Disc golf will be on TV in August, for two reasons. Both are directly related to the current global pandemic.
First or all, disc golf is exploding as a recreational activity. Rules and restrictions have severely limited our options, and disc golf happens to be an ideal option. It’s great for social distancing, very affordable, and, as countless people are finding out for the first time, disc golf is fun! This has led to disc golf businesses of all types (especially retailers) having a surge in demand for their products and services. School of Disc Golf is no exception, as we have experienced a sharp rise in website traffic and inquiries for lessons. Another, much larger disc golf company, Dynamic Discs, has recorded record sales the past three months and decided to invest the gain by funding a high quality disc golf production.
The other reason disc golf will air on the CBS Sports Network in a month or so is the dearth of sports programming in 2020. What better time to capture the attention of the world?
I have provided ‘virtual’ disc golf instruction in the past. The methods used ranged from verbal and email consultations to critiquing form via shared video clips to video conferencing. I’m glad I had that experience under my belt before the Shelter at Home directives ruled out in-person lessons for several months, because the desire among disc golfers to improve has not waned. If anything – with most of us having extra time on our hands – it has increased!
The testimonial section of our website now features a new entry in the Lessons & Coaching section. Roger, who inquired via the School of Disc Golf website, was in a courtyard in Mexico while I was in my garden in Santa Cruz, CA. The physical separation did not seem to hinder the effectiveness of our communication. Below is quick rundown of how we did it.
To begin with, I had Roger share video clips with me prior to the lesson, from several different angles. This gave me an idea of where to start before our live video session began. The most notable flaw in the video clips led me to emphasize a particular point, and Roger told me the next day that it resulted in a major breakthrough in his putting accuracy and consistency.
For our scheduled virtual lesson we opted to use Google Duo. We could have used Zoom or Facetime (if I was an Apple guy) and those tools would have been just as effective. One key bit of equipment for me was a Bluetooth headset, so I could easily hear Roger without having to be near my phone and demonstrate technique with the hassle of wires. Another, perhaps even more important, was us both having a tripod with a smartphone mount. I can’t properly demonstrate anything while holding a phone, and propping the phone up somewhere is a hassle and, depending on the surroundings, often impossible.
Perhaps the best endorsement of the ‘remote’ aspect of our remote lesson was the fact that Roger didn’t even mention it in his testimonial. I didn’t feel like the lesson suffered by us not being physically together, and apparently he didn’t either.
I shared a key component to accurate and consistent putting in a recent post. The title of the post, The Straight Line on Disc Golf Putting, Part 1, provides a pretty big hint to the nature of the tip. It also indicates that I intended to add at least one more complimentary post, and I do. But comments on social media convinced me to write this one first.
Part of the post was an explanation of why the ‘straight line’ approach to disc golf putting works regardless of a player’s preferred putting style. Push putt, spin putt, pitch putt, I wrote- it doesn’t matter. I also included a very brief explanation of those terms for readers unfamiliar with them, and those definitions became the focus of most of the feedback I received.
I decided to dig a little deeper into what others have said and written about pitch, spin, and push as descriptors used to explain putting techniques in disc golf. One thing became clear (or, rather, unclear): because there is no ultimate authority on disc golf terminology they mean different things to different people. Rather than cite a variety of conflicting explanations, I’ve decided to simply explain what they mean to me, and why.
Before I go into each of the three terms, I’ll start by listing three key points:
Each player’s standard putting technique is unique to that player.
The three terms defined below are not putting techniques or putting ‘styles.’ They are components that can be and usually are combined to one degree or another.
Most players have a standard putting form for routine putts (defining ‘routine’ as inside the circle, relatively flat and not obscured) and therefore a standard mix of two or three of the 3 components. But non-routine putts call for the components to be mixed in different proportions.
Not only does each player’s putt feature its own unique blend of mechanical components. That blend can and does change from putt to putt depending on the situation. It’s a fluid thing. Keep that in mind as you read the definitions below.
This term is used to describe a player propelling a disc forward in a straight line at the target from a spot close to the torso (anywhere from waist to sternum). A couple similar movements used in other sports would be the thrust in fencing and the jab in boxing. Paul McBeth provides a good example in this video by Jomez Productions. Go to the 5:57 mark, and note how the motion of the disc is all straight forward- no arc, no sideways movement, even at the end.
The pitch putt may be so named because of its similarity to the motion used when ‘pitching’ horseshoes. Like the push putt, an accurate and consistent pitch putt requires the player to keep the disc on a straight line from beginning to end (release and follow-through). Unlike the push putt, the player typically starts the putt at knee-height or even lower and often maintains a straight arm and locked elbow throughout. Because of the low starting point the trajectory of a pitch putt is also almost always steeper (low to high) than a push putt, which especially for power putters can be almost flat.
The term ‘spin putt’ is probably the least accurately descriptive of the three. Spin, after all, is a critical element of any putting technique except the rarely seen end-over-end ‘flip’ putt. A more accurate label for the technique known as the spin putt would be ‘fling putt’ or ‘flip putt.’ There are two things that differentiate this putting method from the two listed above:
The putt finishes with a rotational flipping motion, similar to that uses to ‘toss’ a Frisbee. Original Frisbees used to come with the slogan “Flip flat flies straight.
Unlike the push and pitch putts, most or all of the power/thrust of a pure spin putt comes from this flipping motion. “It’s all in the wrist,” as they say, and in this case it’s true.
