5.5 different reasons to practice putting in disc golf

Conventional wisdom says putting is a crucial facet of any successful  golfer’s game- and conventional wisdom is correct. No one who has ever spent a round crushing long, accurate drives only to score poorly because he couldn’t hit a putt would argue. Yet few players practice putting with a purposeful, regular routine.

If you’re reading this you are likely someone that has at least a moderate desire to shoot lower scores on the disc golf course. Therefore, if you’re not systematically working to improve your putting skills and consistency, the question is why?

One logical answer is that you’ve never heard a specific reason or reasons that resonated strongly enough with you personally. It’s one thing to agree with the logic in a general, vague sort of way and quite another to be able to connect the dots with a straight line that leads directly to a result you value highly. Therefore, the below 5.5 reasons to practice putting in disc golf are presented as a means of motivating more players to create and stick to a putting practice routine.

1. Getting better & scoring better

This is the main reason to practice anything in sports. The bottom line. The ultimate quantification to judge whether practice is translating into desired results. It’s also where most players’ understanding of why they should practice begins and ends. In this case, we practice putting because the better the putting success rate in a given round, the lower the score. This is observable, cause-and-effect, incontrovertible truth. Hit the putt and you’ve successfully completed that hole and can move on to the next one. Miss it, and (at least) one more stroke is added to your score.

Which brings us to the relationship between practicing putting and improving one’s putting success rate in actual rounds of disc golf. Have you ever thought beyond the fact that practicing something makes you better at it, and asked yourself why? In golf, due to its unique psychological components, the explanation goes much deeper than simple cause-and-effect. Consider the next 4.5 points, which are really sub-points to this first no-brainer. Also, take note of how they either build on or connect to the other sub-points as well as this first basic fact.

2. Confidence

Naturally the more you practice something, the better you should get at it- with ‘better’ in this context being defined as being successful more often (making more putts). Nothing gives a person confidence they can accomplish something like knowing they’ve accomplished it many times before. Therefore, practice should result in improvement, improvement is defined by more made putts, and more made putts will naturally increase confidence in future putts.

The second part of the maxim ‘Practice like you play, and play like you practice’ alludes to this. If you’ve put in the practice hours and repeatedly experienced what it feels like to hit that 20-footer, when it comes time to do it in a round you’ll be armed with greater confidence. ‘Play like you practice’ is meant to be a reminder during a round that you’ve made this putt many times in practice, so just do now what you do in practice.

This point probably isn’t a big revelation to you either. Naturally experiencing more and more success will give a person increased confidence. But what, specifically, does that mean? Are there additional, ‘collateral’ benefits as well? Turns out there are!

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

2.5 Stress reduction/emotional energy conservation

The mental game is key to success in any sport, and in golf it’s nothing short of crucial. Confidence is one component of a good mental approach to golf, for reasons stated above. It gives a player the belief she can make the putt she’s about to attempt, enabling her to credibly visualize the successful attempt. But it also benefits the player through something that it eliminates or greatly reduces- namely stress.

Players who get emotionally invested in a competitive event (tournament, tag round, whatever) have a palpable yearning for success on each throw. With that comes an equally strong negative reaction when things don’t go well. Without confidence, this translates in putting (especially on putts we think we should make) to a dread of missing. Being able to conjure up the memory of thousands of made putts of the same distance during practice time and previous rounds acts like Valium or Xanax on this kind of stress.

This is very important over the course of an entire round, much less a tournament spanning three or four rounds! Playing focused golf for hours at a time requires an enormous amount of mental focus and emotional energy, and stressing out over every throw quickly takes a toll. Practice results in confidence, and confidence results in less stress (and less misses, which also means less stress).

3. The inverted pyramid effect on shot selection

Smart disc golfers always consider the ramifications of the next shot before they decide on a disc, route, or approach. A basic example would be a right-handed player throwing backhand not choosing a super overstable disc on a left-to-right dogleg with a lake all along the left side of the fairway. That’s using logic to determine that a disc which will hook left into the lake is not a smart play. This logic extends to other variables as well, and the player’s capabilities should always be among them.

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

In this sense shot selection is like an inverted pyramid with putting at the tip of the pyramid and driving at the base (which in this case is on top, since it’s inverted or upside-down- see illustration). With each shot selection determined at least in part by what the player is realistically able to execute on the following throw, the options on an upshot and sometimes on a drive are based on the player’s putting ability. Consider the following example:

You shanked your drive on a par 3 hole into the rough, and are looking at numerous trees and bushes between you and the basket, which is only 80 feet away. There are several routes to consider, with none of them being routine. You’re obviously hoping to get up and down for a par. If you have confidence in your ability to hit putts from 25 feet and in, you can imagine a 50-foot diameter circle with the basket in the center, then look for the highest percentage route that gets you anywhere within that circle (route B in the diagram).

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

If you don’t have any confidence in your ability to make putts (but still hoping to save par), you’ll instinctively limit your consideration of routes to one that will let you get right to the basket (route A)- even if the odds of executing that upshot are small.

So in this case, practice results in confidence, which in turn results in more options on the preceding upshot, which results in choosing a higher-percentage shot, which results in a putt you can make due in part to confidence, due in large part to practice. And to take it a step further, the stress reduction mentioned in 2.5 also applies to your reaction to shanking your drive, because you had the confidence that you’d at least save par due to the fact that your upshot only had to get within 25 feet of the basket (hey, you hit those putts all the time in practice!). That’s the inverted pyramid on shot selection.

4. Psychological warfare (but the pacifist kind)

Disc golf is a played largely within your own mind (see famous Bobby Jones quote), as it’s just you against the course and the elements. It never pays to get wrapped up in what competitors are doing or saying, or how they are playing. Competitively, when it comes to other players the best thing you can do find is a way to enclose yourself in a bubble and allow only neutral interactions with others inside (like reporting scores on a hole, or responding politely but succinctly to casual chit-chat). If others can’t help getting wrapped up in you and your game, though, it’s no fault of yours. And the truth is, some players (to their detriment) allow their game to be affected by the play of others.

When such players see a competitor who not only hits most of his putts but seems to know he’s going to hit the putt as soon as he places his mini on the ground, it can get to them.

In this case practice leads to confidence, confidence leads to less stress, less stress leads to a calm, controlled demeanor, and that ‘never let ’em see you sweat’ demeanor leads to added stress for the other guy. Don’t feel bad! It’s not like you were trying to psyche the guy out. You’re just playing your game. What he perceives and how he reacts is his deal.

