The perfect playing partner, and the almost near-perfect round

Today was a good day.

More specifically, today was a very good disc golf day in the life of a player whose days of high-level competition are mostly behind him.

At the risk of boring those who could care less about the disc golf exploits of others I will recount my round today, because it gives me the opportunity of sharing yet another lesson on one the sport’s finer points. Specifically, we’ll examine what I think is the appropriate way to act when someone in your group is having a potentially personal-best, or-for-some-other-reason historical round.

A little backdrop: I had been camping with the family and hadn’t played DeLaveaga for almost a week. In that time, the baskets had been moved (some of them at least) for the first time in a couple months. Ten of the 29 baskets were in different spots than the last 20 or so rounds I’d played there.

My friend Asaf and I met for a casual round this afternoon, and for the sake of brevity I will tell you that he shot a +10, which is a little worse than his average and significantly above his recent scores of between +2 and +6.

The round started off for innocuously enough for me with a par on hole 1  (basket in the A position). But I did feel an energy, or strength, on the drive, and it gave me confidence to play Hole 2 aggressively. Hole 2 at DeLa is uphill and also a fairly sharp left dogleg with plenty of trees. As a left-hander it requires a technically near-perfect S-turn drive with premium power. I felt as I released it that as long as it didn’t roll away it would be good, and it was. Close enough to putt with the Ape driver that did the heavy lifting. Birdie number one on the day.

Hole 3 provided the first opportunity for a big putt. I pulled the drive left, leaving a 50-foot jump/straddle blocked by low limbs. Dead center, -2 after three holes.

This 50-footer from an obstructed lie on hole 3 slammed dead-center into the chains.

After a par on hole 4 in the short position (one of the new pin positions), I birdied 5, 6, 7, and 8 (the final of these while playing through a group from the Bay Area Chain Smokers clan- one of whom helped me out big-time in a School of Disc Golf event recently. Thanks Ryon!). Holes 5 and 6 required short ‘tester’ putts, while both 7 and 8 were in the 25-30 range. At this point I was -6 after eight holes and it was hard to ignore the fact that I was off to a rather hot start. It’s worth noting two things at this point: First of all, I try very hard to NOT keep track of my total score during my round. This has been well-documented in previous posts, so feel free to do a little research to understand why I am so passionate about this philosophy. Second, my friend Asaf was also well aware of my hot start, as he later revealed- yet he took pains even at this point to NOT comment on that fact. He is quite familiar with my efforts to not dwell on cumulative score during a round.

Holes 8A through 14 (six holes total) were all pars, but even that attests to the magic of this round. 8A and 10 were both missed birdie opportunities for me, but 9, 11, 12, and 13 are all holes on which I average more than par. Hole 9 is a tough lefty hole, but I played it safe. Hole 11 in the long-left position is tough for anyone, and for me today it required a tough, technical, lefty backhand skip-upshot with a Star Tern to save par. Hole 12 had just been moved to the long ‘Wind-chimes’ position, and I didn’t have the disc I would normally drive that hole with, an OOP, pre-Barry Schultz gummy Beast. I threw the Tern instead and hit the small gap left of the canyon to net a par.

Then I came to Hole 13. I-5. DeLaveaga was installed in the early 1980’s, a time when all disc golf holes were for the sake of consistency par 3. If DeLa were installed new today, hole 13 would today definitely be rated a par 4, but it is and now always will be par 3. For this reason, it is impossible to approach this hole bogey-free and not think about the significance of getting a par 3 here. It’s easily the toughest hole on the course in terms of par, so if you make it past 14 bogey-free, in theory the toughest obstacle has been conquered. Never mind the fact that there are 15 holes yet to go.