This gets back to the reason I wrote the post The Straight Line on Disc Golf Putting, Part 1, in the first place. The wrist flick that defines so-call ‘spin putting’ is the easiest way to generate power while facing the basket. It is the most difficult, however, when it comes to achieving a reliable, consistent release point.
Sure, some top pros have have had success with it (Nate Doss and Steve Rico come to mind). but they are the exception to the rule. Why? Because when the wrist-flip supplies most of the power, the motion of the disc leading up to the release point follows an arc rather than a straight line.
To see what I mean, check out this very recent clip from Jomez Productions’ coverage of Simon Lizotte at the 2019 Pro Worlds. Go to the 32:00 mark, and watch the slo-mo replay of Simon’s spin putt. He finishes by following through straight at the target after the disc is out of his hand, but the motion leading up to the release is clearly more of a rotational wrist-flicking nature.
Now go back and watch the Paul McBeth clip linked above and you’ll see the putting motion and the exaggerated follow through both staying on the same line directly at the target. The disc can’t help but following that straight line, and this isn’t a given with a spin (AKA fling AKA flip) putt.
I know, sticking to this straight line while also generating sufficient spin is tricky. I’ll address how to do just that in the next post, Part 2 of The Straight Line on Disc Golf Putting. Stay tuned!
the debate about modifying targets to add more drama at top pro events misses a larger, more important point
Where do you stand on The Great Debate about basket size on the pro tour? The subject has been debated extensively- on YouTube in 2018 via a DGPT roundtable, more recently in a PDGA magazine article by course design guru John Houck, and in thousands of discussions among elite players and their fans.
I believe, for reasons listed below, that it is a pointless debate. Basket size and putting difficulty has nothing to do with the perceived lack of drama on the green in disc golf as a spectator sport. Read on and you’ll learn why I feel this way. First, though, a recap:
Those in favor of shrinking baskets think top pros are just too good at putting using the current disc entrapment devices. They believe this has two negative effects on disc golf as a spectator sport: scores that are so low to par that outside observers scoff at disc golf as a professional sport, and a lack of drama on the putting green. Putts inside the circle for touring pros almost always end up inside the basket.
Some pros are opposed to the change, for an understandably self-interested reason- Putting is not their strong suit and they don’t want that weakness to be further magnified. But others make more practical points. If targets are smaller, they contend, players will lay up from longer distances more often, robbing spectators of those twisting, floating, outside-Circle 2 gems that provide some of disc golf’s best spectacles.
Others question the practicality of retrofitting thousands of existing courses and the wisdom of having pros compete with markedly different equipment than the fans who would have, could have made that shot.
Good points on both sides of the argument, right? So what do YOU think?
I’ll tell you what I think. The issues that the Basket-Shrinkers raise are real, but smaller targets and less made putts won’t ‘solve’ them, if indeed they even require solving.
I wrote a book called The Disc Golf Revolution, and much of it involves comparing and contrasting disc golf and traditional (ball) golf. One of the first chapters, titled The Future of Golf, makes the point that disc golf features nearly all of ball golf’s appeal yet none of its numerous drawbacks. You know that list: Cost, time to play, difficulty, history and culture of elitism, environmental impact . . .
I bring this up now because at the end of that chapter, per my training as a journalist, I presented the other side of that argument in a ‘devil’s advocate’ section subtitled 7.5 Reasons Why Ball Golf is Better Than Disc Golf. One of those 7.5 reasons is the undeniable fact that disc golf does not – and cannot – replicate the incredible contrast featured in ball golf between the speed and distance of a powerful drive and the delicacy, the breath-holding drama of a long, slow, undulating putt.
A 30-foot putt in ball golf might last for 30 second as it rolls slowly across the green, while a 30-footer in disc golf is over two blinks after it leaves the player’s hand. Unless it ends in a roll-away, that is, which ironically makes for some of disc golf’s most dramatic moments. What do those slow, serpentine, excruciating rollers resemble? That’s right. Ball golf putts.
Disc golf putts inside the circle don’t lack drama because they go in too often, but rather because they go in too quickly.
Disc golf putts inside the circle don’t lack drama in pro events (compared to ball golf) because they go in too often, but rather because they go in – or don’t – too quickly. That is never going to change, no matter how small and challenging baskets are made to be. It is what it is, and really, that’s OK.
Another point I make in my book is that disc golf’s greatest value is as something to DO. This is evidenced by the sport’s continued strong growth in new courses, players, and market size. As disc golf participation grows, the segment of the overall disc golfing population who choose to also be spectators and media consumers also grows. They’re watching in large part because they can relate to what they’re seeing. Disc golf may not feature the drawn-out drama of a ball golf putt, but disc golf spectators (nearly all of whom are also avid players) feel the anxiety of a 30-foot putt. As easy as they can appear, we know how easy those putts are to miss. We know the very real potential for anxiety, fatigue, or a momentary lapse of focus.
So now you know what I think. Give it a try if you want, PDGA and DGPT. Use smaller baskets for some top-tier pro events. You’ll get tougher-scoring courses, and putts inside the circle won’t be quite as much of a foregone conclusion. But it won’t change the real issue, which is the unalterable fact that disc golf putting – as something to watch – isn’t and will never be quite as dramatic as ball golf putting.
Personally I don’t think it’s a big deal. Those of us who play know there is plenty of drama and challenge when you’re the one doing the putting, and in my opinion that is what really matters.