5. Muscle memory

This one has much more science to back it up. The Wikipedia entry for muscle memory has a great, succinct definition of the term which says in part “When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort. This process decreases the need for attention and creates maximum efficiency within the motor and memory systems.” Go to the wiki page if you want to understand exactly how it works, or just accept it as fact. The more you practice something (assuming you get to the point where you’re doing it correctly and getting the results you want), the easier and more automatic it will become. In a sense, muscle memory is part of the confidence that grows from practice, or at least it is the fertile soil that gives it the best chance to grow.

I guess there is one more reason to practice putting. Fun! Have you ever seen the bumper sticker that says ‘The worst day fishing is better than the best day working’? If you love to play disc golf, committing 15 minutes a day to practice putting in a purposeful way can’t be too much of a sacrifice. This post isn’t about what kind of routine yields the best results, or which routine makes it the most fun or interesting. This is all about helping you to understand the many reasons it’s worth the while.

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

“When in doubt . . . don’t.”

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

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

When in doubt . . . don’t.”

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

Example 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Example 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A secret ingredient of putting power

Notice that the title of this post is not ‘The Secret of Putting’. There are simply too many mental and physical aspects to good, consistent putting for there to be some ‘secret’ that once discovered instantly turns a weak putter into a good or great one. If anything, the best advice is the one players often like to hear the least: practice.

But we’re not talking about flour and water here. Those are major components to making bread, but the secret ingredient is yeast. Without the yeast the bread won’t rise, and if it doesn’t rise, well, it’s not really bread, is it? Secret ingredient.

The same goes for putting in disc golf. You can propel a disc toward the basket any number of ways, and it’ll even land in the basket once in awhile. But if you want a putt that seems to zip out of your hand, go further and hang in the air a little longer than your effort warranted, you need some nice tight spin. And believe it or not, there’s a pretty simple modification you can make that will help you get it.

Illustration A: This is a standard fan grip viewed from above. If your hand is on the side of your disc - like this - when you are putting, you're wasting a good deal of potential snap. Photo by Jack Trageser
Illustration A: This is a standard fan grip viewed from above. If your hand is on the side of your disc – like this – when you are putting, you’re wasting a good deal of potential snap. Photo by Jack Trageser

Illustration A shows a player holding a putter with a typical fan grip. But notice where the hand is located in relation to the disc, and pay particular attention to the straight wrist. Now grab a putter and simulate your own putting form. Look down at your hand, wrist and the disc. If your hand is alongside the disc, as it is in Illustration A, and your wrist is mostly or completely straight, the good news is that your putting game is about to get better.

Now check out Illustration B, paying attention to the same elements examined in the first picture. What do you see? (I’ll give you a few minutes to make the discovery on your own. People supposedly learn better that way) . . . . . . . . . . .

Illustration B: The wrist is cocked here, meaning that it is bent. Also, the hand is in front of the disc, creating much more natural spin upon release. Photo by Jack Trageser.
Illustration B: The wrist is cocked here, meaning that it is bent. Also, the hand is in front of the disc, creating much more natural spin upon release. Photo by Jack Trageser.

Okay, time’s up. Do you see the difference? In Illustration B, the hand is holding the front of the disc as opposed to the side, and the wrist is cocked so that it is actually in front of the hand.

This simple adjustment, assuming that you keep the wrist cocked the entire time and follow through properly on your putts, will add a significant amount of spin to your putt. The disc will fly smoother (due to a tighter spin) and farther (due to more spin) with the same amount of effort.

The best part about this technique is that you don’t have to think about ‘snapping’ your wrist during the throw. As long as you keep your wrist cocked and follow through after the release, the snap happens automatically. Come to think of it, that is probably where the term ‘cock your wrist’ came from. It’s obviously an analogy borrowed from firearms (as in cocking the gun), where the striking hammer is pulled back and set in a poised position, so that a trigger-pull makes firing almost instantaneous.

If you cock your wrist properly, you should see the difference in spin and power right away. Like anything else, this may feel weird at first, but practice will take care of that. If it’s affecting your aim and causing you to ‘pull’ your putts (to the right of the target for RHBH, and to the left for lefties), there are two probable causes: either you are thinking about trying to snap your wrist as you putt (which, remember, is not necessary if you cock your wrist properly), or you are not following through correctly- or both. That’s an entirely different issue which is addressed in detail in a past post, but it’s an essential component of this overall wrist-cocking technique.

If you like things boiled down to a few main points to remember, here they are:

  • Cock your wrist so that your wrist is bent and your hand is in front of the disc
  • Keep your wrist cocked throughout the putting motion
  • Follow through straight at the target, finishing with a straight arm, straight wrist, and even stretched out, straight fingers

Try this out, and let me know if it works for you. Like any secret ingredient you have to ‘mix thoroughly’ into the main components- and in this case that means, yes, practice. But before you know it you’ll get to the point where cocking your wrist comes automatically, without thinking about it.

Two univeral truths and 7.5 tips to help you improve your disc golf putting game

Anyone who plays golf of any kind understands putting is a big part of the game. But surprisingly, most don’t take the time to develop the systematic approach required to produce real, lasting improvement. That’s good news for those who are willing to do so- assuming you’re interested in an advantage that directly translates to lower scores and more fun (because, you know, missed putts = NOT fun).

As the title of this posts claims, we’ll examine 7.5 ways to help you in this regard, but first, a good way to start is by recognizing that there are two universal truths in regards to putting in disc golf (and ball golf, for that matter):

  1. Consistent putting is a major component to consistently scoring well in disc golf
  2. More than any other element of the game, good putting requires a solid, well-developed ‘mental’ game.

The first point is important if you play tournaments, leagues, or any other type of competition where scores are accumulated over numerous rounds. You may shoot a hot round (where you’re ‘in the zone’) every now and then, but unless you consistently make a large majority of the putts you won’t consistently score well, regardless of how great the rest of your game is. Everyone can relate to how frustrating it is to have the best drives all round yet end up not having the best score.

The second point is the theme that ties together the tips listed below. Players are all different in terms of the physical aspects of putting technique, and what works for one player (grip, stance, form, etc.) won’t necessarily work for the next. Everyone, however, faces the same challenges and can benefit from the approaches addressed below.