The view of this picture of Hole 13 at DeLaveaga is from behind the basket looking back to the fairway. Obviously the epitome of a guarded green. Add 500-plus feet of distance and this is one tough par 3. Photo by John Hernlund.
The view of this picture of Hole 13 at DeLaveaga is from behind the basket looking back to the fairway. Obviously the epitome of a guarded green. Add 500-plus feet of distance and this is one tough par 3. Photo by John Hernlund.

My drive on 13 was as usual a backhand lefty roller, and it was a good one. I got all the way through the flat, wide-open first half of the fairway before my roller began to turn over toward the steep, wooded canyon on the left. That’s important, because if it makes it far enough before cutting left there is usually at least a chance to eek out a par through the trees. Such was the case today, and my pinpoint upshot with my (secret weapon) soft Vibram Ridge gave me a 23-foot par putt which I was able to hit, keeping my unblemished round intact.

If Asaf made any notable comment or compliment after I hit that putt, I don’t recall it. He likely said something like ‘nice putt’, but I just don’t remember. That’s a pretty big deal in itself, because I’ve actually had people say to me when I was bogey free after hole 13, “Did you know you don’t have any bogies yet?” Now, I’m not truly superstitious, but jinxes aside, there are things that common sense should tell you not to say in certain circumstances. The last thing I want to hear from another player in a spot like that is a verbal reminder that I’m bogey-free.  To reiterate, a bogey-free round at DeLa is a big deal. Almost as rare for a player of any level as a no-hitter in baseball- which brings up another good analogy.

Before getting hooked on disc golf in the mid 90’s, I was (like Paul McBeth) an aspiring baseball player. And as all baseball players know, there are a numerous time-honored traditions. One involves how teammates treat a pitcher who is in the process of potentially recording a no-hitter. In baseball, as the outs and innings tick by, the pitcher’s teammates work harder and harder to avoid him. By the eighth and ninth innings no one will even sit near him in the dugout- much less engage him in conversation. Asaf has never played baseball, but he has  impeccable golf etiquette, and his instincts on how to react to my hot round were spot-on.

As I said, my par putt on 13 drew a perfectly measured response from Asaf. Hearty congrats for parring a hole that seeing may more 4’s than 3’s, but nothing to draw attention to the fact that I just cleared the biggest hurdle to carding a bogey-free round at DeLa.

Hole 14 was in the 2nd-toughest of it’s four possible pin placements, and after a drive good enough to get a pretty routine upshot for par, I kinda blew it. I hit a high limb trying for a high hyzer upshot and left myself 29 feet away. Feeling for the first time the full pressure of bogey-free potential, I hit the putt to keep hope alive. Asaf once again didn’t betray his recognition of the significance. I uncharacteristically celebrated, but I don’t recall him saying much of anything. I mentioned earlier that I’d had only four bogey-free rounds at DeLa in more than 20 years . . . well, I’ve made it past hole 13 only to get my first bogey on 14 at least 10 times. So that was a hurdle to clear as well.

Hole 15 was my first birdie in seven holes, hole 16 saw one of my longest drives there ever (400-plus feet in the air, but I missed the 40-foot putt), and hole 17 resulted in a birdie for both Asaf and me. Hole 18 and 19 were both pars for me, but Asaf birdied 18 so he took the teepad for the first time. I remember kind of liking that as it took the focus off me and my round.

On hole 20, which had just been moved to its right position, I likely came close to an ace. We couldn’t see the result from the tee, but my drive ended up just past the hole, 18 feet away. I birdied that  hole, as well as 21 and 22, a long drive across an OB road- which I based. Holes 23 and 24 were pars, which left me with what we refer to at DeLa as ‘The Hill,’ the final four holes that play up, across, and down a steep, rutted, and tree-filled slope.

Hole 26a at DeLaveaga looks simple enough from the tee, but a narrow fairway and steep drop-offs on both  the left and right mean drives need to be both very straight and fairly long. Photo by John Hernlund.
Hole 26a at DeLaveaga looks simple enough from the tee, but a narrow fairway and steep drop-offs on both the left and right mean drives need to be both very straight and fairly long. Photo by John Hernlund.

