Spin, Pitch, Push: Deconstructing Disc Golf Putting Terms

I shared a key component to accurate and consistent putting in a recent post. The title of the post, The Straight Line on Disc Golf Putting, Part 1, provides a pretty big hint to the nature of the tip. It also indicates that I intended to add at least one more complimentary post, and I do. But comments on social media convinced me to write this one first.

Part of the post was an explanation of why the ‘straight line’ approach to disc golf putting works regardless of a player’s preferred putting style. Push putt, spin putt, pitch putt, I wrote- it doesn’t matter. I also included a very brief explanation of those terms for readers unfamiliar with them, and those definitions became the focus of most of the feedback I received.

I decided to dig a little deeper into what others have said and written about pitch, spin, and push as descriptors used to explain putting techniques in disc golf. One thing became clear (or, rather, unclear): because there is no ultimate authority on disc golf terminology they mean different things to different people. Rather than cite a variety of conflicting explanations, I’ve decided to simply explain what they mean to me, and why.

Before I go into each of the three terms, I’ll start by listing three key points:

  1. Each player’s standard putting technique is unique to that player.
  2. The three terms defined below are not putting techniques or putting ‘styles.’ They are components that can be and usually are combined to one degree or another.
  3. Most players have a standard putting form for routine putts (defining ‘routine’ as inside the circle, relatively flat and not obscured) and therefore a standard mix of two or three of the 3 components. But non-routine putts call for the components to be mixed in different proportions.

Not only does each player’s putt feature its own unique blend of mechanical components. That blend can and does change from putt to putt depending on the situation. It’s a fluid thing. Keep that in mind as you read the definitions below.

Push Putt

This term is used to describe a player propelling a disc forward in a straight line at the target from a spot close to the torso (anywhere from waist to sternum). A couple similar movements used in other sports would be the thrust in fencing and the jab in boxing. Paul McBeth provides a good example in this video by Jomez Productions. Go to the 5:57 mark, and note how the motion of the disc is all straight forward- no arc, no sideways movement, even at the end.

PITCH PUTT

The pitch putt may be so named because of its similarity to the motion used when ‘pitching’ horseshoes. Like the push putt, an accurate and consistent pitch putt requires the player to keep the disc on a straight line from beginning to end (release and follow-through). Unlike the push putt, the player typically starts the putt at knee-height or even lower and often maintains a straight arm and locked elbow throughout. Because of the low starting point the trajectory of a pitch putt is also almost always steeper (low to high) than a push putt, which especially for power putters can be almost flat.

“Pitching horseshoes,” photo courtesy of Missoulan.com.

SPIN PUTT

The term ‘spin putt’ is probably the least accurately descriptive of the three. Spin, after all, is a critical element of any putting technique except the rarely seen end-over-end ‘flip’ putt. A more accurate label for the technique known as the spin putt would be ‘fling putt’ or ‘flip putt.’ There are two things that differentiate this putting method from the two listed above:

  1. The putt finishes with a rotational flipping motion, similar to that uses to ‘toss’ a Frisbee. Original Frisbees used to come with the slogan “Flip flat flies straight.
  2. Unlike the push and pitch putts, most or all of the power/thrust of a pure spin putt comes from this flipping motion. “It’s all in the wrist,” as they say, and in this case it’s true.

This gets back to the reason I wrote the post The Straight Line on Disc Golf Putting, Part 1, in the first place. The wrist flick that defines so-call ‘spin putting’ is the easiest way to generate power while facing the basket. It is the most difficult, however, when it comes to achieving a reliable, consistent release point.

Nate Doss prepares to execute his signature eye-level spin putt. Photo courtesy of AllThingsDiscGolf

Sure, some top pros have have had success with it (Nate Doss and Steve Rico come to mind). but they are the exception to the rule. Why? Because when the wrist-flip supplies most of the power, the motion of the disc leading up to the release point follows an arc rather than a straight line.

To see what I mean, check out this very recent clip from Jomez Productions’ coverage of Simon Lizotte at the 2019 Pro Worlds. Go to the 32:00 mark, and watch the slo-mo replay of Simon’s spin putt. He finishes by following through straight at the target after the disc is out of his hand, but the motion leading up to the release is clearly more of a rotational wrist-flicking nature.

