Nearly all disc golfers, from touring pros to those brand new to the game, use some type of run-up as part of their backhand drives. Most shouldn’t, though- at least not until they master the fundamental basics crucial to both power and consistency.
I see too many players who try to incorporate a throw into their run-up rather than the other way around. In other words, they seem to be approaching it as “How can I throw a disc while walking (or galloping)?” Crazy.
Why is this mistake so common? Because we tend to imitate what we see the majority of others do, for one thing. Add to that the way most teepads look like little runways, encouraging the player to start at the back, gain some momentum, and launch the disc near the front. Also, most new players crave more distance and it seems like getting a running start is a good way to get it.
The assumption is that the run-up is a crucial part of the drive, but in reality it is not. In fact, for players who don’t yet have a good grasp of proper weight transfer, timing, balance, and the use of larger muscles (rather than just their throwing arm), using a run-up hurts more than it helps. This is true in the short term as well as the long term.
Let’s talk short term first. You’re on the tee on a hole that requires a full-powered drive. Naturally you employ a run-up because that’s what any player would do when needing to achieve their max distance, right? Wrong. First of all, a perfectly executed backhand drive that includes a run-up adds 15 to 20 percent of distance compared to the same throw without the footwork. That’s the best case scenario.
Think of it as a math equation. That little bit of forward momentum you get by striding or even galloping into your throw adds slightly to the speed of the disc as it’s thrown- but ONLY if you’ve figured out how to keep your weight back even as your feet are taking steps forward. On top of that you need to time it perfectly so your launch occurs just after your plant foot hits the ground. If you’re off, even by a little, you won’t get the extra power (might even lose power) and your release point is apt to be off as well, causing the disc to fly in the wrong direction.
I see too many players who try to incorporate a throw into their run-up rather than the other way around.
As for the long-term damage of using a run-up off the tee (or in the fairway) before learning proper basics, it’s simple. Adding that extra layer of complication often means a player will never learn the basics. At the risk of being both trite and corny, you really do have to learn to walk before you can run. Or in this case, throw properly before you can walk or run (up).
I have one more thing for you to consider on this subject. The surest way to throw with accuracy is to keep things as simple as possible. Even a full-power standing drive requires the thrower to take their eyes off the target for a brief second. We accept this trade-off when necessary, but shouldn’t turn away from the target when it is not. A proper run-up using the x-step/scissor step footwork requires the thrower to turn away from the target and synchronize that footwork with the timing of the throw. If an upshot can be executed confidently with only your arm and without turning your head, that’s what you should do. Likewise, if you can drive a hole without a run-up, why add that unnecessary complication?
Among the pleasures of disc golf – and there are many – perhaps the most satisfying for the athletically-minded is mastering new flight paths for one’s disc. And since all discs to one degree or another have the natural tendency to fade left or right depending on the direction of the spin, making a disc turn in the opposite direction of that fade is among the first big milestones. And then you realize that within the broad classification of “turnover shot” exist an endless quantity of different shot-shapes and ways to achieve them, and things really begin to get interesting. And fun.
A while back we published a post called “Mastering the turnover shot: Equal parts art and science.” In it we explain in pretty good detail the handful of ways of executing flight paths variously known as a turnover shot or anhyzer. (You can check out our Disc Golf Terminology page for definitions of all these terms.) We recommend reading the previous post before reading this one. This post explains specific flight paths that can be achieved by adjusting any of six different factors, and those are listed and described there.
The Anhyzer S-turn
Let’s start by explaining the term ‘S-turn’, which describes the flight path rather than throw itself. It simply refers to a flight path where the disc turns in one direction for the beginning of the flight, then finishes by turning in the other direction. You’ve like done it before, by accident if not by design. Being able to properly execute an S-turn represents a huge step forward for any player, and once you understand how to do it it really isn’t any harder than turnover shots intended to arc in a single direction the entire flight. And it not only proves useful when two turns are required. It’s also a great way to maximize distance as the turns keep the disc in the air longer.
