Three Paths to Better Disc Golf is a self-help book for disc golfers. I published it in 2015 as an ebook only, as a way for me to learn the process before releasing The Disc Golf Revolution, a book I had been working on for years. I remain proud of the contents of my first book, but never really liked the cover design, and the copyediting polish was beneath my own high standards.
When I decided to publish a paperback version of Three Paths, I realized it was also an opportunity to address the copywriting and cover issues, as well. I’m stoked with how both the new paperback and ebook (which was also updated) turned out.
Each band of color on the cover represents one of the Three Paths to Better Disc Golf detailed in the book. The yellow band represents the Philosophical Path, blue for the Strategic Path, and the red band is the Tactical Path. I like the simplicity of the design, the basket designs (borrowed from our logo), and the fact that the paths intermingle- because they really do.
I wrote the book for disc golfers who enjoy keeping their score and would like to conquer their friends or just improve on the last round or the best round. The fact is, there are many ways to accomplish both and most have nothing to do with driving distance- although the book covers that, too. Decision making and mental focus are just as important in disc golf as technique and power.
Each of the three sections in Three Paths to Better Disc Golf contains a dozen short but potentially game-changing chapters. At least one will speak directly to every disc golfer, probably more. If it shaves a couple strokes off the score, or simply makes the game an even more enjoyable experience for every disc golfer who reads it, I am happy indeed.
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
Do you notice when watching the best players in disc golf that their putts seem effortless? A big reason why is Spin. In Part 1 of this series I communicated two main points:
Maintaining a straight line at the target while putting, during the entire motion AND follow-through, is the best way to maximize accuracy and consistency
It can be tricky to do this, since spin is also required and generating spin typically requires a certain amount of rotational (non-straight line) force.
So how can you manufacture spin while sticking to that pure straight line? That’s what Part 2 is all about.
I believe it comes down to two key points that work in tandem (in other words, you gotta do both for either to matter when it comes to generating spin). They are described below, followed by a couple other tips that should also help.
Cock the Wrist
By cocking your wrist you are doing all the prep work needed to get the spin on your putt that will enable it to fly more smoothly and hold its line longer.
The great thing about this simple tip is that it allows you to focus on the straight line. Just cock your wrist and keep it cocked, then bring the disc forward on that line.
Set it and forget it
The second part of this magical formula is that mainstay of good technique in most every sport- follow-through! A cocked wrist + strong and exaggerated followthrough = tight spin.
The keys to proper followthrough are exaggeration and keeping it up for longer than seems necessary. Power through the putting motion, and continue to move your hand toward the target without showing down, even after the disc leaves your hand. Stretch your hand toward the target until it can go no further, with fingers outstretched, even holding that pose for a beat.
Exaggerated followthrough ensures two things:
You won’t subconsciously add rotation movement at the end in an attempt to add extra spin
You WILL power through your putt rather than letting up just before or upon release
No more inside-the-circle airballs? Yes, please!
The first of these is important in terms of keeping the disc on the line, and the second is the key to converting the potential of that cocked wrist into all the spin your putt will need. The quicker you go from a fully cocked wrist to fingers outstretched toward the basket, the more spin you’ll get.
If you want a great example of both straight line discipline and exaggerated followthrough, check out Paul McBeth clips on YouTube. Jomez has plenty of good slo-mo (or SloMez, as they call it), and this several years-old clip shows three minutes of off-season practice. Watch for the straight line and the followthrough.
Practice reps focusing on going from cocked wrist to exaggerated followthrough will strengthen the involved muscles for use in this specific manner. If it seems like you can’t get much power on putts using this technique at first, put in the reps. You’ll see progress.
Focus on balance. Keep your entire body’s movement on that straight line–not just arm and disc. If you feel yourself pulling or falling to one side, it will affect the putt.
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:
Each player’s standard putting technique is unique to that player.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
Conventional wisdom says putting is a crucial facet of any successful golfer’s game- and conventional wisdom is correct. No one who has ever spent a round crushing long, accurate drives only to score poorly because he couldn’t hit a putt would argue. Yet few players practice putting with a purposeful, regular routine.
If you’re reading this you are likely someone that has at least a moderate desire to shoot lower scores on the disc golf course. Therefore, if you’re not systematically working to improve your putting skills and consistency, the question is why?
One logical answer is that you’ve never heard a specific reason or reasons that resonated strongly enough with you personally. It’s one thing to agree with the logic in a general, vague sort of way and quite another to be able to connect the dots with a straight line that leads directly to a result you value highly. Therefore, the below 5.5 reasons to practice putting in disc golf are presented as a means of motivating more players to create and stick to a putting practice routine.
1. Getting better & scoring better
This is the main reason to practice anything in sports. The bottom line. The ultimate quantification to judge whether practice is translating into desired results. It’s also where most players’ understanding of why they should practice begins and ends. In this case, we practice putting because the better the putting success rate in a given round, the lower the score. This is observable, cause-and-effect, incontrovertible truth. Hit the putt and you’ve successfully completed that hole and can move on to the next one. Miss it, and (at least) one more stroke is added to your score.
Which brings us to the relationship between practicing putting and improving one’s putting success rate in actual rounds of disc golf. Have you ever thought beyond the fact that practicing something makes you better at it, and asked yourself why? In golf, due to its unique psychological components, the explanation goes much deeper than simple cause-and-effect. Consider the next 4.5 points, which are really sub-points to this first no-brainer. Also, take note of how they either build on or connect to the other sub-points as well as this first basic fact.
