Ball golf wants to be like disc golf, and it’s getting pretty obvious

They know the writing is on the wall. It may take a long time to dry, but the ink is indelible and the weight of the words heavy with undeniable fact.

The traditional game of golf, with its balls, clubs, baggage, and inconvenient truths fits the 21st century like a square peg in a round hole. And they know it.

I have been convinced of this for some time- so much so that I wrote a book to explain why the very things that are dooming the original version of golf are having an inverse effect on disc golf, helping to fuel the newer sport’s explosive growth.

My news feed today featured a story from Golf Digest titled “10 Golf Traditions that Need to Change Now.” Most of the specific items listed don’t have much of a parallel in the disc golf world, but that’s not the point. As the author points out in the first paragraph, “Some are minor inconveniences, others prolong (ball golf’s) already time-consuming sport and a few certainly don’t help (them) refute the argument that (ball golf) can, at times, be a little … stuffy.”

That one sentence mentions one major and practical reason that the median age of a regularly-playing ball golfer is now 68 (rounds take too much time), and another that is more related to a cultural shift that favors casual over ceremonial in all things.

(c) Lisafx | Dreamstime.com

I found it funny, though, that the first item on the list – the fact that a ball golfer who sinks a hole-in-one is obligated to buy everyone drinks – is something that is exactly the opposite in disc golf. The player who aces in disc golf usually walks away richer for their effort, but certainly no poorer.

Some of the others include the fact that changing into your golf shoes in the parking lot is frowned upon (don’t do that or Spalding Wentworth III may report you), courses being cart only and not allowing walking (a rule that would fit right in in the movie Wall-E), and waiting for whoever “has honors” (in disc golf we just say whoever is “out”) to play. That one makes sense for safety reasons, but the author is probably so obsessed with the 4 hours it takes to play a round in the busy 21st century that they forgot all about why that particular “tradition” came to be.

If you think I haven’t connected the dots strongly enough to back my claim that golf’s power brokers know their sport is irreversibly appealing to fewer and fewer people as the years go by, I have more.

My second book, The Disc Golf Revolution, was published in 2018. In it, I quoted from a New York Times article written way back in 2008 titled “More Americans are Giving Up Golf.” My favorite quote from that one was a golf club owner saying “When the ship is sinking it’s time to get creative.” I also cited another 2008 story in Golf Digest about golf and the environment. The findings of a comprehensive study made it clear that a good deal of golfers and a large majority of non-golfers considered golf courses’ need for water and pesticides to be irresponsible and obviously wrong- and that was 14 years ago!

Yes indeed, they know.

disc golf is the future

In the business world, there is a term called pivoting. It’s usually used to explain how a business will see an obvious trend that threatens its existence and change its products or service to embrace the trend. Disc golf courses popping up on existing (and inevitably foundering) golf courses with increasing frequency is one obvious example, but to me, it isn’t the most telling. In those cases, it’s about an existing golf course trying to keep its gates open.

I look instead to the emergence of TopGolf in the past decade. If you’re not familiar, Top Golf is “played” at a driving range. The player never moves from their stall, attempting to hit various targets and accrue points. Think golf-meets-Skee-Ball. For the power brokers, Top Golf solves the issues of time, environmental impact, stuffiness, and to a degree, cost.

Know what else addresses all those issues? Disc golf! And you still get to actually play the game of golf in all of its enthralling, maddening glory!

Ball golf will hang on in some form for decades longer because billion-dollar industries on the slow road to obsolescence can be like beheaded chickens that inexplicably keep running around and running around until finally, they stop.

The writing is on the wall, and they know it.

New Online Retailer: Reaper Disc Supply

Although it’s growing like crazy, I still think of the disc golf community as one big family. Because of that I turn down product review requests when there is a good chance that my evaluation won’t be favorable. If I publish a review, readers need to be able to trust that it’s an honest assessment. And, quite frankly, I’d rather skip a review rather than possibly hurt another disc golf small business.

When I was contacted by Aaron at Reaper Disc Supply, I shared that disclaimer with him for a couple of reasons: The whole skull, bones, and death motif isn’t really my thing, and with few exceptions I could care less about the imagery that decorate the discs I throw. (Reaper sells shirts, hoodies, tanks and socks with their original art as well as a great selection of discs.) To his credit, Aaron quickly replied that if I didn’t like his stuff he wanted me to say so.

Fair enough. I admired the confidence and agreed to do it, and not just because the company owner understood my position. I know that plenty of disc golfers don’t share my artistic tastes, and it seems clear that I’m in the minority in my preference for bright, solid-colored discs (although it’s hard to argue with my practical logic).

