A Blueprint for Better Disc Golf Putting

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!

Left/Right Misses

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

Short Putts

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.

Pressure Putts

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. 

Three-Putting

If you take three throws to complete a hole after being within 50 feet, either you made an avoidable mistake or got hit with a large dose of bad luck. (I’ve got tips on how to best deal with the instances when it’s truly a rotten break and nothing else.) If you suffer lots of three-putts, however, you’ve likely got a systemic issue that is easily addressed. 

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.

your blueprint

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.

  1. Identify your putting ‘leaks’ (WHERE is the leak?)
  2. List possible causes for each leak. (WHY does it leak?)
  3. 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?)
  4. Practice putting purposefully, plugging one leak at a time

This is Why I Do It

My private lesson clients range from seasoned tournament players to complete beginners. Both are rewarding experiences for me, for different reasons. As a very driven competitor myself, I love helping others achieve new objectives like a first win or targeted player rating.

That being said, working with people who have only recently learned about the sport might be even better. I get the opportunity to ensure that someone’s earliest disc golf experience is a thoroughly positive one.

While I teach the basics of the game to new players I always also manage to ‘sell’ its many benefits, as well. It’s the reason I wrote The Disc Golf Revolution, and, really, the reason I launched School of Disc Golf a decade ago.

I had one such experience several days ago with a great guy in his 50’s and his girlfriend’s 17-year old son. Both were very new to disc golf, showed up ready to learn, and left excited to play all summer. They sent me this wonderful bit of feedback, which means more to me than they’ll ever know:

“Jack is a fantastic disc golf teacher. We were both beginners and found jack’s coaching and advice hugely helpful. And best of all, we had a terrific time in the process.I was specifically interested in consistency and accuracy. Jack gave me a few key tips which were perfect. I found my confidence has increased substantially after only a few hours of instruction.Jack is great with all age groups!! Great job, Jack!!”

Brett W., Millbrae, CA

Yep. This is why I do it.

Alternatives to your regular disc golf fix

One of the most underappreciated benefits of disc golf is accessibility. Not only are most courses free (or close to it), you can play pretty much whenever you want. Need a disc golf fix? Just show up and tee off. When you can get as much as you want of a game that brings you so much pleasure, it’s a beautiful thing.

Until, rather suddenly, you can’t.

Every course near me is closed right now. I’m not exaggerating when I say I find it jarring, and my guess is plenty of disc golfers in similar situations feel the same. So what can we do about it? 

The way I see it, we have a choice. We can wait for our courses to re-open, meanwhile denying our ravenous disc golf appetites to the point of starvation, resulting in varying levels of irritability. Or, we can get creative in finding ways to feed our need to throw flying discs at things.

 We may miss the casual rounds with our friends and the strangely pleasurable tension of tournament golf, but anything that even vaguely approximates our beloved pastime is better than nothing. Right?

I don’t know about you, but I’m gonna survive this (disc golf) crisis, even if I have to subsist on grubs and roots for a while. So to speak. And who knows, maybe I can even find a way to turn lemons into lemonade. Maybe I’ll have a breakthrough in some aspect of my game, or gain a new appreciation for the sport’s prehistoric origins. If you agree that something is better than nothing and like the idea of turning a negative into a positive, here are some ideas. 

Putting

If you have a basket at home, an obvious option is to work on your putting. I address how to do that in the most productive ways possible in a companion piece, coming soon. But if you don’t have a basket, or still crave a way to really throw some plastic, what then?

Fieldwork

This is the recognized term for practicing throws in a wide open field, usually by throwing multiple discs from the same spot in order to refine one’s technique. If the term fieldwork makes it hard to accept this as a worthy substitute for your fun rounds of disc golf, come up with a different term. Then invent a game element to make it more engaging. For instance, give yourself a point for every simulated upshot that lands within 20 feet of the tree you’re aiming at. Keep track, and try to beat your best score.

A few more suggestions and disclaimers on doing fieldwork in these times:

  • If you have any near you, artificial turf fields at high schools or colleges work best for fieldwork. It’s much easier to find your discs, and the pre-painted lines help you keep track of distance and whether your throws are really as straight as you think.
  • Speaking of finding discs, and especially if you are throwing the discs from your bag, keep track of how many you throw at a time and where they land.
  • Play by the rules in your community. If the field is off-limits, don’t use it.