Hole 25 was recently moved short, which is a good thing, except that the short pin placement is close to an OB road to the right. For a guy throwing lefty backhand hyzer, at that position for the first time in months, it caused a good deal of consternation. My Vibram O-Lace came through, though, and the reliable grip enabled me to turn a big S-turn into a drop-in birdie. Asaf, in retrospect, was treating me more and more like radioactive material.

Hole 26 in the long is one of those holes where it’s nearly impossible to just ‘play it safe’ off the tee. I did what I normally do, got a good result, layed up as safely as possible for par (if you know this hole you know that there is no such thing as a routine par here) and thankfully kept my card clean for another hole. 27 holes down, two to go.

Hole 26a was added around 10 years ago – maybe longer – at a time when we were trying to ‘rest’ some environmentally sensitive holes like 17. The idea was to always have 27 available to play. It sits on a narrow ridge between the basket for 26 and the tee for 27, with steep DeLa-style drop-offs on both the left and right sides. 26a was one of the holes just moved- to it’s long position. I knew if would provide the final challenge to a bogey-free round, as hole 27 (normally Top of the World) to an ridiculously short position.

My drive on 26a, thrown with a Legacy Rival for stability and control, came out exactly as I wanted. However, at the end of its flight  it got caught by some Scotch Broom foliage in the fairway and left me with an obstructed 200-foot upshot. I did everything I could with my soft Ridge given the circumstances, and it came down to a 40-foot low ceiling look for par. My lean/jump-putt looked good most of the way, then hit the top nubs of the Mach X basket and fell unceremoniously to the ground. Bogey.

What happened next, though, was pretty cool. It was obvious that Asaf had been for many holes holding in the desire to show his support for my effort. We discussed what had been moments before taboo, then quickly moved to the fact that he could preserve a single-digit score by parring the final hole.

I was disappointed to lose the bogey-free round on the second-to-last hole, but also still aware that I had a pretty hot round going anyway. After my teeshot on 27 looked like another likely birdie putt and we were snaking out way down the 68 steps from tee to fairway, I mentioned that I thought I still might have a shot a double-digits under par. Asaf  replied that he thought I was easily at that mark, but I wasn’t sure. As I mentioned earlier, I try hard not to keep track of my total, and if I had to guess at that time, I would have guessed that I was either -9 or -10 at that point.

Turns out I was -12 when I missed my par putt on 26a, and then -12 after I hit my 13th and final birdie on 27. I tied my personal best (recorded in 2006), didn’t get the bogey-free round that really meant more to me, but still floated around the rest of the day basking in the glow.

The best and most lasting memory, though, will be of my conversation with Asaf afterward. He said that he was so aware of my round, from the hot start to the par on 13 and on, that he didn’t want to do anything to mess it up. He said it got to the point, on the last six or seven holes, that he didn’t even want to touch my discs. I hadn’t noticed that, but appreciated it with a chuckle after the fact. As an old baseball player – an old pitcher, in fact – I could not have not asked for anything more in a playing partner.

So the specific advice is this: when you’re playing with someone who has a hot round in the works, do like Asaf and refrain from any commentary that draws attention to the hotness of the round. If the player brings it up then you’re in the clear. But don’t be the one to raise the topic. In fact, generally speaking, you can never go wrong by limiting your narrative on other peoples’ shots (and your own for that matter). Let the game for the most part speak for itself, and use the time together to discuss other things.

New disc review & giveaway: Say hello and so LONG to the Vibram Lace

Is there anything Vibram’s X-Link Rubber Compound disc’s can’t do?

For two years now I’ve touted the durability, and the grip, and even the consistent, reliable flight path. But I always assumed that distance was the one area where the tackier material made of rubber would not be able to match the sleekness and (I thought) superior aerodynamics of plastic.