To hyzer a disc means to release it with a nose angle that encourages the disc to fade in the direction it naturally tends to fade. For instance, a right-handed backhand shot will fade to the left. So to throw an anhyzer in that same situation a player must release it with a nose angle that not only enables the disc to resist that tendency to fade, but turn in the other direction. An RHBH thrower uses a nose angle where the left side of the disc is lower than the right, so that same thrower – if she wants to throw an anhyzer shot – needs to reverse that nose angle so that the left side is higher than the right. Think of driving a car with your hands “10 and 2” on the steering wheel, and imagine a straight line between your hands. When you turn left, your left hand becomes lower than the right and that straight line mimics the nose angle you’d want on your disc for a hyzer release. A right turn mimics the angle for an anhyzer release (Again, see the previous post for a correct explanation of hyzer/anhyzer as anhyzer and turnover are not synonymous.)
Sticking with our RHBH example, an anhyzer S-turn shot will initially turn to the right, then at some point fade back to the left. This shot comes in handy when the hole presents early obstacles on the right side of the fairway that force the player to start the shot on the left side, while also having characteristics that make it undesirable to let the disc finish in that direction. For instance the hole has a wall of early trees on the right side and on the other side of the trees is a deep ravine or a water hazard. The basket is on the left side of the fairway a little deeper than the ravine/water, behind another grove of trees.
The trees on the right are too high for a simple tall hyzer route, so the player must throw through the gap on the left, but she can’t throw straight at the basket without heading right for the grove on the left. The solution is the anhyzer S-turn, because it first avoids the trees on the right by passing through the gap, then (because it is turning right thanks to the anhyzer release angle) passes to the right of the grove on the left. This much could be accomplished with a simple anhyzer shot, but remember if it finishes right it’ll find the ravine/water hazard. So it is imperative that the disc finish left.
The two keys to pulling this off are knowing the discs in your bag and the release point required for each- and that only happens with practice. Get out in a field and throw all your discs with the same amount of power and same nose angle. The understable discs will likely turn over and never fade back, while your super-overstable disc may hardly turn at all before fading back to the hyzer angle. Since every situation is somewhat unique, you’ll want to eventually learn how to do this with as many of your discs as possible. It’ll require different combinations of those six factors explained in the last post, which is why it’s important to really know each disc’s characteristics.
We mention release point because this is usually the biggest hurdle players have in learning to throw this shot. If you release the disc at too low a point with a steep anhyzer nose angle, it will head straight for the ground as it turns over and never have a chance to fade back. A fairly typical release point for an anhyzer S-turn is eye level or higher, but it is differs depending on the player’s armspeed, the disc, and the situation.
The Flip Hyzer S-turn
The flight path for a flip hyzer (or hyzer flip) S-turn is the reverse of the anhyzer S-turn. It’s usually the easier S-turn shot to execute because for most players throwing with a hyzer angle comes much more naturally. However, a key ingredient to executing this shot is above average armspeed, so if you’re having trouble with it that may be the reason.
The term ‘flip hyzer’ accurately describes this flight path. When done properly the RHBH thrower releases a throw on a hyzer angle with enough power for the rate of speed to eventually overcome that hyzer angle, causing the disc to turn over and drift right. The really cool thing about this shot is that by dialing up just the right mix of nose angle, armspeed and release point (and of course the disc chosen matters as well), the thrower can manipulate the precise point at which the disc turns. For instance, a steeper hyzer angle will make the disc take longer to turn over, while increasing the armspeed will make it happen quicker.
Even though the flight characteristics of a flip hyzer shot are the reverse as an anhyzer S-turn, it isn’t used in quite the same way. A player will typically utilize it in two scenarios:
On long, ‘tunnel’ type holes where the disc needs to finish on a turnover line, a flip hyzer enables the thrower to maximize the distance before the disc begins to turn over
On very long, wide open holes where nothing matters but distance, a flip hyzer when executed properly will yield the most distance. In fact, in distance contests top pros use this method almost exclusively as their elite power, combined with a sharp hyzer angle and a high release trajectory often result in three turns- the initial hyzer, and then the turnover as spin rate overcomes angle, and finally (since the trajectory was upward and the disc still isn’t close to the ground), a fade back to the hyzer line.
Once again, the only way a player can master this shot enough to have confidence in the technical situations in which it is required is through hours and hours of experimentation and then repetition. It’s also worth noting that both these S-turn methods can be used to achieve a roller shot, where the player is intentionally causing the disc land on an anhyzer angle with enough power left to stand up and roll.
