Do pressure putts wind you up? “Don’t look down!”

How do you perform on pressure putts? Are they a weakness in your otherwise solid disc golf game? If the first question caused you to grind your teeth and/or break out into a cold sweat, and if you grudgingly answered ‘yes’ to the second question, this post is for you.

Let’s start with a seemingly random question: Have you ever had to walk across a rickety bridge spanning a 3,000-foot gorge? Or maybe you’ve traversed a narrow, slippery trail hugging the side of a steep mountain. Even if you haven’t, you’ve probably seen such scenes in movies and know what the cool, calm, and collected inevitably say to those with mortal fear in their eyes:

“Don’t look down!”

Image: InfinityandBeyond2

The obvious reason for this timely advice is to help an already frightened and nervous person from becoming paralyzed with fear. Looking down in such situations reminds us of the dire consequences if things don’t go right, and healthy fear is one of the traits hard-wired into all species. But alas, not all fear is healthy, nor helpful.

Take away the consequences -possibility of serious injury or death, with immense pain along the way, in this case – and that walk across the rickety bridge is really no big deal. It’s just walking, after all. But when one false step could turn into a real-life Wile E. Coyote plunge, it suddenly gets much harder. And this is true of pretty much everything. The more it means to you, the greater the likelihood that anxiety comes into play. And anxiety, needless to say, never enhances performance.

Good news, the solution is simple! However, it’s not easy, at least not in an instantaneous, problem-solved kind of way. You gotta consciously work at overcoming a tendency that, like garden weeds, can never be entirely eliminated. But if you make a sincere effort to make this change you should see some results almost immediately.

Here is the essence of the one and only true way to combat performance anxiety. Drumroll, please . . . . . .

Think about what you’re trying to do, not what you’re trying to accomplish- and definitely not why you’re trying to accomplish it.

Many believe that athletes who are known as ‘clutch performers’ must somehow thrive on the pressure that negatively affects everyone else. That’s not true. They have simply trained themselves to concentrate on the raw components of the task at hand and block out everything else.

The general idea of focusing on actions rather than results is nothing new. Instructors, trainers, and coaches have applied it to everything imaginable- far beyond the realm of athletics. I’ve written about the applications of this concept multiple times before and have included some links later in this post. There are many techniques that will help you accomplish this game-changing transformation. Adapt one of mine, or come up with your own. The purpose here is to help you understand and embrace the basic concept.

The rickety bridge/”Don’t look down!” analogy just recently occurred to me, and I think it can be instrumental in helping golfers who already realize that the primary obstacles between them and lower scores are often mental, but haven’t gotten beyond that vague realization.

Want yet another example? I bet whoever trains people to diffuse bombs stresses the fact that the mind must remain focused 100 percent on the task at hand. Thoughts of beloved family members and fear of being blown to smithereens could result in shaky hands or a momentary confusion between red and blue wires. Next thing you know, BOOM!

As we all know, some missed putts result in different kinds of explosions (or, in some cases, implosions): Exploding scores, tempers, and visions of that personal-best round that was so close you could taste it. And it’s not the miss itself that is so frustrating, but the awareness that it was due to a brain twisted into knots.

If you now believe the simple solution revealed above (think about what you’re trying to do, not what you’re trying to accomplish) has merit, and are wondering “How, exactly?” that’s an excellent question. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but I think I can get you headed in the right direction by sharing a little about my personal strategies, tactics, and tricks.

Think about what you’re trying to DO

This literally means the physical movements I (and you) need to perform in order to execute a successful putt. This isn’t a post about putting technique, so I’ll only list a few things that I try to think about right before every putt (yours may be different):

  • Start with a comfortable, balanced stance
  • Focus my eyes on the orange decal on the pole, or one particular link, and don’t release the stare until the disc arrives at the basket
  • Follow through straight at the target, feeling the stretch in my back, shoulder, arm, hand and fingers for a lingering second after the disc leaves my hand

Notice I did not list “make the putt” as something I’m trying to do.

Do NOT think about what you’re trying to accomplish, or why you’re trying to accomplish it.

The second you start thinking about making the putt, two bad things happen.

