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

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

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

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

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

You are a disc golf machine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well-oiled

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lost discs: practical preventative steps to avoid that void in your bag

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Discs ain’t cheap- especially if everything you throw is premium plastic or rubber that runs $15 or more a pop. And we all own some that would fall into the category of ‘it’s not the money’; discs that are worked in just the way we want, discs that are out of production, in high demand, hard to replace, or have sentimental value. Equipment is part (albeit, in my opinion, a minor part) of what enables us to perform our best, and if our most important tool is suddenly gone, our game is likely to suffer.

For all these reasons, it makes sense to have a strategy to reduce the lost disc factor. Below is a collection of observations I’ve made over time and some changes I’ve made based on those observations.

Brand your discs like cattle

There is an unwritten rule in disc golf that a person is less obligated to try to find the owner of a found disc when it is completely devoid of a name, number, or identifying mark. So it naturally follows that unmarked discs get reunited with their owners far less often than those that are marked. But lets dig a little deeper. Everyone approaches labeling their discs a little differently, so what type of markings produce the best results in terms of getting back the lost little lambs?

This collection of discs from the author's bag show the consistency and readability of his 'personal branding'. Look closely, and you notice that some need a fresh coat, and the rare gummy Beast on top has the brand written backwards on the bottom so it shows correctly on top. Photo by Jack Trageser.
This collection of discs from the author’s bag show the consistency and readability of his ‘personal branding’. Look closely, and you’ll notice that some need a fresh coat, which they received right after the photo was taken. Photo by Jack Trageser.
  • Name and Contact Info- People who find your disc that are inclined to try to contact you personally can’t do that if you don’t put down some contact info. I used to list my email address in addition to my phone number but no one ever used it, so I just stick with the phone number. That way they can call or text, hopefully right when they find it. Both name and number should be large and clear on the top or bottom of the disc (not the inside rim). Make it big enough so it won’t get erased or obscured through wear-and-tear, it’s easy to read, and also discourages finders from becoming keepers (those who may be temped to erase it or write over it). In this photo of multiple discs, the lighter orange disc was lost, and a friend noticed my faded JACKT on a photo on eBay. The perpetrator had attempted to erase it but wasn’t quite successful (I re-did it, in a more creative manner for fun). Good thing, as I got that disc from Steady Ed himself and it still serves active duty as a finesse roller.
  • Personal Branding- This one has gotten me back numerous discs I would not otherwise have seen again. The key is to make sure the way you brand your discs is very consistent, and fairly large. People I play with even occasionally remember the way I write JACKT on the underside of all my discs, and get them back to me. I’ve had them spot my discs on the course, in Lost-and-Found, and even in the hands of other players! My favorite story along these lines was when someone I don’t know approached a friend of mine (RIP, Slingshot Steve) and asked “What do you think of this disc?” Steve, quickly spotting the JACKT, replied “I THINK it belongs to a friend of mine,” and snatched it out of the guy’s hand. The key is to come up with a way of writing your name that is readable, unique, and simple enough to replicate on each disc.
Even pretty see-through discs must be branded. The author writes backwards on the bottom so it reads correctly on top. Photo by Jack Trageser.
Even pretty see-through discs must be branded. The author writes backwards on the bottom so it reads correctly on top. Photo by Jack Trageser.
  • Practical over Aesthetics- Golf discs in your bag are there to do a job, not look pretty. I know it mars the beauty of a translucent disc to write your name on it in large, bold letters, but you gotta ask yourself what’s more important- Keeping the disc pristine, or keeping the disc . . . period? It’s like not wearing a helmet riding a motorcycle because you don’t want to mess up your hair. And no, I don’t think I’m over dramatizing (much) with that analogy- we’re talking about our discs here!