One more bit of background that I think is worth mentioning: I’m really into disc golf apparel. So much so that I’ve created numerous designs myself, as an officer of the DeLaveaga Disc Golf Club (membership shirts) and as a disc golf business owner. When I produced shirts they had to meet my own personal criteria in selecting shirts I’d wear myself. I have to like the design, but comfort and fit matter just as much. Over the years I’ve accumulated enough disc golf shirts that didn’t make my “wear worthy” cut to make five t-shirt quilts. I didn’t want to just toss ’em, but never wore them.

All of this is to say I think my take on t-shirts is, if nothing else, fairly informed and discerning.

Rather than just send me a number of random garments, Aaron asked me to check out the apparel section of his website and pick a few things I liked. Given the grim reaper theme I didn’t think I would find much, but I was wrong! The Arrow Wolf design on white reminded me of my days going to hardcore punk shows (turns out this is something Aaron and I have in common).

I had to take this shirt off to get a pic. It blends in well with my office décor, right?

Big Disc Energy got me to laugh, and I instantly looked forward to others seeing it on the course and sharing the play on words joke. It has even inspired me to write a song of the same name that describes disc golfers who are convinced they’re the next Drew Gibson.

I even found myself loving one of the designs featuring reaper himself. Respect the Course shares a message every true disc golf lover should support. Maybe I can get Reaper Disc Supply to sponsor a hole at Black Mouse DGC, which sits on school grounds, when it reopens. We’ve had some issues with littering.

My 18-year old daughter loved all of the designs, particularly the Chain Destroyer and Death Metal hoodies, and Floral Dragon Reaper t-shirt, which I admit is impressive.

When the package arrived, I spotted a cool sticker that had me smiling before I even opened the box. It had a reaper image and a warning to Handle with Care. Nice! It reminded me that most disc golf small businesses share my passion for the sport and the people who love it.

The garments themselves were top quality. I couldn’t spot a single printing imperfection on any of them. The colors were all vibrant and the images vivid and clear, exactly as represented on the website. The t-shirts are Premium Bella Canvas, 100 percent soft ring spun cotton for the solid colors and a 52 cotton/48 polyester blend for the heather tees. The hoodies are a medium weight 50/50 cotton-polyester blend.

After several wash cycles everything still looks and fits great. The shirts fit as I expected, the 100 percent cotton is indeed soft, and the heather shirts, with the 52/48 blend, has that combination of softness and stretch that I particularly love to wear while throwing.

This Innova R-Pro Pig with Reaper’s custom “Chained Hog” artwork sold out quickly.

I mentioned that Reaper also sells discs. Until recently their inventory included “whatever we could get, given the shortages everywhere,” according to Aaron. That just changed! He also now sells popular molds with his artwork on them. They are all limited edition and hand numbered. The plan is to release at least one per month until they’re able to order bigger quantities. The first one, an R-pro Pig with the “Chained Hog” image, sold out quickly, but I bet they do another run of those as that’s a slam dunk disc/image combo. They just released a Star Destroyer with the Reaper Gorilla art. If you like it, better act fast. I think the black-on-white looks sharp.

In summary, I’ve found Reaper Disc Supply to be great to deal with, and the product seems to be top quality. Check out their stuff. You’ll probably find something you like, and even if you don’t there’s always the death metal disc golfer in your life, right?

A Tribute to MC Flow, and How to Play Better by Balancing Challenge and Skill

disc golf book, disc golf lessons

MC Flow was not a hip-hop artist, nor a pioneering disc golfer from the early ’80s. He was a psychologist, and no one has ever referred to him by that name except me, in this post.

While researching my book, Three Paths to Better Disc Golf, I learned that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is the person credited with the concept of Flow. In the context of athletic performance and contemporary language, “In the Zone” may be the more familiar term for this state of being.

I read yesterday that Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced chik-sent-mee-hai-ee) died on October 20th, a great loss to the academic community. After learning some new things about his teaching and having had a few years to reflect since mentioning him in the book, I decided to once again bring him to the attention of disc golfers who seek the elusive but wholly available nexus of optimized performance and enriched experience on the course.

Csikszentmihalyi was best known to academics who study psychology for his larger body of work exploring happiness and creativity. His codification of the ideal state of productivity, production, and engagement (flow) was his greatest contribution to the larger world’s understanding of the human experience.

Although the concept of flow applies to any long term endeavor that a person wishes to undertake and ultimately master, athletic competition provides the ideal vessel to understand, witness, and hopefully experience this elusive state.

When you think of an athlete being “In the Zone,” what is the first thing that comes to mind? For me it’s a basketball player who is making the right decision at every juncture, making every shot no matter how difficult. When this is happening, we’ll also hear phrases like “automatic,” “unconscious,” and “out of her mind.”

As I have come to understand it, though, flow isn’t a trance-like state where we’re either in it or we’re not- a plane of existence we may be lucky to stumble into once or twice in our lives. It is a target at which to aim, and much like aiming for one center link of a basket, even coming close usually produces positive results.