  1. You stop thinking the productive “Do This” thoughts that give you the best chance of success. You can’t simultaneously follow two trains of thought.
  2. You open the door to why you want or need to make the putt. The bigger the situation, the farther the drop from that rickety bridge. It doesn’t matter whether a really bad thing will happen if you miss (you lose the round, for instance) or a really good thing won’t happen (you don’t birdie hole 13 for the first time ever). The effect is the same.

Remember when I said the solution is simple, but not easy? That’s because thinking only about the process of putting and blocking out all thoughts related to the desired achievement is a simple enough concept- but easier said than done. That’s where the strategies, tactics, and tricks come in. I’ve shared a few that I’ve posted about in the past. Adapt them to your game, or use them as inspiration for developing your own routines to prevent yourself from “looking down.”

“Do This!”

Back in 2011, I came up with a pre-shot routine wherein I practice my putting motion several times, full speed but without the disc in my hand, right before my actual putt. I discovered several benefits in doing this, and you can read the post or watch this short video if you’re interested in the full explanation. I list it here because one of those benefits of the routine is that it allows me to think about my process keys while practicing my “stroke,” and then when it’s time to execute the actual putt, my last final thought is always the same: Do exactly what I just did on the last practice stroke. Just that one thought, and nothing else.

For me, there is no other correct final thought before I pull the trigger. The routine is now habit for me, which makes it easier to remember even in the most high-pressure moments. I’m also more likely to identify renegade “value” thoughts that try to invade my routine in time to replace them with “process” thoughts.

Assess. Choose. Execute.

Extending the routine further backward is another way to be sure I’m thinking about the right things at the right time. A successful shot starts well before I step up to my lie. In this post I discuss the proper sequence of first assessing the situation, then choosing exactly what to do, then executing. If I complete the first two steps before I step up to my lie (this post was for all shots, not just putting), I have a better chance at being able to focus on process, and only process, when it’s time to execute.

Like A Machine

Another post that touches on this subject was titled “Play Disc Golf Like a Machine. A Well-Oiled Machine.” If you need another metaphor for setting emotion and value aside and simply executing a command, you’ll find it in that post. If it helps, think of yourself emulating a robot, automaton, or even Star Trek’s Dr. Spock. If asked, he’d say “In competitive disc golf, feelings are illogical and counter-productive.”

However you get there, separating process from value on every throw will result in lower scores and less stress. Find something that works for you, and stick with it. It’ll be worth it!

Learning by Feel in Disc Golf: Why, and How

Companies that market formal clothing love to tell us how their garments lead directly to success in business.

“If you look good, you’ll feel good”. Heard that one before?

The idea is that men wearing chic, expertly-tailored suits and women wearing designer labels gain extra confidence. There may be a kernel of truth buried beneath the B.S., but that’s beside the point. What matters is we can use it to communicate some useful info to disc golfers wanting to improve skills and consistency. It’ll take a bit of ‘splainin’ to get to the meat of the lesson, though, so hang in there. It’ll be worth the 10-minute read.

First off, this tip flips those ad slogans around. Feeling comes first. Also, I am using the word ‘feel’ in a totally different way than them. We’re not talking about the touchy-feely emotional kind of feel (as in, ‘you hurt my feelings’). More like the physiological use for the word, as in ‘that toilet paper feels like sandpaper!’ (Cringe-worthy mental image, but it got the point across, didn’t it?) Finally, since we’re talking about a different kind of ‘feel’, the word good doesn’t work as well. So if we had to have a pithy slogan similar to theirs to sum up the lesson, it would be more along the lines of “Feeling right leads to playing better, and (for those who care about such things) playing better makes you look good.

Ok, we’re done laying out our tortured analogy. Onto the actual message.

The School of Disc Golf has previously mentioned the concept of ‘muscle memory’ no less than six times, with good reason. It’s a scientific explanation of why and how practice makes us better. On Wikipedia, it is summarized as “a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition. When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort.”