Natural (Disc) Selection

Whereas the first point dealt with retrieving discs from others who find them, this one concerns being able to find them after an errant throw. The color of a disc significantly impacts the chance of spotting it on the course. You players who frequent wide open courses, or courses where the terrain is all manicured, regularly mowed grass might feel they can ignore this section- but read on. Disc golfers love to travel to new courses, and chances are you’ll at some point play courses like the ones I frequent in Santa Cruz and Monterey, CA. Thick bushes and ground cover, tall grass and dense, gnarly trees abound, and that’s just on the fairways!

Seriously, though, playing here has forced me to take ‘spot-ibility’ into consideration when selecting discs. Whenever possible, I choose discs in solid, bright, unnatural colors. That way I can search for the color more than the shape of the disc. Kind of like those old natural selection experiments we read about in textbooks using white and dark moths and white and dark trees- except in reverse. The discs that stand out most are the ones that will survive.

Quick- how many discs do you see? Which one caught your eye first? Enlarge the picture if necessary. Especially when only the edge is showing, bright colors really make a difference. Photo by Jack Trageser.
Quick- how many discs do you see? Which one caught your eye first? Enlarge the picture if necessary. Especially when only the edge is showing, bright colors really make a difference. Photo by Jack Trageser.

Black, dark green, and any discs in earth tones that blend in with the terrain are obvious loss-risks (although manufacturers still make them and people still buy ’em). Another kind of easy-to-lose color is more surprising; even if the colors are bright and unnatural, tie-dye and really any multi-colored discs are hard to spot as well. The variegated patterns help them blend into nearly any background. Tie-dye shirts jump out at you, but not tie-dye discs. Go figure.

Bad Habits

We’ve covered a couple things you can do in preparation of playing to reduce lost discs. Now let’s examine a few habits and activities that tend increase the separation of player and disc.

Sometimes when we throw a really bad shot and know it immediately, it’s hard to watch. I really do think we sometimes turn away or cover out eyes not to be dramatic, but because it’s painful to see a well-planned shot gone bad. I’m guilty of this as much as anyone, and it’s a situation that sometimes leads to a lost disc. If I don’t see exactly where it lands I have less of an idea specifically where to start searching for it.

Where I play, hiding places are numerous and discs can get lost on even the most innocuous of throws. So I try hard to watch my disc closely, no matter how ugly the result. I try to remember to commit where it lands to memory, and if it disappears from sight before it comes to rest, I try to note the trajectory and some type of nearby landmark as a reference point to begin the search. The word ‘try’ was in italics because occasionally I note those things but forget them immediately, making the whole exercise pointless. The trick is to pay attention to where your disc goes and retain that information until it’s time to look for it.

Here’s another one. Ever thrown a drive – maybe just before dark, or warming up for a tournament right before it’s about to start – and get the impulse, because of the unsatisfactory results, to throw one more? A little voice warns ‘Don’t do it!’ but you ignore the warning, launch the disc, and almost immediately regret it. A disc golf version of ‘one too many’, it seems the odds of losing the disc in situations like this for some reason dramatically increase. The only advice here is to listen to that little voice, and remember that as Shakespeare wrote in Henry IV, ‘discretion is the better part of valor’. Let that disc live to fly another day.

A variation of this affliction is known as ‘throwing the bag’, in which one is impelled to throw every disc in one’s quiver- usually on a particularly awe-inspiring hole. Two things can go wrong here: Either you throw so many discs that you forget one in the search-and-rescue effort, or you throw so many that the odds that at least one gets lost increases. If you can’t resist throwing multiple discs on an irresistible hole, try to note and remember the location of each disc you throw. The odds that one of your babies gets lost on its own won’t go down, but at least you won’t arrive at the landing zone with that ‘uh-oh’ feeling.

