Ultimate Quoits Shuriken: Throwing Meditation

Try to research the origins of disc golf, and the path with lead in many directions. As I see it, one parent of our sport is Golf, and the other is Flying Disc. We know plenty about the origins of golf, which has been around for more than 500 years and serves as the ‘rules and objectives’ framework of disc golf. By comparison, what we know about the physical component of disc golf – that involved with the effort to throw relatively flat and cylindrical objects in contests of distance and accuracy – is minimal and scattered. There is of course ‘discus’, and when you expand your idea of what is being thrown there are other sports as well.

It seemed possible that a game called quoits has been around for quite some time, and originated with tossing a metal ring (with the same basic shape as a disc) first for distance then for accuracy. Side note: The first ones were fashioned from bent horseshoes by those that couldn’t afford an actual discus like the ones used for the Olympic Games- makes me think of all the great homemade baskets made by disc golfers that I’ve seen over the years. Common gene, perhaps?

In checking further into quoits, I discovered this video of Ultimate Quoits Shuriken: Throwing Meditation. The (badly) translated English subtitles of course make it more entertaining and easier to watch this 10 minute video. If you do, you’ll see a guy trying to use a technique very similar to putting a disc at a basket to land a small metal throwing star improbably on a peg. The best part is the subtitled translation of ‘failure!’ each time he’d miss and the all-too familiar soft grunts and sighs that signal tried patience. He hit’s thew money shot in the end, but it’s worth watching it all, and asking yourself throughout whether he plays – or would like to play – disc golf?

Putting technique borrowed from ball golf

Watch some ball golf of TV, and pay attention to the players’ pre-shot routines on the putting green. After lining up their putts and going through any other particular aspect of his or her routine, each and every player will stand next to the ball but not close quite close enough to strike it. They then practice their putting strokes several times by swinging the club back and forth like a pendulum, coming as close to actually hitting the ball as they dare. When they’re ready to execute the actual putt, they take a small last step up to the ball, then usually go for it pretty quickly after that so as not to lose the elusive ‘touch’ required for that particular putt which the practice strokes hopefully provided.

While watching a player go through this one day and realizing the likely purpose for it (lock in the tempo and line, and establish a rhythm) I began to ponder how this exercise could be best translated to disc golf. Doing so would be huge for me personally, as most of my missed putts seem to come from a lack of ‘feel’ for the required power and tempo.

And then it hit me. Disc golfers try to emulate this practice, but because of the primary difference between our sports – ball golfers hit a ball with clubs, while we throw discs –¬† it is rarely done in such a way that enables us to reap the same benefits.

In disc golf, it’s common to see a player hold a putter out in front of them at eye level, ostensibly to determine the line and release point he wants. Many players will also go through a few practice ‘strokes’ as well, but most often they make two common mistakes that make the exercise pointless:

  1. Holding the disc during practice strokes means you can’t simulate one of the most important aspects- the complete follow-through. Stretching your entire arm and even fingertips toward the basket as the disc is released is crucial to good form (just look at a picture of any top pro to see what I mean), and you can’t do this while still holding on to your disc. This previous post describes a practice routine specifically designed to improve follow-through.
  2. Unless your practice strokes simulate the exact speed and motion you intend to use for your actual putt, they won’t do anything to help you establish the correct power and tempo. Once again, if you’re holding onto your disc during practice strokes this is near impossible, as well as very risky since it counts as a stroke if the disc slips out of your hand.

With all this in mind, I developed a method for disc golf putting practice strokes that borrows as much as possible from ball golf, in order to preserve the benefits of establishing the needed tempo and touch – as well as line and release point – right before the putt. Since this kind of stuff is hard to describe with words alone, I threw together a quick video tutorial demonstrating what I mean. Go ahead and watch it now, or read my description of the process first then watch it afterward. Either way, give it a try. Since putting this routine into practice, my putting is much, much more consistent. It’s been especially effective at eliminating those frustrating misses where the disc falls just short on putts inside the circle, when in the past I simply failed to use enough armspeed, and those where the line was off-target. Here’s the routine:

  1. Address your lie as you normally would, taking your normal comfortable stance.
  2. Transfer your putter to your non-throwing hand.
  3. Pick a specific link of chain in the basket to aim at, and lock your eyes on that link.
  4. While visualizing the putt you intend to make, and with an empty throwing hand, go through the exact motion required to make that putt. Pay particular attention to your armspeed, your line, the involvement of the rest of your body, and your follow-through. I exhale through my mouth at the end of each stroke just as I do on my actual putt, as this helps me exaggerate my follow-through.
  5. After whatever number of these practice strokes it takes for me to feel all elements are firmly established into a rhythm, I quickly transfer the disc to my throwing hand and execute the putt. As I transfer the disc to my throwing hand I’m only thinking two things: keep my eyes focused on my target link, and replicate the motion I established during the practice strokes.

