Nearly all disc golfers, from touring pros to those brand new to the game, use some type of run-up as part of their backhand drives. Most shouldn’t, though- at least not until they master the fundamental basics crucial to both power and consistency.
I see too many players who try to incorporate a throw into their run-up rather than the other way around. In other words, they seem to be approaching it as “How can I throw a disc while walking (or galloping)?” Crazy.
Why is this mistake so common? Because we tend to imitate what we see the majority of others do, for one thing. Add to that the way most teepads look like little runways, encouraging the player to start at the back, gain some momentum, and launch the disc near the front. Also, most new players crave more distance and it seems like getting a running start is a good way to get it.
The assumption is that the run-up is a crucial part of the drive, but in reality it is not. In fact, for players who don’t yet have a good grasp of proper weight transfer, timing, balance, and the use of larger muscles (rather than just their throwing arm), using a run-up hurts more than it helps. This is true in the short term as well as the long term.
Let’s talk short term first. You’re on the tee on a hole that requires a full-powered drive. Naturally you employ a run-up because that’s what any player would do when needing to achieve their max distance, right? Wrong. First of all, a perfectly executed backhand drive that includes a run-up adds 15 to 20 percent of distance compared to the same throw without the footwork. That’s the best case scenario.
Think of it as a math equation. That little bit of forward momentum you get by striding or even galloping into your throw adds slightly to the speed of the disc as it’s thrown- but ONLY if you’ve figured out how to keep your weight back even as your feet are taking steps forward. On top of that you need to time it perfectly so your launch occurs just after your plant foot hits the ground. If you’re off, even by a little, you won’t get the extra power (might even lose power) and your release point is apt to be off as well, causing the disc to fly in the wrong direction.
I see too many players who try to incorporate a throw into their run-up rather than the other way around.
As for the long-term damage of using a run-up off the tee (or in the fairway) before learning proper basics, it’s simple. Adding that extra layer of complication often means a player will never learn the basics. At the risk of being both trite and corny, you really do have to learn to walk before you can run. Or in this case, throw properly before you can walk or run (up).
I have one more thing for you to consider on this subject. The surest way to throw with accuracy is to keep things as simple as possible. Even a full-power standing drive requires the thrower to take their eyes off the target for a brief second. We accept this trade-off when necessary, but shouldn’t turn away from the target when it is not. A proper run-up using the x-step/scissor step footwork requires the thrower to turn away from the target and synchronize that footwork with the timing of the throw. If an upshot can be executed confidently with only your arm and without turning your head, that’s what you should do. Likewise, if you can drive a hole without a run-up, why add that unnecessary complication?
The key to achieving a goal is to have a plan. A blueprint for success. This is as true for improving athletic performance, including disc golf putting, as anything else.
In the first half of 2020, thousands of competitive-minded disc golfers asked themselves a question in response to closed courses and cancelled tournaments due to the quarantine: “What can I do to make disc golf downtime profitable in terms of lower scores in the future?” Many of us present ourselves with a similar personal challenge each offseason — or at least we should.
If I were to conduct a poll asking that question, the most popular answer would almost certainly be “work on my putting.” Missed putts feel like missed opportunities, more than any other aspect of the game. Three-putting from 35 feet feels like self destruction in a competitive round, and missing a 20-footer after an incredible drive can be soul-crushing. Converting a few misses into makes each round is the quickest way to shave strokes from your score.
If you want that payoff at the end, however, you need to think beyond simply “getting in your rep’s” each day. Twenty putts from 10 different stations is great for conditioning, but to achieve a noticeable, lasting breakthrough you’ll have to dig deeper. This project is about thinking as well as putting.
In other words, you need a blueprint.
The first step is to conduct some critical analysis. Think of your putting game as a boat that is taking on water. You know there are leaks, and you know they can be plugged: you just have to find them.
Finding the Leaks
Step 1: Think back to missed putts in past rounds and try to identify any trends. For instance, do you regularly miss short putts left or right? Does your percentage of made putts go way down when there is more at stake? Do your missed putts all too often end up even further from the basket? Does it seem like you get more than your share of spit-outs? Make a list of what you think are your biggest leaks, then grab some discs and head for your nearest basket.
