Do pressure putts wind you up? “Don’t look down!”

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!”

Image: InfinityandBeyond2

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.”

“Do This!”

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!

Learning by Feel in Disc Golf: Why, and How

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.

Putting

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.

Backhand Drive

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.

Want to improve your game? Think A.C.E. on every hole

Everyone knows the secret to learning a complex concept lies in a good acronym, right?

Okay, that may be overstating things a bit, but they do at least help us remember and internalize those concepts once we’ve had them explained to us. And the best acronyms are the ones that pop up organically, and as a bonus form an actual word, and as a double-bonus have relevance to the subject matter as was the case a couple weeks ago.

I was in the middle of a private lesson, and my client Sean and I were on the course going over the importance of game management. I was trying to explain the importance of going through the same routine a routine for each shot. But in this case I wasn’t stressing the value of a set routine in keeping him clear-minded and focused on the task at hand (which is important as well). We were studying the three individual elements of the routine, and the importance of doing them in a specific sequence:

  1. Gather all available information and analyze it
  2. Make a decision based on your analysis
  3. Throw the disc

Then it hit me like a Firebird right between the eyes. Assess, Choose, Execute. A.C.E. If you want to shoot lower scores by making less mistakes, one way to do it is to A.C.E. every hole! What could be easier?

disc golf instruction lessons school
Finding yourself in a situation like this requires lots of analysis. How will you get around the tree? Don’t forget the drop-off behind the basket on hole 4 at DeLaveaga.

My hope is that the line will be memorable enough for people to remember it, and based on my focus group of one, it is. I asked Sean a week later what he remembered from our last lesson, and the first thing he said was “Ace. Assess, choose, execute”. That in turn helped him recall the additional details we covered on each step, which are listed below.

Assess

Whether on the tee, in the fairway (or rough), or on the green, success starts with having a plan. And having a plan starts with collecting and analyzing the available data. How long is it to the green? Where does the greatest danger lie? How will the wind affect the shot? And then, the final two questions: What are my options, and what are the risk reward trade-offs for each?

One specific tactical tip for ensuring that you’re considering all your options on those particularly complex shots – you know, the ones where you’re stuck in a really gnarly, claustrophobic situation or just when no one obvious best option jumps out at you – is to make like you’re playing the game Twister. Making sure to keep one foot (or other supporting point) behind the marker, stretch out in all directions, both facing the direction you want to throw and with your back turned as well, as sometimes that is the best way to get off a backhand shot. Doing this will help you see routes that may not have been immediately obvious.  Also, don’t be afraid to get down on one or two knees, and low may be the best way to go.

Choose

Once you’ve collected your data, the next step is to choose and option based on specific shot selection criteria that you predetermined before the round. This may be a philosophy you always use regardless of the situation, but it can also be guiding rules that differ depending on the type of disc golf you’re playing that day. Casual vs. weekly club competition vs. PDGA sanctioned tournament may for some all be handled differently. Another example might be singles strokes play vs. match play vs. best-shot doubles. One personal example I can give is the way I purposefully set out to play super aggressive and run at everything in my first casual round after playing a sanctioned event. I tell myself beforehand to let it all hang out and focus exclusively on fun, score be damned.

disc golf lessons instruction learning school
On shots where you need to choose one gap over others, make a decision and don’t look back. Focus only on that gap.

The two main points about the ‘Choose’ phase of your routine are to settle within yourself what your shot selection criteria will be before the round, when you mind isn’t clouded with the emotions of the moment, and stay faithful to the plan; and also this: Once you’ve made a decision, don’t look back. Fully commit to your decision knowing that it was made after a comprehensive review of the situation. If you choose an aggressive (high risk, high reward) option and find yourself second-guessing as you set up for the shot, switch to the conservative play. When in doubt, don’t.

Execute

Now it’s time to take action with your disc of choice (said disc choice should have been part of the Assess and Choose phases, by the way). The main reason for consciously dividing these elements of a pre-shot routine into three separate parts is so that, once it comes time to throw the disc your mind is occupied with nothing else. You want to be fully committed and thinking only ‘throw thoughts’, (in ball golf they are referred to as ‘swing thoughts’), those mostly mechanical reminders you find most useful.