You may be thinking that the difference of practicing your stroke without a disc in your hand and executing the actual shot would throw you off, due to the weight of the disc, but it really doesn’t. Try it, and see for yourself. As with anything else, it may take a little time to become a comfortable part of your game, but it should not take long. I noticed the benefits of establishing my line and tempo almost immediately. And after awhile I noticed an additional benefit for my mental game as well: By reducing the thoughts I want in my head right before releasing the disc to only two – focus eyes on the target link and replicate the established line sand tempo – it’s easier to keep distracting thoughts out of my head.

If you didn’t click the earlier link to watch the video tutorial that illustrates this technique, here it is. Let me know if this technique for preparing to putt works for you as well as it works for me.

Vibram’s Trak a true breakthrough disc

I’ve tested all of the Vibram discs by now, and reviewed most of them here. All the reviews have until now have had a common theme: The main thing that makes them different from all other discs on the market (the grip and durability of rubber) has definite value, and it earns them consideration for a spot in your bag based on that alone. Each of the discs has been worthwhile in it’s own right, and performed as advertised.

Vibram started with lid-like putters that seem most suitable for driving, but worked well for putting due mainly to the grippy-ness of the rubber compound from which all their discs are made. Their first driver – the Ascent – is reliably overstable for me, but once again valued mostly for the way it comes to rest more abruptly on contact with the ground as opposed to other drivers that tend to skip. Again, the rubber is THE main reason I liked those discs. Otherwise, I’m one of those veteran disc golfers who has dozens (and more dozens) of discs and buys them much less often now because what I have works fine for me.

Then I tested the Trak.

This stable driver seems to do something for me no disc has ever done- something that as a lefthanded player is particularly valuable: It holds a gradual turnover line for a very long time. I’ll try to explain it with as much detail as possible, because I believe it is very significant, even ground-breaking.

The hardest flight path to achieve in disc golf, when using a backhanded throw, is the one that flies long and straight, then turns over at the end. Players that don’t have the required distance to simply attack these situations with a sidearm (like me) usually solve this challenge by throwing a very understable disc with varying degrees of hyzer, knowing the speed of the throw will overcome the hyzer angle at some point and force the disc to turn over. Accomplished players can dictate the point at which the disc will flip by adjusting the speed, angle, and height of the throw, hopefully getting the disc to turn in the direction they want much further down the fairway than can be achieved with a shot that has an anhyzer flight path from the beginning. But this approach, of course, is fraught with risks and limitations. Among them:

  • the player may misjudge any number of factors in and out of their control – including wind – causing the disc to never come out of its hyzer path
  • the size and shape of the fairway (too narrow, low ceiling) may not allow for the multiple turns required to get the disc to turn over at the right place and time
  • discs that turn over too much tend to land on an edge, and discs that land on an edge tend to roll

For me, Vibram’s Trak gives me a better option in such situations, which is why it now has a permanent place in my bag. I can make it fly on one long, gradual straight or turnover line, and is less likely to come out of that line at the end of its flight when it loses power, hyzering back. If I throw it too hard and low, it will of course turn over too soon, but even there it has an advantage: the rubber compound from which it is made helps it to bite into the ground, minimizing the damage.

My favorite hole to use an example of this disc’s usefulness to me is hole 18 on the Aptos High School course near DeLaveaga. It’s a slightly downhill hole that also slopes left-to-right with thick trees and brush all along the left side, yet completely wide open on the right side. It’s long enough to require all the power I can muster. For right-handers it’s a no-brain long hyzer shot. But for me it has always presented a formidable challenge. Not only is there OB down below on that right side, where my disc is sure to go if it hyzers out early. The basket is tucked in behind the line of trees that runs the length of the fairway on the left, and if my disc turns over too soon it ends up in those trees. If I get it to start on the right side with a big anhyzer line, but it falls right at the end, it runs into a grove of trees on the right side, below and pin-high with the basket.

My choices were always to play it safe by throwing a low, conservative midrange with a slight bit of turnover, getting most of the way there and setting me up for a routine par, or putting it way out to the right with a driver, and giving it a dramatic turnover angle. The hope here was that it would be just enough angle and power to hold that line the entire way to the basket, but not so much that it would turn over early. It rarely worked with the exact precision required to get all the way to the basket. But using the Trak, I am able to throw a shot that is a cross between these two approaches. My line now does not need to sweep so far on the outside, and definitely doesn’t require such an aggressive angle to hold the line all the way to the basket. I’m able to throw the disc close to the treeline on the left with a flat, straight angle and watch it hold a long, gradual turn all the way to the basket. The birdies are more frequent, and the chances of bogey due to the above-mentioned mistakes much less.

Many discs have been touted to ‘hold any line’, but the Trak is the first I’ve seen to back up the claim. I’m telling you, you gotta try this disc!