Object Disc Golf

I fell in love with disc golf on the third hole of my first round ever, after my drive flew exactly as I envisioned. It was an anhyzer line that flattened at just the right time, and it occurred on an object course on the campus of UC Santa Cruz, with targets consisting of trees, light poles, a fire hydrant, and a trash can. About half the holes featured the more official 4 x 4 posts painted green. I was hooked on disc golf the second I saw that disc heading straight for the 4 x 4 post — before I even knew baskets existed. I didn’t learn about DeLaveaga – only 10 minutes away – for more than a year! I share this fond memory so you’ll know you can trust me on this: Object golf provides a robust disc golf experience.

If your disc golf courses are closed but you still have wide open spaces at your disposal, object golf with golf discs will scratch that itch. It will feed the need. As a bonus, you will get to experience the separate exhilaration of course design. Simply pick a good place to tee off on hole 1, and then select an object in the distance to serve as your first target. Try to incorporate some natural obstacles to add to the challenge. When that hole is complete, design and play another, and another.

DeLaveaga in Santa Cruz started as an object course. Note the post in the background serving as the target for iconic hole 27 (then Hole 3), AKA Top of the World. Photo by Jeff Rockwell.

You may find reasons to refine and modify your course over time, due to issues relating to safety, or difficulty finding discs, or just playability. Once things are set, the experience will become even more like what you’re used to as you strive to top your best score on your new, self-designed course.

A few more suggestions and disclaimers on playing object disc golf in these times:

  • Think safety first. Don’t throw into blind areas where other people might be, and steer well clear of anyone who might be in harm’s way. We all know how far discs can fly, skip, and roll off the intended flight path.
  • Depending on the area where you’re designing your course, you may want to use back-up discs until you identify places where discs might get lost.
  • Similarly, consider using a putter that isn’t your favorite as it may get dinged up when you putt into solid objects.
  • Obey your community’s current rules. If the place is closed, stay out. And don’t invite friends to join you no matter how awesome your new course is. Household members only. Wait until the pandemic coast is clear to share your new gem.

Frisbee Golf

If you don’t have an open space available that is large or isolated enough to accommodate the speed and distance of golf discs, there is another way to play object golf. Consider stepping back in time to the earliest days of our sport, when the packaging on Wham-O Frisbees encouraged people to “Play Catch, Invent Games.” 

As Frisbee enthusiasts everywhere strove to answer this call to action, many of them, in different places and at different times, seized upon the idea of playing golf with their Frisbees. They played in pretty much the same way described in the ‘Object Golf’ section above. (For more on the origins of disc golf, check out my book, The Disc Golf Revolution.)

Bob and Betty Branlund discovered Frisbee golf in the 1970’s, using lid-style discs and trees as targets- and (despite this photo with a basket) they still play that way only. Photo by Jack Trageser.

If you can get your hands on a regular ‘ol Frisbee, pretty much anywhere outdoors can serve as a course. Just be mindful of other people’s property and head off on an urban/suburban Frisbee golf adventure. The slower speed of lid-style flying discs may even help you gain a new understanding of how to shape your shots.

Regardless of how you do it – provided you’re not breaking rules, noses, or windows, or putting yourself at risk – get out there and toss a disc. Huck some plastic. Feed that need enough to help you get through these crazy times, and before you know it the all-you-can-eat disc golf buffet will be open once again.

More on ‘Brodie Smith is Good Theater’

For those who haven’t noticed yet, I’m now also writing a column for Ultiworld Disc Golf. My instructional content will be re-posted in full here. For other posts, which are typically an opinion on a popular disc golf-related topic, I’ll provide a link along with a short summary and possibly some additional insight.

Brodie Smith is a social media influencer most famous for his Frisbee trick shot videos such as this one, which to date has more than 22 million views. He is also a former college and pro ultimate (Frisbee) superstar.

Several months ago Brodie announced that he was going to pursue a disc golf career with all the intensity that he brought to his Ultimate career, and has been vlogging about his journey ever since.