By that definition, muscle memory is something that happens automatically, behind the curtain of your conscious thoughts. It’s one of the benefits of repetitive practice. I’d like to believe that as disc golfers (or any athlete working to perfect a craft) we can take it further than that. We can try to consciously maximize the process and benefits. I’ll explain using a couple commonly accepted tips.

Putting

Whether you prefer the spin putt or the push putt, the in-line or straddle stance, following through, dramatically, should be a constant. We talk about it in detail in this post and even include a video tutorial of an exercise to practice follow through and better develop the key muscles used in this particular way. Every putt should end with a rigid throwing arm stretched directly toward the link of chain you’re aiming at. Your elbow should be locked, arm and even fingers perfectly straight, with your thumb pointed straight up at the sky.

Now, as you read this, don’t focus on what that description of following through looks like. Focus on what it feels like. If I was giving you an in-person lesson right now, I’d explain follow through, much as I just did in writing above, and show you what it looks like. Hopefully after seeing me do it you’d make your best effort to replicate what you just saw me do. Assuming you did it correctly, I’d tell you so, and you’d accept that you just did it correctly based on my positive feedback. But here’s the thing: I can’t follow you around for all your practice sessions and rounds of disc golf. My lessons are reasonably priced, I think, but that would get costly quickly! And even if that were feasible, the key to the lesson (that follow through is a key to good putting) would not penetrate beyond your logical mind. In other words, it won’t be carved into your muscle memory. That kind of learning requires feel.

Let’s go back to the word picture I offered:

Every putt should end with a rigid throwing arm and hand stretched directly toward the link of chain you’re aiming at. Your elbow should be locked, arm and even fingers perfectly straight, with your thumb pointed straight up at the sky.

As you read the words, stretch your throwing arm toward a focal point across the room. It doesn’t matter what it is, but keep your eyes locked onto it. Now zero in on the key words and phrases, “rigid throwing arm and hand”, “stretched”, “elbow . . . locked”, “arm and even fingers perfectly straight”. Rather than thinking about these descriptions look like, or what you should look like emulating them, let your mind dwell on what each of these things feels like. An arm stretched straight ahead to its extremity feels very different than one that is dangling at your side, or resting on the arm of a chair. Get that feeling locked into your long-term memory and recall it before every putt. Remind yourself that unless you feel that sensation of stretching and straining directly toward your target, you’re not doing it right.

This post is meant to be more about the importance of learning and recalling by feel than a putting lesson, but we’ll make one more point. At the end of your putt, just before, during and after you release the disc, the feeling should also include a quick, sharp burst of movement. Don’t misunderstand all the talk of stretching toward the target and conjure up thoughts of slow motion Tai Chi. For more on that check out the follow through post referenced above.

Backhand Drive

Since we went into pretty good detail about the importance of ‘feel’ in the putting example, this one will be short and sweet. It should help drive (no pun intended) the point home using a different type of scenario. We’ll focus on one particular aspect of good, consistent driving: Balance.

One of the key points in our comprehensive post ‘Building Blocks of Basic Backhand Technique‘ is the relationship between balance and weight transfer. When it comes to throwing a golf disc properly the two are intertwined, and the difference can definitely be felt when done correctly vs. incorrectly.

First off, when you’re setting up to throw, make sure you begin with good posture (knees still slightly bent, but back mostly straight and body not ‘hunched over’) and weight evenly distributed between front and back foot. As you execute the throw, remember the goal of keeping that weight centered as much as possible. Yes,  you need to transfer weight to the back foot as you reach your disc all the way back and transfer it forward in sync with the disc as you throw. But to retain the most consistent control of where your disc goes, you must remain well balanced. If you feel yourself falling off to one side or, more commonly, falling forward upon disc release, your balance is off and likely so is your aim.

This is why, in the backhand post cited above as well as all lessons I give on the subject, I urge players to begin by learning proper backhand technique without a run-up. It’s important to lock in the feel of proper balance and weight transfer so you can recall it when needed, and identify flaws when they arise.

This post doesn’t include any images, for a good reason. Visual aids do have a place in learning. But when it comes to muscle memory it’s all about learning through feel, and realizing that feeling is the best way to learn.