The subject of playing new courses while traveling was mentioned above, but is worth revisiting. If you’re playing a course you’ve never played before – especially if you’re just passing through and likely not to return any time soon, and especially especially if you’re playing solo – consider leaving your most precious discs out of the bag. When you don’t know the course it’s much easier to lose a disc, and when you’re solo the odds of finding it go down. Having a local as a guide helps quite a bit, but if you do lose a disc on that faraway course, odds of having it returned are not great. Instead, bring some ‘stunt doubles’ that won’t hurt as much to lose. Your score may suffer a little, but that sting is temporary compared to the loss of a key disc.

As a side note, it should also go without saying that being in an altered state of mind is often a contributing factor to lost – or forgotten – discs. To each his or her own, but play straight-edge and you’ll be amazed at how many fewer discs you ‘lose’. Disc golf should be enough in and of itself, anyway.

Golfers can easily get attached ( and that’s an understatement) to their equipment. The difference is, ball golfers bond with clubs but it’s the balls that go flying away into the horizon. In disc golf, there is only the disc- and us disc golfers can bond with one mighty quick. If I can prevent just one separation of player and disc, then this post was worth the effort.

Subtraction by subtraction: Eliminating these mental errors will lead to lower scores

The term ‘addition by subtraction’ refers to the potential for improving something by removing one or more variable from the equation. In a sports context it’s normally applied to a scenario where the elimination of a negative factor (an under-performing player or negative influence on a team, for instance) results in some type of improvement. But in golf, less is more, right? We want those scores to go down, not up. Therefore, the title of this post is Subtraction by Subtraction. Same concept, but embracing the points below will result in strokes being subtracted from your average score. Got it? Okay, here we go!

Those angry, bitter second-attempt putts

When a missed putt is followed in rapid succession with another, almost always harder putt out of anger or disgust, nothing good can come of it. The thought right before that action is taken is usually something along the lines of “I can’t believe I just missed that #*$^@* putt!” The specific reason that anger translates to firing another disc at the basket has never been scientifically proven, but I suspect it has to do with the general desire to throw something at something when frustrated.

The problem is that this rash act is detrimental to one’s game in a couple different ways. First of all there is the issue of emotional control. Getting overly excited (due to negative events or positive events) is likely to take a player’s focus off of where it needs to be. Decisions then get made based on emotions rather than logic, which is not a good thing. That tendency is always lurking in the shadows if not already romping around freely, and an emotional outburst is like a size 14 wide foot-in-the-door.

It may be easier to stay calm in Hawai'i, but angry second putts are never a good thing. Photo by Al Schwartz.
It may be easier to stay calm in Hawai’i, but angry second putts are never a good thing. Photo by Al Schwartz.

The other issue at play here is the fact that players who make this mistake are in essence reinforcing bad technique- unless firing the putter with extreme malice is how he always putts. Regardless of whether the rash second putt goes in the basket or not, it serves no constructive purpose since it isn’t representative of the players ideal form and tempo. If you’re playing a casual round or a match play event where practice putts are not prohibited, and you take an extra putt or two not as an angry reflex but because you immediately recognized a flaw in your putt and want to iron it out, that’s completely different. In that case the behavior is constructive and completely fine.

Second guessing vs. analytical reflection

As a general rule, the proper thing to be thinking about during a round of disc golf is the next shot. Any other thoughts are unproductive at best, and capable of downright sabotage at worst. But we are not machines, and our minds will go where they will go. The trick is to recognize when it has wandered into the wrong zone and guide it back to the right one: the next shot.

And briefly reflecting on the shot just thrown is a good practice, as long as that reflection is brief and of an analytical nature rather than simple second guessing. Personally, I like to capture the details of the shot and the results like a snapshot in my mind, move on to the next shot, then analyze the notable ones (good and bad) later after the round. Whether you do it briefly during the round, afterward, or both, the key is to approach your review and appraisal in a constructive frame of mind. Collect information rather than passing judgement.

Why did the disc fly that way? What should I do differently next time? Second guessing is just dwelling on the past. If your reflections on an errant throw stop there they serve no constructive purpose, and worse, erode confidence in both your skills and your decision-making. Instead, use every throw as an opportunity to add to an ever-growing database that helps you benefit from each disc golf experience.