Step 2: Before you start putting, remind yourself that you’re going to take that same analyst’s approach at the end of the session. Take putts from a variety of distances (and inclines, if possible) without putting from the same place twice in a row. Take your time with each putt, as if you were playing a round. After misses, make quick mental observations so you can recall them later, then let them go and focus on the next putt. When you’re done, add to or refine the list you started earlier.
Step 3: Now contact a couple disc golf buddies, preferably ones you play with regularly. Ask them for their honest input. What are your putting strengths and weaknesses? What are your costliest chronic mistakes on the green? Do you let emotions get in the way, and if so, which ones — Fear? Anxiety? Anger? Use your friends’ answers to add to your list, then rank the items based on severity (how much of an issue is this for you personally) and impact (how many strokes is it costing you per round).
You’re now almost ready to start the hands-on part of this project, but the last bit of preparation is crucial. You need to create a plan of action to address each specific issue on your list. It’s easier said than done, but you need to know the cause of each leak so you can figure out the best way to address it.
Plugging the Leaks
You may feel stumped at this point. If you knew the cause of all those frustrating missed short putts you’d have fixed the problem yourself by now, right? While I don’t have the space here to address every issue, I’ll cover a few common ones and link to some resources that go into more detail. But remember, the main point is to take a systematic and purposeful approach to make significant improvements to your putting game. Okay, onto plugging some common leaks!
First up: a tendency to miss even short putts left or right. This is usually due to horizontal movement of hand and disc during the putt, which makes it difficult to consistently release the disc directly at the target.
The reason this tip works so well is simple. A disc pulled back and then propelled along a straight line will begin its flight heading in the exact direction at which that line points.
If you’re interested to learn more about the importance of straight-line putting and how to retrain yourself, you can read up on that here.
If you tend to miss too many putts in general, the above issue is only one of several possible causes. The other common physical cause for demoralizing unforced errors such as missed short putts is a lack of follow-through. This sometimes happens because we mistakenly believe short putts only require a soft toss. It is important to always complete your putting motion, regardless of length. For help incorporating proper follow-through, check out this post.
The most common reason for missing short putts has nothing to do with technical flaws. It’s simply a lack of focus on the task at hand. If the putt is practically a gimme, it’s easy to take it for granted and begin thinking about the next hole. Or perhaps the hole went badly and you’re eager to get it over with and move on. The best way to eliminate these completely avoidable mistakes is to establish a specific putting routine and stick to it, no matter how short the putt. If you’re doing it at 30 feet, you should also be doing it at 10. There are even more causes of missed short putts and how to eliminate them here.
Do your putting percentages go down as the stakes go up? Pressure putts can undermine even the best players and in a variety of different ways. Stress and anxiety are known to be performance inhibitors in all sports, causing the body to tighten up and lose necessary fluidity. Sometimes it’s as simple as being distracted, thinking about how important the putt is when you should be thinking about aim or line or follow-through.
I’ve found that the best way to combat both is to stick to your routine, and make sure the routine includes thinking about the right things before and during the putt. This is straight out of Sports Psychology 101, and I sum it up thusly: Think about what you’re trying to do, NOT what you’re hoping to accomplish. I’ve talked about handling pressure, and proper ‘shot-thinking” in the past.
Here are the most common of those systematic issues:
Putting Too Hard
When you fire bullet-putts at the basket, all kinds of things can go wrong. If you miss entirely, the disc is now moving away from the basket at full speed. If you hit the top or the cage, the disc still has plenty of energy and momentum to travel away from the basket. And sometimes accurate putts that would stay in the basket if thrown at a more reasonable speed use that excess, superfluous energy to escape the grasp of the chains.
To avoid long comeback putts (which often turn into three-putts or worse), use only enough velocity to hit the link of chain you’re aiming at with sufficient energy to push that link toward the pole. Except on short putts, the speed of the disc should not be the same when it arrives at the target as when it left your hand.
The key to doing this is to use arc. The longer the putt, the greater the arc. This enables you to get the disc to arrive at the target with only the necessary amount of speed. As a bonus, the arc means that on longer putts the disc will be moving downward (toward the ground) at the end of its flight, which will usually help it come to a stop sooner.
