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.

The ‘Ground-Up’ Approach to Saving Strokes- Part 1

You’ll read the term ‘saving strokes’ all the time in my instructional posts, because I believe the best way for an average player to improve her score is to cut down on taking unnecessary bogeys, doubles, and – shudder – worse. Birdies are wonderful, but for those who consider breaking par consistently to be a lofty goal the quickest way to get there is to identify the avoidable mistakes we repeatedly make- and eliminate them.

There are many ways to do this, and the good news is most don’t require increased athletic talent so much as an understanding of three things: what’s likely to happen given the situation; your current skill level; and a number of environmental factors. This post will focus on a big part of what happens after the disc leaves your hand- specifically the moment when it obeys the law of gravity, as all discs must eventually do. What goes up must come down, and unless your disc lands in a tree or on a roof or somewhere else above the playing surface, it’ll end up hitting the ground.

The question to ask yourself is, when you’re planning the shot you want to throw, how much thought are you giving to what happens after your disc first makes contact with the ground? If your honest answer is ‘none’ or ‘not much’, you’re likely taking some unnecessary strokes during your rounds. And if you’re like me, you might have been giving the subject plenty of consideration for years and still not realizing the important points.

My goal with this lesson is to list a few factors related to the angle or texture of the terrain that may affect your decision making when determining the exact shot you plan to execute. In Part 1 we’ll cover the best ways to deal with holes that slope- uphill, downhill, and side-to-side. Part 2 will address the texture of the terrain – thick grass, dirt and rocks, thick brush, hard-pan. Each presents special considerations, and we’ll cover ’em all. Now, on with the book, er, blog learnin’!

Don’t be a dope- pay attention to the slope!

On courses in many parts of the country, all the holes are completely or pretty much flat. If that describes your neck o’ the woods . . . first of all, I feel for you. Slopes add a whole different element of fun (and sometimes frustration) to disc golf. But assuming you occasionally get to venture to other, more mountainous (or at least hilly) courses, you’ll still want to pay attention. Sometimes the slope of the terrain on a hole goes downhill, sometimes uphill, sometimes left-to-right, and sometimes right-to-left. In each of these cases there is a specific adjustment you can make to your throws that will give you better results than if you had throw the hole as if it was flat.

Uphill & Downhill- The first thing to keep in mind when throwing to spots above or below you – especially on downhill shots – is to be sure your flight line is roughly parallel to the line between you and the target. When the teepad is flat but the target is far below, like the famous Top of the World #27 at DeLaveaga in Santa Cruz, CA, players that don’t know better tend to throw on a line parallel to the teepad. The result is a shot that flies high into the air, then fades out way short and wide of the target. When throwing downhill it’s important to make that line of pull-back and release match the slope of the terrain- not the flatness of the teeing or throwing surface. Watch the video examples given by Greg Barsby, Don Smith, Pat Brown and Avery Jenkins in the DeLa link above. In each of them you can easily notice the player angling their throws downward.

On hole 27 at DeLaveaga, throws that are not aimed downward toward the hole look for a second or two like they’re headed to the Pacific Ocean. Then they fade quickly and severely and get nowhere close to the hole. Photo by John Hernlund.

Uphill shots require this same principle, but because it’s pretty obvious that if you don’t adjust your angle upward you’ll throw the disc right into the ground, players make that mistake less often and less dramatically. The main thing to focus on when throwing uphill is not letting the disc hyzer too much and keeping it somewhat flat. It’s hard enough getting uphill distance; shots that do the ‘ol float-and-fade will be even more pathetic when the slope causes the disc to drop helplessly down, occasionally right past the player (I’ve seen it happen).

The other thing to keep in mind on uphill or downhill shots: take notice whether the area where you plan to land is a continuation of the slope of the shot, or if it levels off. For uphill shots with an intended landing zone that is also uphill, don’t count on much skip or slide. Conversely, if it’s downhill plan for extra distance after the disc first touches down- especially if the slope continues down well past the basket/landing zone.

Sideways Slope- Holes with a terrain angle that cuts across the fairway are much trickier to adjust for a couple reasons. First of all, the slope may be partially sideways and partially uphill or downhill. When that is the case you need to consider the information coming next and do your best to combine it with the tips I just shared. But the really tricky part of playing a hole with side-slope is the roll-away potential. And while being the victim of unintended and undesired rolls is sometimes unavoidable, you can increase your odds significantly by understanding a pretty simple principle.

I’m a bit embarrassed to write that it took me a long time to figure this one out. But when I did, it was one of those ‘A-ha!’ moments.