Csikszentmihalyi (aka MC Flow) used flow to describe a person being in a state of complete absorption with whatever they are doing, of being so involved in an activity that nothing else exists. In an interview with Wired magazine he explained it as “”being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away,” he said. “Time flies.”

If he had stopped there, this insight would still have been fascinating, but not very useful to those of us obsessed with optimizing performance. But thankfully he didn’t stop there.

The actionable crux of MC Flow’s hypothesis is a roadmap on how to get there. To achieve a flow state, he said, a balance must be struck between the challenge of the task and the skill of the performer. If the task is too easy or too difficult, flow cannot occur as both skill level and challenge level must be matched and high; if skill and challenge are low and matched, then apathy results. If the challenge level is high and the skill level is low, the result is anxiety.

This brings me to the main new thing I learned about MC Flow’s hypotheses yesterday, and how it supports my concept of Disc Golf in a Vacuum.

Csikszentmihalyi believed that autotelic personality – in which a person performs acts because they are intrinsically rewarding, rather than to achieve external goals – is a trait possessed by individuals who can learn to enjoy situations that most other people would find miserable. According to the Wikipedia entry on the man and his work, “Research has shown that aspects associated with the autotelic personality include curiosity, persistence, and humility.”

When I had the mountaintop (Top of the World at DeLaveaga DGC, to be specific) epiphany that led to me formulating my own hypothesis on optimizing both enjoyment and performance in disc golf, I was zeroing in on some of the same general ideas as MC Flow. My big personal discovery had three parts:

  1. Immersing myself in the selection, planning, execution, and then evaluation of a shot, solely for the sake of doing so (the intrinsic reward) rather than as a step to achieving a low score on my round that day (an external goal) is the richest, most gratifying way to experience disc golf
  2. Remaining in or close to this state for an entire round almost always results in optimized execution and therefore optimized scoring
  3. Despite being wholly absorbed in each shot as it happens, I’ve found I am much better equipped to go back after the round, often many hours later, and relive the whole round

Csikszentmihalyi listed several conditions for flow, and others have taken it upon themselves to flesh out his hypothesis even further. If you’re interested in the broader topic I encourage you to hop onto Google and dig in. As it pertains to athletic endeavors, and specifically disc golf, I’ll focus on just one: You must be at the balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and your own perceived skills.

disc golf lessons, disc golf books, disc golf gifts

The first chart in this post may make it seem like you need to be at the far end of both the challenge and skill side of the equation in order to experience flow, but this is not the case. The two simply need to be in balance. Other charts illustrating flow reference the term flow channel, and indicate that we merely needs to be redirecting ourselves into this ideal mix of challenge and skill. It’s not the only condition needed to achieve flow, but it’s seemingly the most important one.

In disc golf terms, this presents different directives depending on who you are and where you’re at with your game.

Less experienced and less skilled players can usually move toward the flow channel by simply being realistic about their capabilities and acting accordingly. When presented with a hole that “requires” a drive you don’t have – whether in terms of distance or shot shape – don’t take the bait. Figure out an alternative you CAN execute that gets you closer to the hole, even if it is unconventional. Remember, it’s all about finding that equal ratio of skill and challenge so you can stay balanced on the line between boredom and anxiety.

If you’re a skilled player wanting to get into the flow more, ask yourself if you’re at least on some subconscious level experiencing boredom. Maybe you’ve already determined what you can and can’t do on the course and have stuck to your comfort zone for too long. According to Csikszentmihalyi, you can’t remain in both the comfort zone and the flow channel for very long.

For example, even the most backhand-dominant players admit that certain upshots call for a forehand. If you’re in such a situation, consider upping the challenge part of the equation. It’ll probably cause you to veer quickly from boredom to anxiety – as the curvy line on the diagram indicates – but it’ll keep you moving toward your maximum mix of challenge and skill, Stay mindful of this mix and you’ll stay in or near the flow state most of the time. Any hey, that’s what practice is for, right? Working on skills in a less pressurized environment.

According to Csikszentmihalyi, you can’t remain in both the comfort zone and the flow channel for very long.

I started writing today to pay tribute to the man who explained being “in the zone” in scientific terms. When I returned home after that horrible USDGC performance in 2009 and discovered the transformative experience of truly focusing on abstract execution for its own sake, I knew I couldn’t have been the first to put it into words.

While I still think that in the highly-charged atmosphere of competitive sports the “focus on what you’re trying to do, not what you’re hoping to achieve” maxim is the key, MC Flow gave us much more. He gifted us with an excellent blueprint for using psychological tools to maximize our potential.

The Shift bag by Upper Park: a sweet mix of form and function

I am a sucker for novelty, and compared to all the other disc golf bags on the market the Shift bag by Upper Park Disc Golf is certainly novel. When the company asked me if I’d like to check one out and write a review my answer was an emphatic yes as I’ve admired them from afar for years and relished the opportunity to experience such a unique take on the disc golf bag.