Selecting shots based on wishful thinking

A major element of playing smart golf is to know your own game. Don’t confuse confidence with wishful thinking. You may really, really want to clear that lake with your drive, but if your longest throw ever was 350 feet in perfect conditions and a 345-foot drive is required to reach the opposite shore it probably isn’t the wisest choice. Smart golf is about, to loosely paraphrase Clint Eastwood, knowing your limitations.

A big part of game management in golf is being able to quickly assess the percentages for any given shot. What is your chance of successful execution? What is the reward if you do- and the repercussions if you don’t? If you’re not able to make a realistic and sober assessment of your own capabilities, assessing accurate odds on a shot is nearly impossible.

Selecting shots based on another player’s throw

A similar and fairly common error that is even more insidious in the way it can creep into one’s thoughts is letting the shot of another player influence decision-making. This can happen on drives, putts and anything in between. Sometimes it’s seeing someone else get big distance then overthrowing to equal it. Other times it’s seeing a different approach or route and reconsidering what you had planned. And yet others it’s pure, uncomplicated ego. You were planning to lay up a tricky 35-foot putt, but the other guy goes for his that happens to be five feet longer and just as risky- and nails it.

Make a decision and stick with it- despite what the other guy does. Photo by Jack Trageser.
Make a decision and stick with it- despite what the other guy does. Photo by Jack Trageser.

In some of these situations the alternative actually makes sense, but all too often last minute changes-of-mind based on another player’s shot result in disaster- regardless of whether they make sense or not. Trust your own instincts and play your own game. It’s you against the course (and the occasional unruliness of your own mind). Sometimes actually sticking to this advice may require drastic measures. There have been times where I’ve been grouped with players that all had more power off the tee than me, and I purposefully didn’t watch their drives so as not to be influenced!

The ‘ol Over-Correct and the ol’ Double-Adjust

Everyone is guilty of this one at one time or another, and correcting it is not so much a matter of eliminating a bad habit as increasing awareness of when it’s most likely to happen.

Some ‘mis-throws’ stick with me longer than others, and I’m guessing I’m not alone. And when I am faced with a similar circumstance with that mistake fresh in my mind, the overriding thought in my mind is ‘don’t make the same mistake this time’. For example, I might have tried to throw a neutral-stable disc with an intended flight path of flying straight for the first half of the flight and then turning over the rest of the way without coming out and hyzering back at the end. Instead, the disc turns over too soon and flies right into the trees I intended to get past then curve around.

The next time I’m faced with that same shot or a similar one, I remember the earlier mistake and am focused almost exclusively on not repeating it. There are two different reactionary flaws that can result from this: the ‘ol over correct and the ol’ double correct. The over correct is a scenario that is usually immediately apparent to the player when it happens- like chucking the disc 50 feet past the basket on a short hole because it came up 25 feet short the last time.

The ‘ol double correct, on the other hand, is a little more complex. Consider the example above- the one where the disc turned over too soon. With this shot, there are a number of different ways I might try to affect a different outcome. I could start the disc on a more conservative line, or give it more elevation, or less spin . . . or even throw a different disc. Any one of these might work, with the key word being ‘one’. Sometimes rather than thinking sharply and clearly about the problem and arriving at a specific solution, I let all of those possibilities float around in my head and end up employing two or more of them. For instance, I might throw the disc a little higher and take a little off of it, resulting in a shot that never turns over at all.

The central theme in this type of mental error, and the habit to avoid, is focusing on the mistake rather than the necessary elements of the same shot executed correctly. Turn ‘don’t do this’ brain commands into ‘do this’ commands. And that brings us to one final point, the broader problem of negative brain commands.

Negative brain commands

These come in many different flavors (including the ones just mentioned), but my favorite example is thinking to yourself ‘don’t hit that tree’. The better objective, of course, is ‘throw the disc right in the middle of that space between that tree and the bushes to the left of it.

