tough for anyone, and for me today it required a tough, technical, lefty backhand skip-upshot with a Star Tern to save par. Hole 12 had just been moved to the long ‘Wind-chimes’ position, and I didn’t have the disc I would normally drive that hole with, an OOP, pre-Barry Schultz gummy Beast. I threw the Tern instead and hit the small gap left of the canyon to net a par.

Then I came to Hole 13. I-5. DeLaveaga was installed in the early 1980’s, a time when all disc golf holes were for the sake of consistency par 3. If DeLa were installed new today, hole 13 would today definitely be rated a par 4, but it is and now always will be par 3. For this reason, it is impossible to approach this hole bogey-free and not think about the significance of getting a par 3 here. It’s easily the toughest hole on the course in terms of par, so if you make it past 14 bogey-free, in theory the toughest obstacle has been conquered. Never mind the fact that there are 15 holes yet to go.

The view of this picture of Hole 13 at DeLaveaga is from behind the basket looking back to the fairway. Obviously the epitome of a guarded green. Add 500-plus feet of distance and this is one tough par 3. Photo by John Hernlund.

The view of this picture of Hole 13 at DeLaveaga is from behind the basket looking back to the fairway. Obviously the epitome of a guarded green. Add 500-plus feet of distance and this is one tough par 3. Photo by John Hernlund.

My drive on 13 was as usual a backhand lefty roller, and it was a good one. I got all the way through the flat, wide-open first half of the fairway before my roller began to turn over toward the steep, wooded canyon on the left. That’s important, because if it makes it far enough before cutting left there is usually at least a chance to eek out a par through the trees. Such was the case today, and my pinpoint upshot with my (secret weapon) soft Vibram Ridge gave me a 23-foot par putt which I was able to hit, keeping my unblemished round intact.

If Asaf made any notable comment or compliment after I hit that putt, I don’t recall it. He likely said something like ‘nice putt’, but I just don’t remember. That’s a pretty big deal in itself, because I’ve actually had people say to me when I was bogey free after hole 13, “Did you know you don’t have any bogies yet?” Now, I’m not truly superstitious, but jinxes aside, there are things that common sense should tell you not to say in certain circumstances. The last thing I want to hear from another player in a spot like that is a verbal reminder that I’m bogey-free.  To reiterate, a bogey-free round at DeLa is a big deal. Almost as rare for a player of any level as a no-hitter in baseball- which brings up another good analogy.

Before getting hooked on disc golf in the mid 90’s, I was (like Paul McBeth) an aspiring baseball player. And as all baseball players know, there are a numerous time-honored traditions. One involves how teammates treat a pitcher who is in the process of potentially recording a no-hitter. In baseball, as the outs and innings tick by, the pitcher’s teammates work harder and harder to avoid him. By the eighth and ninth innings no one will even sit near him in the dugout- much less engage him in conversation. Asaf has never played baseball, but he has  impeccable golf etiquette, and his instincts on how to react to my hot round were spot-on.

As I said, my par putt on 13 drew a perfectly measured response from Asaf. Hearty congrats for parring a hole that seeing may more 4’s than 3’s, but nothing to draw attention to the fact that I just cleared the biggest hurdle to carding a bogey-free round at DeLa.

Hole 14 was in the 2nd-toughest of it’s four possible pin placements, and after a drive good enough to get a pretty routine upshot for par, I kinda blew it. I hit a high limb trying for a high hyzer upshot and left myself 29 feet away. Feeling for the first time the full pressure of bogey-free potential, I hit the putt to keep hope alive. Asaf once again didn’t betray his recognition of the significance. I uncharacteristically celebrated, but I don’t recall him saying much of anything. I mentioned earlier that I’d had only four bogey-free rounds at DeLa in more than 20 years . . . well, I’ve made it past hole 13 only to get my first bogey on 14 at least 10 times. So that was a hurdle to clear as well.

