Three Paths to Better Disc Golf is a self-help book for disc golfers. I published it in 2015 as an ebook only, as a way for me to learn the process before releasing The Disc Golf Revolution, a book I had been working on for years. I remain proud of the contents of my first book, but never really liked the cover design, and the copyediting polish was beneath my own high standards.
When I decided to publish a paperback version of Three Paths, I realized it was also an opportunity to address the copywriting and cover issues, as well. I’m stoked with how both the new paperback and ebook (which was also updated) turned out.
Each band of color on the cover represents one of the Three Paths to Better Disc Golf detailed in the book. The yellow band represents the Philosophical Path, blue for the Strategic Path, and the red band is the Tactical Path. I like the simplicity of the design, the basket designs (borrowed from our logo), and the fact that the paths intermingle- because they really do.
I wrote the book for disc golfers who enjoy keeping their score and would like to conquer their friends or just improve on the last round or the best round. The fact is, there are many ways to accomplish both and most have nothing to do with driving distance- although the book covers that, too. Decision making and mental focus are just as important in disc golf as technique and power.
Each of the three sections in Three Paths to Better Disc Golf contains a dozen short but potentially game-changing chapters. At least one will speak directly to every disc golfer, probably more. If it shaves a couple strokes off the score, or simply makes the game an even more enjoyable experience for every disc golfer who reads it, I am happy indeed.
The key to achieving a goal is to have a plan. A blueprint for success. This is as true for improving athletic performance, including disc golf putting, as anything else.
In the first half of 2020, thousands of competitive-minded disc golfers asked themselves a question in response to closed courses and cancelled tournaments due to the quarantine: “What can I do to make disc golf downtime profitable in terms of lower scores in the future?” Many of us present ourselves with a similar personal challenge each offseason — or at least we should.
If I were to conduct a poll asking that question, the most popular answer would almost certainly be “work on my putting.” Missed putts feel like missed opportunities, more than any other aspect of the game. Three-putting from 35 feet feels like self destruction in a competitive round, and missing a 20-footer after an incredible drive can be soul-crushing. Converting a few misses into makes each round is the quickest way to shave strokes from your score.
If you want that payoff at the end, however, you need to think beyond simply “getting in your rep’s” each day. Twenty putts from 10 different stations is great for conditioning, but to achieve a noticeable, lasting breakthrough you’ll have to dig deeper. This project is about thinking as well as putting.
In other words, you need a blueprint.
The first step is to conduct some critical analysis. Think of your putting game as a boat that is taking on water. You know there are leaks, and you know they can be plugged: you just have to find them.
Finding the Leaks
Step 1: Think back to missed putts in past rounds and try to identify any trends. For instance, do you regularly miss short putts left or right? Does your percentage of made putts go way down when there is more at stake? Do your missed putts all too often end up even further from the basket? Does it seem like you get more than your share of spit-outs? Make a list of what you think are your biggest leaks, then grab some discs and head for your nearest basket.
Step 2: Before you start putting, remind yourself that you’re going to take that same analyst’s approach at the end of the session. Take putts from a variety of distances (and inclines, if possible) without putting from the same place twice in a row. Take your time with each putt, as if you were playing a round. After misses, make quick mental observations so you can recall them later, then let them go and focus on the next putt. When you’re done, add to or refine the list you started earlier.
Step 3: Now contact a couple disc golf buddies, preferably ones you play with regularly. Ask them for their honest input. What are your putting strengths and weaknesses? What are your costliest chronic mistakes on the green? Do you let emotions get in the way, and if so, which ones — Fear? Anxiety? Anger? Use your friends’ answers to add to your list, then rank the items based on severity (how much of an issue is this for you personally) and impact (how many strokes is it costing you per round).
You’re now almost ready to start the hands-on part of this project, but the last bit of preparation is crucial. You need to create a plan of action to address each specific issue on your list. It’s easier said than done, but you need to know the cause of each leak so you can figure out the best way to address it.
Plugging the Leaks
You may feel stumped at this point. If you knew the cause of all those frustrating missed short putts you’d have fixed the problem yourself by now, right? While I don’t have the space here to address every issue, I’ll cover a few common ones and link to some resources that go into more detail. But remember, the main point is to take a systematic and purposeful approach to make significant improvements to your putting game. Okay, onto plugging some common leaks!
First up: a tendency to miss even short putts left or right. This is usually due to horizontal movement of hand and disc during the putt, which makes it difficult to consistently release the disc directly at the target.