If your thought is ‘don’t hit that tree,’ the brain, for some reason can’t process it successfully. Either it just hears the last three words (‘hit that tree’), or it can’t discern the logic of not doing something. It knows that the only way to be certain to not hit the tree is to not throw the disc. Yet the disc must be thrown, so it turns more into a hope than a confident plan. Out of all the mental errors listed here, this one might be the simplest to catch and correct. Whenever you notice yourself speaking or thinking about shot selections and objectives phrased in the negative (hint: the word ‘don’t’ is almost always involved), take the time to replace it with the positive alternative.

All of the things listed here are logical and difficult to argue with, I think, but agreeing with the logic doesn’t make it easy to eliminate the mistakes. The best advice is to learn to be more conscious of all the thoughts floating through your head and find ways to replace them, or better yet prevent them from showing up in the first place. The example I gave of not watching my competitors’ drives so I wouldn’t automatically overthrow trying to match them is only one of the little devices I’ve created. For me, overcoming these mental flaws is half the fun of the game.

All things disc golf. Dot com.

This website serves as the home of School of Disc Golf, a disc golf instruction and event organization based in Santa Cruz, CA. To the broader disc golfer community we’d like to think that we’re also a good source of instructional and opinion posts. As stated in our mission statement, School of Disc Golf “strives to provide the  information and resources necessary for organizations and individuals to embrace the sport of disc golf in healthy and meaningful ways. Our ultimate goal is to inform as many people as possible about the numerous benefits of disc golf.”

We seek to reach the largest audience possible, and to that end have in the past also published posts at RattlingChains.com. The partnership has worked well for both sites, but in keeping with our mission statement (‘inform as many people as possible about the numerous benefits of disc golf’), we’ve decided that change is in order. We thank RattlingChains for a great run together and wish them nothing but the best in the future.

Moving forward, School of Disc Golf posts will appear at the rapidly expanding All Things Disc Golf. This site is the undisputed leading disc golf blog in terms of page views and unique visitors, and until now its content has consisted mainly of product reviews and Q&A interviews. The new affiliation of School of Disc Golf is only one facet of All Things Disc Golf’s expansion that will add instructional content, feature stories, increased tournament coverage, and contributions from several talented graphic artists. You can read the detailed announcement here.

We’re excited to be part of a larger effort to reach the masses with the great story that is disc golf, and as always School of Disc Golf will continue to also focus on helping those who already love the sport improve their skills, scores and enjoyment.

5.5 different reasons to practice putting in disc golf

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.

2. Confidence

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!

Practice results in confidence, and confidence results in more made putts. Photo by Rebecca Stark.
Practice results in confidence, and confidence results in more made putts. Photo by Rebecca Stark.

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.

This inverted pyramid illustrates how all other types of disc golf shots are dependent upon and affected by one's putting game.
This inverted pyramid illustrates how all other types of disc golf shots are dependent upon and affected by one’s putting game.

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).

In this diagram, route A can get you right to the basket, but it'll be tough for even a very skilled player to pull off and odds of execution are small; Option B is a more realistic option in terms of executing the shot, but will only get you within 25 feet of the basket.
In this diagram, route A can get you right to the basket, but it’ll be tough for even a very skilled player to pull off and odds of execution are small; Option B is a more realistic option in terms of executing the shot, but will only get you within 25 feet of the basket.

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.

Disc golf course landmarks and nicknames

Players and observers have long believed that golf courses manifest unique characteristics – personalities, really – that set them apart from one another. Unlike, say, football, basketball, or tennis, which have playing fields that adhere to strict and uniformly measured specifications, golf courses come in varying shapes, sizes, and topography. But ‘ball’ golf itself has limitations (primarily the need for a playing surface and contour that permits the ball to be struck with control and aim) which keep course design within certain constraints.