Photo courtesy of Ultiworld Disc Golf

You can read my full column on Ultiworld Disc Golf. Most of the feedback I’ve read on Ultiworld Disc Golf’s Facebook page has been positive, and interpreted the column the way I intended it. There were a few people who read negativity, most likely huge Brodie fans who would have preferred me to write in 100 percent glowing terms. To sum up my takes:

  • I have mad respect for Brodie as an athlete, and even madder(?) respect for his skills as a marketer, entrepreneur, and self-promoter.
  • I believe he can only have a positive impact on the sport of disc golf.
  • I think his motivation in pursuing a disc golf career is in large part to provide content for his social media influencer career- and I’m totally fine with that.
  • It’s my opinion that he’ll get very good at disc golf very quickly, but it will take him much longer to get good enough to win any event where he is competing against the top players in the world. But hey, I could be wrong!

Read the column and let me know what YOU think (and give it a like and a comment over at Ultiworld). Thanks!

Don’t let the bad breaks break you

Disc golf is a game of skill. Players with superior skills generally end up with superior scores. But no one is immune to the occasional twist of fate. Stuff happens- even to the best and most cautious players. At least once in every round you play, after the disc leaves your hand, it takes an expected and unplanned skip, roll, or bounce that gives you a different result than what you think you “deserved.”

These are The Breaks, and if you play competitively you know they’re a (sometimes big) part of the game. While you have no control over The Breaks, how you react to them is completely up to you. What’s more, your mindset and resulting play after a bad break often impact your final score more than the break itself. Read on for three and a half insights that will hopefully keep the bad breaks from breaking you.

#1. Don’t infuse them with mystical power

It doesn’t matter how you ended up behind the tree. Focus on making the putt!

Some use the term “luck” when referring to this aspect of the game, as in “bad luck” or “lucky break.” I’m not superstitious, but even if I was I think I’d still prefer the word arbitrary. It’s tough enough to overcome unexpected and undeserved difficulties; if I embrace the belief that some cosmic force is working against me I’ve just given myself an excuse to stop trying. Who am I to overcome a Cosmic Force?

I choose to believe that all breaks are arbitrary and that they even out over time. I also see disc golf in many ways as emblematic of life. And sometimes life, as we all know, isn’t fair.

#2. Acknowledge good breaks, too

It’s human nature to acknowledge bad breaks more than good breaks. We get both, but we might look past the good ones for egotistical reasons. Taking credit comes much more naturally for most of us than taking blame.

Try to fight this tendency. If you recognize the breaks that benefit your score as readily as the breaks that hurt, it’ll benefit your game in a couple ways. First of all, it’ll help you accept that both good and bad breaks happen, that they’re just a part of the game. You’ll be less likely to think the forces of the universe are aligned against you.

An awareness of good breaks can also help keep you grounded. I played the 23-hole winter layout of my home course, DeLaveaga DGC, a couple days ago and shot an 11-under par with 14 birdies. The praise from others at the course had me feeling pretty darn good, but on reflection, it could have easily been 5- or 6-under. I pulled my drive on hole 8 toward OB, and would have gone in the road if the throw sailed six inches higher. Instead, the barrier of logs funneled a bad drive toward the green, and I barely eked a 40-foot downhill putt into the cage for a chain-less birdie. Several other putts that could have gone either way went in, and a couple other less-than-stellar drives resulted not in the potential bogey trouble or routine upshots they warranted but birdie looks. On top of all that, I missed four putts inside the circle! I don’t want to let a good final result — which I believe to have been positively affected by breaks in my favor — let me overlook the many mistakes I made.

#2.5. Accept good breaks without apology

This extension of point number two is a reminder not to go overboard with humility and self-flagellation. It is healthy to acknowledge good breaks because doing so will help you accept that, just like in life, you get things both good and bad that you don’t deserve. That in turn will help you take things in stride when the bad breaks inevitably come. But don’t take it too far. Golf is a game of imperfection, and we need to hold onto all the genuine confidence we can muster.