As this is a collection of numerous concepts and some of them have been addressed in previous posts, make sure to follow the links to get the full explanation and illustrations of those points you’re interested in implementing. The tips, in no particular order:

1. Practice like you play, and play like you practice. You may have heard this before, but allow me to explain the particular relevance of this maxim to your putting game. When you’re ‘practicing’ your putting, mindlessly throwing discs at a basket in and of itself won’t do much good. In fact, it’s likely to reinforce bad habits. You need to try to simulate a real-round scenario with every putt. Find a way to make yourself believe that something is on the line. Go through the same routine you normally would when playing, and when you’re actually putting in a round on the course you’ll be able to draw upon the confidence you built during practice.

That brings us to playing like you practice, which simply refers to telling yourself to do what you’ve proven you can do over and over again in practice. Don’t let your mind get cluttered with thoughts of how important the putt it and what’s on the line: just tell yourself it’s no different than the 12 in a row you hit from the same distance in practice- assuming you were practicing like you play.

On putts like this one at Ryan Ranch DGC in Monterey, CA, consequences must be considered when planning the shot. Photo by Jack Trageser
On putts like this one at Ryan Ranch DGC in Monterey, CA, consequences must be considered when planning the shot. Photo by Jack Trageser

2. True practice strokes right before the putt. There are plenty of great lessons and techniques that can be borrowed from ball golf and applied to disc golf. This tip (the exception to list in that it is a much a technique as a mental tip) refers to the way ball golfers tend to simulate practice strokes just before the real thing in an effort to nail down the exact tempo they want to use. It’s usually not done it disc golf because of the difference between holding onto a club (which is done the same in practice swings as the one that counts) and holding onto a disc (which is obviously different, as we let the disc fly only when it’s time for the real thing). I found a way to get the best of both worlds, and it’s done wonders for my game.

To read the details on this one you’ll have to read this previous post, or for more instant gratification check out the video illustration. If you have time, though, read the post as it explains the full benefits of this pre-shot routine.

3. Develop a pre-putt routine, then stick to it. The previous tip is now a big part of my pre-shot routine. I do it every time I putt, without fail, and find it to be a big help in a number of ways. But whether you try it and use it isn’t the important thing in this tip. Everyone is different, and what works for me might not work for you. This tip is all about the importance of having some kind of routine.

You’ve probably seen the ‘above the surface’ (visible/audible) parts of others’ routines, like lining up the putt with the disc extended forward at eye level, or taking three deep breaths then stepping up to the mini-marker. These are cues that go along with the really important part of one’s routine- the progression of thoughts going through the player’s mind. Having a set routine is important because better you can stick to a set routine, the less chance fears, doubts, and random thoughts will cause you do do something you immediately regret.

Since you only have 30 seconds to execute your shot once it’s your turn to throw, that progression should start as early as possible- as soon as you’re able to size up your situation after your last throw. The first part of this mental routine involves doing all your risk-reward factoring and deciding if you’ll go for it and what type of approach you’ll take. Again, that is ideally all completed before it’s your turn to putt so that once you’re on the clock’ the actual execution is quick and decisive. The rest of your routine is covered in the next tip!

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3.5 When it’s time to putt, focus on the process, NOT the ‘value’ of the putt. Having a pre-shot routine is as much or more about NOT thinking the wrong thoughts as it is about thinking the right things. So many things can drift through our brains in high stress situations, and when putting almost all of them are detrimental to making the putt.

This is listed as number 3.5 on the list because it’s closely connected to number 3. Part of the reason for having a routine from which you never waver is to help you focus on the process only. If you allow emotional connects to enter your mind, like ‘I need this birdie’ or ‘if I miss this it might roll way down the hill’ or ‘I need to save par here to stay within a stroke of McBeth’ . . . let’s just say good things are less likely to happen.

Number two above is a big part of my pre-shot routine, and a perfect example of focusing on the process of executing the putt to the exclusion of everything else. During my practice strokes I visualize making a perfect putt, and go through the exact movements I would for the real putt. Then, when I’m ready for the real thing, it’s as simple as focusing on one link and telling myself the replicate the form and effort I just perfected 3-5 times in a row.

Four more tips

I promised you 7.5 tips, and so far you’ve only gotten 3.5 of them. Click here to read the other four tips now!

Gap Analysis: The science and art of navigating trees in disc golf

Many playing companions over the years have heard me mutter “I see holes” out loud at some point in my pre-shot routine during a round of disc golf. It’s a ‘go-to’ phrase of mine, and has been for probably 15 years. Some ask why I say those particular words when getting ready for certain shots, and they get the answer(s) you’re about to read below.

The funny thing about this particular mantra is that I use it for two distinctly different reasons- yet the two reasons often blend together. And the place where the two meet – the axis of risk/reward assessment (a scientific approach) and more nebulous subjects like positive thinking and confidence (closer to an art than a science) – is really the essence of the mental side of golf. As always, this is best explained through the use of specific examples, which we’ll get into, but first a brief explanation of the two reasons for “I see holes!”

The history of this mantra for me was the light bulb-over-the-head realization that even on shots where the trees and other obstacles seem so numerous that throwing a disc cleanly through and past them is impossible, it’s rarely as bleak as that. In fact, when you consider the overall area covering a particular flight path you’re hoping to take, the gaps between the trees usually represent a much larger portion of the total space than the obstructions.

After this fact became apparent to me, I would chant “I see holes” as a way to remind myself to think about and visualize a clean flight rather than dreading the relatively few disc whacking trees it had to pass. In this context it’s really just positive thinking and positive imagery, and the mantra is a way to keep my thoughts focused on the good things that I plan to happen rather than the bad things that might occur. And it really works! That’s how it started out when the phrase first popped into my head. But it was only a matter of time before my analytical side dissected the magical effectiveness of ‘I see holes’.

Ironically, as explained above my little mantra started out as a vague positive-thinking mind trick. And I’m convinced it works. But sometimes I find myself with so many trees between my lie and the basket (or whatever fairway spot I’m aiming for) that even a positive thinker along the magnitude of Stuart Smalley would have a hard time ‘seeing holes’. I’m talking about situations where I know that realistically the chances of getting through clean on the ideal line are less than 50 percent. At times like that I’m forced to choose between (to use a technical term) the least suck-y option.

When it’s time to select from different options on the golf course, the scientific side of me kicks in. Thoughts of percentages and risk/reward kick in. You would think that would preclude the nebulous realm of ‘I see holes’, but the mantra actually has a place here as well. This time, though, the more applicable adjectives are ‘practical,’ ‘sensible’, and the more golf-specific ‘high-percentage’. Depending on the situation, there are a couple different applications for this approach.