The filed of play for disc golf, on the other hand, has far fewer limitations. Players merely need grounds that can be traversed (which is of course subjective based on the fitness and preference of each player) and just open enough so discs can be thrown, fly free, and then be located (also subjective). This high level of flexibility and adaptability has resulted in courses installed in a very wide range of locales, which in turn provides the opportunity for more ‘personality’ associated with its playing fields than any other sport.

Still following me? Simply put, disc golf courses have been placed in all kinds of crazy places, like thick woods, steep mountainsides, deserts . . . even in underground caves and on the side of a volcano. Which is awesome! It’s one of the reasons most disc golfers love the sport- the essence of golf combined with all the varietal landscapes nature has to offer.

With all that variety, and personality, it’s only natural that disc golf courses would be a breeding ground for unique nicknames and colloquialisms. Whether it be a tree, a patch of nasty rough to be avoided, or an entire hole, disc golf courses invite metaphoric description.

In a recent post I shared some unique disc golf terms my friends I and I created over the years, and asked readers to reply with some of theirs. We received a great response, and I’m hoping this post will do the same thing. I’ll share some local as well as well-known examples, and readers are encouraged to respond in kind.

As regular followers of this blog know, DeLaveaga DGC in Santa Cruz, CA is my home course. After more than 30 years and thousands upon thousands of rounds played by its devotees, ‘DeLa’ (there’s a nickname right there!) has more than it’s share of local labels for holes and landmarks. The most famous of these is it’s final hole, #27, known as ‘Top of the World’. At not even 1,000 feet above sea level it obviously isn’t Mt. Everest, but it is the highest point within the Santa Cruz city limits, and it earned it’s name for its backdrop view of the Pacific Ocean.

View from the teepad of 'Top of the World', hole 27 at DeLaveaga Disc Golf Course. Photo by John Hernlund.
View from the teepad of ‘Top of the World’, hole 27 at DeLaveaga Disc Golf Course. Photo by John Hernlund.

A couple more course nicknames can be found on the long, tough hole 13. DeLa was designed and installed at a time when all holes in disc golf, without exception, were par 3’s. This hole plays much more like a par 4. Locals refer to #13 as ‘I-5’, and most people assume it’s due to the flat, open first 325 feet (as in Interstate 5). In actuality it got it’s name due to the following all-too-common exchange:

“Dude, what’d you get on that hole?”

“I fived.”

Hole 13 is also home to ‘Lake Maple’, a giant pothole in the middle of the otherwise flat part of the fairway that fills with water after rainy days. It doesn’t count as a water hazard, but is deep enough and wide enough that retrieving your disc can be a major pain. This lesser-known landmark was named for a talented older player from the 80’s and early 90’s, when far fewer people played the course and most everyone knew eachother. George Maple like to throw rollers off the tee on 13, and whenever his disc would plunge into that gigantic puddle he would absolutely lose it. So naturally we named it after him. Lake Maple.

Super-short hole 17 has forever been known as ‘The Gravity Hole’, as the fairway funnels down both from tee to basket and from left to right. More often that not, if your disc catches an edge and starts to roll it won’t stop until it wedges into a seasonal creek-bed where the two slopes meet a third coming from the opposite direction. Before teeing off, you can also rub ‘The Lady’ for good luck, a very special tree next to the pad.

Hole 17, 'The Gravity Hole', at DeLaveaga. Note how the hole plays downhill as well as sloping right-to-left (looking back toward the tee). Photo by John Hernlund.
Hole 17, ‘The Gravity Hole’, at DeLaveaga. Note how the hole plays downhill as well as sloping right-to-left (looking back toward the tee). Photo by John Hernlund.

Old-timers will remember ‘Chickenfoot’, a dwarfed, gnarly tree that stuck up just high enough on the fairway of hole 19 to snag an otherwise perfect throw.