The next two causes of chronic three-putting have nothing to do with technique. One stems from flawed decision making and the other a lack of focus.
Lack of Risk/Reward Concession
The object of golf is to complete each hole in the fewest strokes possible. Your decision to go for it boldly or go for it carefully or lay it up should be dictated by the answer you ask yourself: What are my odds of executing this shot successfully and what is the worst possible consequence if I miss?
Don’t confuse confidence with a blissful ignorance of things like odds and risk. If you know your chances of making a birdie putt from 50 feet are low and you’re playing a round where score counts, it makes sense to lay up and play for par. If you have the skill to go for it with enough finesse that a miss will result in a putt you make almost every time, that’s a different story. The key is knowing your limitations. Otherwise, you’re burning up three strokes to complete the hole from 50 feet.
Lack of Focus
As mentioned earlier, one of the best ways to maintain focus is to develop a routine and stick to it. This means going through the same steps every time regardless of how routine the throw or short the putt. The repetition will ensure that you don’t forget to do it in important or stressful situations. All routines different in little ways, but have the same critical elements in common. This is helpful in understanding the necessary basic components.
If you agree that working on your putting is a good way to achieve real score improvement, don’t just commit to an amount of time or putts each day. Use the below formula to create a customized blueprint to work smarter and succeed.
Identify your putting ‘leaks’ (WHERE is the leak?)
List possible causes for each leak. (WHY does it leak?)
Find changes or adjustments to try based on each cause until you find the one that works (What MIGHT plug the leak? What WILL plug the leak?)
Practice putting purposefully, plugging one leak at a time
I have provided ‘virtual’ disc golf instruction in the past. The methods used ranged from verbal and email consultations to critiquing form via shared video clips to video conferencing. I’m glad I had that experience under my belt before the Shelter at Home directives ruled out in-person lessons for several months, because the desire among disc golfers to improve has not waned. If anything – with most of us having extra time on our hands – it has increased!
The testimonial section of our website now features a new entry in the Lessons & Coaching section. Roger, who inquired via the School of Disc Golf website, was in a courtyard in Mexico while I was in my garden in Santa Cruz, CA. The physical separation did not seem to hinder the effectiveness of our communication. Below is quick rundown of how we did it.
To begin with, I had Roger share video clips with me prior to the lesson, from several different angles. This gave me an idea of where to start before our live video session began. The most notable flaw in the video clips led me to emphasize a particular point, and Roger told me the next day that it resulted in a major breakthrough in his putting accuracy and consistency.
For our scheduled virtual lesson we opted to use Google Duo. We could have used Zoom or Facetime (if I was an Apple guy) and those tools would have been just as effective. One key bit of equipment for me was a Bluetooth headset, so I could easily hear Roger without having to be near my phone and demonstrate technique with the hassle of wires. Another, perhaps even more important, was us both having a tripod with a smartphone mount. I can’t properly demonstrate anything while holding a phone, and propping the phone up somewhere is a hassle and, depending on the surroundings, often impossible.
Perhaps the best endorsement of the ‘remote’ aspect of our remote lesson was the fact that Roger didn’t even mention it in his testimonial. I didn’t feel like the lesson suffered by us not being physically together, and apparently he didn’t either.
As George ‘Frolf’ Costanza once famously said, “I’m back baby, I’m back!”
Tell all your content-hungry disc golf pals who (in addition to playing and watching) read about the sport whenever they can that the School of Disc Golf is back to posting a mixture of disc golf content- not just the instructional stuff tied to our core business.
You’ll once again also be seeing current disc golf news from around the world, with a focus on stories about the sport’s growth around the world. Like this story from Bay County, MI. Check out this awesome quote from director of recreation and facilities Cristen Gignac:
“One of the big parts of this grant is we do public input,” she said, adding during the month of September they had a survey that went out to the community. “There was a lot of interest in disc golf, you’ll see that as a priority in a handful of different places.”
Stories like this are popping up everywhere, and I love to share them. Add in occasional commentary provided by yours truly, Jack Tupp (aka Frisbeebrain), and you’ll see a good mix of disc golf content- much of which you won’t get anywhere else. Use the ‘Subscribe’ link at right to make sure the good stuff hits your email inbox before the metaphorical ink is dry.