Holding the line
As discussed in the previous post, for most players throwing a disc perfectly straight is harder than making it turn. So it should not be a surprise that making a disc turn over and then hold a particular line once it has turned is for some even harder. On courses with baskets placed in harrowing positions (near OB, water, cliffs) a straight, flat landing is often the only way to avoid trouble. Like the S-turn shots it requires a very exacting combination of angle, speed and trajectory, but in this case another specific factor is even more important. And that factor is . . . spin.
Think of it this way: If a player wants to throw RHBH anhyzer that turns over through its entire flight he’d throw a disc he knows will continue to turn with a steep enough nose angle. If he wants the disc to turn most of the way then fade left at the end (anhyzer S-turn), he could use the same technique but switch to a sufficiently more overstable disc. But if he wants the disc to execute a right turn at a certain point then very gradually come out of the turn and finish on a straight line, merely changing discs won’t cut it.
Unlike most shots, where as number of factor combinations result in roughly the same flight path, this requires an increase in spin and nose angle steepness proportionate with the distance the disc needs to carry on that straight finishing line. Spin can be increased by accentuating that whip-cracking, towel-snapping release and reducing the follow through of the arm. A good way to learn this is to pick out the apex of the intended flight path, which should act as a hinge that connects the first part of your throw with the second. Aim for that hinge with the idea that your disc will reach that apex with the right angle and lots of spin, then use that spin to coast on the exact straight line you want.
This type of shot is particularly handy on shorter shorts where you can use a fan grip and a putter, but it can be thrown with a power grip as well.
In fact, even for most beginners throwing a hyzer is as natural and involuntary as breathing. But getting the disc to not hyzer is like trying not to breathe.
Those who are highly skilled at making a golf disc turn in the direction opposite to its natural fade all know the ability is as much art as science. As much feel and touch as proper technique. But solve that puzzle, and you’ve just taken a giant leap in your evolution as a player.
There are two things that separate players who have truly mastered the flight of a golf disc and those who have not: the ability to throw a disc relatively straight for more than 150 feet, and the ability throw what is alternately known as an anhzyser or turnover shot. The two are actually connected as they both require the ability to iron out the muscle memory nearly everyone has that causes us to automatically throw golf discs on a hyzer angle.
Figuring out the latter usually leads to rapid improvement with the former – another reason why understanding and mastering the multiple components of a turnover shot will take your game up several notches. However, as explained below, teaching someone to throw turnover shots is more about explaining these different components and how they relate to one another than a simple ‘Step 1, Step 2, Step 3’ approach.
First let’s discuss the distinction between ‘turning the disc over’ and throwing an anhyzer shot. In a nutshell, to turn the disc over means to get it to curve in the direction opposite of that which in naturally wants to curve (fade). For instance, a right handed backhand shot will naturally fade left (immediately or eventually, depending on the disc), so a player wanting to get the disc to curve right needs to ‘turn it over’. Throwing an anhyzer is simply one of several ways to turn your disc over, all of which we’ll examine in detail.
No less than six primary factors affect to what degree your disc will (or will not) turn over: angle of release, release point, trajectory, the amount of spin on the disc, the wind, and of course the stability of the disc itself. Each of these can be manipulated or in the case of the wind, leveraged to create a desired flight path. More exciting still they can be mixed together to create every conceivable shot.
A perfect analogy is the way the three primary colors – red, blue, and yellow – can be combined to create every other color imaginable. Now consider that you’re equipped with six factors that enable you to paint a masterpiece on every throw! It’s one of the reasons disc golf just gets better and better as you improve. Disc flight can also be compared to cooking in much the same way. Great dishes can be created from just a few simple ingredients. Let’s briefly examine each factor, then explore different ways to cook up some tasty, gourmet turnovers.