The reason this tip works so well is simple. A disc pulled back and then propelled along a straight line will begin its flight heading in the exact direction at which that line points.
If you’re interested to learn more about the importance of straight-line putting and how to retrain yourself, you can read up on that here.
If you tend to miss too many putts in general, the above issue is only one of several possible causes. The other common physical cause for demoralizing unforced errors such as missed short putts is a lack of follow-through. This sometimes happens because we mistakenly believe short putts only require a soft toss. It is important to always complete your putting motion, regardless of length. For help incorporating proper follow-through, check out this post.
The most common reason for missing short putts has nothing to do with technical flaws. It’s simply a lack of focus on the task at hand. If the putt is practically a gimme, it’s easy to take it for granted and begin thinking about the next hole. Or perhaps the hole went badly and you’re eager to get it over with and move on. The best way to eliminate these completely avoidable mistakes is to establish a specific putting routine and stick to it, no matter how short the putt. If you’re doing it at 30 feet, you should also be doing it at 10. There are even more causes of missed short putts and how to eliminate them here.
Do your putting percentages go down as the stakes go up? Pressure putts can undermine even the best players and in a variety of different ways. Stress and anxiety are known to be performance inhibitors in all sports, causing the body to tighten up and lose necessary fluidity. Sometimes it’s as simple as being distracted, thinking about how important the putt is when you should be thinking about aim or line or follow-through.
I’ve found that the best way to combat both is to stick to your routine, and make sure the routine includes thinking about the right things before and during the putt. This is straight out of Sports Psychology 101, and I sum it up thusly: Think about what you’re trying to do, NOT what you’re hoping to accomplish. I’ve talked about handling pressure, and proper ‘shot-thinking” in the past.
Here are the most common of those systematic issues:
Putting Too Hard
When you fire bullet-putts at the basket, all kinds of things can go wrong. If you miss entirely, the disc is now moving away from the basket at full speed. If you hit the top or the cage, the disc still has plenty of energy and momentum to travel away from the basket. And sometimes accurate putts that would stay in the basket if thrown at a more reasonable speed use that excess, superfluous energy to escape the grasp of the chains.
To avoid long comeback putts (which often turn into three-putts or worse), use only enough velocity to hit the link of chain you’re aiming at with sufficient energy to push that link toward the pole. Except on short putts, the speed of the disc should not be the same when it arrives at the target as when it left your hand.
The key to doing this is to use arc. The longer the putt, the greater the arc. This enables you to get the disc to arrive at the target with only the necessary amount of speed. As a bonus, the arc means that on longer putts the disc will be moving downward (toward the ground) at the end of its flight, which will usually help it come to a stop sooner.
The next two causes of chronic three-putting have nothing to do with technique. One stems from flawed decision making and the other a lack of focus.
Lack of Risk/Reward Concession
The object of golf is to complete each hole in the fewest strokes possible. Your decision to go for it boldly or go for it carefully or lay it up should be dictated by the answer you ask yourself: What are my odds of executing this shot successfully and what is the worst possible consequence if I miss?
Don’t confuse confidence with a blissful ignorance of things like odds and risk. If you know your chances of making a birdie putt from 50 feet are low and you’re playing a round where score counts, it makes sense to lay up and play for par. If you have the skill to go for it with enough finesse that a miss will result in a putt you make almost every time, that’s a different story. The key is knowing your limitations. Otherwise, you’re burning up three strokes to complete the hole from 50 feet.
Lack of Focus
As mentioned earlier, one of the best ways to maintain focus is to develop a routine and stick to it. This means going through the same steps every time regardless of how routine the throw or short the putt. The repetition will ensure that you don’t forget to do it in important or stressful situations. All routines different in little ways, but have the same critical elements in common. This is helpful in understanding the necessary basic components.
If you agree that working on your putting is a good way to achieve real score improvement, don’t just commit to an amount of time or putts each day. Use the below formula to create a customized blueprint to work smarter and succeed.
Identify your putting ‘leaks’ (WHERE is the leak?)
List possible causes for each leak. (WHY does it leak?)
Find changes or adjustments to try based on each cause until you find the one that works (What MIGHT plug the leak? What WILL plug the leak?)
Practice putting purposefully, plugging one leak at a time
Do you notice when watching the best players in disc golf that their putts seem effortless? A big reason why is Spin. In Part 1 of this series I communicated two main points:
Maintaining a straight line at the target while putting, during the entire motion AND follow-through, is the best way to maximize accuracy and consistency
It can be tricky to do this, since spin is also required and generating spin typically requires a certain amount of rotational (non-straight line) force.