Hole 15 was my first birdie in seven holes, hole 16 saw one of my longest drives there ever (400-plus feet in the air, but I missed the 40-foot putt), and hole 17 resulted in a birdie for both Asaf and me. Hole 18 and 19 were both pars for me, but Asaf birdied 18 so he took the teepad for the first time. I remember kind of liking that as it took the focus off me and my round.

On hole 20, which had just been moved to its right position, I likely came close to an ace. We couldn’t see the result from the tee, but my drive ended up just past the hole, 18 feet away. I birdied that  hole, as well as 21 and 22, a long drive across an OB road- which I based. Holes 23 and 24 were pars, which left me with what we refer to at DeLa as ‘The Hill,’ the final four holes that play up, across, and down a steep, rutted, and tree-filled slope.

Hole 26a at DeLaveaga looks simple enough from the tee, but a narrow fairway and steep drop-offs on both  the left and right mean drives need to be both very straight and fairly long. Photo by John Hernlund.

Hole 26a at DeLaveaga looks simple enough from the tee, but a narrow fairway and steep drop-offs on both the left and right mean drives need to be both very straight and fairly long. Photo by John Hernlund.

Hole 25 was recently moved short, which is a good thing, except that the short pin placement is close to an OB road to the right. For a guy throwing lefty backhand hyzer, at that position for the first time in months, it caused a good deal of consternation. My Vibram O-Lace came through, though, and the reliable grip enabled me to turn a big S-turn into a drop-in birdie. Asaf, in retrospect, was treating me more and more like radioactive material.

Hole 26 in the long is one of those holes where it’s nearly impossible to just ‘play it safe’ off the tee. I did what I normally do, got a good result, layed up as safely as possible for par (if you know this hole you know that there is no such thing as a routine par here) and thankfully kept my card clean for another hole. 27 holes down, two to go.

Hole 26a was added around 10 years ago – maybe longer – at a time when we were trying to ‘rest’ some environmentally sensitive holes like 17. The idea was to always have 27 available to play. It sits on a narrow ridge between the basket for 26 and the tee for 27, with steep DeLa-style drop-offs on both the left and right sides. 26a was one of the holes just moved- to it’s long position. I knew if would provide the final challenge to a bogey-free round, as hole 27 (normally Top of the World) to an ridiculously short position.

My drive on 26a, thrown with a Legacy Rival for stability and control, came out exactly as I wanted. However, at the end of its flight  it got caught by some Scotch Broom foliage in the fairway and left me with an obstructed 200-foot upshot. I did everything I could with my soft Ridge given the circumstances, and it came down to a 40-foot low ceiling look for par. My lean/jump-putt looked good most of the way, then hit the top nubs of the Mach X basket and fell unceremoniously to the ground. Bogey.

What happened next, though, was pretty cool. It was obvious that Asaf had been for many holes holding in the desire to show his support for my effort. We discussed what had been moments before taboo, then quickly moved to the fact that he could preserve a single-digit score by parring the final hole.

I was disappointed to lose the bogey-free round on the second-to-last hole, but also still aware that I had a pretty hot round going anyway. After my teeshot on 27 looked like another likely birdie putt and we were snaking out way down the 68 steps from tee to fairway, I mentioned that I thought I still might have a shot a double-digits under par. Asaf  replied that he thought I was easily at that mark, but I wasn’t sure. As I mentioned earlier, I try hard not to keep track of my total, and if I had to guess at that time, I would have guessed that I was either -9 or -10 at that point.

Turns out I was -12 when I missed my par putt on 26a, and then -12 after I hit my 13th and final birdie on 27. I tied my personal best (recorded in 2006), didn’t get the bogey-free round that really meant more to me, but still floated around the rest of the day basking in the glow.

The best and most lasting memory, though, will be of my conversation with Asaf afterward. He said that he was so aware of my round, from the hot start to the par on 13 and on, that he didn’t want to do anything to mess it up. He said it got to the point, on the last six or seven holes, that he didn’t even want to touch my discs. I hadn’t noticed that, but appreciated it with a chuckle after the fact. As an old baseball player – an old pitcher, in fact – I could not have not asked for anything more in a playing partner.