Now go back and watch the Paul McBeth clip linked above and you’ll see the putting motion and the exaggerated follow through both staying on the same line directly at the target. The disc can’t help but following that straight line, and this isn’t a given with a spin (AKA fling AKA flip) putt.

I know, sticking to this straight line while also generating sufficient spin is tricky. I’ll address how to do just that in the next post, Part 2 of The Straight Line on Disc Golf Putting. Stay tuned!

The Straight Line on Disc Golf Putting- Part 1

By Jack Trageser

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. You’ve heard that before, right? It’s true of many things, including – in the figurative as well as the literal sense – disc golf putting.

If you’d like to transform yourself from an inconsistent putter who is frustrated by frequently missing putts your peers seem to make all the time (Point A), to someone known for their solid, consistent putting game (Point B), this ‘Straight Line’ tip might get you there quicker than any other adjustment you can make.

More than any other part of the game, putting is all about precision and accuracy. If you miss your release point by even a few degrees it could very well result in a missed putt- even on very short attempts. The best way to prevent this from happening is to keep both the disc and your hand on a rigidly straight line from the time you start the take-back until after the disc leaves your hand (the follow-through).

The bottom line: Eliminate the left-to-right movement in your putting form, and you’ll greatly reduce your left/right misses. Just like that!

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Figure 1

Figure 1 is obviously a diagram using crude symbols, but it’s a good thing to visualize if you choose to practice this key ingredient to consistently accurate putting. Another option is to imagine a narrow tunnel barely the width of your disc running between you and the basket. Your objective as you take the disc back then launch it forward should be to keep the disc and your hand from hitting the sides of the tunnel, holding onto it until your arm is stretched as far as it can toward the target.

Why It Works

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. Assuming your aim is true, all you need to do is open your hand when your arm is stretched as far toward the target as it will go, then keep reaching with all five fingers for a half-second more.

Whether you prefer the ‘Push,’ ‘Spin,’ or ‘Pitch’ putting technique; whether you use an ‘In-Line’ or a ‘Straddle’ stance, the straight line principle works and is embraced by nearly all top pros. Want proof? Do a little research on YouTube and you can easily spot the effort to keep the putting hand on the line toward the basket even after the disc leaves the hand. Paul Mcbeth and James Conrad provide obvious examples. Watch Ricky Wysocki and you’ll see that the straight line is even more essential to successful pitch putting.

Contrast that with a short ‘toss’ or ‘flip’ where your hand and the disc travel in an arc. Because the movement isn’t directed in a straight line headed toward the target, accuracy depends on releasing the disc at just the right moment. Too early and you miss ‘short-side.’ Too late and you pull it wide. As diagrammed in Figure 2, a variance in your release point of less than an inch can result in completely missing the target.

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Figure 2

To further drive home the importance of keeping putts on ‘the line,’ let’s explore the fact that putting in disc golf has very little in common with throwing. Contrary to what most beginners and a surprising number of more seasoned players seem to think, putting isn’t simply a backhand throw modified into a short, soft toss.

The differences begin with the stance. For a right-handed backhand throw, a player’s feet are typically positioned with her toes pointing roughly 90 degrees to the left of the target. All standard putting methods, on the other hand, call for the player’s toes to be pointed, and shoulders squared, directly at the target. This is for a reason; It allows the player to pull the disc back and bring it forward on the same line as her line of sight- something that aids greatly in aiming. To help understand this, think of how we aim in archery or with firearms- with an eye peering directly down the line of flight.

Unlike rifles and longbows, however, in disc golf it’s up to us to provide both the aim and the momentum that ensures the projectile heads directly at the target. It’s not as simple as pulling a trigger or releasing an arrow. The line of sight advantage only matters when the disc is kept on that same straight line until it leaves your hand.

Why It Can Take Some Work To Get It To Work

Keeping your disc on a true straight line provides greatly improved accuracy and consistency, but the tradeoff is a restriction on power generation. It gets easier and more natural with practice and repetition, but holding the line can be hard at first. This is why even players who normally demonstrate proper straight-line form sometimes pull their putts wide when attempting shots at the edge of (and especially beyond) their range.