After testing the Lace, Vibram’s first true long distance disc, I think I may have been wrong. Very wrong.

When I give it some thought, though, I should have seen this coming. After all, the Obex and Ibex can produce incredible distance for mid range discs, and the Trek and Ascent both fly pretty far for supposed ‘fairway drivers’. But the Lace takes things to a whole new level. I’ll do my best to explain, but after a couple fieldwork sessions and a stellar round at DeLaveaga today (-6, thanks in part to the Lace) I haven’t quite figured out how the disc flies so fast and long, so effortlessly.

This disc isn’t available in stores until November 23rd, but if you want a chance to win the tester they sent to School of Disc Golf, read on.

Those that have read my reviews in the past know I’m not big on the technical aspects of discs. I don’t flightplates diameters and all that jazz. If you need to know that stuff it’s on Vibram’s site. And while you’re there you might read their description of the disc, which says in part that it’s “like a faster Trak with a ton more glide thrown in as a bonus.” I don’t totally agree with that assessment.

While it is indeed much faster and goes way further than a Trak, this disc is way more stable. In fact, I think it’ll act like most other super-fast discs do for players without a surplus of power. I grudgingly let me friend throw it once today (hey, by the time I realized what it could do I needed it for the long holes at DeLa), and he is an accomplished player. Even after I told him it could handle all the power he wanted to give it, he still underestimated it and let it hyzer out way too soon. It’s happened to me a bunch of times too. But even when I didn’t get the gradual S-turn I plan for when going for maximum distance, I still ended up longer than expected, time and time again.

A couple times at DeLa I even discovered new possibilities- and I’ve been playing that course for almost 20 years! It’s hard to put into the right words, but when I watch the flight of my Lace I expect to find it in one place and I end up finding it somewhere else, usually further down the fairway and closer to the hole. Case in point was hole 20, a dogleg right over and around tall trees. It was my first hole of the day with the Lace and I didn’t expect it to be so stable. It hyzered way sooner than I wanted, and I started plunging into the trees thinking it went in way short and maybe even trickled down into the canyon. Nope. It was on the right fringe, but barely, and only 40 feet short of the hole. A good throw would have blasted past the basket. It’s that glide that Vibram touts.

As far as feel is concerned, the Lace has that superior grip that just makes you feel like you’re in control. Some power discs just feel in my hand that they’re uncontrollable, but not this disc. It fit into my hand comfortably and came out smoothly.

Another thing related to the rubber compound that I like: as with the other Vibram discs, it tends to stop pretty soon after touching down, which I consider a bonus with a long range driver in certain cases. There are times when you need to get 400-plus feet yet you need that disc to stop quickly afterward. Until now that really hasn’t been an option. If you wanted that distance you had to be willing to risk the possibility of skipping and/or sliding at the end of the flight. Now, with the Lace, you can have your cake and eat it too.

I don’t hide the fact that I love Vibram’s rubber discs, and I’m mildly surprised that the rest of the disc golf world hasn’t yet gone ga-ga for rubber. I guess these things take time. But I have a prediction. In golf there is the well-known saying, ‘Drive for show, putt for dough’. Distance and power gets the most attention, and now that the Lace is here, expect Vibram to start getting LOTS more attention.

Now for the contest. Since I want West Coast disc golfers to wise up to the Vibram vibe, I’m gonna do a live contest at the next DeLaveaga club monthly, December 1st at DDGC in Santa Cruz, CA. Participants will get the chance to test drive Vibram’s other drivers or mid range discs (Trek, Ascent, Ibex and Obex) and then pick one to take one crack at a CTP contest on hole 6. Winner gets the Lace. NOTE: To get in the contest, you gotta RSVP via the comments section below.

And since I don’t want to leave out readers that can’t get to the DeLa monthly, I’m also gonna give away another Vibram disc with a School of Disc Golf hotstamp to a random person who comments on this post. Let us know your thoughts on rubber vs. plastic, or something else relevant to the topic. Good luck!