So the specific advice is this: when you’re playing with someone who has a hot round in the works, do like Asaf and refrain from any commentary that draws attention to the hotness of the round. If the player brings it up then you’re in the clear. But don’t be the one to raise the topic. In fact, generally speaking, you can never go wrong by limiting your narrative on other peoples’ shots (and your own for that matter). Let the game for the most part speak for itself, and use the time together to discuss other things.

Posted in All Things Disc Golf, DaLearning Curve, DeLaBlahg, DeLaveaga, disc golf, disc golf instruction, etiquette, frisbee golf, instruction, Jack Tupp, santa cruz | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to drastically cut down on your short missed putts

Is there anything worse than missing a short putt? The kind that you make 90 or even 99 times out of 100 on the practice basket? Usually when that happens we know even a split second before the disc leaves our hand that we’re in trouble, and that says most of what we need to know about why we occasionally miss ridiculously short putt, and how to make sure it almost never happens.

Let’s touch on the mechanical issues first. Based on personal experience and what I see out on the course, the most common technical flaw that causes missed short putts comes from how some players change the putting stroke to adjust for shorter distances. Quite often players will try to ‘take something off’ their normal putting motion in an attempt to putt softer or simplify their form. That usually results in changes to the finish of the putting motion, and it’s exactly the wrong approach. All too often that approach results in putts missing low, high, left and right. Instead, to accommodate short putts that require less power, reduce movement in the front-end of your normal putting technique.

Ways to do this include using less lower body, not pulling the disc as far back (my favorite), and reducing the amount of armspeed as needed. But whatever you do, keep the form of your finish as consistent as possible- especially your follow-through. The most important part of a good, consistent putting stroke is the finish. Specifically, the follow-through. Good follow-through ensures that a player’s disc goes where it is being aimed (assuming the follow-through ends up pointed at the spot being aimed for). Check out this video tutorial demonstrating a great exercise that helps develop proper follow-through.

A good definition of follow-through in this context, by the way, is ‘continuing the putting motion even after the disc leaves your hand’. Take a look at pictures of top players putting, and you’ll see arm and even fingers fully extended at the target, usually rigidly straight, even when the disc is 10 feet out of the hand. That’s good follow-through.

Good, balanced follow-through eliminates most short misses.

Good, balanced follow-through eliminates most short misses.

Follow-through also adds a surprising amount of oomph to putts, and with short putts that can make the difference between hitting the front rim and just clearing it. In fact, the idea to write this post occurred yesterday during a crisp -11 at my local course, Black Mouse. I had an 18-foot putt on hole 11 for birdie, and at the very last second  I realized that I wasn’t giving it enough power to go in. I was able to exaggerate the follow through even more than usual, and that made all the difference as it barely cleared the front nubs.

Follow-through also helps eliminate misses to the left and right, and also putts that hit the top of the cage. Going back to the first point made about the problems caused by making changes to the finishing part of a putt, lets look at some specifics. When we do that, we’re really just guessing on a case-by-case basis, and the results are unpredictable. Early releases turn into misses on the weak side of the basket, and holding on to the disc too long causes players to ‘pull’ the disc and miss on the strong side. And everyone at one time or another has launched a short putt at a sharp upward angle and hit the top of the cage. %!#!*^!!!

The cure for all of these- really all mechanical flaws in short putts – is to keep the finish of the putt the same no matter the distance, and follow through the right way (and the same way) every time. This is true of all putts, but especially short putts, and the reason is simple: If you putt firmly and follow through at the center of the basket, the disc won’t have enough time/distance to stray off line. The firmness of the putt (it just needs to be hard enough that it flies on a straight line) is important as well. If you are a finesse putter, you still don’t want the short ones to have any curve or turn. With a firm, accurate line, even if you’re off a little with your aim, good follow-through will ensure that the disc bangs the chains before it has a chance to veer too far.

One final note about follow-through: Balance is a key to the aiming part of follow-through. If you’re not well-balanced and tend to fall or lean to one side or another as you release the disc, good follow-through won’t help much in terms of keeping the disc going in the right direction.