What do you think? I hope you share your own take here by posting a comment, but don’t just say yea or nay on changing basket size. Let me know where you stand on my main assertion. Do disc golf putts lack drama for spectators, and, if so, is it because they go in too often, or because they go in too quickly?
If you’re like me, the desire to ‘sell’ the sport of disc golf to anyone who crosses your path comes as naturally as breathing, blinking, and throwing a hyzer. As decent human beings we want others to enjoy the benefits of the sport we love, right? So the sales pitches just gush forth. But are they as compelling and effective as they can possibly be?
While displaying a sincere belief in and passion for something is a powerful element of effective sales, the message itself is also important. And so is tailoring the message to the audience. But often we don’t have time for anything but a quick summary of the game and it’s best features. Normally this means quickly explaining that disc golf is fun, anyone can play, and anyone can afford it.
My personal elevator pitch, when I have a minute or less to share the virtues of disc golf with people or persons I may not know well, goes something like this:
“Golf really is a great game. You get fresh air and low impact exercise, can play alone or with others, and the strategic and mental challenges ensure that it never gets old. It also builds important life skills like integrity, self-control, patience, and humility. BUT . . . traditional golf is saddled with numerous limitations that make those wonderful traits inaccessible to the majority of people in the world. Either the cost is too high, or it takes too long to play a round, or it’s too difficult, or the environmental impact is troubling. Disc golf, on the other hand, retains everything that is great about golf while eliminating each of the barriers.”
If I have a chance for a more in-depth discussion, I’ll drill down to more details on one or more of disc golf’s high points based on what I know about those listening to me.
When money is obviously an issue I will stress the affordability, pointing out that most courses are free to play and one needs only a few inexpensive discs. Most who know little about the sport are usually surprised that courses are usually free because they are aware that ball golf courses all charge significant fees.
If I’m speaking to someone who feels like they need more exercise, I’ll explain that:
Disc golf can provide whatever level of exercise a person wants, from walking only a few holes at first on a flat course to hours of hiking or even running over varied terrain
I’ve known numerous people who have lost significant weight and improved their health in other ways by simply playing disc golf on a regular basis
The casual, open nature of the sport makes it a great choice for those having a hard time fitting exercise time into a busy schedule
As a former baseball player, I frequently run into old teammates who long for a new competitive outlet. In these and similar situations I go straight to explaining how much more “golf-like” disc golf is than most assume it to be. For instance:
The constant risk-reward decisions that are a hallmark of golf are ever-present in disc golf as well
The basic throwing techniques, while easy to quickly learn at a functional level, can take years to achieve a semblance of mastery
Long throws provide that “Feat of Strength” rush that one gets from baseball, golf, and other sports
Lest someone think we’re hurling the same beach Frisbee again and again, I point out that differences in the design and weight of discs provide players with more than enough (sometimes too many!) equipment options
When speaking to someone whose concern for the environment shapes many of the choices they make, I am quick to contrast disc golf with ball golf in that context. Since the state of the playing surface matters little, a disc golf course can exist almost anywhere without any manipulation of the natural setting. Although some courses are installed in groomed park areas, watering, mowing, and landscaping are not necessary. If someone wants to play a sport and experience nature at the same time, you can’t do better than disc golf.
Disc golf is steadily growing, mostly due to word of mouth and sales pitches similar to the ones described above. Because of the game’s supreme accessibility, a large percentage of those who try it become enthusiasts themselves in short order. It is my opinion, however, that should these facts about disc golf become more widely available, the drip-drip-drip of disc golf growth will become a deluge. From dripping point to tipping point.
I’ve felt this way for some time, and it led me to write a book called The Disc Golf Revolution. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, the book should be available by Fall 2017. You can learn more at http://playdiscgolf.org.
Jack Trageser is the owner of School of Disc Golf and author of Three Paths to Better Disc Golf and The Disc Golf Revolution. He resides in Santa Cruz, CA
How do you perform on pressure putts? Are they a weakness in your otherwise solid disc golf game? If the first question caused you to grind your teeth and/or break out into a cold sweat, and if you grudgingly answered ‘yes’ to the second question, this post is for you.
Let’s start with a seemingly random question: Have you ever had to walk across a rickety bridge spanning a 3,000-foot gorge? Or maybe you’ve traversed a narrow, slippery trail hugging the side of a steep mountain. Even if you haven’t, you’ve probably seen such scenes in movies and know what the cool, calm, and collected inevitably say to those with mortal fear in their eyes:
“Don’t look down!”
The obvious reason for this timely advice is to help an already frightened and nervous person from becoming paralyzed with fear. Looking down in such situations reminds us of the dire consequences if things don’t go right, and healthy fear is one of the traits hard-wired into all species. But alas, not all fear is healthy, nor helpful.
Take away the consequences -possibility of serious injury or death, with immense pain along the way, in this case – and that walk across the rickety bridge is really no big deal. It’s just walking, after all. But when one false step could turn into a real-life Wile E. Coyote plunge, it suddenly gets much harder. And this is true of pretty much everything. The more it means to you, the greater the likelihood that anxiety comes into play. And anxiety, needless to say, never enhances performance.
Good news, the solution is simple! However, it’s not easy, at least not in an instantaneous, problem-solved kind of way. You gotta consciously work at overcoming a tendency that, like garden weeds, can never be entirely eliminated. But if you make a sincere effort to make this change you should see some results almost immediately.