The disc slots and pockets of the Shift hold 2-3 discs each, allowing for quick access and strategic organization- if you’re the organized type.

Let’s start with this bag’s primary differentiator. The design element of having numerous disc slots that can each hold one, two, and even three discs securely has always seems very cool to me.

I dislike the quandary with the main storage section of most bags; if it isn’t full or nearly so, the discs fall onto their side like books without bookends to keep them upright. This often leaves a less than desirable choice. Carry more discs than I want or need that day, deal with having to dig around a cavernous area to find the disc I need (discs in half-full bags inevitably settle into a semi-vertical stack), or having a separate, smaller bag just for those days when I want to carry far less discs than normal. The latter option has been my move for years, but sometimes that other bag isn’t handy.

I loaded discs into my new Shift with what I thought was a good plan. Putters in the top slot, mids and utility discs in the internal slot below that, and drivers in the four elasticized side pockets (2 pockets/sleeves on each side).

Everything was up front and visible, but over the course of the round I realized that my organization strategy wasn’t detailed enough. With the outside sleeves allocated for drivers in general, I found myself having to scan all of them to find a disc when I wanted it. Were the Shift my go-to bag, I would assign a specific slot to each disc and be sure to return it to that specific slot.

The other feature that sets the Shift apart from other bags is its similarity to a daypack for a serious all-day hike. Let’s say you are playing a course that is long, with lots of trekking and climbing between holes. By the back nine you’ll be glad your bag is a Shift. It feels significantly lighter than other bags, and the ergonomics are amazing.

It has a latch to connect the shoulder straps in front, which some other bags have as well, but it also features a nicely padded belt-like strap at the bottom. Connect both of these, and you can barely feel any drag on your shoulders at all. But wait, there’s more! Both sides of the belt strap have small zippered pockets which would really come in handy if you used this bag to caddy for someone else since you can access them without taking the bag off your shoulders. The extra straps work great for what they are designed to do, but in a typical round, I can’t see myself connecting and undoing them between throws.

But here’s the thing: I don’t own a serious daypack. The next time the need for one arises, I will simply empty this bag of everything but a disc or two (my hike will likely include at least a couple spots that scream for a majestic throw) and Shift it into hiking mode. I assume the name has something to do with this double use, but Upper Park’s marketing doesn’t mention it. I’d consider playing this up, were I them. A disc golf bag that doubles as a daypack brings with it many selling points.

You can check out the Shift page on Upper Park’s website to see the full list of features and benefits. The material and construction seems top quality, and the company is clearly dedicated to a superior customer service experience.

I only identified two drawbacks, and one of them has more to do with me than Upper Park or the Shift’s design. I use a Rovic cart most of the time and had already set the cart up for my round when I remembered that I had planned to use my new Shift. Something about the two designs didn’t mesh, making it hard to get it all connected and secure and equally difficult to unhook. But unless you plan to use this bag with a cart (which is not it’s targeted use) this is a non-issue.

The only little annoyance was the bag’s stability when I set it down before each throw. Most backpack disc golf bags store the bulk of your discs at the bottom, giving them the advantage of a weighted base regardless of other aspects of design. Since the Shift spreads the weight out evenly, it tips over much more easily on less than flat holes. If you’ve played my home course, DeLaveaga, you know flat is not the norm. This is a clear tradeoff for the superior lightness and comfort, and under the right circumstances I’d happily make the trade. In fact, my Shift will see regular use when I’m giving on-course lessons. I can load it up and keep it on my back for long periods at a time and not feel back fatigue after a couple hours.

My Shift on “Top of the World” at DeLaveaga, riding a cart like one of those bulkier, lazier bags.

Is the Shift the right bag for you? Consider my quick rundown below.

Reasons to get a Shift
  • You want to lighten your load
  • You typically play with 15 or less discs but still want a “top line” bag
  • You like standing apart from the masses and love the cool factor
  • You like being organized- very organized
  • You often play extreme disc golf
  • You love the idea of a disc golf bag that can double as a serious daypack
Reasons to just the admire the Shift from afar
  • You’re looking for the most disc capacity on a tight budget
  • You play with 20+ discs
  • You don’t need the extra comfort straps
  • You plan to attach your bag to a cart a good deal of the time
  • You don’t like being extra-organized
  • Your home course is the opposite of flat

Before wrapping up, I’ll add caveats to a couple of the limitations I mentioned. If you love the idea of ultra-accessible disc storage slots, and/or admire Upper Park’s refined aesthetic but simply must have more disc capacity than the Shift is designed to provide, consider the Rebel. It may be the perfect combination what you want and what you need. Also, if you’re like me, you justify buying disc golf goodies with the knowledge that the sport is in most cases free to play. Even if it isn’t a perfect fit as your One Bag, The Shift is a great extra bag with singular versatility. I listed several reasons, and you might come up with a couple of your own.