So how can you manufacture spin while sticking to that pure straight line? That’s what Part 2 is all about.
I believe it comes down to two key points that work in tandem (in other words, you gotta do both for either to matter when it comes to generating spin). They are described below, followed by a couple other tips that should also help.
Cock the Wrist
By cocking your wrist you are doing all the prep work needed to get the spin on your putt that will enable it to fly more smoothly and hold its line longer.
The great thing about this simple tip is that it allows you to focus on the straight line. Just cock your wrist and keep it cocked, then bring the disc forward on that line.
Set it and forget it
The second part of this magical formula is that mainstay of good technique in most every sport- follow-through! A cocked wrist + strong and exaggerated followthrough = tight spin.
The keys to proper followthrough are exaggeration and keeping it up for longer than seems necessary. Power through the putting motion, and continue to move your hand toward the target without showing down, even after the disc leaves your hand. Stretch your hand toward the target until it can go no further, with fingers outstretched, even holding that pose for a beat.
Exaggerated followthrough ensures two things:
You won’t subconsciously add rotation movement at the end in an attempt to add extra spin
You WILL power through your putt rather than letting up just before or upon release
No more inside-the-circle airballs? Yes, please!
The first of these is important in terms of keeping the disc on the line, and the second is the key to converting the potential of that cocked wrist into all the spin your putt will need. The quicker you go from a fully cocked wrist to fingers outstretched toward the basket, the more spin you’ll get.
If you want a great example of both straight line discipline and exaggerated followthrough, check out Paul McBeth clips on YouTube. Jomez has plenty of good slo-mo (or SloMez, as they call it), and this several years-old clip shows three minutes of off-season practice. Watch for the straight line and the followthrough.
Practice reps focusing on going from cocked wrist to exaggerated followthrough will strengthen the involved muscles for use in this specific manner. If it seems like you can’t get much power on putts using this technique at first, put in the reps. You’ll see progress.
Focus on balance. Keep your entire body’s movement on that straight line–not just arm and disc. If you feel yourself pulling or falling to one side, it will affect the putt.
How do you perform on pressure putts? Are they a weakness in your otherwise solid disc golf game? If the first question caused you to grind your teeth and/or break out into a cold sweat, and if you grudgingly answered ‘yes’ to the second question, this post is for you.
Let’s start with a seemingly random question: Have you ever had to walk across a rickety bridge spanning a 3,000-foot gorge? Or maybe you’ve traversed a narrow, slippery trail hugging the side of a steep mountain. Even if you haven’t, you’ve probably seen such scenes in movies and know what the cool, calm, and collected inevitably say to those with mortal fear in their eyes:
“Don’t look down!”
The obvious reason for this timely advice is to help an already frightened and nervous person from becoming paralyzed with fear. Looking down in such situations reminds us of the dire consequences if things don’t go right, and healthy fear is one of the traits hard-wired into all species. But alas, not all fear is healthy, nor helpful.
Take away the consequences -possibility of serious injury or death, with immense pain along the way, in this case – and that walk across the rickety bridge is really no big deal. It’s just walking, after all. But when one false step could turn into a real-life Wile E. Coyote plunge, it suddenly gets much harder. And this is true of pretty much everything. The more it means to you, the greater the likelihood that anxiety comes into play. And anxiety, needless to say, never enhances performance.
Good news, the solution is simple! However, it’s not easy, at least not in an instantaneous, problem-solved kind of way. You gotta consciously work at overcoming a tendency that, like garden weeds, can never be entirely eliminated. But if you make a sincere effort to make this change you should see some results almost immediately.
Here is the essence of the one and only true way to combat performance anxiety. Drumroll, please . . . . . .
Think about what you’re trying to do, not what you’re trying to accomplish- and definitely not why you’re trying to accomplish it.
Many believe that athletes who are known as ‘clutch performers’ must somehow thrive on the pressure that negatively affects everyone else. That’s not true. They have simply trained themselves to concentrate on the raw components of the task at hand and block out everything else.
The general idea of focusing on actions rather than results is nothing new. Instructors, trainers, and coaches have applied it to everything imaginable- far beyond the realm of athletics. I’ve written about the applications of this concept multiple times before and have included some links later in this post. There are many techniques that will help you accomplish this game-changing transformation. Adapt one of mine, or come up with your own. The purpose here is to help you understand and embrace the basic concept.
The rickety bridge/”Don’t look down!” analogy just recently occurred to me, and I think it can be instrumental in helping golfers who already realize that the primary obstacles between them and lower scores are often mental, but haven’t gotten beyond that vague realization.