Finally, there is ‘The Catcher’s Mitt’ on hole 4. Most discs that come into contact with this obstacle either skip/slide into it or strike low on one of it’s several trunks/branches. Either way, The Mitt nearly always catches the disc and keeps it within the ‘pocket’ of it’s tightly-spaced limbs.

'The Catcher's Mitt' on hole 4 at DeLaveaga Disc Golf Course snags all discs that venture within its grasp. Photo by Jack Trageser.
‘The Catcher’s Mitt’ on hole 4 at DeLaveaga Disc Golf Course snags all discs that venture within its grasp. Photo by Jack Trageser.

It doesn’t really look like a catcher’s mitt, but earned it’s name more for how it grabs every disc in the vicinity. I suppose ‘First Baseman’s Mitt’ would be more accurate, but it’s not as catchy (no pun intended) as The Catcher’s Mitt.

For examples of course nicknames outside of DeLaveaga, we need only look to the Winthrop Gold course on the campus of Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC- home of the United States Disc Golf Championships. Organizers each year assign a state to be associated with each hole (this year California had hole 11, a long par 4 that killed me in 2009), but that doesn’t really count. Those names didn’t arise organically due to how the holes play or a physical characteristic of part of – or the whole – hole. But Winthrop Gold definitely has a few of those.

Hole 7, a.k.a. the 'Bamboo Hole' at Winthrop Gold during a warmup round for the 2009 USDGC. Photo by Jack Trageser
Hole 7, a.k.a. the ‘Bamboo Hole’ at Winthrop Gold during a warmup round for the 2009 USDGC. Photo by Jack Trageser

Two of the most famous are hole 7, the Bamboo Hole, where players must navigate a bamboo fence in front of the basket; and the par 5 hole 13, known simply as ‘888’ due to its length of 888 feet. As anyone who has played this hole can attest, there is much more to this beast than its length (which, considering it is a par 5, is actually pretty short). Just ask 3-time USDGC champ Barry Schultz, who was in the lead in 2013 until carding an 11.

Now it’s your turn. Post a comment to share a nickname or two from your favorite courses. Be sure to explain why and/or how the nicknames came to be. Also, if you have really good pictures that clearly illustrate the nickname, send them (along with your story) to jack@schoolofdiscgolf.com. I’ll write a follow-up post that shows the best ones so readers can enjoy examples from our entire ever-expanding disc golf universe.

Bringing some Ben Franklin wisdom to disc golf: When in doubt . . . don’t!

“When in doubt . . . don’t.”

Golf had barely made its way to the United States during Benjamin Franklin’s lifetime, otherwise I’d be inclined to think that the above quote, taken from his Poor Richard’s Almanac, came to him while playing a round. I also believe that Franklin, if born into a world where both ball golf and disc golf existed, would undoubtedly have chosen the later. Add that to the long list of reasons why he is by far my favorite among the founding fathers.

I could write an entirely separate post listing and elaborating on the reasons he would favor disc golf – chief among them it’s accessibility to people of all classes and the endless intriguing flight path possibilities of a flying disc. But that is for another day. Let’s focus on that quote, and how it applies to disc golf.

When in doubt . . . don’t.”

I like to think the best interpretation of this nugget of wisdom in the golf world is this: In order to execute any shot successfully – and especially the most difficult ones – 100 percent conviction is a must. You can’t be waffling on which way to play it and expect things to turn out well. Let’s look at a couple examples:

Example 1

You’re 30 feet away from the basket with a downhill putt where the terrain continues to slope down behind the basket with a lake at the bottom. You know this hole well, and as you approach your lie you think of the many times you’ve hit this putt and others like it.

Despite the treacherous backdrop, you’re thinking ‘go for it. I got this.’

You place your mini on the ground and begin to line up for the putt when thoughts of the possible results of a miss begin to creep into your mind.