Searching Far and Wide

When your direct path to the target is blocked, look for gaps to the left and right that offer the best alternatives. Sometimes, as in Example 1 (click on the image to get a better view), you can hit the gap with a shot that will curve toward the target after it passes through. Other times the layout won’t allow for anything but a straight shot. Either way, though, it’s better to get most of the way there than aim for a tiny slot and hit something right in front of you.

Sometimes the best gap to aim for does not present a direct route to the target. But in tight spots the thing to look for is the best chance to get past the obstacle. Photo by Jack Trageser.
EXAMPLE 1: Sometimes the best gap to aim for does not present a direct route to the target. But in tight spots the thing to look for is the best chance to get past the obstacle. In this case the player needed to throw a shot that curved left after clearing that gap. Photo by Jack Trageser.

The ‘General Area’ Gap

This approach usually applies to instances where the obstacles in question are not right in front of you but further away, and evenly distributed, so that there is no single gap that is the clear choice.

In situations where I see what appears to be a wall of trees blocking my route that is far enough away that aiming for one particular small gap isn’t feasible I try to identify the least-dense section of that wall. Kind of like an attacking army would look for the weak spot that is most vulnerable. To be clear, I’m not talking about finding a single gap between two trees. In the situation I’m describing, the objective is to identify, aim for and hit a general area that offers the least resistance to a disc that wants to pass through relatively unmolested.

In a sense, I’m trying to find the one realistically hittable zone where there are more open spaces than trees (‘I see holes!’). A key point is that in situations like these I have shifted my goal away from selecting the shot that can get me all the way to the target – because there is either no realistic option for doing so or the chances that I’ll succeed are extremely low –  to selecting the shot that has the best chance to advance the disc as far as possible.

Example 2 (again, click on the image to get the necessary larger view) shows two gaps- one on the left of the photo, and one on the right. The gap on the right is the more direct route to the basket (hidden behind the trees on the right), and it is also a ‘true’ gap in the sense that a perfectly accurate throw will definitely get through. However, I chose to aim for the general area circled on the left for the following reasons: 1- even though a couple skinny tree trunks cut through the area, the overall area is much larger than the single gap on the right, and my odds of getting through are better; 2- the gap on the left provides a better worst-case scenario as there are no early trees to hit on the way to the gap (notice the early trees on the right side on the route to the gap on the right); and 3- as a left-hander throwing a backhand shot, if I get through the gap on the left with the throw I want, it will skip-hyzer right, in the direction of the basket. The right gap would require me to throw a shot that stays perfectly straight for 200-plus feet- a difficult feat to say the least.

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this article, hopefully filling a few ‘gaps’ (couldn’t resist) in your strategic and mental game. Here is a quick list of the important take-aways:

  • Most of the time, even when it seems like there are lots of obstacles in the way, it’s mostly open space (holes, you see). Focusing on the space rather than the other stuff will enable you to hit those gaps more often. In other words . . . visualize success!
  • When you find yourself hemmed into a particularly tight spot, take a wide view of all your possibly escape routes. If all the more direct paths to your target require hitting tiny openings with an unlikely perfect throw, settle for a higher-percentage throw that at least allows you to make some progress.
  • When your obstacles are further away and no single gap stands out as the obvious route to take, look for a general zone that is the most open. Then target that large zone and revert to the first bullet point: think positive!

You Make the Call

In the last photo – Example 3 – there are three routes circled. If you open the full image you can see that the basket is shown in the middle of the center gap. The question I have for you, the reader, is ‘Which gap would you choose (the right rough on hole 10 at DeLaveaga, by the way), and why’? Please use the Comments link at the end of this post to provide your answer. I’ll wait a few days for the answers to come in, then I’ll post a comment with the route that I took, and why.

In this photo the basket is to the right, behind the wall of trees. The gap on the right- despite the fact that several small tree trunks criss-cross the opening - is still the best option for the left-handed thrower. Photo by Jack Trageser.
EXAMPLE 2- In this photo the basket is to the right, behind the wall of trees. The gap on the right- despite the fact that several small tree trunks criss-cross the opening – is still the best option for the left-handed thrower. Photo by Jack Trageser.
On this one you get to make the call. Would you go for: A-the gap on the left; B- the gap in the middle; or C- the gap on the right? And most importantly, why? Vote in the comments section below. Photo by Jack Trageser.
EXAMPLE 3- On this one you get to make the call. Would you go for: A-the gap on the left; B- the gap in the middle (note, the basket is in the middle of this gap); or C- the gap on the right? And most importantly, why? Vote in the comments section below. Photo by Jack Trageser.

The ‘Ground-Up’ Approach to Saving Strokes- Part 2

The disc golf courses where I live have plenty of variety, but one thing they don’t have, for the most part, is the kind of thick, lush grass found in manicured city or county parks. Whenever I travel to those kinds of courses, therefore, I need to make an adjustment.

I’m used to fairways and greens that present all manner of complexities when the disc comes into contact with them, due to the surface itself as much as the mountainous slopes. The hard and sometimes barren ground results in all kinds of action after the disc makes first contact. The uneven nature of the terrain – due to rocks, ruts, and exposed roots (an especially notorious villain in Santa Cruz) – add a second layer of complexity to the already technical nature of these seemingly unpredictable shots. So when I find myself on a course in a bucolic park setting, with lush green lawn fairways that are beefed up on Scott’s TurfBuilder and mowed to a shag carpet-like regularity, it takes some time for me to adjust.

Courses in manicured, grassy parks - like this one in Hillsboro, Oregon - can be played more aggressively because the disc is less likely to skip or roll far from where it lands. Photo by Jack Trageser
Courses in manicured, grassy parks – like this one in Hillsboro, Oregon – can be played more aggressively because the disc is less likely to skip or roll far from where it lands. Photo by Jack Trageser

Certain things are just hard-coded into your game if you play a particular type of course nearly all the time, and dealing with tricky fairways and greens is part of my DNA. After watching the locals time and again attack the greens with reckless abandon, and then constantly coming up 30 feet shorter than I intended myself because my discs are plunging into the soft, thick grass like M & M’s in chocolate pudding, I’ll begin to realize some adaptation is necessary. And even then, the old cautious habit is hard to break.

I’m glad that the adjustment I have to make when in those situations is from more to less difficult, but it’s an adjustment nonetheless. It reminds me of the pool table my Grandpa built from scratch long before I was born. He wanted his sons to be good at billiards, so he built the table regulation size but with snooker-size pockets, which are much smaller than the pockets on a normal pool table. It made those who practiced on it more precise with their aim, but it also required an adjustment to the increased shot-making possibilities when playing on normal tables. In both cases, the key is to be aware of the changes in the environment – and then know how to adjust one’s game accordingly. For my dad and his brothers (especially Uncle Bob the eventual pool shark) the adjustment was much like it is for me in disc golf.