Want yet another example? I bet whoever trains people to diffuse bombs stresses the fact that the mind must remain focused 100 percent on the task at hand. Thoughts of beloved family members and fear of being blown to smithereens could result in shaky hands or a momentary confusion between red and blue wires. Next thing you know, BOOM!
As we all know, some missed putts result in different kinds of explosions (or, in some cases, implosions): Exploding scores, tempers, and visions of that personal-best round that was so close you could taste it. And it’s not the miss itself that is so frustrating, but the awareness that it was due to a brain twisted into knots.
If you now believe the simple solution revealed above (think about what you’re trying to do, not what you’re trying to accomplish) has merit, and are wondering “How, exactly?” that’s an excellent question. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but I think I can get you headed in the right direction by sharing a little about my personal strategies, tactics, and tricks.
Think about what you’re trying to DO
This literally means the physical movements I (and you) need to perform in order to execute a successful putt. This isn’t a post about putting technique, so I’ll only list a few things that I try to think about right before every putt (yours may be different):
Start with a comfortable, balanced stance
Focus my eyes on the orange decal on the pole, or one particular link, and don’t release the stare until the disc arrives at the basket
Follow through straight at the target, feeling the stretch in my back, shoulder, arm, hand and fingers for a lingering second after the disc leaves my hand
Notice I did not list “make the putt” as something I’m trying to do.
Do NOT think about what you’re trying to accomplish, or why you’re trying to accomplish it.
The second you start thinking about making the putt, two bad things happen.
You stop thinking the productive “Do This” thoughts that give you the best chance of success. You can’t simultaneously follow two trains of thought.
You open the door to why you want or need to make the putt. The bigger the situation, the farther the drop from that rickety bridge. It doesn’t matter whether a really bad thing will happen if you miss (you lose the round, for instance) or a really good thing won’t happen (you don’t birdie hole 13 for the first time ever). The effect is the same.
Remember when I said the solution is simple, but not easy? That’s because thinking only about the process of putting and blocking out all thoughts related to the desired achievement is a simple enough concept- but easier said than done. That’s where the strategies, tactics, and tricks come in. I’ve shared a few that I’ve posted about in the past. Adapt them to your game, or use them as inspiration for developing your own routines to prevent yourself from “looking down.”
Back in 2011, I came up with a pre-shot routine wherein I practice my putting motion several times, full speed but without the disc in my hand, right before my actual putt. I discovered several benefits in doing this, and you can read the post or watch this short video if you’re interested in the full explanation. I list it here because one of those benefits of the routine is that it allows me to think about my process keys while practicing my “stroke,” and then when it’s time to execute the actual putt, my last final thought is always the same: Do exactly what I just did on the last practice stroke. Just that one thought, and nothing else.
For me, there is no other correct final thought before I pull the trigger. The routine is now habit for me, which makes it easier to remember even in the most high-pressure moments. I’m also more likely to identify renegade “value” thoughts that try to invade my routine in time to replace them with “process” thoughts.
Assess. Choose. Execute.
Extending the routine further backward is another way to be sure I’m thinking about the right things at the right time. A successful shot starts well before I step up to my lie. In this post I discuss the proper sequence of first assessing the situation, then choosing exactly what to do, then executing. If I complete the first two steps before I step up to my lie (this post was for all shots, not just putting), I have a better chance at being able to focus on process, and only process, when it’s time to execute.
Like A Machine
Another post that touches on this subject was titled “Play Disc Golf Like a Machine. A Well-Oiled Machine.” If you need another metaphor for setting emotion and value aside and simply executing a command, you’ll find it in that post. If it helps, think of yourself emulating a robot, automaton, or even Star Trek’s Dr. Spock. If asked, he’d say “In competitive disc golf, feelings are illogical and counter-productive.”
However you get there, separating process from value on every throw will result in lower scores and less stress. Find something that works for you, and stick with it. It’ll be worth it!
The Disc Golf World Tour debuted last weekend and for the most part, it delivered on Jussi Meresmaa’s promises. But whether it can deliver on his long-term vision of disc golf as a spectator sport- well, that’s another matter. As is the question of whether his and the other new tours’ efforts will ultimately help or hinder the sport’s growth.
He said his new high-profile tour series would be broadcast live with better production quality- a slicker, more polished presentation if you will – and it was. In that sense, SpinTV delivered, and then some.