Mastering the turnover shot: equal parts art and science

Anyone can throw a hyzer.

In fact, even for most beginners throwing a hyzer is as natural and involuntary as breathing. But getting the disc to not hyzer is like trying not to breathe.

Those who are highly skilled at making a golf disc turn in the direction opposite to its natural fade all know the ability is as much art as science. As much feel and touch as proper technique. But solve that puzzle, and you’ve just taken a giant leap in your evolution as a player.

There are two things that separate players who have truly mastered the flight of a golf disc and those who have not: the ability to throw a disc relatively straight for more than 150 feet, and the ability throw what is alternately known as an anhzyser or turnover shot. The two are actually connected as they both require the ability to iron out the muscle memory nearly everyone has that causes us to automatically throw golf discs on a hyzer angle.

Figuring out the latter usually leads to rapid improvement with the former – another reason why understanding and mastering the multiple components of a turnover shot will take your game up several notches. However, as explained below, teaching someone to throw turnover shots is more about explaining these different components and how they relate to one another than a simple ‘Step 1, Step 2, Step 3’ approach.

First let’s discuss the distinction between ‘turning the disc over’ and throwing an anhyzer shot. In a nutshell, to turn the disc over means to get it to curve in the direction opposite of that which in naturally wants to curve (fade). For instance, a right handed backhand shot will naturally fade left (immediately or eventually, depending on the disc), so a player wanting to get the disc to curve right needs to ‘turn it over’. Throwing an anhyzer is simply one of several ways to turn your disc over, all of which we’ll examine in detail.

No less than six primary factors affect to what degree your disc will (or will not) turn over: angle of release, release point, trajectory, the amount of spin on the disc, the wind, and of course the stability of the disc itself. Each of these can be manipulated or in the case of the wind, leveraged to create a desired flight path. More exciting still they can be mixed together to create every conceivable shot.

This photo demonstrates two of the six elements that can be adjusted to craft the exact turnover shot required: release point and disc angle.
This photo demonstrates two of the six elements that can be adjusted to craft the exact turnover shot required: release point and disc angle.

A perfect analogy is the way the three primary colors – red, blue, and yellow – can be combined to create every other color imaginable. Now consider that you’re equipped with six factors that enable you to paint a masterpiece on every throw! It’s one of the reasons disc golf just gets better and better as you improve. Disc flight can also be compared to cooking in much the same way. Great dishes can be created from just a few simple ingredients. Let’s briefly examine each factor, then explore different ways to cook up some tasty, gourmet turnovers.

 Angle of release and release point

The angle of release refers to the angle of the nose of the disc as it’s release. It’s the most obvious of all the factors to someone first trying to learn how to throw a turnover shot since it’s fairly logical that if angling the disc to one side results in a hyzer in one direction, then reversing the angle should help it turn in the other direction. Angle of release is the most important factor in throwing an anhyzer shot, which is reversing the angle to get the disc, from the time it leaves the hand, to turn the opposite direction of a hyzer. Hmmm. . . ANgle opposite of a HYZER. Anhyzer . . . if nothing else that’s a good way to remember the correct definition of the word. And remember that anhyzering (might as well go all the way and turn it into a verb, too) is just one of several techniques for getting a disc to turn over.

Hole 10 at Pinto Lake CDGC has OB along both sides of the fairway. The player pictured intends to release an overstable O-Lace on a sharp anyhyzer line aimed at the right side so it will turn over toward the basket then straighten out as it finishes.
Hole 10 at Pinto Lake CDGC has OB along both sides of the fairway. The player pictured intends to release an overstable O-Lace on a sharp anyhyzer line aimed at the right side so it will turn over toward the basket then straighten out as it finishes. Note the angle of the disc as the player is just about to launch his drive.

Release point is pretty much what it sounds like- the point at which the disc is released. Most anhyzers should be released at a point higher than normal, especially those intended to continue on the anhyzer line for all or most of its flight. This is because a disc that is turning over isn’t gliding through the air. It’s falling as soon as it reaches its apex, therefore it needs to gets launched from a high release point and have a trajectory that takes the disc upward, so when it begins to fall, it has more time before it comes back to earth. Which brings us to trajectory.