For the longest time, it just seemed logical to always try to land my disc at as close to the same angle as the slope as possible, reasoning that when I did that it would be more likely to slide or skid to a stop rather than stand up on an edge and roll away. And I was partially right, but the key thing I was ignoring was the direction of the spin. I’ll give an example, but as a lefthander and I am going to exercise my right to use the ‘left-hand-backhand’ example rather than the typical R-H-B-H that is usually cited. (You righties will just have to make the adjustment like we lefties normally do  : )

Hole 4 at Pinto Lake in Watsonville, CA is sloped so severely from right-to-left that most players feel compelled to throw forehand upshots so the disc will be cutting into the slope when it hits the ground rather than sliding down the slope. Photo by Jack Trageser.

So I’m a lefty throwing backhand on a hole with severe right-to-left slope, like Hole #3 at Pinto Lake in Watsonville, CA.  In the past I’d start my upshot above the hole and planning for some slide try to land above the hole, and hope it touched down flat and stopped before too much slide. But this approach has two major problems: First of all landing nice and flat on a slope often results in much more skip and/or slide than you bargain for- especially if the surface is hard and bare (more on that in Part 2). But worse, left-handed backhand throws spin counter-clockwise, and when the slope is right to left that becomes a very fast roller with the slightest inducement. If the disc lands anything less than perfectly flat, or experiences one bump off a root or rock, it’s ‘off to the races!’

After this happened to me a few hundred times, a realization began to illuminate my thick, dark, cavernous skull. If this approach results in disaster so frequently, maybe the opposite would be better. I think I got the idea from guy named Costanza who I played frolf with once.

So I instead threw an exaggerated lefty backhand hyzer that crashed into the ground at an angle practically perpendicular to the slope- the very angle you’d normally associate with rollers. But – and this is the key – the counter-clockwise spin acts like backspin and stops the forward motion of the disc. Also, the momentum of the disc, while going forward, is also going uphill rather than downhill.

Using this technique the disc stops pretty close to where it lands a large majority of the time. It usually flips over upside down immediately like a good disc. Every now and then I catch a bad break and the disc stands up on an edge and there is just enough gravity to start it rolling. But as I said, when slopes are involved nothing can prevent that from happening once in a while.

The takeaway here is pretty simple: When your shot is going to spin clockwise and the slope is right-to-left, you’ll get less roll-aways by throwing sharp hyzers into the face of the slope. When your spin is counter-clockwise and the slope is right-to-left, same thing.

Part 2, which focuses on the texture of the terrain, is coming soon!

Felton Freeze Results

We all know that the most important results of all the Ice Bowl charity events held worldwide this time of year are the cash raised and food collected to help feed the hungry, but for those that care to see the results of the Felton Freeze posted (not me, certainly!), here they are. Another big thanks to TJ Goodwin for making it happen!

Jon Baldwin         -12
Chris Edwards       -8
Shasta Criss           -8
Sam Aldrich          -7
Levi                       -6
Matt Scott              -5
Elliot Ferdig           -4
Merle Witvoet        -3
Eric Nelson            -1
Don Smith              -1
Jason Esper              E
Patrick Hardcastle    2
Daviar                      3
Stan Pratt III            4
Jack Trageser         6
Brian Turner            6
Kevin Kelley          12
Angel Acebal          12
Ruben Gonzales      13

TJ Goodwin        -8
Miguel Rios        -5
Tim Smith           -5
Chris Groh          -3
Kyle Davis          -3
Sean Jack            -3
Jack Pfefferle      -2
Mike Antos         -1
Heath Konkel       E
Kyle Milburn        1
Kyle Schloss         2
Alex Beete            4
John Kostoff         4
Rory Hodgson       5
Matt Sadell            6
Nic Kons                7
Robbie Visel           7
Brendan Sage         8
Cody Marchessault 9
Aaron Kvek           11
Rich Puente           11
Gabe Ketterman    11
Daniel Crim          12
Daniel Wootan      12
Rob Brox              12
Peter DeGier         14
Jason Hamed        14
Peter McBride      15
Joseph Kestler      16
Nick Zavitsanos   16

AM 2
Jim Holbrook                        E
Rick Mabbatt                        1
Steven Wood                         2
Thomas Wheeler                   3
Mikey Crane                         5
Iam Kitrick                            6
Derek Kotval                         8
Colin Chambers                    8
Tom Guzzetta                        9
Solomon (SOLI) Newtree    10
Frank (SKIP) Cayle IV        11
Philip Weigand                    11
Evan Borthwick                   12
Ryan Santiago                      12
Brandon Irwin                      12
John Hernlund                      14
Erik Altman                         14
Nate Hagner                         16
Kimo Elliott                         16
Shayne Erickson                  16
Scott Leerzick                      17
Alex Loveless                      17
Paul Redwood                     17
Billiam Posey                      20
Chris Illes                            22
Del Pikles                            24
Gary Jaccod                         28
Travis Schot                      DNF
Matt Moorhead                 DNF

Women’s Open
Kristine King            E
Jenna Johnson          10
Johanna Atkinson    13
Jenny Umstead         20

Women’s AM
Tami Tracey              18
Suzie Weigand           22
Terri Duncan              25
Christine Hernlund    26
Elena Novik               27

The Black Mouse examples

Our family has three pet rats, but as of sometime yesterday afternoon only two of them – Alice and Weasel – were accounted for in their cage. Gavoroche was missing, and after conducting interviews in the morning, a 5-year old suspect admitted removing the rat from the cage, taking it outside, and leaving it on Dude the cat’s bed. With the office door open. So the rat either escaped into the woods, or chose to remain in the office somewhere and spend the night with Dude.

