Spin, Pitch, Push: Deconstructing Disc Golf Putting Terms

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

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

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

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

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

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

Push Putt

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

PITCH PUTT

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

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

SPIN PUTT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Straight Line on Disc Golf Putting- Part 1

By Jack Trageser

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

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

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

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

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Figure 1

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

Why It Works

The reason this tip works so well is simple. A disc pulled back and then propelled along a straight line will begin its flight heading in the exact direction at which that line points. Assuming your aim is true, all you need to do is open your hand when your arm is stretched as far toward the target as it will go, then keep reaching with all five fingers for a half-second more.

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

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

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Figure 2

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

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

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

Why It Can Take Some Work To Get It To Work

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

Up Next: How To Make It Work

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

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

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!

How to drastically cut down on your short missed putts

Is there anything worse than missing a short putt? The kind that you make 90 or even 99 times out of 100 on the practice basket? Usually when that happens we know even a split second before the disc leaves our hand that we’re in trouble, and that says most of what we need to know about why we occasionally miss ridiculously short putt, and how to make sure it almost never happens.

Let’s touch on the mechanical issues first. Based on personal experience and what I see out on the course, the most common technical flaw that causes missed short putts comes from how some players change the putting stroke to adjust for shorter distances. Quite often players will try to ‘take something off’ their normal putting motion in an attempt to putt softer or simplify their form. That usually results in changes to the finish of the putting motion, and it’s exactly the wrong approach. All too often that approach results in putts missing low, high, left and right. Instead, to accommodate short putts that require less power, reduce movement in the front-end of your normal putting technique.

Ways to do this include using less lower body, not pulling the disc as far back (my favorite), and reducing the amount of armspeed as needed. But whatever you do, keep the form of your finish as consistent as possible- especially your follow-through. The most important part of a good, consistent putting stroke is the finish. Specifically, the follow-through. Good follow-through ensures that a player’s disc goes where it is being aimed (assuming the follow-through ends up pointed at the spot being aimed for). Check out this video tutorial demonstrating a great exercise that helps develop proper follow-through.

A good definition of follow-through in this context, by the way, is ‘continuing the putting motion even after the disc leaves your hand’. Take a look at pictures of top players putting, and you’ll see arm and even fingers fully extended at the target, usually rigidly straight, even when the disc is 10 feet out of the hand. That’s good follow-through.

Good, balanced follow-through eliminates most short misses.
Good, balanced follow-through eliminates most short misses.

Follow-through also adds a surprising amount of oomph to putts, and with short putts that can make the difference between hitting the front rim and just clearing it. In fact, the idea to write this post occurred yesterday during a crisp -11 at my local course, Black Mouse. I had an 18-foot putt on hole 11 for birdie, and at the very last second  I realized that I wasn’t giving it enough power to go in. I was able to exaggerate the follow through even more than usual, and that made all the difference as it barely cleared the front nubs.

Follow-through also helps eliminate misses to the left and right, and also putts that hit the top of the cage. Going back to the first point made about the problems caused by making changes to the finishing part of a putt, lets look at some specifics. When we do that, we’re really just guessing on a case-by-case basis, and the results are unpredictable. Early releases turn into misses on the weak side of the basket, and holding on to the disc too long causes players to ‘pull’ the disc and miss on the strong side. And everyone at one time or another has launched a short putt at a sharp upward angle and hit the top of the cage. %!#!*^!!!

The cure for all of these- really all mechanical flaws in short putts – is to keep the finish of the putt the same no matter the distance, and follow through the right way (and the same way) every time. This is true of all putts, but especially short putts, and the reason is simple: If you putt firmly and follow through at the center of the basket, the disc won’t have enough time/distance to stray off line. The firmness of the putt (it just needs to be hard enough that it flies on a straight line) is important as well. If you are a finesse putter, you still don’t want the short ones to have any curve or turn. With a firm, accurate line, even if you’re off a little with your aim, good follow-through will ensure that the disc bangs the chains before it has a chance to veer too far.