Angle of release and release point
The angle of release refers to the angle of the nose of the disc as it’s release. It’s the most obvious of all the factors to someone first trying to learn how to throw a turnover shot since it’s fairly logical that if angling the disc to one side results in a hyzer in one direction, then reversing the angle should help it turn in the other direction. Angle of release is the most important factor in throwing an anhyzer shot, which is reversing the angle to get the disc, from the time it leaves the hand, to turn the opposite direction of a hyzer. Hmmm. . . ANgle opposite of a HYZER. Anhyzer . . . if nothing else that’s a good way to remember the correct definition of the word. And remember that anhyzering (might as well go all the way and turn it into a verb, too) is just one of several techniques for getting a disc to turn over.
Release point is pretty much what it sounds like- the point at which the disc is released. Most anhyzers should be released at a point higher than normal, especially those intended to continue on the anhyzer line for all or most of its flight. This is because a disc that is turning over isn’t gliding through the air. It’s falling as soon as it reaches its apex, therefore it needs to gets launched from a high release point and have a trajectory that takes the disc upward, so when it begins to fall, it has more time before it comes back to earth. Which brings us to trajectory.
While angle of release is determined by the angle of the nose of the disc when it’s released, trajectory is controlled by the line on which the disc is pulled back and released. When a disc is pulled back and throw on a line parallel to the ground, the trajectory should be relatively flat. If the trajectory is angled upward, that is of course the direction the disc will go. Trajectory is especially important when throwing turnover shots – and it almost always needs to be from low-to-high – since turnover shots need time to develop, and adding height is the simplest way to get it.
More than any of the other factors, the proper use of controlled spin to help a disc turn over is the mark of an expert. The stability of a disc is partially determined by how much spin it can handle before it’s natural fade is overcome. Throwing a disc hard and fast like you’d try to do when attempting a long drive is one way to generate lots of spin, but not every shot calls for 100 percent power. A really good player can increase the spin on a disc to manipulate its flight path without overdoing the power.
Spin, combined with angle of release, is also the key to achieving a flight where the disc flies straight or even fades for a distance before turning over. Have you heard of the term hyzer flip? It’s basically the shot I’m describing, but thrown full power. The disc is thrown on a hyzer line but at a certain point the spin is too much for the disc, resulting in turnover. With the right combination of angle, spin (and in this case raw power) and trajectory, the resulting flight path can be one where the disc begins on a hyzer line, then turns over for a period, and when the spin reduces again, ends up fading back into the hyzer line. Three turns on one throw- pretty cool.
But not as cool, in my opinion, as a shot that uses spin in a more subtle way to turn a disc over. This requires increasing spin without also cranking up the power, which is a skill that for most takes a while to refine.
You likely have heard or figured out that throwing into a headwind will turn a disc over/make a disc less stable, while a tailwind does the opposite. Very true. Wind is the one factor the player doesn’t control, but it has a big impact on the flight of a disc. When the wind is extreme, it’s the starting point for selecting a disc and flight strategy. When it’s more gentle, the wind is simply a fact that needs to be accounted for. Or more accurately, adjusted for. Depending on the wind, you might increase or decrease spin, throw with slightly more anhyzer angle, or (especially in the case of a good tailwind) make sure the trajectory is angled more sharply upward.
Factoring wind into you turnover recipe is a good example of how subtle adjustments and combinations of factors need to be to get just the shot you want. All other factors being the same, a shot thrown into a four-mile headwind will fly quite differently than a two mile crosswind. Remember that the next time you cry out to the heavens “That disc always turns over on this hole! Why did it fade out this time?!!” Which brings us to the final factor: the disc.
Disc type and stability
Back when I started playing a couple decades ago, the best advice I heard from the best players was this simple nugget: Pick a good all-purpose disc (back then that meant a Roc) and play with just that disc. Master that disc before throwing anything else. The wisdom there is that by learning with only that one disc, the player has no choice but to coax every shot out of that disc. I think that is still one of the best pieces of advice for new players because otherwise, players assume that pulling off technical shots or getting more distance is just a matter of finding the right disc for the job. Not true!
Think of it this way: In any pursuit imaginable, an expert with remedial equipment will still achieve expert results. A virtuoso violinist will produce incredible music with a beat up rental violin. But give a Stradivarius to a beginner, and it will emit the same hideous squawks as he makes with his inferior instrument.