Up Next: How To Make It Work

I’ve made my best argument for why eliminating the left/right movement from your putting form is the secret to improved accuracy and consistency. Hopefully it seems logical enough that you want to start working on it right away.

As I mentioned earlier, it most likely won’t be an instant transformation. You may struggle to generate spin, power, or both. In Part 2 of this post I’ll provide specific details that should help, complete with a practice technique and a couple video demonstrations. To make sure you know when it’s out, follow this blog on WordPress and our School of Disc Golf and Play DiscGolf Facebook pages.

Think a run-up always equals more distance in disc golf? Not so fast!

When we watch a full-power drive performed by someone who can really huck it, the ‘run-up’ is a big part of the show. Whether it’s a literal running start or a couple smooth strides, and whether the technique used is an X-step/scissors step or crow-hop, that bodily forward motion appears to contribute greatly to distance the disc travels. But does it, really?

The short answer is no. The large majority of the power that translates to long disc golf drives comes from arm speed, maximized by hip/torso/shoulder rotation. The ‘run-up’ adds only marginally to that equation, resulting in between 5-15 percent more distance. And that’s only IF (and it’s a big ‘if’) everything is coordinated and timed perfectly.

Yet the run-up seems so necessary to power generation that nearly all developing players incorporate it into their drives from the very beginning. And that is usually a big mistake. It takes a high level of athletic coordination, plus LOTS and lots of practice, to use a run-up and still maintain control and consistency like these top pros. (Note that while their form may vary from player to player, they all have the main ingredients in common- especially the perfectly timed and balanced weight transfer. Even though the body is moving forward, the weight stays back until precisely right millisecond.)

The physical side of disc golf is as much about control as it is power. More, actually, because the harder you throw in the wrong direction, the farther the disc can go in the wrong direction. And if you play on tight, wooded courses it doesn’t matter how hard you throw; Miss that gap and your disc ain’t goin’ nowhere! Well, nowhere good, at least. Golf in all its forms is first and foremost a game of accuracy, precision, and consistency.

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Standstill drives with perfect form and timing beat ill-timed run-up drives every time. Note how this player’s disc and weight transfer from back to front foot (which is mostly lifted off the teepad) appear perfectly in synch. Photo by Jack Trageser.

When I’m giving private lessons (with the exception of pros and top amateurs who already demonstrate a solid grasp of proper driving technique) I insist on starting with a stand-still throw. No run-up. No steps at all except for a back foot toe-drag on the follow-through. For details check out this post I wrote several years ago titled “Building Blocks of Basic Backhand Technique.” It is still one of the most viewed pages on our website.

I decided to write this particular post after reading a testimonial from a recent client. You can read his full comments here if you like, but the most relevant snippet is shown below.

“I’ve been playing for about 2.5 years and understood I had built some bad habits but did not have any clue as to how to go about identifying and fixing them.  Jack broke proper form down to very simple and understandable mechanics, and over the course of 3 hours, I found myself throwing from a standstill almost as far – and much more accurately – than I had before.” –John J., Berkeley, CA

Here’s the bottom line: To maximize your power potential with a backhand drive in disc golf you need to focus on the following, in order of importance:

  1. Engage your major muscles (as opposed to throwing with your arm only) through rotation of your hips and shoulders
  2. Perfect your timing and weight transfer. Keep your weight back until a fraction of a second BEFORE you launch the disc. NOTE: This is the part that most often goes awry when a player tries to incorporate a run-up too soon.
  3. Speaking of launching the disc . . . at just the right time, with all that coiled energy held back, unleash it with an explosive burst. Going from zero to 60 as quickly as possible is what creates the armspeed that is essential to power and distance
  4. Finally, when you’ve mastered the first three, slowly integrate a run-up by starting slowly. The important thing is to keep your timing and release point intact.