Trajectory

While angle of release is determined by the angle of the nose of the disc when it’s released, trajectory is controlled by the line on which the disc is pulled back and released. When a disc is pulled back and throw on a line parallel to the ground, the trajectory should be relatively flat. If the trajectory is angled upward, that is of course the direction the disc will go. Trajectory is especially important when throwing turnover shots – and it almost always needs to be from low-to-high – since turnover shots need time to develop, and adding height is the simplest way to get it.

Most turnover shots intended to travel any distance require an upward trajectory, providing the height necessary to let the shot develop.
Most turnover shots intended to travel any distance require an upward trajectory, providing the height necessary to let the shot develop.

Spin

More than any of the other factors, the proper use of controlled spin to help a disc turn over is the mark of an expert. The stability of a disc is partially determined by how much spin it can handle before it’s natural fade is overcome. Throwing a disc hard and fast like you’d try to do when attempting a long drive is one way to generate lots of spin, but not every shot calls for 100 percent power. A really good player can increase the spin on a disc to manipulate its flight path without overdoing the power.

Spin, combined with angle of release, is also the key to achieving a flight where the disc flies straight or even fades for a distance before turning over. Have you heard of the term hyzer flip? It’s basically the shot I’m describing, but thrown full power. The disc is thrown on a hyzer line but at a certain point the spin is too much for the disc, resulting in turnover. With the right combination of angle, spin (and in this case raw power) and trajectory, the resulting flight path can be one where the disc begins on a hyzer line, then turns over for a period, and when the spin reduces again, ends up fading back into the hyzer line. Three turns on one throw- pretty cool.

But not as cool, in my opinion, as a shot that uses spin in a more subtle way to turn a disc over. This requires increasing spin without also cranking up the power, which is a skill that for most takes a while to refine.

Wind

You likely have heard or figured out that throwing into a headwind will turn a disc over/make a disc less stable, while a tailwind does the opposite. Very true. Wind is the one factor the player doesn’t control, but it has a big impact on the flight of a disc. When the wind is extreme, it’s the starting point for selecting a disc and flight strategy. When it’s more gentle, the wind is simply a fact that needs to be accounted for. Or more accurately, adjusted for. Depending on the wind, you might increase or decrease spin, throw with slightly more anhyzer angle, or (especially in the case of a good tailwind) make sure the trajectory is angled more sharply upward.

Factoring wind into you turnover recipe is a good example of how subtle adjustments and combinations of factors need to be to get just the shot you want. All other factors being the same, a shot thrown into a four-mile headwind will fly quite differently than a two mile crosswind. Remember that the next time you cry out to the heavens “That disc always turns over on this hole! Why did it fade out this time?!!” Which brings us to the final factor: the disc.

Disc type and stability

Back when I started playing a couple decades ago, the best advice I heard from the best players was this simple nugget: Pick a good all-purpose disc (back then that meant a Roc) and play with just that disc. Master that disc before throwing anything else. The wisdom there is that by learning with only that one disc, the player has no choice but to coax every shot out of that disc. I think that is still one of the best pieces of advice for new players because otherwise, players assume that pulling off technical shots or getting more distance is just a matter of finding the right disc for the job. Not true!

Think of it this way: In any pursuit imaginable, an expert with remedial equipment will still achieve expert results. A virtuoso violinist will produce incredible music with a beat up rental violin. But give a Stradivarius to a beginner, and it will emit the same hideous squawks as he makes with his inferior instrument.

I digress here for a good reason. Disc type and stability is indeed one of the six factors affecting a disc’s flight, but it has more in common with the wind than it does the other four factors. Once the disc is in your hand, you still need to know how to tune the dials of the other factors (and have the skill to do so) to get the flight you want. Like the wind, the disc, once selected, is an absolute that needs to be figured into the equation.

All that being said, the finest ingredients and the best equipment in the hands of an expert do make a big difference. An understable putter can be used for some amazing touch shots that turn at just the right time, then float to the target as softly as a feather. An overstable driver can be throw with full power on a sharp anhyzer angle and just the right trajectory to produce a dramatic S-turn that passes to the left of one grove of trees then the right of another on the way to a drop-in birdie. But a player is always better off possessing one disc and mastery of flight control than a bag stuffed with any 25 discs you care to name and only vague ideas of how to use them.