A little about the history of this blog:
Back in 2008, I decided to launch one of the sport’s first blogs, DeLa Blahg then went on to write (along with PDGA’s Steve Hill) for Rattling Chains, and after that All Things Disc Golf- both also excellent pioneering Disc Golf Blogs. Since then I launched the School of Disc Golf to offer lessons and teambuilding events and published two books. Three Paths to Better Disc Golf offers multiple tips to help you shoot lower scores, while The Disc Golf Revolution aims to help you share the sport – in all its important glory – with the outside world.
Enough about me, right? Everyone is encouraged to post comments, and send me questions, ideas of topics to cover, and story links. If you want to peruse past posts for ideas, just use the search box. Let’s talk some disc golf!
Finally, a teaser for what’s up next: I’ll be sharing a completely fresh take on whether baskets should be smaller/more challenging on the pro tour. Stay tuned!
How 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!”
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.
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.
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.”
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!
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.
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.
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.
Among the pleasures of disc golf – and there are many – perhaps the most satisfying for the athletically-minded is mastering new flight paths for one’s disc. And since all discs to one degree or another have the natural tendency to fade left or right depending on the direction of the spin, making a disc turn in the opposite direction of that fade is among the first big milestones. And then you realize that within the broad classification of “turnover shot” exist an endless quantity of different shot-shapes and ways to achieve them, and things really begin to get interesting. And fun.
A while back we published a post called “Mastering the turnover shot: Equal parts art and science.” In it we explain in pretty good detail the handful of ways of executing flight paths variously known as a turnover shot or anhyzer. (You can check out our Disc Golf Terminology page for definitions of all these terms.) We recommend reading the previous post before reading this one. This post explains specific flight paths that can be achieved by adjusting any of six different factors, and those are listed and described there.
The Anhyzer S-turn
Let’s start by explaining the term ‘S-turn’, which describes the flight path rather than throw itself. It simply refers to a flight path where the disc turns in one direction for the beginning of the flight, then finishes by turning in the other direction. You’ve like done it before, by accident if not by design. Being able to properly execute an S-turn represents a huge step forward for any player, and once you understand how to do it it really isn’t any harder than turnover shots intended to arc in a single direction the entire flight. And it not only proves useful when two turns are required. It’s also a great way to maximize distance as the turns keep the disc in the air longer.
To hyzer a disc means to release it with a nose angle that encourages the disc to fade in the direction it naturally tends to fade. For instance, a right-handed backhand shot will fade to the left. So to throw an anhyzer in that same situation a player must release it with a nose angle that not only enables the disc to resist that tendency to fade, but turn in the other direction. An RHBH thrower uses a nose angle where the left side of the disc is lower than the right, so that same thrower – if she wants to throw an anhyzer shot – needs to reverse that nose angle so that the left side is higher than the right. Think of driving a car with your hands “10 and 2” on the steering wheel, and imagine a straight line between your hands. When you turn left, your left hand becomes lower than the right and that straight line mimics the nose angle you’d want on your disc for a hyzer release. A right turn mimics the angle for an anhyzer release (Again, see the previous post for a correct explanation of hyzer/anhyzer as anhyzer and turnover are not synonymous.)
Sticking with our RHBH example, an anhyzer S-turn shot will initially turn to the right, then at some point fade back to the left. This shot comes in handy when the hole presents early obstacles on the right side of the fairway that force the player to start the shot on the left side, while also having characteristics that make it undesirable to let the disc finish in that direction. For instance the hole has a wall of early trees on the right side and on the other side of the trees is a deep ravine or a water hazard. The basket is on the left side of the fairway a little deeper than the ravine/water, behind another grove of trees.
The trees on the right are too high for a simple tall hyzer route, so the player must throw through the gap on the left, but she can’t throw straight at the basket without heading right for the grove on the left. The solution is the anhyzer S-turn, because it first avoids the trees on the right by passing through the gap, then (because it is turning right thanks to the anhyzer release angle) passes to the right of the grove on the left. This much could be accomplished with a simple anhyzer shot, but remember if it finishes right it’ll find the ravine/water hazard. So it is imperative that the disc finish left.