(Once again, to learn more about making sure the disc goes where you want it to go, read this post for more details on backhand form). The above list addresses power generation only)

I recommend throwing backhand drives exclusively with the standstill technique for at least a month so that once you add a run-up you’ll know instantly when the timing is right and when it isn’t. You’ll likely suffer a loss of accuracy and control at first, so it’s best to experiment during fieldwork and rounds that don’t matter.

Remember that a run-up itself only increases your driving distance marginally. It’s the other three elements listed above that really help players make big strides in not only distance but accuracy and consistency as well. Good luck, and happy chuckin’!

 

This week in disc golf GROWTH news

We go out of our way to share news stories that cover disc golf growth at the local, grassroots level for two good reasons. Grassroots growth is the secret sauce for a sport that is spreading like a virus despite almost no corporate funding, and, amazingly, no other disc golf media talk much about it.

On January 2nd tusconlocalmedia.com published a comprehensive piece listing what their reporters believe will be the biggest stories in that region in 2019. Near the top is a theme that is all too common these days, a public (taxpayer funded) golf course that is losing more than $1 million a year. Who wants to bet they’ll be adding disc golf sometime soon? The same story mentions a new course coming to the El Rio Preserve in Pima County. If you live in Oro Valley, help them connect the dots!

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If you’re near Blaine, WA, check out this new course added in 2018. Photo credit: Chris Garvey for The Northern Light

From Blaine, WA, right on the Canadian border, a similar “Year in Review” article published in The Northern Light lists the installation of a new course in Lincoln Park, stating “Residents and visitors can now enjoy the Blaine disc golf course in Lincoln Park, an 18-hole championship-style course that is free to use and encourages outdoor recreation and tournament-style play.”

A weee bit to the south, in Crossville, TN, a story that focuses on whether the town council should market itself as more than “The Golf Capital of Tennessee,” the real news (as far as we’re concerned) is buried near the bottom. The council is raising funds to build a #newdiscgolfcourse and should be ready to begin soon. If you live in Crossville, get in touch with them and let them know you’re excited- and maybe offer to help!

“The sports council has been raising funds to add a disc golf course at Meadow Park Lake and expects to soon move forward with that project.” –Heather Mullinix, Crossville Chronicle

In LaJunta, CO, a story detailing the city’s extensive Trails project, kudos are given for the installation of another new course. According to the story by Bette McFarren, “Also helping with the continued development of Anderson Arroyo, said (Parks and Recreation Director Brad) Swartz, is the popular Disc Golf Course installed in 2018.” Judging by the picture accompanying the story, the course replaced a previously neglected open space and now provides exercise and recreation for numerous residents. Have any of our readers played this one yet?

Finally, here is a story from Bowling Green Daily News about local business leaders in Logan County, KY wanting the county to purchase a golf course that is for sale and turn half of it into a park (leaving 9 holes of the golf course intact).

“According to Ray, the proposed plans include a disc golf course, baseball fields, tennis and volleyball courts and a splash park.” –Jackson French, Bowling Green Daily News

Their plan calls for the park to include a disc golf course, so here’s an extension of that idea. Build the park and disc golf course, and on the remaining 9-hole golf course, add disc golf to that as well. The county would suddenly be able to offer a 36-hole disc golf complex- a sure tourism draw these days when done right. If you know someone who lives in Bowling Green or Logan County tell them to pitch the idea right away. The people to talk to are listed in the story.

 

As ball golf courses struggle, disc golf fills the void

Contrasting the rapidly expanding number of disc golf courses in the U.S. with the, uh, relative ‘shrinkage‘ in ball golf is one way to measure the unstoppable ascension of The New Golf.

Both Steve Dodge and I have publicly predicted that the number of disc golf courses in the U.S. will overtake traditional golf venues in the near future. Mr. Dodge wrote about it on the DGPT blog, and I addressed it a couple of times in my book. In both cases we considered the two types of courses as mutually exclusive- in other words, they are either one or the other. A growing trend, however, is changing the math in a BIG way.

If we’re comparing facilities that offer ONLY ball golf to all the parks, open spaces, AND commercial venues where permanent disc golf courses exist, our seemingly aggressive predictions of eight and five years may turn out to be conservative.

And you can guess why, can’t you?