Vibram’s first mid-range disc fills a niche in my bag

It’s kinda pointless to review a disc and discuss flight characteristics without some form of context in terms of the person throwing the disc. Describing a disc by comparing it to other discs (“it’s like a Roc on steroids!”) is, for the same reason, of limited usefulness. Disc golfers vary greatly not only by armspeed but also in a number of other ways, like preference for hyzer/anhyzer/S-turn flight and general skill level and experience. So it should make sense that a disc that flies naturally straight according to one person’s perception won’t result in the same experience for someone else.

With that being established, in reviewing Vibram’s first mid-range disc, the Ibex, I’ll share some characteristics of my own disc golf game to provide some of that context. Hopefully it’ll give you a better idea of how you might be able to use the Ibex and other discs I review in your game. Here’s my disc golfer profile, in a nutshell:

  • more than 20 years playing disc golf with a top rating of 999, and still constantly seeking ways to get better
  • successful competitive player due to a well-rounded game rather than a big arm
  • slower arm speed due a rotator cuff injury, maxing out at maybe 380 feet with accuracy
  • play primarily in Santa Cruz county, where most fairways and greens are fast and/or sloped

The Ibex that Vibram sent me to test is in their regular (as opposed to soft or hard) X-Link rubber compound. I find that some of the appeal that the Ibex has for my game is directly related to slogans Vibram touts about their entire line. To quote the top of every page on their website: “Exceptional Durability, Unequaled Grip, Consistent Performance”. After throwing the Ibex for a few weeks now (plus having tested other Vibram models for a much longer period of time), I can attest to the veracity of all three claims. And it is these characteristics that have me giving the Ibex and other Vibram discs a long tryout for a spot in my bag.

Most of my non-putter discs have for years been made of various types of high-tech plastic, like ESP, Star or Champion. Playing on the fast terrain of DeLaveaga and surrounding courses for years, I’ve become accustomed to taking the skip into consideration when planning and executing shots. But Vibram discs provide a great alternative to that strategy, when needed, with their tacky rubber surface. Whether the Ibex lands at a steep angle or perfectly flat, it usually ends up pretty close to where it first touches down. With a weeny arm now, sometimes I need that skip to reach the green, and in those cases I won’t throw a rubber disc. But it’s all about having the right disc for each shot, and now I’ve got discs that don’t skip when I don’t want ’em to.

Another benefit directly related to the rubber compound that makes Vibram unique is the fact that the grip expands shot-making possibilities. Case in point: sometimes I am faced with one of those ‘tweener’ shots where the distance and lie seems too long for a putter, and too short for a full, smooth mid-range disc. I’m finding that throwing the Ibex with a fan grip works great in these situations, providing the same accuracy-centric control I would get from one of my putters, but with the added distance I need. In the past I had to throw a putter harder than I’d want to, risking the loss of some aim, or another midrange with a fan grip on the comparatively slick ‘high tech’ plastic, which didn’t inspire confidence.

In my case, the other mid-range discs in my bag are only moderately stable. If I put an anhyszer angle with some height on a throw with my Champion Cobra, for instance, it’ll hold that angle for a long time. If I throw it hard and flat and low, there is a good chance it’ll turn over and hit the ground too soon. With the Ibex I now have a disc that I can throw flat and expect to hyzer fairly quickly, yet it won’t skip like a flat stone on a quiet creek when it hits the hard dirt of DeLa. Once again, that’s valuable because it fills a void in my bag.

To sum it up, the Ibex is worth a look because as a mid-range disc its inherent qualities as a rubber disc fit perfectly with the way a mid-range disc is intended to be used. It flies further that a putter, yet offers more control and predictability than a driver (and most other mid-range discs). Add to that the fact that the rubber texture also greatly improves grip and helps it stop on a dime, and you’ve got one heck of a mid-range disc.