It’s kind of a weird analogy, but think of it like making a smoothie. First you decide what to put into based on the ingredients you have on hand; next you actually put them in the blender; and finally, you hit the button. The main part of this analogy (technically a simile, for all the grammar geeks out there) is that executing the shot – throwing or putting the disc – should be like hitting the button on the blender. The time for critical thinking has passed, and hopefully in both cases the result is something smooth and tasty.

This routine is even helpful for shots that seemingly don’t require it, like a short putt that borders on gimme range or a situation where the shot choice is automatic. Why? Sticking to a routine, no matter the circumstance, greatly reduces the chance of a mind-lapse and taking the resulting unnecessary strokes. When you miss a 12-foot putt it’s almost always because you took it for granted and allow your mind to be totally elsewhere. I literally feel for my keys in my pocket whenever I lock my car because locking the keys inside sucks big-time. I drilled that routine into a habit that I never change, and haven’t made that particular stupid mistake since. Plenty others, of course, but at least not that one!

One of the best and easiest ways to shoot better scores in disc golf is to cut down on mental errors. and one way to do that is to have a A.C.E. every hole. Quick quiz: what does A.C.E. stand for? You got it! Assess, Choose, Execute.

disc golf lessons instruction school of disc golf
It isn’t practical to think ace on every hole – although Hole 3 at Ryan Ranch is one time you might do just that – but it is quite prudent to think A.C.E. on every shot.

One final note. You may be wondering how on earth you’ll be able to cover all that ground in the 30 seconds you get, according to PDGA rules, to throw once it’s your turn. First of all, the more you repeat this routine, this quicker and more automatic it will become. Second, most of the time you should be able to do most of your assessment and even choose your shot before it’s your turn to throw. This routine should begin the second you have an idea of where your previous throw landed. Remember, playing disc golf is fun. Playing smart, focused golf is fun and rewarding.

We touched on several topics that are covered in more detail in other posts. Feel free to check ’em out.

https://schoolofdiscgolf.com/2013/12/10/bringing-some-ben-franklin-wisdom-to-disc-golf-when-in-doubt-dont/

https://schoolofdiscgolf.com/2011/02/21/mind-control-in-disc-golf-first-step-thinking-about-what-youre-thinking-about/

https://schoolofdiscgolf.com/2008/05/26/twist-and-shoot/

https://schoolofdiscgolf.com/2014/12/16/okay-everybody-take-a-knee-and-putt/

Mastering the turnover shot: equal parts art and science

Anyone can throw a hyzer.

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.

This photo demonstrates two of the six elements that can be adjusted to craft the exact turnover shot required: release point and disc angle.
This photo demonstrates two of the six elements that can be adjusted to craft the exact turnover shot required: release point and disc angle.

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.

Hole 10 at Pinto Lake CDGC has OB along both sides of the fairway. The player pictured intends to release an overstable O-Lace on a sharp anyhyzer line aimed at the right side so it will turn over toward the basket then straighten out as it finishes.
Hole 10 at Pinto Lake CDGC has OB along both sides of the fairway. The player pictured intends to release an overstable O-Lace on a sharp anyhyzer line aimed at the right side so it will turn over toward the basket then straighten out as it finishes. Note the angle of the disc as the player is just about to launch his drive.

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.

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.

Most turnover shots intended to travel any distance require an upward trajectory, providing the height necessary to let the shot develop.
Most turnover shots intended to travel any distance require an upward trajectory, providing the height necessary to let the shot develop.

Spin

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.

Wind

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.

 

 

“Okay, everybody take a knee!” (and putt)

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.

All Sew Fly products can be customized with a great deal of detail. Shown here are 'Small' Fly's with the DeLaveaga Disc Golf Club logo embroidered in a variety of different colors.
All Sew Fly products can be customized with a great deal of detail. Shown here are ‘Small’ Fly’s with the DeLaveaga Disc Golf Club logo embroidered in a variety of different colors.