Being used to technical courses like DeLaveaga and then adapting to the grassy fairways common in, say, the Michigan Metropark system (like Hudson Mills) requires a conscious effort to be more aggressive. The disc isn’t going to go nearly as far once it hits the ground, and is much less likely to hop, skip and roll its way to an extra stroke or two.

A scenario I’ve played out numerous times is to hook up with some locals at one of these types of courses, and an hour or so into the round I feel like I’m executing my typical game plan pretty well. Staying on the fairways, not missing gimme putts, not taking unnecessary strokes . . . but then I realize I’m already either several strokes behind someone of my own skill level or at the same score as a player obviously not as experienced or polished as me. I think back, and realize the difference has been them attacking the holes compared to me playing with caution. And the funny thing is even after I realize the change required to make the most of an opportunity to go for it hole after hole, my ingrained habits of ‘playing smart’ die hard. That’s what continually practicing in one set of conditions will do.

But as hard as it is to just flip a switch and suddenly start playing more aggressive on flat holes with lush turf, it is infinitely more difficult to adjust from that type of environment to terrain that is hard, barren, rocky, craggy, or rutted. In fact, anything that is uneven means potentially unpredictable results until the disc comes to a complete stop. So how do you adjust your technique and approach when the terrain is more likely to make the disc dance like a water droplet on a hot skillet? You can start with recognizing that careful consideration of the latter will lead to a specific, measure alteration of the former.

The green on Hole 1 at DeLaveaga, with hard soil and exposed roots, offers plenty of chances for the disc to catch an edge and roll away. Photo by Jack Trageser
The green on Hole 1 at DeLaveaga, with hard soil and exposed roots, offers plenty of chances for the disc to catch an edge and roll away. Photo by Jack Trageser

Approach- For those that enjoy the challenge that golf presents in terms of shooting the lowest possible score over the course of a round, nothing is more important than the concept of risk vs. reward. In short, risk/reward involves weighing the risk of bad things happening on a given contemplated shot versus the probability of reward if things go as planned. The most common example might be along these lines: “If I go for this long putt and make it, I’ll get a birdie. If I miss and the disc ends up far enough from the basket that I miss the comeback putt, I’ll get a bogey. If I play it safe and lay up, my chances for par are almost 100 percent.”

The basics of that story are familiar to all of us who play either kind of golf – stick, or disc – but the decision is in the details. How long is the putt? Is it flat, or on a slope? Is there any OB nearby? How about trees or other tall or thick foliage? And, most germane to this post, what is the ground like? Simply put, when it comes to the general risk/reward equations that thinking players apply to every shot decision – consciously or unconsciously – hard, uneven surfaces increase the risk. Always.

The first two holes at DeLaveaga set the tone for what's to follow. On this green, a side-slope is added to the technical terrain, requiring players to execute with perfection. Photo by Jack Trageser.
The first two holes at DeLaveaga set the tone for what’s to follow. On this green, a side-slope is added to the technical terrain, requiring players to execute with perfection. Photo by Jack Trageser.

Uneven means unpredictable, and unpredictable means (at least to a degree) uncontrollable. So generally speaking, the smart play on these types of surfaces is to get more conservative with your decision making. And if the terrain is sloped as well as hard and rutted, the potential for rolling away is further compounded. Adjust accordingly.

As always, there is an exception to the rule. Sometimes you find yourself in a spot where the combination of slope and terrain is so treacherous that the odds aren’t much different whether you lay up or go for it. When I identify a situation like that I’ll often go for it, because nothing feels worse than making what you think is the safe, smart play, only to take the extra stroke(s) anyway.

Technique- There are a few specific techniques to learn and practice that are essential if you want to master hard and lumpy-bumpy terrain. First of all, hard and barren means the disc will have more life after it makes first contact with the ground. Shots that come in at an angle relatively flat to the ground are likely to skip or slide. So when you plan your shot, plan ahead for that extra distance. And keep in mind that the angle at which the disc hits the ground will determine how far and in which direction if will skip or slide.

For drives and longer upshots, if it’s already curving right-to-left, it’ll keep on in that direction after hitting the ground. If the shot is pretty straight and hits the ground with little angle it will probably slide more than skip, and progress mostly straight ahead.

Shots thrown high with lots of hyzer will come down at an angle that is so perpendicular to the ground that they usually stay close to where they land. These are called ‘spike hyzers’ due to the way they fall to the earth- kinda like Lawn Darts. And here is something useful to keep in mind: If you turn the disc over a little on a pretty flat shot, the spin of the disc will act as backspin and arrest it’s progress somewhat. But if you turn it over too much and it lands on an edge on a hard surface, it’ll likely roll. And rollers when you don’t want ’em almost always spell trouble!

The Pancake Shot- For upshots that are less than 100 feet, there is a specific shot that works the best when there is either a great chance of catching an edge and rolling or a steep downhill slope with hard, barren ground. It’s called the ‘pancake’ shot, and the idea is for the disc to land flat and upside down.

Pancake shots are released with an angle and touch that result in the disc landing upside-down and sliding- rather than catching an edge and rolling. Photo by Jack Trageser.
Pancake shots (NOTE: this one is held left-handed) are released with an angle and touch that result in the disc landing upside-down and sliding- rather than catching an edge and rolling. Photo by Jack Trageser.

This shot is executed using a grip with the forefinger and middle finger on the underside of the disc, with the middle finger pressed against the rime, and the thumb holding it firm on the other side, on the top of the disc. The technique is much like an overhand drive, but the power is obviously adjusted for particular shot at hand. More importantly, the disc needs to be released at an angle that will result in it landing perfectly or almost perfectly upside down. If the shot is very short it’ll have less time to flip in the air so the release angle should be almost upside down out of the hand. If it’s longer shot the release angle can be closer to straight up-and-down. The amount of spin will affect the flip too, so experiment and see what gets the results you need.

The grip on the pancake grip is pretty much the same as that used for a typical forehand throw. Photo by Jack Trageser.
The grip for the pancake shot is pretty much the same as that used for a typical forehand throw. This is the author’s lefty pancake grip. Photo by Jack Trageser.