Top Of The World View: Keep Calm & Hammes On

How the 2021 Santa Cruz Masters Cup was won
Flynn Carrol, throwing a soft Vibram Ridge, just like I taught him. Photo: Jack Trageser

The 2021 Masters Cup is over. The stuff I wrote the last three days about spectators and volunteers and the course and the weather… Sunday was more of the same. 72 degrees with puffs of wind bringing faint whiffs of the Pacific ocean. The spectators were, like, totally chill. So chill, in fact, that they were almost rowdy.

Since Sunday was the final round, and final rounds are about results, so that’s what I’m a-gonna write about.I got some good pictures and videos, too, so stick with me. I watched most of the lead card’s final round, and will explain why I think Adam Hammes won the Masters Cup by demonstrating some quick thinking, quicker feet, and a skill necessary for a good score at DeLa.


First up, though, is a look at two good friends of mine who competed in MP50, because this series is all about what I saw!

Flynn Carrol is a regular playing partner at DeLa and much better than his record in past professional Masters Cups (he won the event as an Advanced player) would indicate. I saw a good amount of his Friday and Saturday holes, and he battled! Didn’t let the inevitable bad breaks get him unraveled.1

Jon Baldwin nails his 35-foot uphill putt on the first hole in his sudden death playoff with Robert Bainbridge at the 2021 Masters Cup. GIF: Jack Trageser

This year, Flynn had the modest goal of throwing three rounds above his current 939 rating. His rounds went 951, 989, 945. Good job, Flynn! And no more strokes for you! Seriously, no more.

Jon Baldwin is another local friend who did well. Jon is no stranger to winning here and on the Worlds stage,2 but as easy to root for as ever. He ended up tied for first with Robert Bainbridge, and they were told to play holes 1-4 (the hill) in rotation, sudden death format, until someone won a hole. They both had outside circle putts, and Bainbridge insisted Jon was out. I couldn’t tell.

Someone nearby whispered “Gamesmanship,” assuming Bainbridge wanted to see if Baldwin’s attempt might possibly miss and roll back down the hill.

Jon stepped up first, nailed his putt, and the modest crowd whelped with glee. Bainbridge’s putt to match Jon’s birdie came up short, no metal, and it was over except Baldwin thanking Innova.

Hammes Shows How to Win at DeLa; Pierce’s Game Continues to Evolve

I am admittedly something between a die hard and casual pro disc golf consumer. I know most of the names and watch a good deal of coverage. My take on Paige Pierce — aside from the Captain Obvious observation that she is singularly talented in all aspects of disc golf — is that she combines those superior skills with a 100% aggressive, 100%-of-the-time game plan. The result is a mess of runaway victories, and a few that probably got away only due to her pedal-to-the-metal approach. On Sunday with a three-stroke lead to begin the final round, I saw an approach that was more Bobby Fischer than Mike Tyson. She seemed content to play some defense and see what the rest of the field might do. Sure enough, her lead grew simply through the faltering of others, and Paige Pierce cruised to victory. 

Adam Hammes went wire to wire, shooting a 14-under par 61 in the first round, then 11-down in the second round, and 8-down Sunday. With the 24-hole Masters Cup layout and three rounds, that is 33-under par for 72 holes. That rate seems right about where the PDGA wants it.

Hammes had his ups and downs over the final round, but successfully avoided the big mistakes that enable one to cough up a lead quickly. As we walked down the short fairway on hole 20 — AKA the Gravity Hole, AKA The Lady — I checked scores on my phone while trying not to trip over a gnarled root and tumble into the ravine that makes this hole so potentially treacherous. 

UDisc Live showed James Proctor on the last two holes, trailing Hammes by one stroke. Proctor had saved his best round for last, posting a -13 par 62. He had trailed Hammes by six strokes at the start of the round. I wondered how up-to-date UDisc was at that moment. Maybe Proctor was already in at -33, or even -34.

The quick thinking and nimble-footed Adam Hammes. Photo: Jack Trageser

I looked up to see Adam Hammes gauging an uphill putt, the basket 35 feet in front of and above him and a deep, vegetation-clogged ravine below. His putt was just short of money. It hit the front rim and the hard dirt in front of it in quick succession, then did that thing so many would-be roll-aways do, pausing on its edge as if contemplating whether to flop to the side or go for a ride.

This one opted to roll, and it headed for the ravine, picking up speed as gravity pulled from the depths below. Then Hammes’ disc hit some tree debris and things took another turn, literally and figuratively. The still-rolling disc turned right and began rolling back toward Hammes rather than plunging deeper into the ravine.

Hammes, as he watched all this unfold, might have had about a half-second to appreciate the good break turn at the end of that bad-break roller before realizing the disc was now heading straight toward him (and he’s not standing in the safest place to hit the deck). As you can see in the video I captured, he showed quick thinking and nimble movement to dodge the disc and the one-stroke penalty that would have come with any contact between him and it.