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The basket of Hole 11 of the disc golf layout on DeLaveaga Municipal Golf Golf in Santa Cruz, CA sits perilously close to a sand trap. Traps and greens are typically one-stroke hazards in disc golf.

Public ball golf courses are dropping left and right. More often than not they operate at a loss these days, and those that try to remain open are desperate to attract new patrons. Enter disc golf, a sport headed in a decidedly different direction. This story from the San Diego Union-Tribune offers a perfect example.

San Diego runs multiple public golf courses, but only the famous Torrey Pines complex with two championship 18-hole tracks turns a profit. The rest of them are subsidized by the city. Balboa and Mission Bay, which according to the article lose a combined $2 million each year, felt compelled to attract a new breed of golfer. For a relatively minimal investment they added disc golf and footgolf, and (no surprise), usage at both courses has spiked.

“The spikes in usage at Balboa and Mission Bay have been partly attributed to upgrades, including new foot and disc golf courses added to each and a greater focus on the quality of course conditions.”  -David Garrick, SD Union Tribune

A quick Google search yields plenty of other examples, like this one from Ceres, CA, and another from Tuscon, AZ where the city council recommended more desperate measures- with disc golf still the end goal.

The article from San Diego also mentioned some details on how much it costs to operate a traditional golf course. According to Garrick, energy and water costs for all San Diego public courses are expected to rise this year from $2.1 to $2.6 million, with personnel costs rising from $4.3 million to $4.6 million. Their overall budget will approach $20 million!

So is it realistic to think that within a few short years the number of disc golf-only courses in the U.S. combined with the number of ball golf/disc golf hybrid courses will be greater than the number of ball golf-only courses? Sure seems like it.

We’re trending that way already, as budget-strapped cities and municipalities are figuring out that disc golf courses require a tiny fraction of the overhead needed to keep a traditional golf course playable, in addition to requiring far less land.

What do you suppose will happen when it also becomes common knowledge that the average taxpayer these days is more likely to embrace the easier-to-learn, quicker-to-play, less expensive, and less environmentally impactful version of the game?

Get ready for The New Golf. It will eclipse the old, obsolete model, much sooner than you think.

Back to Bloggin’

As George ‘Frolf’ Costanza once famously said, “I’m back baby, I’m back!”

Tell all your content-hungry disc golf pals who (in addition to playing and watching) read about the sport whenever they can that the School of Disc Golf is back to posting a mixture of disc golf content- not just the instructional stuff tied to our core business.

You’ll once again also be seeing current disc golf news from around the world, with a focus on stories about the sport’s growth around the world. Like this story from Bay County, MI. Check out this awesome quote from director of recreation and facilities Cristen Gignac:

“One of the big parts of this grant is we do public input,” she said, adding during the month of September they had a survey that went out to the community. “There was a lot of interest in disc golf, you’ll see that as a priority in a handful of different places.”

Stories like this are popping up everywhere, and I love to share them. Add in occasional commentary provided by yours truly, Jack Tupp (aka Frisbeebrain), and you’ll see a good mix of disc golf content- much of which you won’t get anywhere else. Use the ‘Subscribe’ link at right to make sure the good stuff hits your email inbox before the metaphorical ink is dry.

A little about the history of this blog:

Back in 2008, I decided to launch one of the sport’s first blogs, DeLa Blahg then went on to write (along with PDGA’s Steve Hill) for Rattling Chains, and after that All Things Disc Golf- both also excellent pioneering Disc Golf Blogs. Since then I launched the School of Disc Golf to offer lessons and teambuilding events and published two books. Three Paths to Better Disc Golf offers multiple tips to help you shoot lower scores, while The Disc Golf Revolution aims to help you share the sport – in all its important glory – with the outside world.

DeLaShermis13
You’ll also see examples of my personal disc golf-themed smartphone captures, like this recent one from Hole 13 at my home course, DeLaveaga in Santa Cruz, CA.

Enough about me, right? Everyone is encouraged to post comments, and send me questions, ideas of topics to cover, and story links. If you want to peruse past posts for ideas, just use the search box. Let’s talk some disc golf!