Finally, when using this shot on a steep, hard downhill lie, keep in mind that a disc will slide much more when upside down without the rim to cause friction with the ground. Often times I’ll throw the disc only 10 feet on a shot I need to go 50 or 60 feet, counting on the slide to do most of the work.

Adapting your game to the current environment is an important part of disc golf- especially because you know the course won’t adapt to your game! Have fun out there, and remember to stay grounded!

Roller Shots, Part 2: Now we tell you How

The first thing to know about throwing roller shots is that if you can throw backhand and sidearm, you already know much of what you need to know. Roller shots don’t require learning an entirely new technique- just a new twist on your most basic throws. Whereas with most air shots the aim is to keep the disc aloft most of the way to the target, roller shots need to hit the ground early. And as opposed to air shots, where you usually want the disc to land mostly flat it won’t roll away, roller shots are calculated to not only land on it’s edge but on its edge at a specific angle so it goes the direction and distance you intend.

By the way, if you didn’t catch Part 1 of this instructional post – which covers the Who, What, When, Where and Why of roller shots, you can check it out here (ADD LINKS).

Now on to the How.

Proper roller technique requires a high release point, exaggerated nose angle, and a torso with a tilted axis.

Much of what I know about throwing roller shots comes from my personal roller mentor, Alan ‘Flash’ Friedman. I tapped into his knowledge base for this post, and even filmed a quick video and posted it on YouTube. Don’t be lazy and just watch the video, though, as all by itself it doesn’t do a great job of explaining how to properly throw rollers.

According to Flash, there are two types of roller shots- the finesse version (thrown using understable or ‘beat’ discs), and ‘high-tech’ rollers that require an overstable disc.

The finesse roller has been around for as long as people have been throwing flying discs, and was discovered initially due to the relative understable nature of early discs. As we all know, if a disc can’t handle the amount of speed and spin with which it is thrown, it turns over quickly and if the turn is aggressive enough hits the ground at an angle and rolls. It didn’t take long for experimental types to learn how to use this to their advantage, and the purposeful finesse roller shot was born. Finesse rollers are usually thrown so that the transition from air to ground is pretty gradual and smooth, somewhere midway between takeoff and the intended final destination. My favorite finesse roller is so old and understable that I often need to throw it with hyzer so it doesn’t turn over too soon. Talk about finesse!

The ‘high tech’ roller is simply a roller shot thrown with a much more stable disc. The increased stability of the disc means it won’t turn over (just like an air shot, this means curling to the right for a RHBH thrower) as easily or as soon. It also means that the technique used to get the disc to roll is much more extreme. If you think it’s hard to throw an overstable disc flat and straight, imagine what it takes to make it roll!

The ‘high tech’ roller shot involves an even steeper nose angle and torso axis, as well as aiming for a landing spot much closer to the thrower.

This brings us to Flash’s two keys to executing a roller shot: modifying your technique to get the right angle based on the specific disc and the type of roller shot (finesse or high tech), and picking a specific spot where your disc will first hit the ground.

As far as technique is concerned, as stated at the beginning of this post you’ll just be modifying the throw you’re using most of the time. We’ll just discuss backhand today, but the principle applies to forehand technique as well.

Notice how Flash’s body is arched to match the angle of the disc, creating a consistent arc that starts at pull back and lasts all the way through the follow-through.

First of all, with both roller styles you’ll want to raise your release point – as you would with a big anhyzer – to get the extreme angle required. For a high tech roller you should almost be holding the disc right over your head just before release with your back arched backward. That last point is important, too, because it’s not enough to just change the angle of the nose of the disc. To get that angle to hold, you must change the entire axis of your pullback and release as well. This requires the participation of all your moving parts.

Picking a specific landing spot is the second of Flash’s keys to a consistent and accurate roller. He says that you should first understand how your disc will act once its rolling, given the type of disc you’re throwing. This is something you’ll only learn with experience. Once you’ve learned the disc, you’ll be able to properly adjust the angle and speed required to get it to do what you want. With the knowledge  at the ready, you can make the task much simpler by focusing on the spot where the disc first hits the ground rather than the entire path you expect it to travel. In other words, it much simpler to aim for a spot 40-100 feet in front of you and make the disc land in a five-foot square at the right angle than to aim for a spot 400 feet away. Roller shots are inherently unpredictable, anyway, so it makes sense to focus on the flight (the part you can control) rather than the roll.

Dependable rollers require lots of trial and error, and then practice, practice, practice. When you’re serious about adding this shot to your bag head out to a big wide open field so you can see what various discs will do from beginning to end.  And remember Flash’s advice and focus on your angle of release and your landing zone.

Jack Trageser is the founder of School of Disc Golf and the instructional writer at RattlingChains.com. You can reach him at jack@schoolofdiscgolf.com.

Roller shots: Who, What, When, Where, and Why

When I’m teaching or playing with people new to the sport and they see me execute a roller shot for a long, accurate drive, it’s only a matter of time before they say “Can you show me how to do that?”

They are correctly deducing that quite often a disc can travel farther rolling along the ground than spinning through the air. Actually, if the terrain and conditions are suited to the purpose – and the roller shot is thrown by someone who knows the right way to do it – that is usually the case. Pretty enticing for someone who is having a hard time getting the kind of distance he sees everyone else getting.

Some people eschew the roller shot as a violation of an important aesthetic element of disc sports (“it’s supposed to float through the air, man”), but to them I say “get over it”. At one time I was in that camp myself, but then I realized that as a person who loves the competitive golf aspect of disc golf, I was just jealous that others who could execute rollers had an advantage over me. So I began to figure out that whole other world of getting discs from point A to point B.

In fact, roller shots are not nearly as inelegant as they might first appear. The same science of selecting just the right combination of release angle, armspeed and aim that goes into a good air shot applies to rollers as well.

What follows in this post is a summary of some of what I’ve learned between that time and now. In this case, slicing it up using the journalist’s tried and true who-what-when-where-why, and of course, how categories makes lots of sense. Just so you know ahead of time, the ‘How’ will follow in a Part 2 post to follow shortly.


The people who throw rollers tend to fall in one or two groups- or both. Some are players that really love the sport and regularly play, but for physical reasons just can’t get much distance through the air. Age is often a factor, as players of Boomer age often find that their bodies won’t generate the kind of armspeed and whip action that is needed for long flights through the air.

The other group includes players that insist on mastering every possible way to throw a disc further and past obstacles that block high-flying hyzers and anhyzers. Players who are obsessed enough with disc golf to incessantly experiment will eventually discover the roller shot- either through intention or by accident.