A player attempts a comeback putt on hole 18 at Winthrop Gold in Rock Hill, SC after missing his downhill birdie run. Photo by Jack Trageser.
A player attempts a comeback putt on hole 18 at Winthrop Gold in Rock Hill, SC after missing his downhill birdie run. Photo by Jack Trageser.

“If I miss the basket entirely I’ll probably roll away down the hill. But maybe not . . . but, probably . . .  “

“A soft, lofty putt will be less risky.”

“If I make this I’ll be leading two two strokes, and if I take a bogey here we’ll be tied.”

All of these thoughts would qualify as doubts, or at least distractions that arise from doubt, that if present in your mind as you’re about to attempt a shot should throw up a huge red flag that reads “DON’T!”

Example 2

Your drive on a fairly wooded par 3 hole smacks an early tree and comes to rest in a spot that leaves you with two clear options. The first is to pitch out safely through a wide gap to your left, which will leave you with an easy upshot of 80 feet. The other option is a narrow gap in the trees directly between you and the basket 100 feet away that you believe you can get through cleanly. You want to save par, but you’re not quite decided yet and now it’s your turn to throw. You need to make a decision right away. The following thoughts float your brain in rapid succession:

“I don’t want to just concede the bogey .  . . I can hit that hole! If I don’t get through cleanly, I might not even be able to get up and down for a bogey . . . If I do hit that hole, how long will the putt for par be? I think I can get through that gap, and then I’ll at least have a chance to save par . . . “

Choices abound on this shot. Hit an early branch and this player may be just as stymied on his next shot. Whatever he decides, there is no room for doubt. Photo by Jack Trageser.
Choices abound on this shot. Hit an early branch and this player may be just as stymied on his next shot. Whatever he decides, there is no room for doubt. Photo by Jack Trageser.

In this case your initial reaction was likely based on emotion more than analysis. You’re ticked off that you hit that tree and want to save par to ‘erase’ the mistake, so your first impulse is to look for how that might be accomplished (“I can hit that hole!”) As your logical brain has time to process, though, it begins to come up with reasons why the risky option isn’t the best choice, and these reasons represent doubt.

Example 1 and example 2 are both situations where it would be wise to take Benjamin Franklin’s pithy advice of ‘When in doubt . . . don’t’. There are differences between the two, but also one important similarity.

In example 1, the choice is clear-cut: either go for it and risk the roll-away, or play it safe and lay up. You initially intend to go for the birdie, which may or may not wise in and of itself. But good or bad judgement and game management are not the issue here. We’re talking about doubt, and once you’ve made your mind up any doubt that creeps in needs to be acknowledged and acted upon. Nine times out of 10 this means stepping back and switching to the safer play. (On that 1-out-of 10 exception, when it’s a shot you really need to make or should have no problems with, you still need to ‘own’ the existence of the doubts and do your best to clear your mind of them and recommit to your choice.)

In example 2, you haven’t ever really made your mind up. You’ve been debating the options from the time you saw your lie until right before you’re expected to throw. You’re trying to talk yourself into the risky play due to an emotional response, but the logical side of you demands to be heard as well. I suppose this is more uncertainty than doubt, but it amounts to the same thing: attempting a shot without full commitment and attention, when it requires both.

In both cases, as with every shot in golf, successful players follow a specific sequence for every shot: First evaluate the situation and options, next make a decision and commit fully to that decision, and finally, execute that decision with 100 percent conviction and focus. You can’t expect to be consistently successful unless you do all three, in that order. There will of course be times when doubt creeps in. One’s own thoughts are slippery and hard to harness. But when that happens . . . when in doubt . . . DON’T!

Remember, ‘discretion is the better part of valour.’ Wait, that’s Shakespeare’s quote, not Franklin’s, so forget I mentioned it.

If you want another Ben Franklin quote that can be applied to golf, consider ‘Honesty is the best policy’ or ‘He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else’. I’m tellin’ ya, Ben Franklin would have loved disc golf.