Here is the essence of the one and only true way to combat performance anxiety. Drumroll, please . . . . . .
Think about what you’re trying to do, not what you’re trying to accomplish- and definitely not why you’re trying to accomplish it.
Many believe that athletes who are known as ‘clutch performers’ must somehow thrive on the pressure that negatively affects everyone else. That’s not true. They have simply trained themselves to concentrate on the raw components of the task at hand and block out everything else.
The general idea of focusing on actions rather than results is nothing new. Instructors, trainers, and coaches have applied it to everything imaginable- far beyond the realm of athletics. I’ve written about the applications of this concept multiple times before and have included some links later in this post. There are many techniques that will help you accomplish this game-changing transformation. Adapt one of mine, or come up with your own. The purpose here is to help you understand and embrace the basic concept.
The rickety bridge/”Don’t look down!” analogy just recently occurred to me, and I think it can be instrumental in helping golfers who already realize that the primary obstacles between them and lower scores are often mental, but haven’t gotten beyond that vague realization.
Want yet another example? I bet whoever trains people to diffuse bombs stresses the fact that the mind must remain focused 100 percent on the task at hand. Thoughts of beloved family members and fear of being blown to smithereens could result in shaky hands or a momentary confusion between red and blue wires. Next thing you know, BOOM!
As we all know, some missed putts result in different kinds of explosions (or, in some cases, implosions): Exploding scores, tempers, and visions of that personal-best round that was so close you could taste it. And it’s not the miss itself that is so frustrating, but the awareness that it was due to a brain twisted into knots.
If you now believe the simple solution revealed above (think about what you’re trying to do, not what you’re trying to accomplish) has merit, and are wondering “How, exactly?” that’s an excellent question. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but I think I can get you headed in the right direction by sharing a little about my personal strategies, tactics, and tricks.
Think about what you’re trying to DO
This literally means the physical movements I (and you) need to perform in order to execute a successful putt. This isn’t a post about putting technique, so I’ll only list a few things that I try to think about right before every putt (yours may be different):
Start with a comfortable, balanced stance
Focus my eyes on the orange decal on the pole, or one particular link, and don’t release the stare until the disc arrives at the basket
Follow through straight at the target, feeling the stretch in my back, shoulder, arm, hand and fingers for a lingering second after the disc leaves my hand
Notice I did not list “make the putt” as something I’m trying to do.
Do NOT think about what you’re trying to accomplish, or why you’re trying to accomplish it.
The second you start thinking about making the putt, two bad things happen.
You stop thinking the productive “Do This” thoughts that give you the best chance of success. You can’t simultaneously follow two trains of thought.
You open the door to why you want or need to make the putt. The bigger the situation, the farther the drop from that rickety bridge. It doesn’t matter whether a really bad thing will happen if you miss (you lose the round, for instance) or a really good thing won’t happen (you don’t birdie hole 13 for the first time ever). The effect is the same.
Remember when I said the solution is simple, but not easy? That’s because thinking only about the process of putting and blocking out all thoughts related to the desired achievement is a simple enough concept- but easier said than done. That’s where the strategies, tactics, and tricks come in. I’ve shared a few that I’ve posted about in the past. Adapt them to your game, or use them as inspiration for developing your own routines to prevent yourself from “looking down.”
Back in 2011, I came up with a pre-shot routine wherein I practice my putting motion several times, full speed but without the disc in my hand, right before my actual putt. I discovered several benefits in doing this, and you can read the post or watch this short video if you’re interested in the full explanation. I list it here because one of those benefits of the routine is that it allows me to think about my process keys while practicing my “stroke,” and then when it’s time to execute the actual putt, my last final thought is always the same: Do exactly what I just did on the last practice stroke. Just that one thought, and nothing else.
For me, there is no other correct final thought before I pull the trigger. The routine is now habit for me, which makes it easier to remember even in the most high-pressure moments. I’m also more likely to identify renegade “value” thoughts that try to invade my routine in time to replace them with “process” thoughts.
Assess. Choose. Execute.
Extending the routine further backward is another way to be sure I’m thinking about the right things at the right time. A successful shot starts well before I step up to my lie. In this post I discuss the proper sequence of first assessing the situation, then choosing exactly what to do, then executing. If I complete the first two steps before I step up to my lie (this post was for all shots, not just putting), I have a better chance at being able to focus on process, and only process, when it’s time to execute.
Like A Machine
Another post that touches on this subject was titled “Play Disc Golf Like a Machine. A Well-Oiled Machine.” If you need another metaphor for setting emotion and value aside and simply executing a command, you’ll find it in that post. If it helps, think of yourself emulating a robot, automaton, or even Star Trek’s Dr. Spock. If asked, he’d say “In competitive disc golf, feelings are illogical and counter-productive.”
However you get there, separating process from value on every throw will result in lower scores and less stress. Find something that works for you, and stick with it. It’ll be worth it!
The Disc Golf World Tour debuted last weekend and for the most part, it delivered on Jussi Meresmaa’s promises. But whether it can deliver on his long-term vision of disc golf as a spectator sport- well, that’s another matter. As is the question of whether his and the other new tours’ efforts will ultimately help or hinder the sport’s growth.
He said his new high-profile tour series would be broadcast live with better production quality- a slicker, more polished presentation if you will – and it was. In that sense, SpinTV delivered, and then some.