One final note about follow-through: Balance is a key to the aiming part of follow-through. If you’re not well-balanced and tend to fall or lean to one side or another as you release the disc, good follow-through won’t help much in terms of keeping the disc going in the right direction.

Now let’s examine the short putts that are missed due to mental lapses and neurosis. These are at least as frustrating as those caused by mechanical flaws, and luckily they are also just as preventable.

When I say ‘mental lapses’, I’m referring to those times we take for granted that we’ll make a putt of ‘gimme’ distance (which is different for everyone). Without even making a conscious decision to do so, we switch to autopilot and go through the motions while our brains are occupied with something completely different. Then we miss the putt and become immediately and painfully aware of the 100 percent preventable mistake we just made.

The cure for this kind of lapse is to have a putting routine and go through it on every putt in every round you play, whether practice or tournament, casual or for stakes. Once again I refer to those top pros who depend on the money they on tour to be able to stay on tour. Watch some tourney videos and you’ll see nearly all of them take a little time on even the shortest putts, knowing that each throw counts the same and each throw could directly impact their payout.

The other mental error that causes missed short putts is something I write about often- getting wrapped up in and dwelling on the ‘why’ of the putt rather than the ‘what’. In other words, thinking about why the putt is important, or why you can’t afford to miss it rather than simply what you need to do to properly execute. For one thing, negative thoughts lead to negative results, and even if the ‘why’ isn’t purely negative the fact remains that you can’t think about two things at once. And thinking about the ‘what’ is essential.

Confidence - or the lack thereof - can make all the difference on short 'tester' putts.
Confidence – or the lack thereof – can make all the difference on short ‘tester’ putts.

There is a certain distance putt (and the exact distance differs depending on each player’s skill and mentality) that is longer than a gimme but short enough that it’s a big disappointment if missed. When someone in our group is left with one of these, my friend Alan likes to say “there’s still some meat left on the bone”. Most players refer to these putts as ‘testers’, and they can mess with your head like no others if you let ’em.

Have you ever seen a movie with a dream sequence where a character looks down a hallway, and the end of the hall keeps stretching further and further away? In disc golf, this translates to testers that we really should make at least 80 percent of the time morphing into final exams that we forgot to study for. I have to admit that when my putting is a little off, these can really get to me. The problem is that when this happens my anxiety shifts my focus away from where in needs to be – on the ‘what’ – and at that point I’ll be lucky if the putt even accidentally goes in.

So what’s the remedy? First, be cognizant of those anxieties creeping into your head. Acknowledge that they’re there, then step back and re-focus. When it happens to me, which is usually, as I said, when my confidence is on vacation, I remind myself to trust the routine and technique. At times like that it’s usually a blind trust as I’m just not feelin’ it at all. But it almost always works, because after all, these testers are putts I should be making without too much trouble. By shifting my focus back to the routine I’m dissipating the doubts and anxiety that would otherwise derail me.

Missed short putts are almost always avoidable, which is why it stings so much when it happens. Hopefully the tips above can spare you some of that angst. And when that short miss eventually does come along (it will, it happens to all of us), instead of just getting disgusted with yourself, consider it a reminder of all the ways to prevent those mistakes in the future.

A secret ingredient of putting power

Notice that the title of this post is not ‘The Secret of Putting’. There are simply too many mental and physical aspects to good, consistent putting for there to be some ‘secret’ that once discovered instantly turns a weak putter into a good or great one. If anything, the best advice is the one players often like to hear the least: practice.

But we’re not talking about flour and water here. Those are major components to making bread, but the secret ingredient is yeast. Without the yeast the bread won’t rise, and if it doesn’t rise, well, it’s not really bread, is it? Secret ingredient.

