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.

Product review: DGA Elite Shield Disc Golf Bag

After using the DGA Elite Shield bag for more than a month, it gets my endorsement as my favorite bag ever as well as in my opinion the best accessory product ever marketed by Disc Golf Association. Time will tell whether it passes the all-important durability test, but it seems to be very well equipped in that regard as well.

DGA Elite Shield disc golf bag

It should be mentioned right at the beginning that one’s preference of disc golf bags – like the golf discs they are designed to carry – is a highly subjective matter. Most significant in this regard is size. Some prefer the minimalist approach: a bag that is as small as possible and meant to hold a few discs and maybe a small water bottle. Others represent a rather different philosophy, and represent the “If there is even the remotest chance I might need it, I want to carry it” school of thought. These folks want to carry 30+ discs, two wardrobe changes, enough food and water to survive in the wilderness for 10 days, and seven miscellaneous pockets and straps full of ‘other stuff’.

I prefer something between these two extremes. I want room for around 14 discs, a large water bottle, and the outer layer of clothing I’ll remove halfway through the round. Several convenient storage pockets for my snacks and little stuff, too. And now that I’ve gotten used to backpack-style straps, my bag must at least include that as an option as well. Finally, I’d like to keep the cost reasonable- under $75.

Obviously not an overly large bag, the DGA Elite Shield nevertheless easily holds 16 discs with plenty additional storage room.
Obviously not an overly large bag, the DGA Elite Shield nevertheless easily holds 16 discs with plenty additional storage room.

So keep in mind these personal preferences when I say that the Elite Shield bag by DGA is the ideal bag for me. Now, on with the review!

The company is best known for its dominant share of baskets installed worldwide and its pioneering status in the sport (perhaps you’ve heard of ‘Steady’ Ed Headrick, PDGA #001, Father of Disc Golf, inventor of the Pole Hole catching device), but also markets its own line of discs, apparel and accessories. They try hard to innovate in everything they do, and this bag really hits the mark in that respect and many others as well. In fact, there are so many cool features included on this bag  – a couple which are completely unique to the Elite Shield – that I’m going to list them bullet-style, along with impressions after a month’s worth of use.

  • Shield Pocket- This is the stand-out feature for which the bag is named, and it’s a hard shell storage compartment designed to keep a phone, sunglasses, or anything else you want to keep from getting broken or wet safe and sound. DGA general manager Scott Keasey told me he got the idea after watching a bag (turns out it was HIS bag) get backed over by a car. I’m not sure it would withstand the weight of a car, but I love having a place where I know my breakables will be safe. Like most great innovations, it’s simple but brilliant.
  • Gel Foam back padding- I’ve personally never had an issue with my bag feeling ‘hard’ against my back, probably because it comes into contact more with my backside than my back. Still, the padding is quite cushy and I can notice the difference.
  • Retractable Towel Lanyard- This is a detachable device that consists of a clip that attaches to a hook inside the large side pocket on one end, another clip that attaches to a towel, and a length of strong but skinny string that automatically retracts back into the device. I didn’t know at first whether I’d use this, but find that I like not having to deal with stuffing my towel back into the bag after using it. I’ve never used towel clips before because they required me to use the towel right next to the bag- which is awkward. Now, thanks to the lanyard I can have my cake, eat it too, and not worry about losing it (the towel I mean, not the cake).
  • PVC diamond-plated water resistant bottom- This is actually a biggie for me, as I play in pretty rugged terrain and the bottom of bags here is usually the most likely failure point. Most bags are not only made of the same material as the rest of the bag, but are completely flat as well. The Elite Shield’s bottom is rugged plastic, and also includes ‘feet’ that keep the bottom surface slightly elevated to reduce exposure to moisture and other wear-and-tear.
  • Foam insulated beverage pocket- My favorite parts of the beverage pocket are elastic gather at the top which keeps even my small aluminum bottle secure, even when I’m running, and the mesh plastic bottom. I hate it when my bottle leaks for whatever reason and I discover a pool of liquid accumulating in the holder. The mesh will prevent that from happening. One small downside is that a large Nalgene bottle is a tight fit. The fit is actually nice and snug and not too tight, but getting it in takes some wrangling.
Using the included customizable dividers, 14 discs fit snugly in the center of the main compartment, providing easy access to the discs in the middle and ample room for towels and clothing on either side.
Using the included customizable dividers, 14 discs fit snugly in the center of the main compartment, providing easy access to the discs in the middle and ample room for towels and clothing on either side.

 

The more standard features of the bag are all quite agreeable as well. It comes with a skinny should strap, but the four well-placed connectors accommodate the backpack straps of your choice. DGA sells it packaged with their Gel Strapz, but I attached mine and they work perfectly.

The storage pockets aside from the Shield pocket are all I could ask for One large zippered compartment and another small one outside of that, with a couple small ‘tuck’ sleeves outside both for a mini, pencils, or whatever (The smaller one fits my School of Disc Golf cards nicely.

The putter pocket presents one small drawback for me, but only because I will sometimes jog during and between holes on the course when time is tight. I keep two putter in the pocket, and a couple times now the one on the outside has popped out. Absolutely no concern if you’re walking on the course like most people, but speed golfers be aware that this might happen.

You can see from the images above that this is a medium-sized bag. I personally have room for 12 discs in the main compartment in addition to the two in the putter pocket, and using the included configurable dividers the discs sit neatly in a middle section, with storage in both side-corners of the main compartment for clothing, extra towels, etc. This bag can obviously hold many more than 14 discs. In fact I recently met a guy at a local course that recognized me from the TV show, and I noticed he was using an Elite Shield bag. When I told him I’d be reviewing it soon, he said he was able to fit 30 discs! Way more than DGA intended with the design, but it gives you an idea of the capacity.

DGA’s website – with the enviable URL of discgolf.com – includes a great gallery of pictures of the Elite Shield bag. It lets’s you see the bag from every conceivable angle.

If like me and Baby Bear you prefer a bag that isn’t too small, or too big, but just right, and also includes a bunch of cool extras, and is also designed to last- yet doesn’t cost too much, I think you’ll like the DGA Elite Shield bag.