Naturally the more you practice something, the better you should get at it- with ‘better’ in this context being defined as being successful more often (making more putts). Nothing gives a person confidence they can accomplish something like knowing they’ve accomplished it many times before. Therefore, practice should result in improvement, improvement is defined by more made putts, and more made putts will naturally increase confidence in future putts.
The second part of the maxim ‘Practice like you play, and play like you practice’ alludes to this. If you’ve put in the practice hours and repeatedly experienced what it feels like to hit that 20-footer, when it comes time to do it in a round you’ll be armed with greater confidence. ‘Play like you practice’ is meant to be a reminder during a round that you’ve made this putt many times in practice, so just do now what you do in practice.
This point probably isn’t a big revelation to you either. Naturally experiencing more and more success will give a person increased confidence. But what, specifically, does that mean? Are there additional, ‘collateral’ benefits as well? Turns out there are!
2.5 Stress reduction/emotional energy conservation
The mental game is key to success in any sport, and in golf it’s nothing short of crucial. Confidence is one component of a good mental approach to golf, for reasons stated above. It gives a player the belief she can make the putt she’s about to attempt, enabling her to credibly visualize the successful attempt. But it also benefits the player through something that it eliminates or greatly reduces- namely stress.
Players who get emotionally invested in a competitive event (tournament, tag round, whatever) have a palpable yearning for success on each throw. With that comes an equally strong negative reaction when things don’t go well. Without confidence, this translates in putting (especially on putts we think we should make) to a dread of missing. Being able to conjure up the memory of thousands of made putts of the same distance during practice time and previous rounds acts like Valium or Xanax on this kind of stress.
This is very important over the course of an entire round, much less a tournament spanning three or four rounds! Playing focused golf for hours at a time requires an enormous amount of mental focus and emotional energy, and stressing out over every throw quickly takes a toll. Practice results in confidence, and confidence results in less stress (and less misses, which also means less stress).
3. The inverted pyramid effect on shot selection
Smart disc golfers always consider the ramifications of the next shot before they decide on a disc, route, or approach. A basic example would be a right-handed player throwing backhand not choosing a super overstable disc on a left-to-right dogleg with a lake all along the left side of the fairway. That’s using logic to determine that a disc which will hook left into the lake is not a smart play. This logic extends to other variables as well, and the player’s capabilities should always be among them.
In this sense shot selection is like an inverted pyramid with putting at the tip of the pyramid and driving at the base (which in this case is on top, since it’s inverted or upside-down- see illustration). With each shot selection determined at least in part by what the player is realistically able to execute on the following throw, the options on an upshot and sometimes on a drive are based on the player’s putting ability. Consider the following example:
You shanked your drive on a par 3 hole into the rough, and are looking at numerous trees and bushes between you and the basket, which is only 80 feet away. There are several routes to consider, with none of them being routine. You’re obviously hoping to get up and down for a par. If you have confidence in your ability to hit putts from 25 feet and in, you can imagine a 50-foot diameter circle with the basket in the center, then look for the highest percentage route that gets you anywhere within that circle (route B in the diagram).
If you don’t have any confidence in your ability to make putts (but still hoping to save par), you’ll instinctively limit your consideration of routes to one that will let you get right to the basket (route A)- even if the odds of executing that upshot are small.
So in this case, practice results in confidence, which in turn results in more options on the preceding upshot, which results in choosing a higher-percentage shot, which results in a putt you can make due in part to confidence, due in large part to practice. And to take it a step further, the stress reduction mentioned in 2.5 also applies to your reaction to shanking your drive, because you had the confidence that you’d at least save par due to the fact that your upshot only had to get within 25 feet of the basket (hey, you hit those putts all the time in practice!). That’s the inverted pyramid on shot selection.
4. Psychological warfare (but the pacifist kind)
Disc golf is a played largely within your own mind (see famous Bobby Jones quote), as it’s just you against the course and the elements. It never pays to get wrapped up in what competitors are doing or saying, or how they are playing. Competitively, when it comes to other players the best thing you can do find is a way to enclose yourself in a bubble and allow only neutral interactions with others inside (like reporting scores on a hole, or responding politely but succinctly to casual chit-chat). If others can’t help getting wrapped up in you and your game, though, it’s no fault of yours. And the truth is, some players (to their detriment) allow their game to be affected by the play of others.
When such players see a competitor who not only hits most of his putts but seems to know he’s going to hit the putt as soon as he places his mini on the ground, it can get to them.
In this case practice leads to confidence, confidence leads to less stress, less stress leads to a calm, controlled demeanor, and that ‘never let ’em see you sweat’ demeanor leads to added stress for the other guy. Don’t feel bad! It’s not like you were trying to psyche the guy out. You’re just playing your game. What he perceives and how he reacts is his deal.
5. Muscle memory
This one has much more science to back it up. The Wikipedia entry for muscle memory has a great, succinct definition of the term which says in part “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. This process decreases the need for attention and creates maximum efficiency within the motor and memory systems.” Go to the wiki page if you want to understand exactly how it works, or just accept it as fact. The more you practice something (assuming you get to the point where you’re doing it correctly and getting the results you want), the easier and more automatic it will become. In a sense, muscle memory is part of the confidence that grows from practice, or at least it is the fertile soil that gives it the best chance to grow.
I guess there is one more reason to practice putting. Fun! Have you ever seen the bumper sticker that says ‘The worst day fishing is better than the best day working’? If you love to play disc golf, committing 15 minutes a day to practice putting in a purposeful way can’t be too much of a sacrifice. This post isn’t about what kind of routine yields the best results, or which routine makes it the most fun or interesting. This is all about helping you to understand the many reasons it’s worth the while.