The same goes for putting in disc golf. You can propel a disc toward the basket any number of ways, and it’ll even land in the basket once in awhile. But if you want a putt that seems to zip out of your hand, go further and hang in the air a little longer than your effort warranted, you need some nice tight spin. And believe it or not, there’s a pretty simple modification you can make that will help you get it.

Illustration A: This is a standard fan grip viewed from above. If your hand is on the side of your disc - like this - when you are putting, you're wasting a good deal of potential snap. Photo by Jack Trageser
Illustration A: This is a standard fan grip viewed from above. If your hand is on the side of your disc – like this – when you are putting, you’re wasting a good deal of potential snap. Photo by Jack Trageser

Illustration A shows a player holding a putter with a typical fan grip. But notice where the hand is located in relation to the disc, and pay particular attention to the straight wrist. Now grab a putter and simulate your own putting form. Look down at your hand, wrist and the disc. If your hand is alongside the disc, as it is in Illustration A, and your wrist is mostly or completely straight, the good news is that your putting game is about to get better.

Now check out Illustration B, paying attention to the same elements examined in the first picture. What do you see? (I’ll give you a few minutes to make the discovery on your own. People supposedly learn better that way) . . . . . . . . . . .

Illustration B: The wrist is cocked here, meaning that it is bent. Also, the hand is in front of the disc, creating much more natural spin upon release. Photo by Jack Trageser.
Illustration B: The wrist is cocked here, meaning that it is bent. Also, the hand is in front of the disc, creating much more natural spin upon release. Photo by Jack Trageser.

Okay, time’s up. Do you see the difference? In Illustration B, the hand is holding the front of the disc as opposed to the side, and the wrist is cocked so that it is actually in front of the hand.

This simple adjustment, assuming that you keep the wrist cocked the entire time and follow through properly on your putts, will add a significant amount of spin to your putt. The disc will fly smoother (due to a tighter spin) and farther (due to more spin) with the same amount of effort.

The best part about this technique is that you don’t have to think about ‘snapping’ your wrist during the throw. As long as you keep your wrist cocked and follow through after the release, the snap happens automatically. Come to think of it, that is probably where the term ‘cock your wrist’ came from. It’s obviously an analogy borrowed from firearms (as in cocking the gun), where the striking hammer is pulled back and set in a poised position, so that a trigger-pull makes firing almost instantaneous.

If you cock your wrist properly, you should see the difference in spin and power right away. Like anything else, this may feel weird at first, but practice will take care of that. If it’s affecting your aim and causing you to ‘pull’ your putts (to the right of the target for RHBH, and to the left for lefties), there are two probable causes: either you are thinking about trying to snap your wrist as you putt (which, remember, is not necessary if you cock your wrist properly), or you are not following through correctly- or both. That’s an entirely different issue which is addressed in detail in a past post, but it’s an essential component of this overall wrist-cocking technique.

If you like things boiled down to a few main points to remember, here they are:

  • Cock your wrist so that your wrist is bent and your hand is in front of the disc
  • Keep your wrist cocked throughout the putting motion
  • Follow through straight at the target, finishing with a straight arm, straight wrist, and even stretched out, straight fingers

Try this out, and let me know if it works for you. Like any secret ingredient you have to ‘mix thoroughly’ into the main components- and in this case that means, yes, practice. But before you know it you’ll get to the point where cocking your wrist comes automatically, without thinking about it.

Part 2: Two univeral truths and 7.5 tips to help you improve your putting game

If you haven’t already read the first 3.5 tips (and two universal truths) presented in this two-part post on improving disc golf putting from the neck up, click here now and read Part One before you read this one. Then click the link at the bottom of that post to come back here!

4. Follow Through. Really, really follow through! Think about all the pictures you’ve seen of pro players having just released a putt. I guarantee that most of them will show a player with his or her arm extended almost perfect straight, and with all fingers and even thumb rigid and reaching out toward the target.