Watch for the next post soon in which the specific ingredients and techniques for several basic turnover shots will be discussed. In the meantime, go out to a field (if your weather permits) and experiment with the components that make up every turnover shot. See which ones work best for you. Try them with all your discs and discover the infinite ways one can make a disc fly.

 

 

“Okay, everybody take a knee!” (and putt)

The DeLaveaga Disc Golf Club is hosting a 145-player C-tier event in December called the Faultline Charity Pro-Am. The tournament director, your truly, wanted to include a nice, unique prize for the person in each division that carded the fewest bogey strokes and opted for a great new disc golf product called a Sew Fly, made by a company of the same name.

Sew, er, I mean, so what is a Sew Fly? It’s a round pillow of sorts that is made of tough, waterproof material on the outside, but filled with plenty of soft padding on the inside. It’s primary purpose is to serve as a knee pad to keep pants clean and knees protected, but the Sew Fly also flies remarkably well and is perfect for a game of catch.

All Sew Fly products can be customized with a great deal of detail. Shown here are 'Small' Fly's with the DeLaveaga Disc Golf Club logo embroidered in a variety of different colors.
All Sew Fly products can be customized with a great deal of detail. Shown here are ‘Small’ Fly’s with the DeLaveaga Disc Golf Club logo embroidered in a variety of different colors.

Much like the Sew Fly, this post will serve double duty as both a product review and instructional post. I set out to put the Sew Fly through its paces against a very wet and muddy DeLaveaga, and it occurred to me that I’ve never dedicated a post to the benefits of getting in a lower throwing position when the situation calls for it. More on that shortly.

When my Sew Flys arrived in the mail, I naturally tested the flight characteristics. Much to my wife’s chagrin, I tried it out by playing catch with one of my kids in the house. The verdict: these things can really fly! The design provides a decent amount of float and glide, and hyzers and anhyzers can be crafted as with any other flying disc. The larger Sew Fly flies the best, not unlike a golf disc compared to a mini. They’re soft and light enough to not dent, scratch or smash, but they are heavy enough to send knick-knacks scattering or knock over a glass of grape juice. No that didn’t happen to us, but as my wife anxiously pointed out, it could have.

Next up was the test of it’s more utilitarian function of disc golf knee pad.

Once again the Sew Fly performed the job admirably. The padding is more than adequate to absorb whatever it’s sitting on top of, and the bottom is made of an extra tough material that seems like it will hold up for a long time without tearing. Also, there is no way moisture is penetrating the bottom much less reaching the player’s knee. It does everything you’d want a knee pad to do.

I was pretty excited when I heard about the Sew Fly because I throw from one or both knees, my butt, and on rare occasions my back whenever a lower release point can help me execute a shot. I sometimes put a towel down to kneel on, but usually don’t bother- especially when the course is dry. As a result I’ve suffered painful jabs from rocks and sticks many times. I plan to use my Sew Fly all the time now.

Let’s talk about why I feel so strongly about getting down and dirty (and I don’t have to get dirty now!) on the course.

Throwing from closer to the ground can open up a shot and allow a player to obtain more loft. which in turn makes it easier to throw an accurate layup shot.
Throwing from closer to the ground can open up a shot and allow a player to obtain more loft. which in turn makes it easier to throw an accurate layup shot.

The difference in a typical release point when kneeling is about a foot or so compared to a normal stance. Those 12  inches certainly make a big difference when trying to hit a low gap right in front of you, which is the scenario under which most players throw from a knee. But I’ll get down and dirty pretty much any time I’m faced with a low ceiling, because the lower release point allows me to get more air under the shot and therefore throw it harder with a lower risk of hitting the ceiling. By throwing from lower, my angle of attack is much more comfortable. Those 12 inches make a bigger difference the longer the required shot is.