Now let’s examine the short putts that are missed due to mental lapses and neurosis. These are at least as frustrating as those caused by mechanical flaws, and luckily they are also just as preventable.

When I say ‘mental lapses’, I’m referring to those times we take for granted that we’ll make a putt of ‘gimme’ distance (which is different for everyone). Without even making a conscious decision to do so, we switch to autopilot and go through the motions while our brains are occupied with something completely different. Then we miss the putt and become immediately and painfully aware of the 100 percent preventable mistake we just made.

The cure for this kind of lapse is to have a putting routine and go through it on every putt in every round you play, whether practice or tournament, casual or for stakes. Once again I refer to those top pros who depend on the money they on tour to be able to stay on tour. Watch some tourney videos and you’ll see nearly all of them take a little time on even the shortest putts, knowing that each throw counts the same and each throw could directly impact their payout.

The other mental error that causes missed short putts is something I write about often- getting wrapped up in and dwelling on the ‘why’ of the putt rather than the ‘what’. In other words, thinking about why the putt is important, or why you can’t afford to miss it rather than simply what you need to do to properly execute. For one thing, negative thoughts lead to negative results, and even if the ‘why’ isn’t purely negative the fact remains that you can’t think about two things at once. And thinking about the ‘what’ is essential.

Confidence - or the lack thereof - can make all the difference on short 'tester' putts.

Confidence – or the lack thereof – can make all the difference on short ‘tester’ putts.

There is a certain distance putt (and the exact distance differs depending on each player’s skill and mentality) that is longer than a gimme but short enough that it’s a big disappointment if missed. When someone in our group is left with one of these, my friend Alan likes to say “there’s still some meat left on the bone”. Most players refer to these putts as ‘testers’, and they can mess with your head like no others if you let ‘em.

Have you ever seen a movie with a dream sequence where a character looks down a hallway, and the end of the hall keeps stretching further and further away? In disc golf, this translates to testers that we really should make at least 80 percent of the time morphing into final exams that we forgot to study for. I have to admit that when my putting is a little off, these can really get to me. The problem is that when this happens my anxiety shifts my focus away from where in needs to be – on the ‘what’ – and at that point I’ll be lucky if the putt even accidentally goes in.

So what’s the remedy? First, be cognizant of those anxieties creeping into your head. Acknowledge that they’re there, then step back and re-focus. When it happens to me, which is usually, as I said, when my confidence is on vacation, I remind myself to trust the routine and technique. At times like that it’s usually a blind trust as I’m just not feelin’ it at all. But it almost always works, because after all, these testers are putts I should be making without too much trouble. By shifting my focus back to the routine I’m dissipating the doubts and anxiety that would otherwise derail me.

Missed short putts are almost always avoidable, which is why it stings so much when it happens. Hopefully the tips above can spare you some of that angst. And when that short miss eventually does come along (it will, it happens to all of us), instead of just getting disgusted with yourself, consider it a reminder of all the ways to prevent those mistakes in the future.

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How to find and stay in ‘The Zone': Disc Golf in a Vacuum, Part 2

I was/he is/she is ‘In The Zone’.

We’ve all heard the term – used most often in an athletic context – but what exactly is ‘The Zone’? And how does one get there- and stay there? All three questions are addressed in this second installment of Disc Golf in a Vacuum.

If you haven’t read Part 1 of Disc Golf in a Vacuum yet, it recounts how I discovered (or maybe re-discovered is more accurate) the primal essence of what is most compelling about disc golf: controlling the path of a flying disc. More importantly it explains why that realization also enlightened me to the fact that true enjoyment and contentment playing disc golf can and does exist in a ‘vacuum’ totally void of things like score, player rating and luck.

For some, that alone is enough reason to embrace Disc Golf in a Vacuum. But others – myself included – enjoy competing against others and the course, and have a genetically coded need to measure performance and results. To this group I’m happy to say that playing Disc Golf in a Vacuum most likely will also generate better scores in addition to a better experience. That, friends, is what is know as having your cake and eating it too. Or maybe in disc golf terms, having your collectible first run night shift Destroyer and throwing it too. And that brings us back to being In The Zone.