The on-screen graphics and animation during live coverage of the inaugural La Mirada Open represented a huge leap forward. Little details like on-course sponsor signage, the pads wrapped around the basket pole colored the same yellow as the Innova DisCatcher band, and even the DGWT branding on handheld microphones added to the overall effect. On Saturday, when we couldn’t see residential streets and chain link fences in the shot, La Mirada looked like Augusta National. Even the commercials looked to be more professionally done.
Announcers Jamie Thomas and Avery Jenkins (who both performed fairly well and will certainly get even better) made much ado of the next-level ‘metrics’, Greens in Regulation, Putts Inside the Circle Ratio, Putts Outside the Circle Ratio. Sports fans definitely love their stats and having these on-screen graphics available at any time is a big step in that direction.
Speaking of the announcers, did you know Avery starred in another disc golf TV show five years ago? Discmasters, a show featuring Avery, Nate Doss, Valarie Jenkins and your truly (Jack Tupp) was filmed for local TV in Santa Cruz and made the rounds on YouTube. Hopefully, he’ll get to show his lighter side on SpinTV as well.
One last big positive to point out: the player profiles mixed into the broadcast. Media experts have understood that the more insight viewers get about what makes the players tick, the stronger their connection to the action.
As an avid disc golfer, I have an appetite for live disc golf action and I can appreciate the strides that have been made by DiscGolfPlanetTV, Smashboxx, and now SpinTV. It’s definitely getting better and better. But I have two major concerns about the direction things are headed.
The first is the fact that with the current course and camera configurations these broadcasts don’t come close to conveying the essence of disc golf. Even with two cameras, the angles are almost always from behind the thrower and behind the basket. In both cases, the disc remains fairly static on the screen and so does the backdrop. Ball golf uses at least six cameras to properly film a hole, and that’s just not feasible for disc golf yet. Disc golfers who are viewing can convert what they are seeing into the majestic S-turn we know the shot required and appreciate the amazing skill. To a non-disc golfer, it’s just people throwing Frisbees again and again.
The other nit I’m gonna pick today is with the decision – or rather the necessity – to feature mostly wide open holes. The logic that open holes film better is sound, at least as long as the technology is limited to two camera angles at ground level. But it’s regrettable because another essential aspect of disc golf’s mystique is the wooded hole. In terms of how the games plays, two important elements of disc golf that distinguish it from ball golf in a positive way are missing in coverage of wide open courses; The holes with multiple obstacles players must navigate on a single shot, and the fact that disc golf can be played on very rugged terrain. Forest? Jungle? No problem! That needs to be part of the elevator pitch- which five minutes of live coverage seen by a non-disc golfer amounts to.
Once again, if the aim is to use the broadcasts to introduce potential new players and fans to the sport I don’t think it’ll work. In fact, seeing guys throw Frisbees in what appears to be, and usually is, a city or county park probably just confirms their misguided preconceptions.
What’s the real goal here? If it’s to entertain disc golf enthusiasts, then fine. Well done (Although your typical disc golfer likes to be outside on a Saturday afternoon, so even that market gets diluted somewhat). But if the goal is to ‘#growthesport’ of disc golf, we need players, and we need even more courses. For now, the best solution is still the one that got us where we are today. Support your local club. Volunteer, become a dues-paying member. Sponsor a hole.
Then take a break and watch some live Disc Golf World Tour coverage. If you’re already a disc golf nut, it’s a treat to stream the best players in the world onto a big screen TV.
Companies that market formal clothing love to tell us how their garments lead directly to success in business.
“If you look good, you’ll feel good”. Heard that one before?
The idea is that men wearing chic, expertly-tailored suits and women wearing designer labels gain extra confidence. There may be a kernel of truth buried beneath the B.S., but that’s beside the point. What matters is we can use it to communicate some useful info to disc golfers wanting to improve skills and consistency. It’ll take a bit of ‘splainin’ to get to the meat of the lesson, though, so hang in there. It’ll be worth the 10-minute read.
First off, this tip flips those ad slogans around. Feeling comes first. Also, I am using the word ‘feel’ in a totally different way than them. We’re not talking about the touchy-feely emotional kind of feel (as in, ‘you hurt my feelings’). More like the physiological use for the word, as in ‘that toilet paper feels like sandpaper!’ (Cringe-worthy mental image, but it got the point across, didn’t it?) Finally, since we’re talking about a different kind of ‘feel’, the word good doesn’t work as well. So if we had to have a pithy slogan similar to theirs to sum up the lesson, it would be more along the lines of “Feeling right leads to playing better, and (for those who care about such things) playing better makes you look good.
Ok, we’re done laying out our tortured analogy. Onto the actual message.
The School of Disc Golf has previously mentioned the concept of ‘muscle memory’ no less than six times, with good reason. It’s a scientific explanation of why and how practice makes us better. On Wikipedia, it is summarized as “a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition. When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort.”
By that definition, muscle memory is something that happens automatically, behind the curtain of your conscious thoughts. It’s one of the benefits of repetitive practice. I’d like to believe that as disc golfers (or any athlete working to perfect a craft) we can take it further than that. We can try to consciously maximize the process and benefits. I’ll explain using a couple commonly accepted tips.
Whether you prefer the spin putt or the push putt, the in-line or straddle stance, following through, dramatically, should be a constant. We talk about it in detail in this post and even include a video tutorial of an exercise to practice follow through and better develop the key muscles used in this particular way. Every putt should end with a rigid throwing arm stretched directly toward the link of chain you’re aiming at. Your elbow should be locked, arm and even fingers perfectly straight, with your thumb pointed straight up at the sky.