My solution was to take off for a quick round at Black Mouse and cool off, so as not to get Memorial Day weekend started on a rat-death downer note. I’m glad I did.

Not because of my score (it took birdies on 16 and 17 to squeak under par) but a few observations I made:

  • I, like many people I know, really, really value disc golf. It’s amazing something this great can be widely available and mostly free
  • Also like many others I know, I pus for the growth of the sport, but do I really want it? I hit the course at Black Mouse at 8:30 AM, left at 9:30, and didn’t see another player. It was a real pleasure and I’m not sure I want to give that up
  • There are three new benches, on holes 3, 4, and, uh, I forget which other one. But the progress there continues. Between the JR High Nature Academy and the Black Mouse club, the story of that course is everything that’s right about the way our sport is growing

Crowds at Black Mouse?!

Here’s one thing I thought I’d never, ever write: Black Mouse DGC was too crowded today, so I headed to DeLa. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha—ha—ha. Ha. Obviously that was a very ironic situation, since the lack of crowds at peak time is much of what makes Black Mouse great in it’s own right. But today around 2:30, Sof and I ran into a veritable traffic jam on that little course – which doesn’t take much – removing all of its secluded charm.

So we recognized that neither of us was likely to have fun, and we split for DeLa. At least there, the crowds don’t grind play to a complete halt! We hooked up with Jacob and later Tom, and even though we only played 19 holes before dark closed in, it was great.

changes at DeLa, obsessed disc golfer antecdotes, and (gulp) politics

DeLaveaga is undergoing significant changes, and I’m not sure how the course will look a year – or even six months – from now. And coming from someone who is a current DDGC club officer and close to the latest developments as they happen, that’s saying something. Right now, the parking lot is graded and paved (good), but with the capacity for half as many cars (not good). Hole 27 – the famous ‘Top of the World’ hole, is in its neutered short position, but that should change in a month or two as we find a new long placement hopefully close to the classic spot where it’s always been. Similarly, hole six is removed altogether right now, as is hole 22, and 19 is in the short with the long placement paritally blocked by a felled dead tree. So far, the club is going along with the city’s plans to mitigate erosion issues, but I have to wonder: Will we be able to muster the political clout to stand up to them if they go too far? I know we have the popular support to do it, but do we have the organization?

Two Examples of Disc Golf Obsession

In the past week, I’ve had a couple personal experiences that, upon reflection, symbolize the grip that the game of golf played with a flying disc can have on a person. And I might add that most likely only a person similarly obsessed will be able to relate.

Last Saturday, as the rain storm that pummeled Santa Cruz all weekend was just beginning, my friend Assaf and I met at the Black Mouse course to play a ‘rain or shine’ round. Neither of us had time (family stuff) to play the DeLa monthly, but we HAD to play disc golf. From the first hole, it was apparent that the round would be all about endurance rather than score. Anyone who has played Black Mouse knows that the track is mostly steep and wooded, and when wet quite slippery in spots. We had made it to hole 7 with more bogeys than pars or birdies, when we both heard a sound like a gunshot. We looked at eachother, and as we did, the sound repeated itself, multiple times, causing us both to look uphill in the direction of the sound. We looked in time to see a large, dead oak tree falling across the fairway of the next hole.

I’m guessing that normal people on a rainy hike in the woods woulda said ‘let’s get outta here’ and split pronto, but we didn’t even discuss that option. Instead, we played the next hole, and threw and then walked directly underneath the just-fallen tree, which was propped precariously at an angle against some of its still-living counterparts. This, to me, embodies the sport of disc golf. It combines the obession of the game of golf with the spirit of the outdoorsman, or woman, or ‘person,’ or whatever. We live to throw discs over the river, through the woods, and into the chains- at all costs.

Example Number Two

As I sit here writing in a hotel room in Sherman Oaks, Ca, I can recall vividly the need I felt to get a round in before I embarked on this short but stressful business trip. Unable to coax a playing partner to join me Monday morning, I headed for DeLa for a ‘quickie’ by myself (no, not that). The teepads were wet, I planned a ‘running’ round since I had little time, and I carried far fewer discs than normal (6) since I planned on running between most throws. In my mind, that’s three reasons why I shouldn’t expect my best score. So I didn’t.