When you get an incredibly good kick that results in a birdie, own it. You shouldn’t feel you didn’t “deserve” it, nor should you express embarrassment to others in the group. Recognize it as just one more part of the arbitrary flow of breaks, good and bad, that helps make our game the emotional roller coaster that it is.

#3. Let it go

When bad breaks happen at particularly bad times, it just might help to hear that hit song from the original Frozen movie in your head.

Let’s say you throw a perfect drive on a technical par 3 with the basket perched precariously atop a steep wooded slope. Maybe you even hear some distant cheering from players on another hole. Then, upon reaching the green, you find that you ended up OB, 90 feet from the basket. You’re on your third shot with 20 trees to negotiate.

It doesn’t matter how you got here. This is your current reality.

When bad breaks happen at particularly bad times, it just might help to hear that hit song from the original Frozen movie in your head.

Let’s say you throw a perfect drive on a technical par 3 with the basket perched precariously atop a steep wooded slope. Maybe you even hear some distant cheering from players on another hole. Then, upon reaching the green, you find that you ended up OB, 90 feet from the basket. You’re on your third shot with 20 trees to negotiate.

It doesn’t matter how you got here. This is your current reality.

Whether you hit the pole with an epic drive and tragically rolled to where you are now, or shanked your drive mightily, it just doesn’t matter. Either way, the best way to proceed is to let it go. All that matters is what you do next.

This one is really the key to dealing with bad breaks, and it’s part of Sports Psychology 101. Ignore the past, and for the moment ignore the future as well. Focusing only on the shot at hand gives you the best chance to execute.

This is something that is hard to do in the moment, so plan ahead. Before your next round, when emotions are not ruling the mental roost, take the time to fully accept and internalize the fact that the only rational, constructive reaction to a bad break is to instantly move past it. The next time disaster strikes, you may feel like expressing your anger, frustration, and disappointment, but you’ll know that putting it behind you and focusing on your next shot is the more sensible reaction.

The only rational, constructive reaction to a bad break is to instantly move past it. Let it go. Put it behind you and focus on your next shot.

Whether you hit the pole with an epic drive and tragically rolled to where you are now, or shanked your drive mightily, it just doesn’t matter. Either way, the best way to proceed is to let it go. All that matters is what you do next.

This one is really the key to dealing with bad breaks, and it’s part of Sports Psychology 101. Ignore the past, and for the moment ignore the future as well. Focusing only on the shot at hand gives you the best chance to execute.

This is something that is hard to do in the moment, so plan ahead. Before your next round, when emotions are not ruling the mental roost, take the time to fully accept and internalize the fact that the only rational, constructive reaction to a bad break is to instantly move past it. The next time disaster strikes, you may feel like expressing your anger, frustration, and disappointment, but you’ll know that putting it behind you and focusing on your next shot is the more sensible reaction.

A big part of the mental side of disc golf is developing an ability to override feelings and emotions with knowledge and planning. The observations above will hopefully help in this particular scenario. When bad breaks come your way — and they will — treat them more like a slight detour on your road to a successful round, rather than a land mine.

disc golf lessons, disc golf blog

The Straight Line on Disc Golf Putting: Part 2

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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.

CORRECT: When the wrist is properly cocked your hand will be at the front of the disc, ‘towing’ the disc along that straight line toward the basket. The back of your hand should stay closer to the target than the disc until the last moment.
INCORRECT: If your hand stays on the side of the disc and your wrist straight you’ll either generate minimal spin or pull off the straight line at the worst time.

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.

Follow Through!

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:

  1. You won’t subconsciously add rotation movement at the end in an attempt to add extra spin
  2. 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.

Additional Tips

  • 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.

Spin, Pitch, Push: Deconstructing Disc Golf Putting Terms

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

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

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

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

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

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

Push Putt

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

PITCH PUTT

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

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

SPIN PUTT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the pro tours, size DOESN’T matter. Basket size, that is.

By Jack ‘Tupp’ Trageser

the debate about modifying targets to add more drama at top pro events misses a larger, more important point

Where do you stand on The Great Debate about basket size on the pro tour? The subject has been debated extensively- on YouTube in 2018 via a DGPT roundtable, more recently in a PDGA magazine article by course design guru John Houck, and in thousands of discussions among elite players and their fans.