I digress here for a good reason. Disc type and stability is indeed one of the six factors affecting a disc’s flight, but it has more in common with the wind than it does the other four factors. Once the disc is in your hand, you still need to know how to tune the dials of the other factors (and have the skill to do so) to get the flight you want. Like the wind, the disc, once selected, is an absolute that needs to be figured into the equation.
All that being said, the finest ingredients and the best equipment in the hands of an expert do make a big difference. An understable putter can be used for some amazing touch shots that turn at just the right time, then float to the target as softly as a feather. An overstable driver can be throw with full power on a sharp anhyzer angle and just the right trajectory to produce a dramatic S-turn that passes to the left of one grove of trees then the right of another on the way to a drop-in birdie. But a player is always better off possessing one disc and mastery of flight control than a bag stuffed with any 25 discs you care to name and only vague ideas of how to use them.
Watch for the next post soon in which the specific ingredients and techniques for several basic turnover shots will be discussed. In the meantime, go out to a field (if your weather permits) and experiment with the components that make up every turnover shot. See which ones work best for you. Try them with all your discs and discover the infinite ways one can make a disc fly.
Disc golf is still enough of a niche sport that by the time most of us are ensnared (like a putter caught in the inner chains of a Mach III) by an obsession to get better, we’ve already been heavily exposed to other more mainstream sports.
That reality has definite advantages for me, as an instructor, because it helps when I’m teaching a disc golf concept related to technique (or even mental stuff) to be able to draw analogies between disc golf techniques and those of other more familiar games. If someone has already learned a similar motion, it’s easier to recall that motion and apply it to disc golf than to learn it completely from scratch.
Case in point, my first remote session with a novice who was already loving disc golf but as of yet unable to throw as straight or far as his friends. We’ll call him Lou.
Without actually watching Lou throw live and in person, I had to rely mostly on the spoken and written words we exchanged on the subject in choosing my advice for him. However, I knew a couple other things that would likely prove useful.
First, players in the earlier stages of the disc golf learning curve usually make many of the same common mistakes and therefore see many of the same negative results from those mistakes. Second, Lou has talked on many occasions of being an avid softball player, so I knew right away that he would be able to easily understand the comparisons I like to use between throwing a disc golf disc using the backhand technique and proper batting technique in baseball.
Weight transfer and balance
One of the most common mistakes I see players of all levels make with the backhand shot has to do with transferring weight from the back foot to the front foot.
A good backhand throw derives most of its power from the back, torso, and legs rather than just the arm. In this way (and some others, which we’ll cover soon) throwing a disc backhand is just like swinging a baseball bat with the goal of hitting the ball with any kind of power.
In both cases you’re standing at a 90-degree angle to the direction you want to throw/hit. And in both cases you want your weight to shift from your back foot to your front foot at a precise critical time. With baseball, that time is a fraction of a second before the bat hits the ball. With disc golf, it’s right as the disc is passing your body mid-throw. Any sooner in either case and you’ll rob yourself of all that power you had coiled up from your legs and torso.
Using the baseball analogy, think of what a hitter looks like when he’s way out front on a change-up or curve ball. And in the case of a backhand throw in disc golf, you’ll also likely mess up your balance and lose accuracy as well as distance.
Most often, the reason that disc golfers have weight transfer and balance problems is because they try to incorporate a run-up into their drives and longer fairway shots too soon. You’ve heard the saying “You have to learn to walk before you can run.” In disc golf it’s more like “before you can run-up.” Later in this post you’ll learn a great exercise for “learning to walk,” in terms of throwing a proper backhand shot.
Reach back, line, and angle
Another parallel between hitting a baseball and throwing backhand is a literal parallel. In baseball the best chance a hitter has to hit a line drive is by swinging fairly level — or parallel to the ground. The big uppercut may seem attractive to those swinging for the fences but, more often than not, results in lazy fly balls or pop-ups. In disc golf the natural tendency (usually ingrained from previous experience ‘flipping’ a Frisbee disc) is to throw on a low-to-high arc that is much like an uppercut in baseball — and the results are predictably similar.
Those throws that go way higher than you wanted (and much shorter) are the product of dropping the disc down to knee level when you pull the disc back and releasing it at eye level. There are, of course, times when you want this type of line, but not often, and rarely as exaggerated. For most throws the flatter, the better.
This goes for the angle of the ‘nose’, or front, of the disc as well.