I’ll summarize the first 24 holes quickly: Bogeyed 1, bogeyed 4, birdied 8, doubled 9 (and lucky to find my disc), and doubled 13. At this point I’m +5, but I had a strange optimism and self-confidence that I would get back to or below par, and it was butressed by birdies on holes 14, 15 and 18. So now I’m down to +2 and roaring back but on hole 20 my birdie run went a bit too far downhill and resulted in a momentum-stopping bogey. But I still had that feeling that I’d finish the last seven holes in 15 minutes in somehow get under par as well.

Holes 21 and 22 (to the practice basket) went by quickly without incident, and a birdie on 23, par on 24, and birdie on 25 left me at hole 26 long with three to play. This is where it really got memorable. Hole 26 is steeply sloped from left to right, and uphill no matter how you play it. I chose to try to stay left, as high as possible, but on this day my drive hit something at the end of it’s flight, rolled in circles for – literally – 25 seconds or so, then succumbed to gravity and trickled down, down, down the slope in a tragic, drunken wobble. My optimism, even at this bleak point, didn’t abandon me- although at this point I was talking to myself out loud. I said “this is going to be an epic par save!” I basically had no realistic shot at getting close to the basket on my second shot, but I was able to see the one possible route to get there, a forehand, high-flung, turnover shot through dense tree-trunks. So I let it fly, and the mere fact that I didn’t hear the sound of a disc hitting wood sent me flitting happily back up the slope. When I saw that I had an open 35-footer for par, I was ecstatic. Then I tried my best to get backto the moment, singing (out loud again) “it don’t mean a thing, if you don’t hear that ching, do-wop, do-wop, do-wop . . .” And then, glory of glories, I hit the putt for one of the most improbable pars of my life. I whooped in celebration (which I don’t do much anymore, alone or not) and explained my exuberance to a couple passing joggers.

I birdied the comparably simple 26a to get back to par, but couldn’t master the wind on 27, and so finished at even par, in an hour and six minutes. Nowhere close to my best score at DeLa, but man, it felt awesome!

Politics . . .

It’s election night as I write, so I gotta share my two cents.

I’m a Libertarian, but also a silver-lining kinda guy, so I see two great things coming out of Barack Obama’s election. First, I feel great that we as a country have evolved to the point that we’ve elected our first black president. Second, I’m really, really happy that Hillary Clinton is no doubt brooding somewhere, ignored by everyone including her husband, and nowhere near the White House.

Black Mouse Monster Match

Third Sunday or every month, at 9:30 AM SHARP.

That’s exactly what the flyer promoting the monthly at Black Mouse said. So I had not one but two surprises when I showed up around 9:15 ready to play. First of all, there was no one there running things (TJ showed up eventually and all was cool), and I don’t think we started until after 10:30. Second, the first two people I saw were Myles Harding and Don Smith (both sponsored by DGA- the bastards), so my preconceived notion of being the proverbial big fish in a small pond that day was immediately shattered.

When we eventually started, everyone that showed up was lumped into one division (fine by me!), and placed in three groups of five. First off hole one were me, Don, Myles, Sean Roybal, and Rob —. I started out hot for the first seven holes and grabbed an early lead, but cooled off in the middle and let Don and Myles get within a couple strokes on the back side of the course. We had one streak where everyone was hitting long birdie putts. In fact, the hottest guy at the end was Sean, but he had too much ground to make up and fell short.

By hole 16 I had a two-stroke lead with a downhill 30-footer for birdie. I went for it because Don was hitting everything and laying up was no guaranteed thing either, and of course it rolled enough to result in a -7 and -7 tie. After that, even though Myles had a couple chances to make it a three-way tie, we all parred out to result in a first-place tie between Don and I. We decided to split the cash, but still had to settle bragging rights. I wanted to get revenge for Don’s victory over me in sudden death after the Schaeffer Park tourney last Fall. If I had know it would take 10 HOLES, though, I would have settled for the tie!

I was already in hot water because we started late and ended late, so I just wanted to end it one way or the other. The problem was, every hole I birdied he birdied, and when I parred he parred. We were cursing each other for ‘not winning it’. Then came the penultimate hole, a short uphill with a blind dogleg right. My disc hit a tree and left me 35-feet short and obscured by more trees, and Don’s went right at it hard. When I got to my disc I for some reason thought he was based, and went for my only birdie option, a right-handed backhand shot around a redwood stump- and I made it! Don then walked down past me and saw that his disc had sailed past the basket and down the slope 60 feet away. I had maybe 20 seconds to celebrate my victory (and more importantly the END of the playoff) before Don nailed his impossible do-or-die attempt. To push it to the next hole. Wow! Ugh.

In what could be nothing except anticlimactic Don based the next quirky short hole, and I hit a tree, then clanged my long birdie throw. The end.

Ugh. And, wow!