Team DGA captain Jon Baldwin demonstrates perfect follow-through. Note how his arm and even fingers all point straight toward the target. Photo by Mark Stiles.

Follow-through is an important aspect of mechanics is many different sports, especially those that include throwing a disc or ball. The benefit is two-fold: the best way to ensure consistent aim is to extend toward your target in an exaggerated fashion, and doing so will add a smoothness and extra bit of momentum that increases power and speed just enough to make a difference. I’ve had too many putts to count barely go in where I noticed as I brought the disc forward that my grip was a little off or I wasn’t providing enough speed, and compensated by following through as strongly as I could.

This might be tough to do right away as it requires developing muscles in a different way. But this short video tutorial demonstrates an exercise that will help you understand the concept as well as develop the form.

5. The formula for balancing commitment and confidence with intelligent game management. A big part of good putting is making a decision, then committing fully to that decision. But that doesn’t have to be a black-or-white, all or nothing equation. Think of it more like a sliding scale- or rather two sliding scales. On the first one you’ve got the difficulty of the putt itself: how long is it? What’s the wind doing? What obstacles do you have to navigate past? The second one measures the possible negative outcomes that may result if you miss the putt. Roll-aways are one of the most common of these, along with OB near the basket, and obstacles that might impede your comeback putt.

Players who simply decide to go for it or not lose strokes by not adjusting their approach in a more granular fashion. If you assess your odds of making an 80-foot putt at only 40 percent, but it’s a pretty flat, grassy field, you should be able to make some kind of run at the basket provided you throw the disc on an arc so it’s falling downward and sideways as it approaches the target. On the other hand, if you think you think your odds of hitting a 35-footer with a lake five feet from the basket are 60 percent, you’re taking a pretty big risk going for it rather than laying up.

I’m not a math person (far, far from it) but I’m certain that there are some advanced calculations going on behind the curtain in my head as I assess shots. I imagine they’d look something like this written out:

Where X is the probability of making and putt, and Y represents the odds of a miss resulting in taking an extra stroke or more, then X + Y = a ratio that tells me how much weight will be given to trying to make the putt versus making sure I can hit the comeback putt. For purposes of illustration, this ratio will be a scale between 0-100, with 100 being the most aggressive, go for it putt and zero being a complete layup.

If I have a downhill 40 foot putt on a windy day with hole 7 at DeLa in the long position, my equation would be something like .50X + .60Y = a go for it/play safe ratio of zero on the 1-100 scale. In other words, in that case I deemed the odds of something bad happening to high to go for a putt that I only had a 50/50 chance of making.

(remember I said I’m not a math guy, so don’t go telling me that .50 + .60 = 1.1. This isn’t real math.)

Another example: I’m at hole 6 at DeLa, 25 feet from the basket, which is in the long pin position right next to an OB road. I estimate my X value to be .85, and the Y value is .70 since missed putts here seem to end up in the road more often than not. What this results in is a putt where I go for it (since I’m very confident that I can make it), but with lots of touch and loft so if I don’t get it in it’ll have a good chance of staying safe. A go-for-it/play safe ratio of 76.

6. Use – but don’t abuse – those chains. Assuming you’re playing on a course with baskets, there is a specific firmness of a throw or putt that will give your disc the best chance of ending up in the basket. And just like the Three Bears’ beds to Goldilocks, it’s not too hard, or too soft, but just right.

Steady Ed Headrick designed the original Pole Hole to absorb the momentum of a flying disc. However, throws that are too weak or too hard have less chance of letting the chains do their job.

Steady Ed designed the chains in his Pole Hole to ‘catch’ the disc- in essence to arrest the momentum of the disc then drop it into the cage. There is a specific optimal firmness or speed of a putt where the chains perform this function the best. It’s hard to describe this exact optimal firmness, but when thinking about it now I think one of the best ways is through the sound the chains make when a perfect putt hits them and falls in. It’s full and musical, with a slightly delayed a smaller sound as the disc drops down into the cage. Putts that are too hard sound more violent, like loud cymbals, and putts that are too soft remind me of a bowling ball hitting only three pins.