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.

Throwing from closer to the ground can open up a shot and allow a player to obtain more loft. which in turn makes it easier to throw an accurate layup shot.
Throwing from closer to the ground can open up a shot and allow a player to obtain more loft. which in turn makes it easier to throw an accurate layup shot.

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.

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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/

Playing Disc Golf like a Machine. A well-oiled machine.

If I tell you to play disc golf like a well-oiled machine, and leave it at that, it would be no more useful than saying ‘It’s beneficial to execute all your shots on a consistent basis’. Thanks a bunch, Captain Obvious!

Thankfully, for the purposes of this post I’ve come up with something a little better than that. My goal is to use the term in a different way in hopes that a couple concepts stick in your brain like a spike hyzer landing in soft, wet grass.

(Slight digression- feel free to skim past) Experience has shown me that being an effective disc golf instructor has two distinct components. First of all, of course, the techniques and concepts I communicate need to be valid and hopefully sometimes new and insightful. But equally important is the communication itself.

Excelling at a sport is no guarantee that a person will be any good at teaching that sport to others, even if that person has a good understanding of why he or she excels. If you can’t explain it to others in a way they can understand and internalize, you won’t have much success as a teacher. Part of this is a basic ability to communicate clearly- having a good vocabulary that can be adapted to a variety of different audiences. And then there is the careful selection and use of well-known (or sometimes original) metaphors, similes and sayings that will resonate and penetrate people’s long-term memory. Like a spike hyzer (or the use of the imagery of a spike hyzer, for all you literary buffs). And now on with the actual concepts I want to share- of which there are actually two.

You are a disc golf machine

The title of this post (Playing Disc Golf like a Machine-A well-oiled machine) offers a hint to the fact that the whole ‘well-oiled machine’ phrase can actually be co-opted to convey two distinct disc golf tips. We’ll first just tackle the idea of playing disc golf like a machine.

The idea here is not so much playing like a machine as it is focusing only on the shot you’re about to attempt in an automaton-like way. In other words, once you’ve decided what to do think only about the mechanics of your throw, not what’s at stake, or what might happen if you miss. In ball golf they refer to these thoughts about mechanics as ‘swing thoughts’ – the specific keys to proper form that you’ve found give you good results. For instance, when driving backhand remembering to rotate hips and shoulders, or when throwing sidearm to keep the wrist from turning over.

Ken Climo is the closest thing to a machine the sport of Disc Golf has ever seen. His unparalleled resume is matched only by his ability to focus only on the shot before him.
Ken Climo is the closest thing to a machine the sport of Disc Golf has ever seen. His unparalleled resume is matched only by his ability to focus only on the shot before him.

Another way to explain it is to use the stereotype of the science fiction robot. Superior intelligence untainted by emotions. I know some players think they can elevate their games by getting pumped up, or mad at themselves, but in golf this is rarely the case. For every time that guy runs off a string of good holes after throwing a fit over a missed putt, there are four or five times when his tantrum has the opposite effect.

Now picture a graph with a baseline that is ’emotional zero’. The goal should be what on an EKG machine would be called ‘flat-lining’. Not good at all on an actual EKG, but the ideal state for competing in a game like golf. (Side-note: notice I wrote ‘competing in’ just now rather than ‘playing’. This advice applies to situations where your score is the most important thing. If your only objective for the day is fun, then of course letting the emotions spike upward into the manic happy zone is encouraged.)

However, if you are focusing on score then flat-lining is what you want. Remember that a robot (a machine) is devoid of ALL emotion, not just anger or despair. Elation and excitement distract a player from focusing on good decision-making and mechanics just as much as negative emotions. (For more on this, check out this post from the past on controlling emotions. But finish reading this one first!)

Every machine is designed to perform a particular function, and that function is all it knows. We are not machines, of course, but our best and most consistent performance is realized when we can emulate them as closely as possible. Our thoughts during a round should always be related to performing the functions of a disc golf machine- specifically the next task in the queue: the next shot.