Well, the ‘what’ is pretty self-explanatory. A roller is a disc golf throwing technique wherein the disc rolls along the ground rather than flies through the air. But wait! Sometimes it’s not quite so cut-and-dried. Depending on the situation, some roller shots don’t actually hit the ground and start rolling until more than halfway into their total distance covered. What’s more, as far as the technique is concerned roller shots are really just backhand or forehand throws with modified angles or release so that the disc will hit the ground mid-flight at an angle that will cause it to roll on it’s edge rather than stop, slide or skip.

A good example of a roller in mid-roll, and also of ideal terrain for a roller: short grass on smooth, flat ground. Stock photo.

Another thing about roller shots to keep in mind is that the rate-of-rotation effects the path they travel just as much as airshots. Maybe more. So just like a shot through the air will have the highest spin rate just after it’s released, then towards the end the spin will slow down and usually cause the disc to ‘fade’ (to the left for a right handed back hand shot), a roller is effected by this principle as well. More on this in the Part 2 where we’ll discuss the ‘How’.


Not a whole lot to discuss here beyond what’s already been mentioned in the ‘Who’ section and what’ll be covered in the ‘Where’ section next.

When you need a little extra distance and your airshot doesn’t quite get you there, the roller may bridge that gap. When there is a stand of tall trees that also have low-hanging limbs between you and the basket that would otherwise be reachable, a roller can zip right past those tree trunks and under those limbs.

Not when (or When Not) is also important to keep in mind, and the one thing to remember is that wind can greatly effect roller shots. Since the disc is vertical rather than horizontal most of the time with rollers, the wind can push it around that much more. Just picture a sailboat in a strong storm. Don’t take this to mean that you can’t throw rollers when it’s windy. Just be aware that the wind will make a big difference in the results. Sometimes the change is good, and sometime baaaaad.


Roller shots work best on terrain that is hard and smooth, or as close to that as possible. Grassy fairways that are mowed often and not too bumpy usually produce good rollers, and hard-packed dirt is even better. Obviously ground that is fairly free of bushes and debris is more conducive to a successful roller shot than otherwise, but players will often roll the dice and hope for the best when there are rocks and roots to be navigated. When a small obstacle on the ground is encountered the chances of the disc hopping over it and continuing on it’s intended path are about the same as the disc being re-directed away from the target- sometimes far away. That’s just a risk that is present that obviously isn’t an issue with shots that travel through the air.

A roller would not work on this hole for many reasons. The ground is covered with brush, and the soil- although you can’t tell from the photo – is soft and loose. Photo by Jack Trageser

When using a roller to get past a stand of trees, it’s good to remember that you’ll be rolling past the bottoms of the tree trunks and not dealing with any part of the trees above six inches or so (once your disc hits the ground and begins rolling). That combined with the fact that the disc itself will be mostly vertical and therefore presenting less opportunity to hit something should enable you to see more chance for a successful roller.

One other thing. As you experiment with rollers, you’ll learn that a certain amount of space is required to execute this shot. It’s generally tough to pull off a roller in a place where you need to hit a small gap directly in front of you. The disc usually needs to travel a bit before hitting the ground, and getting it to land at the correct angle often requires some lateral (side-to-side) space. The only way to know your own limitations is through experimentation, and the only lots of practice can reduce those limitations.

Why (and Why Not)

As a recap, the reasons to throw a roller are the potential for more distance than you’re able to get using any other technique, and the ability to get past obstacles that block all options through the air. Sometimes, when those limitations are present, the roller provides an option where there otherwise would be none. And rollers aren’t just useful off the tee. They can be lifesavers as rescue shots where you need to get under obstacles, have a lie that restricts your normal throwing motion, or need to get around tight corners.

But there are plenty of reasons why you should NOT throw a roller .

As mentioned in the ‘Where’ section above, some terrain is just not conducive to roller shots. No matter how much the shot otherwise calls out for a roller, if the ground is full of rocks or gnarly brush, you’re  more likely to get a hopper-and-stopper.

When you’re assessing whether to use a roller, another thing to keep in mind is the fact that a roller gone awry can get far, far away from it’s intended route. The flip-side of the extra distance rollers can provide toward the target is the extra distance they can wander away from it. For this reason, you should not attempt rollers in a round you care about until you’ve gotten enough practice to be able to use them with confidence.

Finally, remember (as mentioned above) that roller take a different path from the time they leave the hand to the time they hit the ground than airshots. They usually require more lateral space and often more clearance as well. You’ll only know when you’re in a place where your own personal roller won’t work through trial-and-error. Best to do that experimenting when the money/victory/bagtag/bragging rights aren’t on the on the line.

Coming soon, a post where I’ll discuss the mechanics of the different types of roller shots. I’m hoping to get the direct input from my own personal roller coach, so stay tuned!

Jack Trageser is the founder of School of Disc Golf and the instructional writer at RattlingChains.com. You can reach him at jack@schoolofdiscgolf.com.

Observe, Learn and Test: The Engineer’s Approach to Disc Golf

The School of Disc Golf recently hosted a team-building event for a group of engineers and other techies from a Silicon Valley company.

There were a few naturals in the group, especially one guy in particular who was launching some impressive drives and hitting long putts within 90 minutes or so of starting. I don’t think the group as a whole would mind me describing them as people whose finely honed instruments are their minds rather than their bodies.

This is not to say they were in bad shape — just not a group that, when looking at them, you’d think were jocks. They were average folks, like most golfers.

I noticed several instances of participants being able to observe their discs flying a certain way and quickly assess why. They then went about experimenting (with the help of our instruction) and making modifications to their techniques.

The really cool thing that made me want to write about that outing is the one trait this group of very regular people with very modest athletic skills had in common — an analytical, engineering-type mind. For people who are curious about how things work and enjoy solving puzzles, there aren’t many more interesting sports than disc golf.

The participants at this event improved noticeably from the beginning of the day to the end. They asked a lot of questions and, as I mentioned already, made adjustments — often dramatic — as if to test out theories for themselves on why their disc went straight up in the air, or sliced immediately left.

And give ‘em credit. Most were able to get their throws flatter and straighter by making changes, monitoring the feedback, and then making more changes based on the results.

Disc golf is known for being easy to learn, but hard to master. The aerodynamic principles of a flying disc has a lot to do with that. Leave it up to engineers to make the most of something like that. A perfectly round ball with a smooth surface will only react very subtly to efforts to manipulate its flight path, but a flying disc is totally different. It interacts with the air flow much like the sail of a ship, with even the smallest variables magnified and their effects plainly obvious.