Hammes watched the disc roll another 10 feet or so down the hill before coming to rest in a rare flat spot on that hole. He picked up his bag and walked down to his disc with zero body language. Nothing to indicate that he was inwardly screaming about having just been “DeLa’d.” He set up again, fired with full commitment, and nailed the putt in dead center chains.

DeLaveaga throws adversity at players, and offers them plenty of tempting (jenky!) excuses (jenky!) when things don’t go well. The players who win here all understand three things:

  1. DeLa needs to be played differently, and she can be managed when played correctly
  2. Bad things will happen no matter what
  3. Must remain calm

Hammes ended up winning, four holes later, by one stroke. But if the rolling disc hits him or he misses the comeback putt, he ties or loses. It was all in the balance there on the Gravity Hole, and Adam Hammes made three championship-caliber moves for the win.

  1. He reacted quickly to avoid making contact with his rolling disc (thinking and acting nimbly)
  2. He did not react outwardly at all to display frustration at the bad break
  3. He focused on and made the next shot

I believe all three were needed for Adam Hammes to become the 2021 Masters champion. 


  1. Foreshadowing alert! 
  2. Look it up, lazy bones! 

I wrote this story and the entire Top of the World View series for Ultiworld Disc Golf.

Top Of The World View: Day Two of the Masters Cup brings Fun and Drama

Talking Pod People and chatting with Hall of Famers
2021 Masters Cup. Photo: Jack Trageser

Good morning. As in, Sunday morning. Day two of the Santa Cruz Masters Cup is in the books and I had plenty of stuff to write about after wandering the course, following the women’s lead card for a long spell, and chatting with spectators, volunteers, Disc Golf Hall of Fame members and should-be member* and other old friends.

I also have a take on a bit of background drama going on this weekend. You might not think it’s a particularly bold take, but, whatever. “You do you,” as my two woke daughters like to say.

I did watch plenty of great golf Saturday, like this upshot on event hole 21 (DeLa hole 18). So you can properly appreciate the execution required here: In addition to the low branches directly in front of this guy, he has to take care of steep drop-offs all behind the basket, and a giant exposed root called “The Anaconda” crossing 20 feet in front of the basket. Photo: Jack Trageser

First, though, I would like to give you an inside look at the way the whole spectator thing has worked at the Masters Cup. Up until only a month or so ago the Delaveaga Disc Golf Club didn’t know if the county would allow spectators at all, or on what level. The final arrangement was a system of paid admission tickets that enabled patrons to either watch from one of three “pods” located around the course, or follow a particular lead card. I spent some time with both, and also talked with the volunteers tasked with maintaining order.

Given the fact that the PDGA and the club were giving a set of constraints in terms of how many spectators would be allowed into the event, I’d say things have run smoothly so far. The paying spectators I spoke with, most of whom seem to be very new to the sport, by the way —  take note disc golf marketers —  were enjoying themselves. They felt their tickets to be well worth the $35 to $75 they paid.

Didn’t get this player’s name, but she is throwing an upshot on event hole 4 from within a spectator pod (look for both lines of yellow rope). Photo: Jack Trageser

As I stood chatting with the Pod People of Pod no. 1, whose vantage point provides views of at least five different holes including “Top of the World,” a drive approached at speed from that very same famous tee pad. The Pod People all scuttled to the far end of their pen1 as the disc thunked into the dirt where we had been standing. With my media badge I was on the other side of the rope; outside the pen, if you will. So I didn’t have to scuttle.

When the player came to play her shot the Pod People remained at the far end of Pod no. 1. Sorry, I didn’t get the player’s name. But she threw a fairly decent upshot and nailed her putt for par.

My interesting volunteer spotlight falls on three people who drove all the way from Fresno to help out with the tournament. They also feel like they got a great deal. They get to spend the day watching top-level disc golf up close, in 70 degree weather rather than the 90+ they left back home. But they definitely had to work for their suppers, so to speak.

Volunteers, Craig and Maya, standing on the slant of DeLa hole 26a’s right rough — tournament hole 3. Photo: Jack Trageser

Two of them were tasked with spotting on event hole number 3. This hole plays along the spine of a ridge that leads out to the tee pad for “Top of the World.” The fairway is narrow, and the terrain drops off sharply on both sides. Craig and Maya had to scurry up and down these slopes to spot discs all day. But that’s not all. They also had to enforce the park’s closure for all but disc golf, which meant telling walkers and bikers intent on finishing the climb and gazing out from “Top of the World” at the ocean that it wasn’t gonna happen.

Let me tell you, Maya and Craig are tough cookies! Matt Beatty,2 send them a gift basket! I didn’t come across any volunteers doing a better job enforcing rules. I did hear a little about non-paying spectators slipping onto the course, but the grumbling came from a volunteer rather than a paying spectator. 