The on-screen graphics and animation during live coverage of the inaugural La Mirada Open represented a huge leap forward. Little details like on-course sponsor signage, the pads wrapped around the basket pole colored the same yellow as the Innova DisCatcher band, and even the DGWT branding on handheld microphones added to the overall effect. On Saturday, when we couldn’t see residential streets and chain link fences in the shot, La Mirada looked like Augusta National. Even the commercials looked to be more professionally done.
Announcers Jamie Thomas and Avery Jenkins (who both performed fairly well and will certainly get even better) made much ado of the next-level ‘metrics’, Greens in Regulation, Putts Inside the Circle Ratio, Putts Outside the Circle Ratio. Sports fans definitely love their stats and having these on-screen graphics available at any time is a big step in that direction.
Speaking of the announcers, did you know Avery starred in another disc golf TV show five years ago? Discmasters, a show featuring Avery, Nate Doss, Valarie Jenkins and your truly (Jack Tupp) was filmed for local TV in Santa Cruz and made the rounds on YouTube. Hopefully, he’ll get to show his lighter side on SpinTV as well.
One last big positive to point out: the player profiles mixed into the broadcast. Media experts have understood that the more insight viewers get about what makes the players tick, the stronger their connection to the action.
As an avid disc golfer, I have an appetite for live disc golf action and I can appreciate the strides that have been made by DiscGolfPlanetTV, Smashboxx, and now SpinTV. It’s definitely getting better and better. But I have two major concerns about the direction things are headed.
The first is the fact that with the current course and camera configurations these broadcasts don’t come close to conveying the essence of disc golf. Even with two cameras, the angles are almost always from behind the thrower and behind the basket. In both cases, the disc remains fairly static on the screen and so does the backdrop. Ball golf uses at least six cameras to properly film a hole, and that’s just not feasible for disc golf yet. Disc golfers who are viewing can convert what they are seeing into the majestic S-turn we know the shot required and appreciate the amazing skill. To a non-disc golfer, it’s just people throwing Frisbees again and again.
The other nit I’m gonna pick today is with the decision – or rather the necessity – to feature mostly wide open holes. The logic that open holes film better is sound, at least as long as the technology is limited to two camera angles at ground level. But it’s regrettable because another essential aspect of disc golf’s mystique is the wooded hole. In terms of how the games plays, two important elements of disc golf that distinguish it from ball golf in a positive way are missing in coverage of wide open courses; The holes with multiple obstacles players must navigate on a single shot, and the fact that disc golf can be played on very rugged terrain. Forest? Jungle? No problem! That needs to be part of the elevator pitch- which five minutes of live coverage seen by a non-disc golfer amounts to.
Once again, if the aim is to use the broadcasts to introduce potential new players and fans to the sport I don’t think it’ll work. In fact, seeing guys throw Frisbees in what appears to be, and usually is, a city or county park probably just confirms their misguided preconceptions.
What’s the real goal here? If it’s to entertain disc golf enthusiasts, then fine. Well done (Although your typical disc golfer likes to be outside on a Saturday afternoon, so even that market gets diluted somewhat). But if the goal is to ‘#growthesport’ of disc golf, we need players, and we need even more courses. For now, the best solution is still the one that got us where we are today. Support your local club. Volunteer, become a dues-paying member. Sponsor a hole.
Then take a break and watch some live Disc Golf World Tour coverage. If you’re already a disc golf nut, it’s a treat to stream the best players in the world onto a big screen TV.
Companies that market formal clothing love to tell us how their garments lead directly to success in business.
“If you look good, you’ll feel good”. Heard that one before?
The idea is that men wearing chic, expertly-tailored suits and women wearing designer labels gain extra confidence. There may be a kernel of truth buried beneath the B.S., but that’s beside the point. What matters is we can use it to communicate some useful info to disc golfers wanting to improve skills and consistency. It’ll take a bit of ‘splainin’ to get to the meat of the lesson, though, so hang in there. It’ll be worth the 10-minute read.
First off, this tip flips those ad slogans around. Feeling comes first. Also, I am using the word ‘feel’ in a totally different way than them. We’re not talking about the touchy-feely emotional kind of feel (as in, ‘you hurt my feelings’). More like the physiological use for the word, as in ‘that toilet paper feels like sandpaper!’ (Cringe-worthy mental image, but it got the point across, didn’t it?) Finally, since we’re talking about a different kind of ‘feel’, the word good doesn’t work as well. So if we had to have a pithy slogan similar to theirs to sum up the lesson, it would be more along the lines of “Feeling right leads to playing better, and (for those who care about such things) playing better makes you look good.