The other reason to develop a putt with ‘just right’ firmness lends itself to a more visual description. The chain assembly of a basket is designed for the thrower to aim at the pole in the middle. If you’re thinking more about ‘tossing the disc into the basket cage you’re ignoring this design intention and also likely throwing a disc that approaches the basket falling away at a bad angle. Putts like this – even decently aimed ones – can tend to glance off outer chains and slide out to the weak side.

Conversely, putts that are too hard can penalize the thrower in a couple different ways. As the chains are only designed to reliably catch discs thrown up to a certain speed, harder putts tend to ricochet more violently and have a great chance to either bounce right out or blast right through before they can be ensnared. This can even happen to hard putts that are perfectly aimed. And of course a hard, line drive putt that completely misses the basket with end up further away.

7. Learn your range. This tip is more of a game management tip for those playing in a format where score is important. Also, it could be considered 5.5 as it really is a building block for employing Tip 5.

You are hopefully getting a little better the more you play and practice, but at any given moment in time you have a very specific range- or as described in Tip 5 the probability of making a putt. The key here is to be in tune with your range and base shot decisions on that range rather than your desire, or what you wish your range was. It’s situations just like this for which the term ‘wishful thinking’ was coined.

Humans, being emotional creatures, can easily let emotions and ego factor into decisions that really should be made in a completely Dr. Spock-like, logic-based manner. Knowing your range is all about boiling down putting decisions to nothing but a cold, detached assessment of your own capabilities. Not as easy done as said, I know.

And to make it even harder, our range is subject to wide variances from round-to-round or even hole-to-hole. Sometimes I’ll realize a few holes into a round that for whatever reason my putting game is just not there yet. Or maybe I realize that my back is a little stiff and it’s affecting my form. So on a putt I may usually go for aggressively, I’ll take also take these temporary factors into consideration and just lay it up.

Knowing your range means being realistic about where your general putting game is and making decisions accordingly, but it’s also about being in tune with the minor variables that pop up in the moment and adjusting to those accordingly as well.

Two univeral truths and 7.5 tips to help you improve your disc golf putting game

Anyone who plays golf of any kind understands putting is a big part of the game. But surprisingly, most don’t take the time to develop the systematic approach required to produce real, lasting improvement. That’s good news for those who are willing to do so- assuming you’re interested in an advantage that directly translates to lower scores and more fun (because, you know, missed putts = NOT fun).

As the title of this posts claims, we’ll examine 7.5 ways to help you in this regard, but first, a good way to start is by recognizing that there are two universal truths in regards to putting in disc golf (and ball golf, for that matter):

  1. Consistent putting is a major component to consistently scoring well in disc golf
  2. More than any other element of the game, good putting requires a solid, well-developed ‘mental’ game.

The first point is important if you play tournaments, leagues, or any other type of competition where scores are accumulated over numerous rounds. You may shoot a hot round (where you’re ‘in the zone’) every now and then, but unless you consistently make a large majority of the putts you won’t consistently score well, regardless of how great the rest of your game is. Everyone can relate to how frustrating it is to have the best drives all round yet end up not having the best score.

The second point is the theme that ties together the tips listed below. Players are all different in terms of the physical aspects of putting technique, and what works for one player (grip, stance, form, etc.) won’t necessarily work for the next. Everyone, however, faces the same challenges and can benefit from the approaches addressed below.

As this is a collection of numerous concepts and some of them have been addressed in previous posts, make sure to follow the links to get the full explanation and illustrations of those points you’re interested in implementing. The tips, in no particular order:

1. Practice like you play, and play like you practice. You may have heard this before, but allow me to explain the particular relevance of this maxim to your putting game. When you’re ‘practicing’ your putting, mindlessly throwing discs at a basket in and of itself won’t do much good. In fact, it’s likely to reinforce bad habits. You need to try to simulate a real-round scenario with every putt. Find a way to make yourself believe that something is on the line. Go through the same routine you normally would when playing, and when you’re actually putting in a round on the course you’ll be able to draw upon the confidence you built during practice.