Paige Pierce, waiting through one of many backups on event hole 6. Photo: Jack Trageser

All in all I think the spectator side of things has gone well so far, and all of the ticket revenue has been added to the purse. So, yeah. Good. It’ll be interesting to see if this is the new norm, after Covid.

I mentioned in my previous entry to this series that I was looking forward to following the women’s lead card on Saturday. Well, I did, and they did not disappoint. And not just them, but the several cards ahead of them of which I caught glimpses. I love watching players who are world class in their execution but play lines I myself would play — because I can’t throw 600 feet.

With men’s lead cards I’ll get to see the seemingly superhuman shots, and that’s cool, too.The men also provide more stupid mistakes through hubris, which is good entertainment. But I just find it so much more engaging watching someone play the same shots I’d play, and executing at a very high level. And on this particular day, the foursome had it all! Paige Pierce and Catrina Allen, who I like to think of as arch rivals even if they don’t think of it that way themselves, the young phenom in Hailey King, and Juliana Korver, the legendary world champion and cagey veteran.

My point with all this is that if you aren’t watching the women with as much interest and investment as the men, you ought to consider my reasoning and give ‘em a try.

The 2-meter rule rears its head again, this time costing Paige Pierce a stroke on event hole 11. What the Frick! Photo: Jack Trageser.

Speaking with a PDGA person who is also a friend,3 I learned of some salvos being tossed back and forth on social media about the number of camera teams covering female lead cards vs. male lead cards. One player demanded the PDGA insist on equal coverage in this regard. Once you learn the facts you understand that that is not realistic since coverage is determined by market demand. But until the coverage is equal, we’re all missing out. We just need to address the issue by increasing demand, not by manipulating supply.

Hailey King displaying the kind of form that makes this disc golf coach smile. Photo: Jack Trageser

One more thing I love about the pro women, since I can’t seem to let it go quite yet: They make great form models that I frequently use as a disc golf coach. Some of our best players are small, like 5’ or 5’ 4” tall — and they can still crush drives 400 feet. To do this they must get every ounce of bodily leverage they can while maintaining proper timing and balance. Watch Catrina Allen do this time after time. It’s truly something to see.

Well, I need to head out there and see how this thing winds up. Paige Pierce has to stay ahead of Kona Panis, and on the MPO side the lead card should be full of dramatics.4 Don’t rule out Ricky Wysocki and Paul Mcbeth, eight strokes out. Just sayin’.

Before I sign off, here is a picture of another of DeLaveaga’s Hall of Famers, Marty Hapner, along with a guy whose induction is overdue in my opinion. Stevie Rico is part of the history of the sport, has (I think) the longest streak of years (20?!) winning at least one A-tier event, and is a hardworking SOB.

Steve Rico, left, and Marty Hapner, join me in a discussion about respect. Photo: Jack Trageser

  1. Sorry, that’s just really what it looked like, and I thought it was funny. 
  2. Tournament Director 
  3. Off the record since I hadn’t informed them I was covering the event. 
  4. All it’s missing is Nikko 
disc golf lessons, disc golf coach, disc golf beginner

Disc golf driving: The lowdown on run-ups (and why you maybe shouldn’t use one yet)

Nearly all disc golfers, from touring pros to those brand new to the game, use some type of run-up as part of their backhand drives. Most shouldn’t, though- at least not until they master the fundamental basics crucial to both power and consistency.

I see too many players who try to incorporate a throw into their run-up rather than the other way around. In other words, they seem to be approaching it as “How can I throw a disc while walking (or galloping)?” Crazy.

Why is this mistake so common? Because we tend to imitate what we see the majority of others do, for one thing. Add to that the way most teepads look like little runways, encouraging the player to start at the back, gain some momentum, and launch the disc near the front. Also, most new players crave more distance and it seems like getting a running start is a good way to get it.

The assumption is that the run-up is a crucial part of the drive, but in reality it is not. In fact, for players who don’t yet have a good grasp of proper weight transfer, timing, balance, and the use of larger muscles (rather than just their throwing arm), using a run-up hurts more than it helps. This is true in the short term as well as the long term.

Kesler Martin of Infinite Discs demonstrates proper weight transfer and timing on this drive during the 2019 Masters Cup. In the second frame his plant foot has just landed and he has kept his weight back, shoulders turned, and disc in the reach-back position, ready for the Big Boom.

Let’s talk short term first. You’re on the tee on a hole that requires a full-powered drive. Naturally you employ a run-up because that’s what any player would do when needing to achieve their max distance, right? Wrong. First of all, a perfectly executed backhand drive that includes a run-up adds 15 to 20 percent of distance compared to the same throw without the footwork. That’s the best case scenario.