First of all, I think everyone understands that being in the zone is a good thing. Someone who is in the zone while playing disc golf is throwing all her shots exactly as intended, and nailing all her putts. She is playing at the absolute peak of her abilities, and intensely focusing on each shot seemingly without any conscious effort.

When I did a Google search using the phrase ‘definition of being in the zone’ the most relevant result was a Wikipedia entry for a psychological term called flow. The concept was originally proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, who said “Flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate experience in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning.” Sounds like being in the zone to me. Japanese martial artists are said to sometimes achieve ‘mushin’, translated in English as “no mind”, which sounds like much the same thing.

 

Ken 'Tank' Franks focuses on reaching the basket 415 feet away. Photo by Jack Trageser.

Ken ‘Tank’ Franks focuses on reaching the basket 415 feet away. Photo by Jack Trageser.

Reading descriptions of both flow and mushin made me realize that those terms as well as ‘in the zone’ are all pretty accurate (and similar) descriptions of what I experienced during that round described in Part 1 of this series. There was the pure joy in what I was doing, the lack of anxiety connected to expectation or results, and most relevant to Part 2, heightened performance (despite the lack of emphasis on score). So – no big surprise – what I termed Disc Golf in a Vacuum is nothing new. But it was good to see that there is agreement on the best ways to get In The Zone and stay there as much as possible.

Getting In the Zone

Achieving the state of flow/In The Zone is desirous for many reasons (again, see Part 1), but right now we’re focusing on only one; improved performance. However, there is a paradoxical relationship at play that mades this a hard concept to grasp. Optimal performance levels are attained when one is In The Zone, but to get in The Zone one cannot be focusing on or even thinking about performance as it is typically measured.

That is the reason Csíkszentmihályi chose the term flow and it’s why the word vacuum seemed most apt to me. It represents the state of total immersion in the moment, which in disc golf means thinking of nothing but the upcoming shot. Reduced to that throw and only that throw, all value in terms of scoring is stripped away and what is left is the simple desire to make the disc do exactly what you want it to do. And the focus can’t even be on the hoped-for flight, because that is also a form of measuring performance. Instead, conscious thought must be reduced to what needs to be done to achieve the desired outcome. Thoughts of the outcome itself  – and this is really the key – can’t possibly exist In the Zone.

Ideally we can get to the point where we have no conscious thoughts in this state at all (“no mind”, and in the Japanese mushin), but that is easier said than done. It’s practically impossible while playing a game as social as golf. However, I’ve discovered a few tactics that at least give me a better shot, and get me back on track when my mind wanders in the wrong direction.

The most specific of these is to not keep track of score- or at least remain as much as possible in ignorance of the current total score during a round. It was hard for me at first, but whenever that thought came up I’d just try to think about something else. Now I’m at a point where towards the end of a round I won’t have any idea of my exact score- even though I use UDisc to record all my scores. I’ll enter the score for the hole but not look at the total (which thankfully in UDisc is in a smaller font).

By the end of the round I’ll usually have an idea of how I’m doing within a couple strokes, but not knowing the exact total makes a big difference in keeping my mind on just the shot at hand. I think more than anything else it provides a specific framework (objective: be uncertain of total score by the end of the round) for the more important goal of not thinking about score during the round. And even before using UDisc, I never had trouble recounting my score on each hole after the round. By focusing intently on each shot, every one was clearly imprinted on my memory. That hasn’t always been the case.

Another exercise that was difficult for me at first but came to be fairly natural (most of the time) is controlling emotional reactions to the results of throws. At first this meant not letting any kind of emotion show outwardly, regardless of whether I was seething inside over a bad shot or bad luck, or pumped up about something good. Even though I wanted badly to let it out, I’d just take deep breathes until it passed, and remind myself that the next shot was all that mattered now. After awhile, I noticed that the ‘zen-like’ non-reaction became natural, and my thoughts would be more reflective, detached and inquisitive (as in, ‘hmmm, what just happened there, and why?’) rather than reactionary and emotional.