Now, as you read this, don’t focus on what that description of following through looks like. Focus on what it feels like. If I was giving you an in-person lesson right now, I’d explain follow through, much as I just did in writing above, and show you what it looks like. Hopefully after seeing me do it you’d make your best effort to replicate what you just saw me do. Assuming you did it correctly, I’d tell you so, and you’d accept that you just did it correctly based on my positive feedback. But here’s the thing: I can’t follow you around for all your practice sessions and rounds of disc golf. My lessons are reasonably priced, I think, but that would get costly quickly! And even if that were feasible, the key to the lesson (that follow through is a key to good putting) would not penetrate beyond your logical mind. In other words, it won’t be carved into your muscle memory. That kind of learning requires feel.
Let’s go back to the word picture I offered:
Every putt should end with a rigid throwing arm and hand stretched directly toward the link of chain you’re aiming at. Your elbow should be locked, arm and even fingers perfectly straight, with your thumb pointed straight up at the sky.
As you read the words, stretch your throwing arm toward a focal point across the room. It doesn’t matter what it is, but keep your eyes locked onto it. Now zero in on the key words and phrases, “rigid throwing arm and hand”, “stretched”, “elbow . . . locked”, “arm and even fingers perfectly straight”. Rather than thinking about these descriptions look like, or what you should look like emulating them, let your mind dwell on what each of these things feels like. An arm stretched straight ahead to its extremity feels very different than one that is dangling at your side, or resting on the arm of a chair. Get that feeling locked into your long-term memory and recall it before every putt. Remind yourself that unless you feel that sensation of stretching and straining directly toward your target, you’re not doing it right.
This post is meant to be more about the importance of learning and recalling by feel than a putting lesson, but we’ll make one more point. At the end of your putt, just before, during and after you release the disc, the feeling should also include a quick, sharp burst of movement. Don’t misunderstand all the talk of stretching toward the target and conjure up thoughts of slow motion Tai Chi. For more on that check out the follow through post referenced above.
Since we went into pretty good detail about the importance of ‘feel’ in the putting example, this one will be short and sweet. It should help drive (no pun intended) the point home using a different type of scenario. We’ll focus on one particular aspect of good, consistent driving: Balance.
One of the key points in our comprehensive post ‘Building Blocks of Basic Backhand Technique‘ is the relationship between balance and weight transfer. When it comes to throwing a golf disc properly the two are intertwined, and the difference can definitely be felt when done correctly vs. incorrectly.
First off, when you’re setting up to throw, make sure you begin with good posture (knees still slightly bent, but back mostly straight and body not ‘hunched over’) and weight evenly distributed between front and back foot. As you execute the throw, remember the goal of keeping that weight centered as much as possible. Yes, you need to transfer weight to the back foot as you reach your disc all the way back and transfer it forward in sync with the disc as you throw. But to retain the most consistent control of where your disc goes, you must remain well balanced. If you feel yourself falling off to one side or, more commonly, falling forward upon disc release, your balance is off and likely so is your aim.
This is why, in the backhand post cited above as well as all lessons I give on the subject, I urge players to begin by learning proper backhand technique without a run-up. It’s important to lock in the feel of proper balance and weight transfer so you can recall it when needed, and identify flaws when they arise.
This post doesn’t include any images, for a good reason. Visual aids do have a place in learning. But when it comes to muscle memory it’s all about learning through feel, and realizing that feeling is the best way to learn.
Among the pleasures of disc golf – and there are many – perhaps the most satisfying for the athletically-minded is mastering new flight paths for one’s disc. And since all discs to one degree or another have the natural tendency to fade left or right depending on the direction of the spin, making a disc turn in the opposite direction of that fade is among the first big milestones. And then you realize that within the broad classification of “turnover shot” exist an endless quantity of different shot-shapes and ways to achieve them, and things really begin to get interesting. And fun.
A while back we published a post called “Mastering the turnover shot: Equal parts art and science.” In it we explain in pretty good detail the handful of ways of executing flight paths variously known as a turnover shot or anhyzer. (You can check out our Disc Golf Terminology page for definitions of all these terms.) We recommend reading the previous post before reading this one. This post explains specific flight paths that can be achieved by adjusting any of six different factors, and those are listed and described there.
The Anhyzer S-turn
Let’s start by explaining the term ‘S-turn’, which describes the flight path rather than throw itself. It simply refers to a flight path where the disc turns in one direction for the beginning of the flight, then finishes by turning in the other direction. You’ve like done it before, by accident if not by design. Being able to properly execute an S-turn represents a huge step forward for any player, and once you understand how to do it it really isn’t any harder than turnover shots intended to arc in a single direction the entire flight. And it not only proves useful when two turns are required. It’s also a great way to maximize distance as the turns keep the disc in the air longer.
To hyzer a disc means to release it with a nose angle that encourages the disc to fade in the direction it naturally tends to fade. For instance, a right-handed backhand shot will fade to the left. So to throw an anhyzer in that same situation a player must release it with a nose angle that not only enables the disc to resist that tendency to fade, but turn in the other direction. An RHBH thrower uses a nose angle where the left side of the disc is lower than the right, so that same thrower – if she wants to throw an anhyzer shot – needs to reverse that nose angle so that the left side is higher than the right. Think of driving a car with your hands “10 and 2” on the steering wheel, and imagine a straight line between your hands. When you turn left, your left hand becomes lower than the right and that straight line mimics the nose angle you’d want on your disc for a hyzer release. A right turn mimics the angle for an anhyzer release (Again, see the previous post for a correct explanation of hyzer/anhyzer as anhyzer and turnover are not synonymous.)