One player really heeded the instruction he received on the differences between classic putting and throwing backhand. Once he understood the idea that a putt is more of a forward thrust than a throw, he really got the hang of it and started hitting the chains on everything. The thrill of solving the puzzle was quite obvious.

Another mild-mannered computer programmer was able to practically double his distance by employing the basic instruction of reaching back with the disc as far as possible on backhand shots before beginning the throw. He recognized some universal principles of physics — I think he mentioned catapults as being analogous — and was excited when he saw that they clearly applied to disc flight as well.

Today’s key point is to be like this group was, even if you’ve played for years. Do some research, experiment with your technique, and pay close attention to the results. Then experiment some more. Make full use of your mind as an instrument for improving your game.

Getting better, when you understand why it happens and can therefore consistently employ the improvement, is one of the most satisfying aspects of any sport. With its many possible throwing styles and the aerodynamic properties of a flying disc, disc golf makes it easier to do that than most others athletic endeavors. Take full advantage of that and you’ll get even more out of the game.

Falling putts can lower your score

Disc golfer’s familiar with the rules of the sport recognize the term ‘falling putt’ as an infraction that occurs when the disc is within 10 meters of the target. The rules (see 803.04 C) clearly state that a player – when inside this ‘putting circle,’ must demonstrate full balance after releasing the disc before advancing to retrieve his or her disc. This is to ensure players cannot gain an advantage by shortening the distance their disc has to travel. If this rule were not in place, putting would turn into a Frisbee-long jump hybrid, with players taking 10 paces backward to get a running start before leaping toward the target. I can easily imagine some nasty accidents as well, with ‘slam dunk’ attempts going horribly awry. Luckily the 10-meter rule prevents gruesome player/basket collisions while at the same time preserving the purity of the flying disc aspect of disc golf putting.

Of course, when this rule is broken it is usually much more subtle than that. The player inadvertently leans into the shot, and is unable to avoid stepping or stumbling forward. Hence the term ‘falling’ putt. But outside 10 meters no such rule applies, and using your entire body to gain added momentum can be a great strategy. If . . . . and only if, it is done correctly. Plus, even outside of the 10 meter putting circle it must be done legally.

The Disclaimer

803.04A makes it clear that the main restriction in this regard is that one point of contact (foot, knee, etc.) must be in contact with the ground at the time the disc is released, directly and no more than 30 centimeters behind the marker. So keep this restriction in mind as you read the rest of this post. Even outside 10 meters, it is illegal to break contact between your supporting point (usually a foot) and the surface behind your marker before you’ve released the disc.

The Likely Scenario

All players are different in terms of physical capabilities, of course. But generally speaking most of us can only use our putting style to a distance of somewhere between 30 and 40 feet before the need for more ‘oomph’ robs our form of its consistency and affects our aim. We put so much extra effort into getting the disc to go far enough that smoothness and fluidity is replaced by herky-jerky and disjointedness. When this happens we rarely get the disc to fly where or even how we want. So not only do we not make the putt, but we often are left with a challenging comeback putt as well.

At this point, players recognizing the need for a better approach will embrace one of two different strategies:

  1. Change from a putting, flip-style throw to a ‘regular’ throw, where the player stands sideways to the target and pulls the disc alongside his her or his body- a typical backhand throw. This method solves the need for increased power and allows the player to regain smooth form, but aim usually suffers considerably since the throwing line is no longer aligned with the sight line.
  2. Take advantage of the fact that the rules allow players to ‘fall’ forward outside 10 meters. When it’s legal, and done on purpose, this is usually referred to as a ‘jump putt’ since the result appears to be a jumping motion towards the target.

I’ll usually take the second option, but not always, depending on distance, terrain, obstacles, and situation. And like most players, I initially took the term ‘jump putt’ too literally. The term implies that you’re supposed to jump into the putt, or as you putt, but I learned there are two problems with that. First (as noted above), if your foot behind the marker leaves the ground before the disc leaves your hand, that is a rules violation. I know it’s often hard to tell, because it’s almost simultaneous, but it’s better to avoid disputes of this nature entirely if you can.

The other problem with trying to jump as you putt is that it doesn’t work! If your feet have left the ground before you release the disc, or they leave the ground right as the disc leaves your hand, you don’t really get the power you’re intending to get. Think of a shortstop in baseball trying to jump in the air and then throw the ball. It can be done, but without feet planted on the ground the arm has to supply all the power. The same is true in disc golf. Also, aim is much less consistent without the stability of those feet on the ground.

Enter the legal falling putt.

The Solution & Unique Technique

I’m not sure how I discovered this, but it enables me to putt from probably 70-80 feet with good control and consistency. By taking the straddle-putt stance (legs apart, toes pointed at the basket), then falling slowly toward the target, and putting at the last moment before my feet leave the ground, I get the best of both worlds. The momentum adds significant power in a smooth, fluid way, enabling my arm speed to stay the same as it is on a much shorter putt. And as long as I don’t get too eager and try to jump and throw at the same time, it’s remarkably accurate.

A top pro who has embraced a version of this strategy is Dave Feldberg. His approach is to ‘walk into’ long putts that require extra momentum, allowing him to use an in-line style (as opposed to switching to a straddle style) similar to his normal preferred putting style. This video clip from the 2008 Scandinavian Open (the putt occurs fast in the first second of the short clip, so you’ll have to replay it a few times) shows how he walks into the putt to gain power. His actual technique differs from mine, but the basic strategy is the same: Leverage the extra momentum of the entire body moving forward, but do so in a way that does not sacrifice the fluidity of a good, consistent putting motion.

The Bottom Line

  • Disc golfers use a separate technique for putts – where the body and eyes face directly at the target – for a good reason. What is lost in power is more than gained in the accuracy that results from having the flight line and sight line on the same line. But . . .
  • There is a definite limit to the the power that can be generated while facing the target.
  • When outside the 10-meter circle, it makes all the sense in the world to maximize power while still facing the basket (and maintaining the accuracy advantage) by legally using body momentum. But . . .
  • Techniques that cause the player to leave his/her feet too soon negate the added power by throwing off aim and timing- and might also make the throw illegal as well.
  • By using a ‘legal falling putt’ or ‘walk-into’ technique, players can gain valuable extra power without sacrificing aim or timing.

It takes some practice to get it down, but this approach will eventually result in a way to hit more long putts without as much risk of long comeback putts. Try it, you might like it!