Disc Golf in a Vacuum- one small facet thereof

Disc Golf in a Vacuum(TM) is the catchy phrase I’ve come up with to describe the bundle of ideas about the mental side of golf that make up my disc golf philosophy. It means many different things in different situations, but in general is all about embracing, appreciating, and learning from each shot we attempt. Before, during, and after. In a vacuum, there are no ‘pars,’ or ’rounds’ or even ‘holes.’ There are only shots. Today, the discussion focuses on the word ‘focus’.

What does it mean, to focus in golf? For me, when I’m able to use my logical brain to pick a shot strategy, then keep my thought sequence exactly as I wanted according to my strategy, I feel I ‘focused well’ on that shot. But it was one thing to realize that focusing on my shot would be a good thing, and another thing to actually do it. It took time; conditioning if you will. I had to train myself to monitor my thought process and weed out those either non-essential to executing the shot, or downright detrimental. And it requires constant vigilance. I still have many instances where a second after releasing the disc I know Here is a quick breakdown of what I think should be going through your head as you set up and throw, and what definitely should not:

Should go through your head
First of all before the thought process of the shot begins, you must already have decided and be committed to your shot. After that, all your thoughts should be limited to those that help you execute the shot at hand. Simple, huh? But I think this discussion is defined better by the next category: what you should Definitely Not think about.

Definitely Not

  • Don’t think about bad things. Negative thoughts have a proven track record of failure in athletic endeavors. In golf terms this means don’t think about possible consequences – once you’ve made up your mind on how to execute a shot, think not a second longer about the why’s and where-for’s. Also, don’t think about past missed shots.
  • Don’t think about the shot before you in any historical content whatsoever- unless it involves positive affirmation (along the lines of ‘I’ve made this shot before and I can make it again’). Don’t think about how long it’s been since you hit a birdie putt. Don’t think about the fact that you haven’t gotten a par on hole 13 for two years.
  • In short, when it comes time to execute the shot, strip it of all external value. It’s just you, and the basket, and the slope(if any), and the wind(if any). There is no context but the present context.

That in my estimation is focus, and it’s also one element of Playing Disc Golf in a Vacuum.

disc golf video games

Disc golf nuts have probably heard about the fact that the new Tiger Woods 10 for the Wii includes the ability to throw discs at baskets on famous ball golf courses. But did you know the PDGA is working with a game developer on a Wii game that will include actual existing disc golf courses? And did you know that the first couse the developers are building is DeLaveaga?

You probably didn’t know that last part, even if you had heard or read the rest, because I just got it straight from the game company myself. I don’t know about you, but the ability to play disc golf at DeLa on my TV is reason enough to go out and buy a Wii. Supposedly you’ll be able to control the angle, spin, and power with some new type of controller that has just been released. Yipee!

Less Time Makes for Better Golf

I ran a round at DeLa yesterday, in exactly the 1:15 time I was aiming for. The main goal of staying on the fairway was achieved, and the +2 overall score wasn’t great, but wasn’t horrible for a running round. The score is mostly attributable to the hospitality of the threesome I encountered on the third hole. Sure, I was -1 after my birdie on 3, and -2 after another birdie on hole 5, but that’s as low as I got.

Scores aside, though, the one thing that caused me to think in depth was the effect of ‘rushing’ through a round versus taking ones one with each shot. I know that there is the possibility that running between shots for an entire 28 holes of golf on a hilly course can carry with it the fatigue factor, but I’m discounting that element for now. I’m more interested for the moment with the thought process of analyzing one’s lie and shot choices, the time it takes to do that properly, and whether doing it quickly or deliberately produces a better outcome.

I read a book awhile back called Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell. It explores an innate ability humans possess to make snap decisions subconsciously. It also makes the case that we’re often better off going with that first ‘gut instinct’ instead of following the path of research, reason, and logic. Much can be taken from that book and applied to this discussion, and I think golf (both versions) is a great testing ground to prove this theory correct.

When I’m playing a running round and in a mode where I’m trying to minimize mistakes and score well, there is little time to think about anything except what to do on the next shot and how to do it. Starting at the first tee, I throw, run toward my lie, hastily drop my bag, take my stance, then throw again (or putt). Then I run to the next tee, and do it all over again. I literally do all the mental preparation for the next shot ‘on the run’. As far as I can tell, this seems to have no negative affect on my score, and it eliminates the risk of several mistakes that golfers make on the mental side of the game:

  • Overthinking in general can cause us to change our minds when we shouldn’t. Think of how many times you’ve overthought, blown a shot, then exclaimed something like “I should have gone through the window on the right like I wanted to!”
  • The more time you spend thinking about a shot – especially when it’s your turn to throw and you’re at your lie – the more opportunity random thoughts have to creep into your mind. And whether they’re negative impressions (gotta miss that tree), pressure-causing ponderings (I haven’t gotten a birdie all day!), or totally unrelated musings (the Giants better not lose again today), thinking about anything other than the execution of the shot at hand will lessen the chance of success
  • When you’re at your lie, physically ready to throw, with disc in hand, the quicker you throw the better. Often times, when I see someone spend a good deal longer before a putt than normal, I know they’re going to miss even before they throw. I call this stagnation, and I think what happens (aside from what may be going on mentally) is that our bodies are cued up when we get set, and after too much time goes by fatigue and/or stiffness sets in.

So I think I’ve come up with a pretty good hypothesis- the fact that there is nothing to be gained by taking a long time thinking about a shot, and many possible detrimental affects. Now I have to find a reliable method for speeding up the process even when I’m playing a normal-paced round or tournament. Any ideas?

Masters Cup 2009: Three Weeks Later

I didn’t bother to blog after my third and final Masters Cup round, because- let’s face it . . . who wants to write about how they saved their suckiest for last? The tournament itself was epic, however, and as a major contributor to the volunteer effort I found that rewarding even if my own performance was not.

After shooting +4 the first round and +2 the second round on the ultra-tough layout, I was tied for 8th out of 38 players. I figured a decent round on Sunday would help me climb a few notches, and that even third or fourth was within reach. Instead, my drives continued to be just a bit off-target, which at DeLa in the long layout usually means trouble. But being the optimist that I am, I have to say that simply by sticking to my gameplan I managed to grab the last cash spot in an NT event without being ‘On’ even once for the whole 84 holes. Consider these stats: Only four birdies, but no missed putts inside 30 feet, no double bogies or worse, and no mental errors where I decided to go for something with low odds. Basically, I was playing for par on everything, hoping to take the birdies when they presented themselves (which unfortunately was not often). I ended up with a +8 on the final day, dropped to 14th place, and didn’t feel much like writing about it until today. So let’s get to the good part!

This year’s Masters Cup was one of the best. We had a handful of aces when most years there aren’t any, including TWO in the lead group on the final day. Even though Nate Doss didn’t win again, he was right there until the end, and the winner, Greg Barsby, is another NorCal homeboy that’s been playing tourneys since he was a kid. Marty Hapner won the very tough Grandmasters division with a score that beat most of the Masters. The weather was as perfect as it was foul for the Am weekend, and the whole vibe just seemed in tune all three days. Plus, I get to play DeLa all year long. The Masters Cup is more like that thing I do once a year. But I’m sure I’d be writing something different if that third round was a -2 instead of a +8!