I believe, for reasons listed below, that it is a pointless debate. Basket size and putting difficulty has nothing to do with the perceived lack of drama on the green in disc golf as a spectator sport. Read on and you’ll learn why I feel this way. First, though, a recap:

Those in favor of shrinking baskets think top pros are just too good at putting using the current disc entrapment devices. They believe this has two negative effects on disc golf as a spectator sport: scores that are so low to par that outside observers scoff at disc golf as a professional sport, and a lack of drama on the putting green. Putts inside the circle for touring pros almost always end up inside the basket.dischitschains (2)

Some pros are opposed to the change, for an understandably self-interested reason- Putting is not their strong suit and they don’t want that weakness to be further magnified. But others make more practical points. If targets are smaller, they contend, players will lay up from longer distances more often, robbing spectators of those twisting, floating, outside-Circle 2 gems that provide some of disc golf’s best spectacles.

Others question the practicality of retrofitting thousands of existing courses and the wisdom of having pros compete with markedly different equipment than the fans who would have, could have made that shot.

Good points on both sides of the argument, right? So what do YOU think?

I’ll tell you what I think. The issues that the Basket-Shrinkers raise are real, but smaller targets and less made putts won’t ‘solve’ them, if indeed they even require solving.

I wrote a book called The Disc Golf Revolution, and much of it involves comparing and contrasting disc golf and traditional (ball) golf. One of the first chapters, titled The Future of Golf, makes the point that disc golf features nearly all of ball golf’s appeal yet none of its numerous drawbacks. You know that list: Cost, time to play, difficulty, history and culture of elitism, environmental impact . . .

DGREV_Book_Cover_BUILD_FINAL

I bring this up now because at the end of that chapter, per my training as a journalist, I presented the other side of that argument in a ‘devil’s advocate’ section subtitled 7.5 Reasons Why Ball Golf is Better Than Disc Golf. One of those 7.5 reasons is the undeniable fact that disc golf does not – and cannot – replicate the incredible contrast featured in ball golf between the speed and distance of a powerful drive and the delicacy, the breath-holding drama of a long, slow, undulating putt.

A 30-foot putt in ball golf might last for 30 second as it rolls slowly across the green, while a 30-footer in disc golf is over two blinks after it leaves the player’s hand. Unless it ends in a roll-away, that is, which ironically makes for some of disc golf’s most dramatic moments. What do those slow, serpentine, excruciating rollers resemble? That’s right. Ball golf putts.

Disc golf putts inside the circle don’t lack drama because they go in too often, but rather because they go in too quickly.

Disc golf putts inside the circle don’t lack drama in pro events (compared to ball golf) because they go in too often, but rather because they go in – or don’t – too quickly. That is never going to change, no matter how small and challenging baskets are made to be. It is what it is, and really, that’s OK.

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Photo by Leah Jenkins.

Another point I make in my book is that disc golf’s greatest value is as something to DO. This is evidenced by the sport’s continued strong growth in new courses, players, and market size. As disc golf participation grows, the segment of the overall disc golfing population who choose to also be spectators and media consumers also grows. They’re watching in large part because they can relate to what they’re seeing. Disc golf may not feature the drawn-out drama of a ball golf putt, but disc golf spectators (nearly all of whom are also avid players) feel the anxiety of a 30-foot putt. As easy as they can appear, we know how easy those putts are to miss. We know the very real potential for anxiety, fatigue, or a momentary lapse of focus.

So now you know what I think. Give it a try if you want, PDGA and DGPT. Use smaller baskets for some top-tier pro events. You’ll get tougher-scoring courses, and putts inside the circle won’t be quite as much of a foregone conclusion. But it won’t change the real issue, which is the unalterable fact that disc golf putting – as something to watch – isn’t and will never be quite as dramatic as ball golf putting.

Personally I don’t think it’s a big deal. Those of us who play know there is plenty of drama and challenge when you’re the one doing the putting, and in my opinion that is what really matters.

What do you think? I hope you share your own take here by posting a comment, but don’t just say yea or nay on changing basket size. Let me know where you stand on my main assertion. Do disc golf putts lack drama for spectators, and, if so, is it because they go in too often, or because they go in too quickly?