One of the best examples of this advantage is when I’m throwing a low skip shot to get under continuous low foliage (branches and such). If I throw standing up, the disc is flying downward toward the ground, and energy is wasted when it hits from that downward angle. If I throw from a knee, the disc can truly skip and lose hardly any momentum, like a stone skimming and skipping across water.

The same principle applies when throwing an air shot. The lower release point and flat or even upward trajectory in essence buys me more room for the disc to fly. This in turn allows me to get more touch on a shot, preventing those ‘blow-bys’ that result from throwing the disc too hard when trying to clear a low gap.

Two thing to remember when throwing from a knee or two knees, or a sitting or kneeling position: Find a way to re-establish your center of gravity so you can maintain your balance; and try to get a good, solid foundation. The two really go hand-in-hand. When throwing from one knee, what you do with the other leg matters quite a bit. If your off-foot is behind your marker there isn’t much to think about, but if you are kneeling directly behind your marker it usually works best to splay your other leg behind you on the same line as your intended throw or kneel with both knees. The advantage of the two-knee approach is a superior, sturdy foundation, but doing so will likely limit power a little. Therefore it works best on shorter shots.

2014-12-09 12.02.39-1

Sometimes I need to get even lower than on my knees, and I’ll actually sit behind my mini. In most cases I’ll sit indian style as it solves the issue of what to do with my legs and gives me a very solid foundation. The larger Sew Fly is (for me) just big enough to sit on without contacting the ground.

My overall assessment of the Sew Fly is that it works great as both a kneepad and a catch disc. I personally prefer the smaller one for use on the course as it’s easier to store, but the larger one is better for playing catch. The small one flies fine too, but is harder to catch. These make great gifts for the disc golfer that already has everything disc golf-related. Check out all the ways they can be customized at http://www.sewflyoriginals.com/

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!

How to drastically cut down on your short missed putts

Is there anything worse than missing a short putt? The kind that you make 90 or even 99 times out of 100 on the practice basket? Usually when that happens we know even a split second before the disc leaves our hand that we’re in trouble, and that says most of what we need to know about why we occasionally miss ridiculously short putt, and how to make sure it almost never happens.

Let’s touch on the mechanical issues first. Based on personal experience and what I see out on the course, the most common technical flaw that causes missed short putts comes from how some players change the putting stroke to adjust for shorter distances. Quite often players will try to ‘take something off’ their normal putting motion in an attempt to putt softer or simplify their form. That usually results in changes to the finish of the putting motion, and it’s exactly the wrong approach. All too often that approach results in putts missing low, high, left and right. Instead, to accommodate short putts that require less power, reduce movement in the front-end of your normal putting technique.

Ways to do this include using less lower body, not pulling the disc as far back (my favorite), and reducing the amount of armspeed as needed. But whatever you do, keep the form of your finish as consistent as possible- especially your follow-through. The most important part of a good, consistent putting stroke is the finish. Specifically, the follow-through. Good follow-through ensures that a player’s disc goes where it is being aimed (assuming the follow-through ends up pointed at the spot being aimed for). Check out this video tutorial demonstrating a great exercise that helps develop proper follow-through.

A good definition of follow-through in this context, by the way, is ‘continuing the putting motion even after the disc leaves your hand’. Take a look at pictures of top players putting, and you’ll see arm and even fingers fully extended at the target, usually rigidly straight, even when the disc is 10 feet out of the hand. That’s good follow-through.

Good, balanced follow-through eliminates most short misses.
Good, balanced follow-through eliminates most short misses.

Follow-through also adds a surprising amount of oomph to putts, and with short putts that can make the difference between hitting the front rim and just clearing it. In fact, the idea to write this post occurred yesterday during a crisp -11 at my local course, Black Mouse. I had an 18-foot putt on hole 11 for birdie, and at the very last second  I realized that I wasn’t giving it enough power to go in. I was able to exaggerate the follow through even more than usual, and that made all the difference as it barely cleared the front nubs.