A good flat, straight throw depends not only on the line on which you launch the disc, but also the angle in which the disc is held in your hand. While the line of your shot primarily affects the elevation trajectory of your shot (see last paragraph), the angle at which you’re holding and throwing the disc will affect whether it is released with a left or right turn.
If you are right-handed and your main issue is the disc always cutting immediately to the left, you’re likely holding and throwing the disc at an angle where the edge you’re gripping is much higher than the opposite edge. If you’re trying to get a nice flat, straight flight, both edges should be the same distance from the ground from reach-back to release. The follow-through should reinforce this angle as well.
Work on keeping the disc on a line and angle that stay parallel to the ground – somewhere between your waist and sternum — from the time you pull the disc all the way back to the time you release it. You can do some fine tuning later, to get the specialized flights you want — after you’ve mastered flat and straight.
Speaking of pulling the disc back, that’s the final basic building block I’ll cover here. Most players that are having issues with distance (as in, not enough), in addition to whatever other flaws they have, don’t hardly reach back with the disc at all. It’s very common for a player to keep the disc close to his/her body or curl back it around the body rather than reaching all the way back on the flat, level line I just described. This one change is often enough to increase distance by 20 percent or more, and also can act as a catalyst for improved weight transfer as well.
To go to the baseball example one more time, recall the first time someone taught you to hit. One of the first things you heard was “keep your hands back.” In baseball and in disc golf, reaching back as far as possible generates more speed on the throw/swing, and speed equals power. Pretty simple physics, really.
Here is the way I always teach new players to throw a backhand shot.
I don’t even talk about run-up at this point, for reasons I’ve already discussed. Even if you’ve played for years you may want to give it a try and see if it results in improved balance, distance, accuracy and eventually, scores:
Stand sideways to your target, like you normally would for a typical backhand throw.
Extend the disc forward on the line on which you’re aiming, with your weight on your front foot.
Pull the disc back on a flat, straight line about belly-button height, as far back as you can, transferring your weight from front foot to back foot just as the disc passes your body. At this point:
Your arm should be completely straightened out, and your back should be almost completely turned to the target.
Your weight should be completely on your back foot, so much so that your front foot is on ‘tip-toe’ and even slightly pivoted to accommodate as complete a reach-back as possible.
Now that you know what to do, you’re ready for the 1-2-3-throw tempo trick. Bring the disc forward again as in step 2, then pull the disc all the way back as in step 3, being conscious of your weight shifting from front to back as the disc moves from front to back. When the disc reaches full extension, silently count one in your head (or say it out loud if you prefer).
Without a pause, using a smooth tempo (like a practice swing in golf), go forward again, thinking about weight transfer and keeping the disc on a flat, level line, and when you reach the point where you’re fully extended forward, pull back all the way again and count two. Then repeat forward and backward once more (three) and launch your throw on the same line, with the same balance transfer you just reinforced three times.
Be sure to launch your throw from the point your disc reaches the fully-extended back position, with your arm straightened out directly behind you exactly 180 away from the target.
Don’t hesitate once you reach that fully-back position and count 3. It should be 1, 2, 3 THROW! There may be a tendency to let your arm creep forward slowly toward your body, but throwing from the full reach-back is key to leveraging your whole body in the throw rather than just your arm. It also is one of the keys for maximizing distance.
The idea is get the most into a throw without a run-up, while getting the feeling and repetition of a rhythm that incorporates proper balance transfer. It’s a little different for everyone, depending on all kinds of factors, but by doing this out in a field you’ll come up with something that works best for you that you can repeat when it counts.
After essentially hearing this same information on a phone call, ‘Lou’ went out and applied the lesson. He dropped the run-up and instead went with a one-step motion, and focused on keeping the disc on a straight, flat (“lower”) line, and following through. In his words, “discs actually did what they probably are meant to do.”
Building anything successfully depends on a solid foundation or framework. Get the basics of your backhand right first, and things will only get better from that point on.
On the Web
There are now several good, professionally-produced video tutorial clips out there that show many of the techniques I described. On the plus side, they cover things I didn’t mention like grip and follow-through, but in my opinion they don’t spend enough time going into detail about the building blocks I described above.