The Straight Line on Disc Golf Putting- Part 1

By Jack Trageser

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

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

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

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

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Figure 1

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

Why It Works

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

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

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

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Figure 2

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

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

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

Why It Can Take Some Work To Get It To Work

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

Up Next: How To Make It Work

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

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

Think a run-up always equals more distance in disc golf? Not so fast!

When we watch a full-power drive performed by someone who can really huck it, the ‘run-up’ is a big part of the show. Whether it’s a literal running start or a couple smooth strides, and whether the technique used is an X-step/scissors step or crow-hop, that bodily forward motion appears to contribute greatly to distance the disc travels. But does it, really?

The short answer is no. The large majority of the power that translates to long disc golf drives comes from arm speed, maximized by hip/torso/shoulder rotation. The ‘run-up’ adds only marginally to that equation, resulting in between 5-15 percent more distance. And that’s only IF (and it’s a big ‘if’) everything is coordinated and timed perfectly.

Yet the run-up seems so necessary to power generation that nearly all developing players incorporate it into their drives from the very beginning. And that is usually a big mistake. It takes a high level of athletic coordination, plus LOTS and lots of practice, to use a run-up and still maintain control and consistency like these top pros. (Note that while their form may vary from player to player, they all have the main ingredients in common- especially the perfectly timed and balanced weight transfer. Even though the body is moving forward, the weight stays back until precisely right millisecond.)

The physical side of disc golf is as much about control as it is power. More, actually, because the harder you throw in the wrong direction, the farther the disc can go in the wrong direction. And if you play on tight, wooded courses it doesn’t matter how hard you throw; Miss that gap and your disc ain’t goin’ nowhere! Well, nowhere good, at least. Golf in all its forms is first and foremost a game of accuracy, precision, and consistency.

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Standstill drives with perfect form and timing beat ill-timed run-up drives every time. Note how this player’s disc and weight transfer from back to front foot (which is mostly lifted off the teepad) appear perfectly in synch. Photo by Jack Trageser.

When I’m giving private lessons (with the exception of pros and top amateurs who already demonstrate a solid grasp of proper driving technique) I insist on starting with a stand-still throw. No run-up. No steps at all except for a back foot toe-drag on the follow-through. For details check out this post I wrote several years ago titled “Building Blocks of Basic Backhand Technique.” It is still one of the most viewed pages on our website.

I decided to write this particular post after reading a testimonial from a recent client. You can read his full comments here if you like, but the most relevant snippet is shown below.

“I’ve been playing for about 2.5 years and understood I had built some bad habits but did not have any clue as to how to go about identifying and fixing them.  Jack broke proper form down to very simple and understandable mechanics, and over the course of 3 hours, I found myself throwing from a standstill almost as far – and much more accurately – than I had before.” –John J., Berkeley, CA

Here’s the bottom line: To maximize your power potential with a backhand drive in disc golf you need to focus on the following, in order of importance:

  1. Engage your major muscles (as opposed to throwing with your arm only) through rotation of your hips and shoulders
  2. Perfect your timing and weight transfer. Keep your weight back until a fraction of a second BEFORE you launch the disc. NOTE: This is the part that most often goes awry when a player tries to incorporate a run-up too soon.
  3. Speaking of launching the disc . . . at just the right time, with all that coiled energy held back, unleash it with an explosive burst. Going from zero to 60 as quickly as possible is what creates the armspeed that is essential to power and distance
  4. Finally, when you’ve mastered the first three, slowly integrate a run-up by starting slowly. The important thing is to keep your timing and release point intact.

(Once again, to learn more about making sure the disc goes where you want it to go, read this post for more details on backhand form). The above list addresses power generation only)

I recommend throwing backhand drives exclusively with the standstill technique for at least a month so that once you add a run-up you’ll know instantly when the timing is right and when it isn’t. You’ll likely suffer a loss of accuracy and control at first, so it’s best to experiment during fieldwork and rounds that don’t matter.

Remember that a run-up itself only increases your driving distance marginally. It’s the other three elements listed above that really help players make big strides in not only distance but accuracy and consistency as well. Good luck, and happy chuckin’!