The two keys to pulling this off are knowing the discs in your bag and the release point required for each- and that only happens with practice. Get out in a field and throw all your discs with the same amount of power and same nose angle. The understable discs will likely turn over and never fade back, while your super-overstable disc may hardly turn at all before fading back to the hyzer angle. Since every situation is somewhat unique, you’ll want to eventually learn how to do this with as many of your discs as possible. It’ll require different combinations of those six factors explained in the last post, which is why it’s important to really know each disc’s characteristics.
We mention release point because this is usually the biggest hurdle players have in learning to throw this shot. If you release the disc at too low a point with a steep anhyzer nose angle, it will head straight for the ground as it turns over and never have a chance to fade back. A fairly typical release point for an anhyzer S-turn is eye level or higher, but it is differs depending on the player’s armspeed, the disc, and the situation.
The Flip Hyzer S-turn
The flight path for a flip hyzer (or hyzer flip) S-turn is the reverse of the anhyzer S-turn. It’s usually the easier S-turn shot to execute because for most players throwing with a hyzer angle comes much more naturally. However, a key ingredient to executing this shot is above average armspeed, so if you’re having trouble with it that may be the reason.
The term ‘flip hyzer’ accurately describes this flight path. When done properly the RHBH thrower releases a throw on a hyzer angle with enough power for the rate of speed to eventually overcome that hyzer angle, causing the disc to turn over and drift right. The really cool thing about this shot is that by dialing up just the right mix of nose angle, armspeed and release point (and of course the disc chosen matters as well), the thrower can manipulate the precise point at which the disc turns. For instance, a steeper hyzer angle will make the disc take longer to turn over, while increasing the armspeed will make it happen quicker.
Even though the flight characteristics of a flip hyzer shot are the reverse as an anhyzer S-turn, it isn’t used in quite the same way. A player will typically utilize it in two scenarios:
On long, ‘tunnel’ type holes where the disc needs to finish on a turnover line, a flip hyzer enables the thrower to maximize the distance before the disc begins to turn over
On very long, wide open holes where nothing matters but distance, a flip hyzer when executed properly will yield the most distance. In fact, in distance contests top pros use this method almost exclusively as their elite power, combined with a sharp hyzer angle and a high release trajectory often result in three turns- the initial hyzer, and then the turnover as spin rate overcomes angle, and finally (since the trajectory was upward and the disc still isn’t close to the ground), a fade back to the hyzer line.
Once again, the only way a player can master this shot enough to have confidence in the technical situations in which it is required is through hours and hours of experimentation and then repetition. It’s also worth noting that both these S-turn methods can be used to achieve a roller shot, where the player is intentionally causing the disc land on an anhyzer angle with enough power left to stand up and roll.
Holding the line
As discussed in the previous post, for most players throwing a disc perfectly straight is harder than making it turn. So it should not be a surprise that making a disc turn over and then hold a particular line once it has turned is for some even harder. On courses with baskets placed in harrowing positions (near OB, water, cliffs) a straight, flat landing is often the only way to avoid trouble. Like the S-turn shots it requires a very exacting combination of angle, speed and trajectory, but in this case another specific factor is even more important. And that factor is . . . spin.
Think of it this way: If a player wants to throw RHBH anhyzer that turns over through its entire flight he’d throw a disc he knows will continue to turn with a steep enough nose angle. If he wants the disc to turn most of the way then fade left at the end (anhyzer S-turn), he could use the same technique but switch to a sufficiently more overstable disc. But if he wants the disc to execute a right turn at a certain point then very gradually come out of the turn and finish on a straight line, merely changing discs won’t cut it.
Unlike most shots, where as number of factor combinations result in roughly the same flight path, this requires an increase in spin and nose angle steepness proportionate with the distance the disc needs to carry on that straight finishing line. Spin can be increased by accentuating that whip-cracking, towel-snapping release and reducing the follow through of the arm. A good way to learn this is to pick out the apex of the intended flight path, which should act as a hinge that connects the first part of your throw with the second. Aim for that hinge with the idea that your disc will reach that apex with the right angle and lots of spin, then use that spin to coast on the exact straight line you want.
This type of shot is particularly handy on shorter shorts where you can use a fan grip and a putter, but it can be thrown with a power grip as well.
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:
Gather all available information and analyze it
Make a decision based on your analysis
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/