Since we’re not robots but complicated tangles of among other things hopes, fears, anxieties and excitements, we’ve no chance at succeeding at this 100 percent of the time. But being aware of when our thoughts stray outside that little box and shoving them back inside is the next best thing.

Getting back to the robot analogy, it occurs to me that when we talk of machines being able to think for themselves the term used is ‘artificial intelligence’. For the purposes of being a disc golf machine, then, staying locked onto our sole purpose of executing the next shot would show the opposite of that- or real intelligence. Right?

Well-oiled

Now that the ‘play like a machine’ concept is established, let’s examine the ‘well-oiled’ part. No, I’m not talking about the use of sunscreen, although that’s always prudent. And I’m definitely not referring to being ‘lubricated’ by pumping alcohol in the bloodstream.

This bit of common wisdom (which is applicable to all active sports that require fine motor skills) is an important caveat to the discussion above. Yes, by all means, play like a machine. But while focusing on those mechanics, make sure your form isn’t too mechanical. KnowwhatImean?

Terms like ‘smooth’, ‘fluid’, ‘loose’ and even ‘relaxed’ are all used in relation to this concept. Smooth as opposed to hurky-jerky. Loose rather than tight. Relaxed instead of anxious and nervous. And fluid, well, fluid more than the others is directly analogous to the imagery of a well-oiled machine. Picture water flowing downhill and conforming to the terrain, compared to rocks tumbling down that same hill.

Smooth follow-through and good balance are good indicators that you're playing like a well-oiled machine.
Smooth follow-through and good balance are good indicators that you’re playing like a well-oiled machine.

One final example would be the most obvious- the way motor oil keeps the piston in your car’s engine firing smoothly, rather than seizing up and causing you to . . .  shank your drive!

That’s my subtle way to bring the discussion back to disc golf.

So how do you make sure you play like a machine on one hand, but also stay loose, relaxed and fluid on the other? Well, first of all keep in mind that ‘play like a machine’ refers mostly to your mindset and ability to focus only on the things that enable to properly execute the shot, while the ‘well-oiled’ reference is a reminder to stay loose and relaxed at all times. They’re really two separate bits of advice that go together in a yin/yang kind of way.

When your mind gets too cluttered with all the things that go into good shot planning and execution (not to mention all the extraneous stuff a ‘machine’ would never factor in), it can create tension in your body in a very surreptitious kind of way. You might not feel it until it’s too late. Therefore preventative measures are often in order. Maybe you just perform a little last-second checkup to see if you’re feeling tight or loose- or just assume that a certain amount of tightness will always creep in and takes steps to prevent it. Ever see someone take a deep breath before every putt? Sure you have! That’s exactly what they’re doing. Flushing out the tension and letting the natural fluidity flow back in.

So there you have it. Play disc golf like a machine programmed for that singular purpose, eliminating everything else from your thought process. But don’t let that turn you into a Wizard of Oz Tin Man in need of an oil can. Loosen up and have fun!

The perfect playing partner, and the almost near-perfect round

Today was a good day.

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.

This 50-footer from an obstructed lie on hole 3 slammed dead-center into the chains.

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.

The view of this picture of Hole 13 at DeLaveaga is from behind the basket looking back to the fairway. Obviously the epitome of a guarded green. Add 500-plus feet of distance and this is one tough par 3. Photo by John Hernlund.
The view of this picture of Hole 13 at DeLaveaga is from behind the basket looking back to the fairway. Obviously the epitome of a guarded green. Add 500-plus feet of distance and this is one tough par 3. Photo by John Hernlund.

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 26a at DeLaveaga looks simple enough from the tee, but a narrow fairway and steep drop-offs on both  the left and right mean drives need to be both very straight and fairly long. Photo by John Hernlund.
Hole 26a at DeLaveaga looks simple enough from the tee, but a narrow fairway and steep drop-offs on both the left and right mean drives need to be both very straight and fairly long. Photo by John Hernlund.

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.