Sticking with our RHBH example, an anhyzer S-turn shot will initially turn to the right, then at some point fade back to the left. This shot comes in handy when the hole presents early obstacles on the right side of the fairway that force the player to start the shot on the left side, while also having characteristics that make it undesirable to let the disc finish in that direction. For instance the hole has a wall of early trees on the right side and on the other side of the trees is a deep ravine or a water hazard. The basket is on the left side of the fairway a little deeper than the ravine/water, behind another grove of trees.
The trees on the right are too high for a simple tall hyzer route, so the player must throw through the gap on the left, but she can’t throw straight at the basket without heading right for the grove on the left. The solution is the anhyzer S-turn, because it first avoids the trees on the right by passing through the gap, then (because it is turning right thanks to the anhyzer release angle) passes to the right of the grove on the left. This much could be accomplished with a simple anhyzer shot, but remember if it finishes right it’ll find the ravine/water hazard. So it is imperative that the disc finish left.
The two keys to pulling this off are knowing the discs in your bag and the release point required for each- and that only happens with practice. Get out in a field and throw all your discs with the same amount of power and same nose angle. The understable discs will likely turn over and never fade back, while your super-overstable disc may hardly turn at all before fading back to the hyzer angle. Since every situation is somewhat unique, you’ll want to eventually learn how to do this with as many of your discs as possible. It’ll require different combinations of those six factors explained in the last post, which is why it’s important to really know each disc’s characteristics.
We mention release point because this is usually the biggest hurdle players have in learning to throw this shot. If you release the disc at too low a point with a steep anhyzer nose angle, it will head straight for the ground as it turns over and never have a chance to fade back. A fairly typical release point for an anhyzer S-turn is eye level or higher, but it is differs depending on the player’s armspeed, the disc, and the situation.
The Flip Hyzer S-turn
The flight path for a flip hyzer (or hyzer flip) S-turn is the reverse of the anhyzer S-turn. It’s usually the easier S-turn shot to execute because for most players throwing with a hyzer angle comes much more naturally. However, a key ingredient to executing this shot is above average armspeed, so if you’re having trouble with it that may be the reason.
The term ‘flip hyzer’ accurately describes this flight path. When done properly the RHBH thrower releases a throw on a hyzer angle with enough power for the rate of speed to eventually overcome that hyzer angle, causing the disc to turn over and drift right. The really cool thing about this shot is that by dialing up just the right mix of nose angle, armspeed and release point (and of course the disc chosen matters as well), the thrower can manipulate the precise point at which the disc turns. For instance, a steeper hyzer angle will make the disc take longer to turn over, while increasing the armspeed will make it happen quicker.
Even though the flight characteristics of a flip hyzer shot are the reverse as an anhyzer S-turn, it isn’t used in quite the same way. A player will typically utilize it in two scenarios:
On long, ‘tunnel’ type holes where the disc needs to finish on a turnover line, a flip hyzer enables the thrower to maximize the distance before the disc begins to turn over
On very long, wide open holes where nothing matters but distance, a flip hyzer when executed properly will yield the most distance. In fact, in distance contests top pros use this method almost exclusively as their elite power, combined with a sharp hyzer angle and a high release trajectory often result in three turns- the initial hyzer, and then the turnover as spin rate overcomes angle, and finally (since the trajectory was upward and the disc still isn’t close to the ground), a fade back to the hyzer line.
Once again, the only way a player can master this shot enough to have confidence in the technical situations in which it is required is through hours and hours of experimentation and then repetition. It’s also worth noting that both these S-turn methods can be used to achieve a roller shot, where the player is intentionally causing the disc land on an anhyzer angle with enough power left to stand up and roll.
Holding the line
As discussed in the previous post, for most players throwing a disc perfectly straight is harder than making it turn. So it should not be a surprise that making a disc turn over and then hold a particular line once it has turned is for some even harder. On courses with baskets placed in harrowing positions (near OB, water, cliffs) a straight, flat landing is often the only way to avoid trouble. Like the S-turn shots it requires a very exacting combination of angle, speed and trajectory, but in this case another specific factor is even more important. And that factor is . . . spin.
Think of it this way: If a player wants to throw RHBH anhyzer that turns over through its entire flight he’d throw a disc he knows will continue to turn with a steep enough nose angle. If he wants the disc to turn most of the way then fade left at the end (anhyzer S-turn), he could use the same technique but switch to a sufficiently more overstable disc. But if he wants the disc to execute a right turn at a certain point then very gradually come out of the turn and finish on a straight line, merely changing discs won’t cut it.
Unlike most shots, where as number of factor combinations result in roughly the same flight path, this requires an increase in spin and nose angle steepness proportionate with the distance the disc needs to carry on that straight finishing line. Spin can be increased by accentuating that whip-cracking, towel-snapping release and reducing the follow through of the arm. A good way to learn this is to pick out the apex of the intended flight path, which should act as a hinge that connects the first part of your throw with the second. Aim for that hinge with the idea that your disc will reach that apex with the right angle and lots of spin, then use that spin to coast on the exact straight line you want.