That brings us to playing like you practice, which simply refers to telling yourself to do what you’ve proven you can do over and over again in practice. Don’t let your mind get cluttered with thoughts of how important the putt it and what’s on the line: just tell yourself it’s no different than the 12 in a row you hit from the same distance in practice- assuming you were practicing like you play.

On putts like this one at Ryan Ranch DGC in Monterey, CA, consequences must be considered when planning the shot. Photo by Jack Trageser
On putts like this one at Ryan Ranch DGC in Monterey, CA, consequences must be considered when planning the shot. Photo by Jack Trageser

2. True practice strokes right before the putt. There are plenty of great lessons and techniques that can be borrowed from ball golf and applied to disc golf. This tip (the exception to list in that it is a much a technique as a mental tip) refers to the way ball golfers tend to simulate practice strokes just before the real thing in an effort to nail down the exact tempo they want to use. It’s usually not done it disc golf because of the difference between holding onto a club (which is done the same in practice swings as the one that counts) and holding onto a disc (which is obviously different, as we let the disc fly only when it’s time for the real thing). I found a way to get the best of both worlds, and it’s done wonders for my game.

To read the details on this one you’ll have to read this previous post, or for more instant gratification check out the video illustration. If you have time, though, read the post as it explains the full benefits of this pre-shot routine.

3. Develop a pre-putt routine, then stick to it. The previous tip is now a big part of my pre-shot routine. I do it every time I putt, without fail, and find it to be a big help in a number of ways. But whether you try it and use it isn’t the important thing in this tip. Everyone is different, and what works for me might not work for you. This tip is all about the importance of having some kind of routine.

You’ve probably seen the ‘above the surface’ (visible/audible) parts of others’ routines, like lining up the putt with the disc extended forward at eye level, or taking three deep breaths then stepping up to the mini-marker. These are cues that go along with the really important part of one’s routine- the progression of thoughts going through the player’s mind. Having a set routine is important because better you can stick to a set routine, the less chance fears, doubts, and random thoughts will cause you do do something you immediately regret.

Since you only have 30 seconds to execute your shot once it’s your turn to throw, that progression should start as early as possible- as soon as you’re able to size up your situation after your last throw. The first part of this mental routine involves doing all your risk-reward factoring and deciding if you’ll go for it and what type of approach you’ll take. Again, that is ideally all completed before it’s your turn to putt so that once you’re on the clock’ the actual execution is quick and decisive. The rest of your routine is covered in the next tip!

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3.5 When it’s time to putt, focus on the process, NOT the ‘value’ of the putt. Having a pre-shot routine is as much or more about NOT thinking the wrong thoughts as it is about thinking the right things. So many things can drift through our brains in high stress situations, and when putting almost all of them are detrimental to making the putt.

This is listed as number 3.5 on the list because it’s closely connected to number 3. Part of the reason for having a routine from which you never waver is to help you focus on the process only. If you allow emotional connects to enter your mind, like ‘I need this birdie’ or ‘if I miss this it might roll way down the hill’ or ‘I need to save par here to stay within a stroke of McBeth’ . . . let’s just say good things are less likely to happen.

Number two above is a big part of my pre-shot routine, and a perfect example of focusing on the process of executing the putt to the exclusion of everything else. During my practice strokes I visualize making a perfect putt, and go through the exact movements I would for the real putt. Then, when I’m ready for the real thing, it’s as simple as focusing on one link and telling myself the replicate the form and effort I just perfected 3-5 times in a row.

Four more tips

I promised you 7.5 tips, and so far you’ve only gotten 3.5 of them. Click here to read the other four tips now!