Finally, a teaser for what’s up next: I’ll be sharing a completely fresh take on whether baskets should be smaller/more challenging on the pro tour. Stay tuned!

How To Sell Disc Golf to Your Friends

If you’re like me, the desire to ‘sell’ the sport of disc golf to anyone who crosses your path comes as naturally as breathing, blinking, and throwing a hyzer. As decent human beings we want others to enjoy the benefits of the sport we love, right? So the sales pitches just gush forth. But are they as compelling and effective as they can possibly be?

While displaying a sincere belief in and passion for something is a powerful element of effective sales, the message itself is also important. And so is tailoring the message to the audience. But often we don’t have time for anything but a quick summary of the game and it’s best features. Normally this means quickly explaining that disc golf is fun, anyone can play, and anyone can afford it.playdiscgolf, school of disc golf, disc golf lessons, disc golf teambuilding,

My personal elevator pitch, when I have a minute or less to share the virtues of disc golf with people or persons I may not know well, goes something like this:

“Golf really is a great game. You get fresh air and low impact exercise, can play alone or with others, and the strategic and mental challenges ensure that it never gets old. It also builds important life skills like integrity, self-control, patience, and humility. BUT . . . traditional golf is saddled with numerous limitations that make those wonderful traits inaccessible to the majority of people in the world. Either the cost is too high, or it takes too long to play a round, or it’s too difficult, or the environmental impact is troubling. Disc golf, on the other hand, retains everything that is great about golf while eliminating each of the barriers.”

If I have a chance for a more in-depth discussion, I’ll drill down to more details on one or more of disc golf’s high points based on what I know about those listening to me.

When money is obviously an issue I will stress the affordability, pointing out that most courses are free to play and one needs only a few inexpensive discs. Most who know little about the sport are usually surprised that courses are usually free because they are aware that ball golf courses all charge significant fees.

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Disc golf is for everyone.

If I’m speaking to someone who feels like they need more exercise, I’ll explain that:

  • Disc golf can provide whatever level of exercise a person wants, from walking only a few holes at first on a flat course to hours of hiking or even running over varied terrain
  • I’ve known numerous people who have lost significant weight and improved their health in other ways by simply playing disc golf on a regular basis
  • The casual, open nature of the sport makes it a great choice for those having a hard time fitting exercise time into a busy schedule

As a former baseball player, I frequently run into old teammates who long for a new competitive outlet. In these and similar situations I go straight to explaining how much more “golf-like” disc golf is than most assume it to be. For instance:

  • The constant risk-reward decisions that are a hallmark of golf are ever-present in disc golf as well
  • The basic throwing techniques, while easy to quickly learn at a functional level, can take years to achieve a semblance of mastery
  • Long throws provide that “Feat of Strength” rush that one gets from baseball, golf, and other sports
  • Lest someone think we’re hurling the same beach Frisbee again and again, I point out that differences in the design and weight of discs provide players with more than enough (sometimes too many!) equipment options

When speaking to someone whose concern for the environment shapes many of the choices they make, I am quick to contrast disc golf with ball golf in that context. Since the state of the playing surface matters little, a disc golf course can exist almost anywhere without any manipulation of the natural setting. Although some courses are installed in groomed park areas, watering, mowing, and landscaping are not necessary. If someone wants to play a sport and experience nature at the same time, you can’t do better than disc golf.

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Go to playdiscgolf.org to learn more about Jack Tupp’s new book, “The Disc Golf Revolution.”

Disc golf is steadily growing, mostly due to word of mouth and sales pitches similar to the ones described above. Because of the game’s supreme accessibility, a large percentage of those who try it become enthusiasts themselves in short order. It is my opinion, however, that should these facts about disc golf become more widely available, the drip-drip-drip of disc golf growth will become a deluge. From dripping point to tipping point.

I’ve felt this way for some time, and it led me to write a book called The Disc Golf Revolution. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, the book should be available by Fall 2017. You can learn more at http://playdiscgolf.org.

Jack Trageser is the owner of School of Disc Golf and author of Three Paths to Better Disc Golf and The Disc Golf Revolution. He resides in Santa Cruz, CA