This type of shot is particularly handy on shorter shorts where you can use a fan grip and a putter, but it can be thrown with a power grip as well.
Everyone knows the secret to learning a complex concept lies in a good acronym, right?
Okay, that may be overstating things a bit, but they do at least help us remember and internalize those concepts once we’ve had them explained to us. And the best acronyms are the ones that pop up organically, and as a bonus form an actual word, and as a double-bonus have relevance to the subject matter as was the case a couple weeks ago.
I was in the middle of a private lesson, and my client Sean and I were on the course going over the importance of game management. I was trying to explain the importance of going through the same routine a routine for each shot. But in this case I wasn’t stressing the value of a set routine in keeping him clear-minded and focused on the task at hand (which is important as well). We were studying the three individual elements of the routine, and the importance of doing them in a specific sequence:
Gather all available information and analyze it
Make a decision based on your analysis
Throw the disc
Then it hit me like a Firebird right between the eyes. Assess, Choose, Execute. A.C.E. If you want to shoot lower scores by making less mistakes, one way to do it is to A.C.E. every hole! What could be easier?
My hope is that the line will be memorable enough for people to remember it, and based on my focus group of one, it is. I asked Sean a week later what he remembered from our last lesson, and the first thing he said was “Ace. Assess, choose, execute”. That in turn helped him recall the additional details we covered on each step, which are listed below.
Whether on the tee, in the fairway (or rough), or on the green, success starts with having a plan. And having a plan starts with collecting and analyzing the available data. How long is it to the green? Where does the greatest danger lie? How will the wind affect the shot? And then, the final two questions: What are my options, and what are the risk reward trade-offs for each?
One specific tactical tip for ensuring that you’re considering all your options on those particularly complex shots – you know, the ones where you’re stuck in a really gnarly, claustrophobic situation or just when no one obvious best option jumps out at you – is to make like you’re playing the game Twister. Making sure to keep one foot (or other supporting point) behind the marker, stretch out in all directions, both facing the direction you want to throw and with your back turned as well, as sometimes that is the best way to get off a backhand shot. Doing this will help you see routes that may not have been immediately obvious. Also, don’t be afraid to get down on one or two knees, and low may be the best way to go.
Once you’ve collected your data, the next step is to choose and option based on specific shot selection criteria that you predetermined before the round. This may be a philosophy you always use regardless of the situation, but it can also be guiding rules that differ depending on the type of disc golf you’re playing that day. Casual vs. weekly club competition vs. PDGA sanctioned tournament may for some all be handled differently. Another example might be singles strokes play vs. match play vs. best-shot doubles. One personal example I can give is the way I purposefully set out to play super aggressive and run at everything in my first casual round after playing a sanctioned event. I tell myself beforehand to let it all hang out and focus exclusively on fun, score be damned.
The two main points about the ‘Choose’ phase of your routine are to settle within yourself what your shot selection criteria will be before the round, when you mind isn’t clouded with the emotions of the moment, and stay faithful to the plan; and also this: Once you’ve made a decision, don’t look back. Fully commit to your decision knowing that it was made after a comprehensive review of the situation. If you choose an aggressive (high risk, high reward) option and find yourself second-guessing as you set up for the shot, switch to the conservative play. When in doubt, don’t.
Now it’s time to take action with your disc of choice (said disc choice should have been part of the Assess and Choose phases, by the way). The main reason for consciously dividing these elements of a pre-shot routine into three separate parts is so that, once it comes time to throw the disc your mind is occupied with nothing else. You want to be fully committed and thinking only ‘throw thoughts’, (in ball golf they are referred to as ‘swing thoughts’), those mostly mechanical reminders you find most useful.
It’s kind of a weird analogy, but think of it like making a smoothie. First you decide what to put into based on the ingredients you have on hand; next you actually put them in the blender; and finally, you hit the button. The main part of this analogy (technically a simile, for all the grammar geeks out there) is that executing the shot – throwing or putting the disc – should be like hitting the button on the blender. The time for critical thinking has passed, and hopefully in both cases the result is something smooth and tasty.
This routine is even helpful for shots that seemingly don’t require it, like a short putt that borders on gimme range or a situation where the shot choice is automatic. Why? Sticking to a routine, no matter the circumstance, greatly reduces the chance of a mind-lapse and taking the resulting unnecessary strokes. When you miss a 12-foot putt it’s almost always because you took it for granted and allow your mind to be totally elsewhere. I literally feel for my keys in my pocket whenever I lock my car because locking the keys inside sucks big-time. I drilled that routine into a habit that I never change, and haven’t made that particular stupid mistake since. Plenty others, of course, but at least not that one!
One of the best and easiest ways to shoot better scores in disc golf is to cut down on mental errors. and one way to do that is to have a A.C.E. every hole. Quick quiz: what does A.C.E. stand for? You got it! Assess, Choose, Execute.
One final note. You may be wondering how on earth you’ll be able to cover all that ground in the 30 seconds you get, according to PDGA rules, to throw once it’s your turn. First of all, the more you repeat this routine, this quicker and more automatic it will become. Second, most of the time you should be able to do most of your assessment and even choose your shot before it’s your turn to throw. This routine should begin the second you have an idea of where your previous throw landed. Remember, playing disc golf is fun. Playing smart, focused golf is fun and rewarding.
We touched on several topics that are covered in more detail in other posts. Feel free to check ’em out.