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Finally, I just keep reminding myself that when it’s my turn to throw any thoughts other than those required to properly execute the shot need to be expelled. If I’m lining up a putt and start thinking of how much I need this birdie, or standing on the tee and focusing on the tree I sometimes hit – and am able to recognize those thoughts as the impediments to proper execution that they are – I will step back and use a visualization technique to remove that thought and get back on the proper track. The key of course is realizing the presence and harmfulness of that wrong thought before taking the shot, and doing something about it. Seems like we always recognize those after the shot, right? Nabbing and removing them beforehand takes practice, but stick with it and it’ll become more natural. My favorite visualization technique for removing those rogue thoughts, by the way, is a squeegee that wipes the slate clean, enabling me to start fresh.

Ideally I’m in that state of flow or mushin where my disc golf game is on autopilot and I’m not conscious of any thoughts. But in reality Disc Golf in a Vacuum is more of an objective- a place to steer back towards when I get off track. Being In the Zone for any prolonged period of time is pretty rare. But I see it as a target, with The Zone being the bullseye. Most of the time the best I can do is make sure I stay close to the center of the target by using the tactics listed above. At the end of the round, I gauge my performance more on how well I played Disc Golf in a Vacuum than how I scored- but there is usually a close correlation between the two.

 

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How to throw sidearm: a breakdown of the basics

The disc golf throwing technique that goes by the names ‘sidearm’, ‘forehand’, ‘flick’ and ‘two-finger’ is the primary (or only) driving method for some players, a useful tool for others, and an enigma for many. Personally I fall into the second group, and before that spent many years with zero confidence in my sidearm shot. Sarah Hokom, on the other hand, is the poster child for the forehand throw, so between us we should be able to speak to the perspective of pretty much everyone who wants to add this shot to her or his arsenal.

We’ll start with Sarah’s detailed breakdown of all the components of proper sidearm technique, followed by some great miscellaneous tips she throws in as afterthoughts. I’ll then add a few of the ‘aha’ moments I recall having when my forehand finally began to improve.

Note how this player's torso is bent to match the angle of the disc. Photo by Jack Trageser.

Note how this player’s torso is bent to match the angle of the disc, yet twisted forward so he is facing his target. Photo by Jack Trageser.

Grip according to Sarah

Place your palm up and make a “gun” with your middle finger, pointer finger and thumb.  Tuck the disc into the space between the pointer and thumb (pointer/middle on bottom, thumb on top).  Feel the inner rim on the underside of the disc with the side of your middle finger. Secure your grip with your thumb on the top of the disc, near where your pointer finger knuckle is on the underside.  The other two fingers can simply rest on the edge of the disc or be tucked underneath- whichever feels more natural.  The grip should be firm but wrist should be flexible in order to create the “whip” during your stroke.

 

 

Footwork/Hips according to Sarah

For a right handed player, line up the left side of your body with your intended trajectory (you will be standing sideways on the tee with the right side of your body closest to the back of the tee).  Take a step with your left to initiate the footwork, then replace the left foot with the right foot in a low sliding motion, exploding forward off the right foot onto the left foot, rotating your hips forward to face your target as you throw the shot.  Finish the shot by releasing your right foot during your follow through.  If possible, get low during the release point to maximize the use of your lower muscle groups and create added power.

Sarah Hokom demonstrates proper sidearm technique during a women's clinic before the 2013 Masters Cup in Santa Cruz. Photo by Jack Trageser.
Sarah Hokom demonstrates proper sidearm technique during a women’s clinic before the 2013 Masters Cup in Santa Cruz. Photo by Jack Trageser.