Think of it as a math equation. That little bit of forward momentum you get by striding or even galloping into your throw adds slightly to the speed of the disc as it’s thrown- but ONLY if you’ve figured out how to keep your weight back even as your feet are taking steps forward. On top of that you need to time it perfectly so your launch occurs just after your plant foot hits the ground. If you’re off, even by a little, you won’t get the extra power (might even lose power) and your release point is apt to be off as well, causing the disc to fly in the wrong direction.

I see too many players who try to incorporate a throw into their run-up rather than the other way around.

As for the long-term damage of using a run-up off the tee (or in the fairway) before learning proper basics, it’s simple. Adding that extra layer of complication often means a player will never learn the basics. At the risk of being both trite and corny, you really do have to learn to walk before you can run. Or in this case, throw properly before you can walk or run (up).

I have one more thing for you to consider on this subject. The surest way to throw with accuracy is to keep things as simple as possible. Even a full-power standing drive requires the thrower to take their eyes off the target for a brief second. We accept this trade-off when necessary, but shouldn’t turn away from the target when it is not. A proper run-up using the x-step/scissor step footwork requires the thrower to turn away from the target and synchronize that footwork with the timing of the throw. If an upshot can be executed confidently with only your arm and without turning your head, that’s what you should do. Likewise, if you can drive a hole without a run-up, why add that unnecessary complication?

Disc Golf Pro Tour on ESPN2 tonight- what to expect, what it means, how to watch

Tonight marks a fairly significant milestone for disc golf in a year that may be looked back upon as one of the turning points in the young sport’s history.

The milestone? Professional disc golf will air globally on ESPN2, during Prime Time on the eastern coast for the U.S. It’s not the first time disc golf has appeared on a cable television network, but it is the first instance of the sport airing in a non-paid production. In other words, ESPN believes disc golf can draw enough eyeballs to create advertising revenue.

Everything you need to know to check it out is covered in this run-down at Ultiworld Disc Golf. If you are not yet familiar with professional disc golf or the sport in general, I strongly recommend you check it out. It’s post-produced coverage of the Disc Golf Pro Tour Championship Finals, both male and female, and it should include some good drama and close finishes in addition to plenty of material geared toward viewers new to the sport.

The menu screen of the author’s Hulu on Roku live television schedule for November 24, 2020, proof that disc golf is airing on ESPN2 during Prime Time.

If you love disc golf and want to see it grow even more, this is a great opportunity to share it with your circle of influence. Share this post or just say “ESPN2, 5 PM EST, you gotta check out the Pro Disc Golf Tour Finals!”

I like the fact that this broadcast is taking place in the evening on the doorstep of winter. Disc golf fans are also disc golfers, and given the choice between watching and playing they choose to play. Other factors provide hope for encouraging viewership ratings: We’re all stuck at home right now, and a quick perusal of other options during that 2-hour slot doesn’t yield much strong competition. And then there is the recent trend that likely opened the opportunity for the DGPT to partner with ESPN.

A large majority of businesses, municipalities, and individuals have suffered losses and setbacks due to the pandemic. In one sense disc golf is among them as competitions and course installations everywhere have been cancelled or postponed. But the sport has seen a boon as a recreational activity due to it’s social distancing-friendly nature, as confirmed by retailers and other disc golf businesses reporting record years. I can attest that the School of Disc Golf conducted more lessons in 2020 than at any time in it’s 10-year existence.

In my book, the Disc Golf Revolution, I predicted that disc golf would achieve broader popularity as a recreational activity, which would lead to greater opportunities as a spectator sport. I believe this recent sequence of events shows that to be the case. Whether the increase in casual disc golf players translates to a commercially viable viewing audience remains to be seen. As I mentioned, the type of person who has historically been drawn to play disc golf leans toward active vs. passive activities.

What this broadcast proves, though, is that people whose job it is to know about these things at least believe it’s possible. That is really the essence of this milestone.

disc golf book, disc golf lessons

Three Paths to Better Disc Golf- new edition, new format

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.

We’re working on adding a store to this website and will at that time offer author-signed copies of both books. You can always pick up paperback or Kindle versions of Three Paths to Better Disc Golf and The Disc Golf Revolution on Amazon.

A Blueprint for Better Disc Golf Putting

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!

Left/Right Misses

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

Short Putts

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.

Pressure Putts

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. 

Three-Putting

If you take three throws to complete a hole after being within 50 feet, either you made an avoidable mistake or got hit with a large dose of bad luck. (I’ve got tips on how to best deal with the instances when it’s truly a rotten break and nothing else.) If you suffer lots of three-putts, however, you’ve likely got a systemic issue that is easily addressed. 

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.

your blueprint

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.

  1. Identify your putting ‘leaks’ (WHERE is the leak?)
  2. List possible causes for each leak. (WHY does it leak?)
  3. 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?)
  4. Practice putting purposefully, plugging one leak at a time