Ok, we’re done laying out our tortured analogy. Onto the actual message.
The School of Disc Golf has previously mentioned the concept of ‘muscle memory’ no less than six times, with good reason. It’s a scientific explanation of why and how practice makes us better. On Wikipedia, it is summarized as “a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition. When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort.”
By that definition, muscle memory is something that happens automatically, behind the curtain of your conscious thoughts. It’s one of the benefits of repetitive practice. I’d like to believe that as disc golfers (or any athlete working to perfect a craft) we can take it further than that. We can try to consciously maximize the process and benefits. I’ll explain using a couple commonly accepted tips.
Whether you prefer the spin putt or the push putt, the in-line or straddle stance, following through, dramatically, should be a constant. We talk about it in detail in this post and even include a video tutorial of an exercise to practice follow through and better develop the key muscles used in this particular way. Every putt should end with a rigid throwing arm stretched directly toward the link of chain you’re aiming at. Your elbow should be locked, arm and even fingers perfectly straight, with your thumb pointed straight up at the sky.
Now, as you read this, don’t focus on what that description of following through looks like. Focus on what it feels like. If I was giving you an in-person lesson right now, I’d explain follow through, much as I just did in writing above, and show you what it looks like. Hopefully after seeing me do it you’d make your best effort to replicate what you just saw me do. Assuming you did it correctly, I’d tell you so, and you’d accept that you just did it correctly based on my positive feedback. But here’s the thing: I can’t follow you around for all your practice sessions and rounds of disc golf. My lessons are reasonably priced, I think, but that would get costly quickly! And even if that were feasible, the key to the lesson (that follow through is a key to good putting) would not penetrate beyond your logical mind. In other words, it won’t be carved into your muscle memory. That kind of learning requires feel.
Let’s go back to the word picture I offered:
Every putt should end with a rigid throwing arm and hand stretched directly toward the link of chain you’re aiming at. Your elbow should be locked, arm and even fingers perfectly straight, with your thumb pointed straight up at the sky.
As you read the words, stretch your throwing arm toward a focal point across the room. It doesn’t matter what it is, but keep your eyes locked onto it. Now zero in on the key words and phrases, “rigid throwing arm and hand”, “stretched”, “elbow . . . locked”, “arm and even fingers perfectly straight”. Rather than thinking about these descriptions look like, or what you should look like emulating them, let your mind dwell on what each of these things feels like. An arm stretched straight ahead to its extremity feels very different than one that is dangling at your side, or resting on the arm of a chair. Get that feeling locked into your long-term memory and recall it before every putt. Remind yourself that unless you feel that sensation of stretching and straining directly toward your target, you’re not doing it right.
This post is meant to be more about the importance of learning and recalling by feel than a putting lesson, but we’ll make one more point. At the end of your putt, just before, during and after you release the disc, the feeling should also include a quick, sharp burst of movement. Don’t misunderstand all the talk of stretching toward the target and conjure up thoughts of slow motion Tai Chi. For more on that check out the follow through post referenced above.
Since we went into pretty good detail about the importance of ‘feel’ in the putting example, this one will be short and sweet. It should help drive (no pun intended) the point home using a different type of scenario. We’ll focus on one particular aspect of good, consistent driving: Balance.
One of the key points in our comprehensive post ‘Building Blocks of Basic Backhand Technique‘ is the relationship between balance and weight transfer. When it comes to throwing a golf disc properly the two are intertwined, and the difference can definitely be felt when done correctly vs. incorrectly.
First off, when you’re setting up to throw, make sure you begin with good posture (knees still slightly bent, but back mostly straight and body not ‘hunched over’) and weight evenly distributed between front and back foot. As you execute the throw, remember the goal of keeping that weight centered as much as possible. Yes, you need to transfer weight to the back foot as you reach your disc all the way back and transfer it forward in sync with the disc as you throw. But to retain the most consistent control of where your disc goes, you must remain well balanced. If you feel yourself falling off to one side or, more commonly, falling forward upon disc release, your balance is off and likely so is your aim.
This is why, in the backhand post cited above as well as all lessons I give on the subject, I urge players to begin by learning proper backhand technique without a run-up. It’s important to lock in the feel of proper balance and weight transfer so you can recall it when needed, and identify flaws when they arise.
This post doesn’t include any images, for a good reason. Visual aids do have a place in learning. But when it comes to muscle memory it’s all about learning through feel, and realizing that feeling is the best way to learn.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/
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.
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.
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 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.