Arm Motion/Hips according to Sarah

Grab the disc with a sidearm grip and cock your wrist back as far as possible.  Reach your arm back with the disc slightly wing-down and your forearm as flat as possible. Bring your arm through in a straight line with the disc flat in a whip-like fashion slightly leading with your elbow. As your arm comes through, your hips should rotate to face your target. It’s very important that your elbow be tucked close to your body in the middle of your stroke to avoid injury, but as you release the elbow should extend and arm should follow through toward your target.  Finish the shot by pointing your throwing hand at your target.

Sarah’s miscellaneous tips

  • The motion is difficult to break down into words but sometimes visualizing a similar motion that is familiar to you can help you find your sidearm.  Try to tap into memories of hitting a forehand shot in tennis, fielding a ground ball and throwing a sidearm to first base in baseball, or even skipping a rock on a lake.
  • Video yourself trying to throw sidearm and notice how your body positioning and arm-swing vary from experienced sidearm throwers and the techniques outlined here.
  • Typically sidearm throwers prefer more stable discs, so start with a stable driver and adjust the disc choice as your technique improves.
  • Start without footwork, and get comfortable with the disc coming through your body flat and snapping your wrist to your target.  Then, incorporate your hips/core and adjust your swing so the disc comes through your body flat.  Finally, add the footwork, adjust your swing again and develop a rhythm that works for you.
  • As you develop more snap and learn to increase power from your feet and through your hips and core, your stroke will naturally change and you will have to constantly adjust the angles your throw and disc stabilities you choose.

 Jack’s breakthrough moments

After years of having a forehand shot that I used only in situations where there was absolutely no other option – due to my lack of confidence in it – I finally asked my friend Alan for advice. Like most other former Ultimate players he has a refined and accurate sidearm. Two of the things he pointed out immediately resonated with me, and when put into action produced instant results. They are the reason I don’t hesitate to throw sidearm when makes the most sense and even off the tee occasionally, so hopefully they help readers who have the same chronic flaws I had.

First of all, my friend Alan reminded me of how much harder it is to get a smooth, clean release (as opposed to wobbly) compared to the backhand shot. This is a problem as a wobbly disc is more likely to turn over, especially into a headwind when the wind will magnify the effect. Also, we have a natural tendency to turn the wrist over after release rather than keeping the palm facing up. This is especially true of those who have played baseball or softball. Due to both these factors a common flaw is to turn the disc over too much and/or too soon.

Sidearm Disc Golf Tips

Avoid the common flaw shown in this photo. DON’T curl the disc upward when reaching back before the throw. Instead, reach back straight on the exact line and angle on which you want the disc to fly.

The most important correction to minimize this problem is to focus on keeping the palm facing upward upon release of the disc rather than rolling it over (rotating counter-clockwise for a right-handed player). I find that tilting both my torso and head inward (see photos above) helps to reinforce this as I am trying to keep the disc on the same angle.

And speaking of angle, I will often do two things to compensate for the increased likelihood of the disc turning over: First, I still throw a more overstable disc than I would for the same shot thrown backhand (although for expert sidearm throwers this may not be necessary); and second, I will increase the hyzer angle. These are both crutches that can be reduced or removed as technique and form improves. As Sarah notes above you’ll find yourself continually fine-tuning, which is a sign of progress.

The other major flaw my friend helped me correct is something common to many players, and is likely the biggest reason for a wobbly vs. clean release. When I pulled the disc back I would curl it to the point where the edge of the disc was perpendicular (opposite of parallel) to the ground and the line on which I wanted to ultimately throw. The problem with that habit is that it is very difficult to get the disc back on the correct line in the short burst required for a sidearm throw. The result is a loss of power, loss of aim and accuracy, and that wobbly flight.

To correct this I now focus on keeping the disc on the correct line and angle as I reach back, performing a couple slow practice strokes to reinforce the importance of this aspect of the throw. Also, by keeping my elbow tucked in close to my body (as Sarah instructs) the amount of reach-back I can get is limited- which is a good thing. It’s easier to keep the line and angle correct with a shorter reach-back, and since most of the power in generated from the snap, little if any distance is sacrificed.