Follow-through also helps eliminate misses to the left and right, and also putts that hit the top of the cage. Going back to the first point made about the problems caused by making changes to the finishing part of a putt, lets look at some specifics. When we do that, we’re really just guessing on a case-by-case basis, and the results are unpredictable. Early releases turn into misses on the weak side of the basket, and holding on to the disc too long causes players to ‘pull’ the disc and miss on the strong side. And everyone at one time or another has launched a short putt at a sharp upward angle and hit the top of the cage. %!#!*^!!!

The cure for all of these- really all mechanical flaws in short putts – is to keep the finish of the putt the same no matter the distance, and follow through the right way (and the same way) every time. This is true of all putts, but especially short putts, and the reason is simple: If you putt firmly and follow through at the center of the basket, the disc won’t have enough time/distance to stray off line. The firmness of the putt (it just needs to be hard enough that it flies on a straight line) is important as well. If you are a finesse putter, you still don’t want the short ones to have any curve or turn. With a firm, accurate line, even if you’re off a little with your aim, good follow-through will ensure that the disc bangs the chains before it has a chance to veer too far.

One final note about follow-through: Balance is a key to the aiming part of follow-through. If you’re not well-balanced and tend to fall or lean to one side or another as you release the disc, good follow-through won’t help much in terms of keeping the disc going in the right direction.

Now let’s examine the short putts that are missed due to mental lapses and neurosis. These are at least as frustrating as those caused by mechanical flaws, and luckily they are also just as preventable.

When I say ‘mental lapses’, I’m referring to those times we take for granted that we’ll make a putt of ‘gimme’ distance (which is different for everyone). Without even making a conscious decision to do so, we switch to autopilot and go through the motions while our brains are occupied with something completely different. Then we miss the putt and become immediately and painfully aware of the 100 percent preventable mistake we just made.

The cure for this kind of lapse is to have a putting routine and go through it on every putt in every round you play, whether practice or tournament, casual or for stakes. Once again I refer to those top pros who depend on the money they on tour to be able to stay on tour. Watch some tourney videos and you’ll see nearly all of them take a little time on even the shortest putts, knowing that each throw counts the same and each throw could directly impact their payout.

The other mental error that causes missed short putts is something I write about often- getting wrapped up in and dwelling on the ‘why’ of the putt rather than the ‘what’. In other words, thinking about why the putt is important, or why you can’t afford to miss it rather than simply what you need to do to properly execute. For one thing, negative thoughts lead to negative results, and even if the ‘why’ isn’t purely negative the fact remains that you can’t think about two things at once. And thinking about the ‘what’ is essential.

Confidence - or the lack thereof - can make all the difference on short 'tester' putts.
Confidence – or the lack thereof – can make all the difference on short ‘tester’ putts.

There is a certain distance putt (and the exact distance differs depending on each player’s skill and mentality) that is longer than a gimme but short enough that it’s a big disappointment if missed. When someone in our group is left with one of these, my friend Alan likes to say “there’s still some meat left on the bone”. Most players refer to these putts as ‘testers’, and they can mess with your head like no others if you let ’em.

Have you ever seen a movie with a dream sequence where a character looks down a hallway, and the end of the hall keeps stretching further and further away? In disc golf, this translates to testers that we really should make at least 80 percent of the time morphing into final exams that we forgot to study for. I have to admit that when my putting is a little off, these can really get to me. The problem is that when this happens my anxiety shifts my focus away from where in needs to be – on the ‘what’ – and at that point I’ll be lucky if the putt even accidentally goes in.

So what’s the remedy? First, be cognizant of those anxieties creeping into your head. Acknowledge that they’re there, then step back and re-focus. When it happens to me, which is usually, as I said, when my confidence is on vacation, I remind myself to trust the routine and technique. At times like that it’s usually a blind trust as I’m just not feelin’ it at all. But it almost always works, because after all, these testers are putts I should be making without too much trouble. By shifting my focus back to the routine I’m dissipating the doubts and anxiety that would otherwise derail me.

Missed short putts are almost always avoidable, which is why it stings so much when it happens. Hopefully the tips above can spare you some of that angst. And when that short miss eventually does come along (it will, it happens to all of us), instead of just getting disgusted with yourself, consider it a reminder of all the ways to prevent those mistakes in the future.

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.