There is one more thing I usually have to point out when giving lessons to those who struggle with the forehand shot. The hand should be holding the front edge of the disc, not the side of the disc closest to the body. This is important as it helps generate much-needed snap and spin. If the hand holds the side of the disc it will either come out with minimal spin, at a wildly incorrect trajectory, or both.

A big thanks to Sarah for sharing her tips with us. Be sure to check our her website at http://www.sarahhokom.com.

 

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The new DGA Mach X basket: How they differ from the Mach III, and what to do about it

The DGA Steady Ed Memorial Masters Cup starts tomorrow in Santa Cruz, CA, with the Amateur event this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and the National Tour pro version in a couple weeks. This short post is for the benefit of all the participants of these events and any others on courses that have recently had DGA’s new Mach X (pronounced Mach ‘ten’) baskets installed.

Product photo of the Mach X from discgolf.com, DGA's website.

Product photo of the Mach X from discgolf.com, DGA’s website.

The baskets at DeLaveaga Disc Golf Course, site of the Masters Cup, just got ‘upgraded’ from Mach III’s, and if you’re heading to DeLa to play in the Masters Cup you should know that the Mach X catches very differently than the Mach III. Disc Golf Association refers to it’s new product as a ‘game changer’, and after playing more than 150 holes with Mach X’s I have to agree. But my assessment is that the new innovations they’ve employed with the Mach X provide don’t result in a ‘game improver’, which would have been better.

One look at the Mach X will tell you all you need to know about what is better about the Mach X as compared to the Mach III. The ‘X-pattern’ inner row of added chains should eliminate putts that cut through the middle of the chains and spit out the back. And I’d think that all that added chain (40 strands in total now) will be much better at catching and holding hard putts and long distance shots (i.e. Ace Runs). Also, the deeper cage will certainly make it less likely that a disc bounces off the bottom of the cage once inside and slips out.

One of the newly-installed  DGA Mach X baskets at DeLaveaga Disc Golf Course in Santa Cruz, CA.

One of the newly-installed DGA Mach X baskets at DeLaveaga Disc Golf Course in Santa Cruz, CA.

No doubt those are all good things. But the design modifications have resulted in a few changes that are not entirely positive, and one that I think makes it less likely to catch soft putts.

As you can see in the photos, the outer chains hang noticeably further out than the chains of a Mach III. In fact, at the point where the chains are closest to the upper rim of the cage, there is a difference of several inches. I have observed this to effect incoming putts of several types.

First and foremost, putts that are dead center but low and soft often hit that outer chain which is now so close to the edge of the cage and push the disc back out. What is better for players with a line-drive putting technique is certainly worse for those who like to use more finesse. And those outer chains have another likely unintended effect as well.

When we’re talking about aiming at a basket, we will often use the term ‘strong side’ to describe the right side for a right-handed putter, with the left side being the weak side. This is because a right-hander’s putt will usually be hyzering at least a little to the left, toward the center of the basket in the case of a putt aimed at the ‘strong side’ and away from the basket on a putt headed for the ‘weak side’ of the chains. All other baskets are better at catching the disc that is headed toward the center pole than one headed away from it, but the Mach X is rather opposite. It catches weak side putts better than strong side putts. To me it appears that for a right-hander those outer chains push away discs trying to come in from the right, but provide an extended line of snaring chain for discs veering left.

So as you’re practicing your putting before your round tomorrow, watch closely and see if I’m not mistaken. The Mach X on the whole isn’t better or worse. But it is a game-changer.

Finally, on an aesthetic note, the Mach X is sadly lacking the ‘chain music’ that is so distinctive to a Mach III. I think it might be due to the fact that the Mach III has two rings at the bottom holding two different chains assemblies, while the Mach X only has one. But whatever the reason, a perfect putt no longer has that melodic sound. And also, I personally prefer the symmetric appearance of a Mach III over the tangled look of a Mach X, but that is a trifling compared to how it actually works.

I plan to ask as many Masters Cup competitors as possible for their opinions and write a follow up post, but if you’ve putt on the new Mach X, please post your thoughts in the comment section below.

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