Wednesday, May 21, 2014

How do I Improve?

How do I get better, throw farther, putt more accurately, fix my game? Maybe if I could drive just another 50', then I could be in birdie range for hole #3 and #5?! Why am I losing to this guy? Perhaps the problem is the discs that I'm throwing - they're too heavy, too light, definitely the wrong color. Should I disc down or disc up? Should I learn forehand or thumbers? If I had a better disc bag, maybe my shoes are the problem or if I had a stool to sit on so I could rest between shots?

I've seen the forums chock full of these questions (okay, not all of them). After a few months, a year, maybe a few years of playing and practicing - players are confounded by a plateau or maybe multiple plateaus. It's like seeing your "check engine" light go on in your car - opening your hood and a staring at a million possible things. It's daunting and feels impossible to know where to start and it's not unique to disc golf. I've seen nearly the exact same types of questions asked in rock climbing forums on improving.

So this post is going to be pretty in depth. I've been mulling over these thoughts for a few months and I wanted to get them down before they settle into my memory dumpster.

The Disclaimer

I'm no master disc golfer. I'm not a pro and I rarely play tournaments. I have only been at this for a year. I can easily list all the things that I suck at as of yesterday. The disclaimer is stated, so if you have the complaint that I shouldn't be giving advice because I can't possibly know WTF I'm talking about - this is your out (even if you're probably right).

You Good?

You're still here and you're sure you want to be? Sweet, thanks for staying! I don't care if people think I take it too seriously because I enjoy improving. Once I've stagnated, I'm looking for something new. I've developed a fairly consistent game that keeps me throwing quite a few bogey free rounds at shorter courses and close to par at some very long courses.

I did this by trying to develop my game through field work and lately that field work has become much more organized. I see quite a few suggestions in the forums for "practice!" but the reality is that continuing to practice bad habits is going to simply reinforce the bad habits. Perfect practice is what you're looking for, and that is not actually that hard to do.

Perfect Practice?

Perfect practice is developing a repetition that strengthens a skill and that you can verify is good form. It can be done many ways - but most importantly it must be objective. A camera is objective. It is fact. It is a very solid tool to have as part of your practice.

Here's a fact: I look back too far with my head during the reach-back of my backhand when I'm trying to max out a drive. I know this, because I've watched myself doing it on my camera, which REFUSES to REALIZE that I'm NOT really looking that far back. But it tells me the truth and gives me something to work on.

If you're not getting an objective reality on what is happening, then you're basing your view on opinion. And opinions (because this is a family friendly blog) are like butts - we all got them, and they all stink. Your brain will lie to you, it's a fantastic resource of misinformation. And here's the kicker, you can get REALLY good even with bad habits.

Drill 1 - Putter Shots

Okay, so let's start with a simple drill that I do quite often. Grab your camera - tripods are great - but I often will hit record and set it on a disc. Grab a stack of putters and aim 100' out at something like your empty disc bag. Forehand or backhand - it doesn't matter.
The goals are: 

  1. Zero flutter/wobble out of your hand
  2. 10' from the bag
  3. It should feel effortless.

I will do this flat, on a hyzer and then anhyzer.

The best thing about throwing my putters is that they add a second level of objectivity. If I start doing something wrong, they will object immediately. I was throwing a ton of over-stable drivers for my forehands, but it turns out that they can compensate for a large amount of off-axis-torque and still fly pretty well. When I threw a putter, it was a wounded goose trying to flap it's way south for the winter. Throwing a putter (forehand and backhand) is an easy benchmark for good technique.

Next I review the video immediately and make sure that I'm not doing anything I know I shouldn't be, like getting flat footed, not rotating on my heel or not following through.

Then I set it down, hit record and move back another 50' and throw those putters again. Rinse and repeat with a little more distance.

Drill 2 - Putting

Putting is in the same category. You can swear that you're following through, up on your toes and shaking hands with the basket... record yourself and watch that footage. I'm extremely guilty of not following through on putts and it KILLS me because I often times will pull a "front rim banger" in a round because of that poor form. Let the camera be your objective reference and see what is really going on.

Here's one of the countless phone videos I have of my putting. I usually just record, watch and then delete.

An idea came to me a few weeks back that was basically: if you want to improve the most in a year - what type of golf should you be playing? Aggressive golf where you're trying to develop nerves of steel OR playing within your game, going for it where you're confident? Ultimately it is probably somewhere in the middle. You have to extend the circle around the bucket where your confidence is high.

You want to be playing and practicing in a way that increases the chances for throwing your best shots. To do that, you can increase accuracy with your drives and approaches and increase the distances that you can confidently putt from - but most importantly, you have to know which shot is your best option.

Knowing your Strengths

Learning what shots you are most accurate with is a big part improving. Next time you do fieldwork try this if you have a practice basket. You get 10 discs of the same mold (putters, mids or drivers) thrown on the same line and you're going to see how many birdies you can get out of those 10 shots from 200 - 350' out. Putt out each shot like you would in a game.

Keep notes, so an example might look like this:

200' Putters: Flat ShotsBirdies: 6
Pars: 4
200' Putters: Hyzer Shots:Birdies: 7
Pars: 3
200' Putters: Anhyzer Shots:Birdies: 4
Pars: 6
250' Mids
etc ...
350' Drivers
etc ...

When you start tracking how accurate your shots are with your various discs, you are getting some concrete evidence that will help you with shot & disc selection and with what needs more practice. I discovered that throwing forehand downhill I am a mess with accuracy, yet throwing uphill forehand I'm much more accurate than w/ backhands. (I wrote that down by the way on a note card.)

There have been a few times in my life where I've managed to tackle some big objectives that from the outside look nearly impossible. Each time that I succeeded it came down to figuring out how to improve in a quantifiable way. It takes more effort than just strolling out to the park and having a "how far can I throw" competition with yourself - but the payoff is that you are going to learn about your game, you are going to improve and you are going to be more confident knowing that you are throwing your best option.

And finally it's good to have a solid caddy.

  1. Innova Daedalus Gstar goodness with a helping of turn.
  2. Improving Backhand Distance Check out the pros to fix your issues.
  3. DD Renegade So good it goes permanent in the bag
  4. Beware the Bad Towel When things go seriously bad.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Spicoli Gets Gnarly

It's a way of life, it's no hobby. It's a way of looking at that wave and saying, "Hey bud, let's party!"
I've often written about my obsessive relationship with disc golf. For every 20 lunch breaks I take at work, 18-19 of them will find me throwing field work at my nearby park. I probably have an auto immune disease from the amount of goose crap that I've come in contact with out there. Canadian geese are horrid beasts.

Never the less, the local high school kids often conglomerate at this park on their lunch breaks to smoke cigarettes, chase each other around and play hacky-sack. Even though I'm pushing 40, I have yet to develop the "GET OFF MY LAWN, YA PUNKS!" attitude. Unmarred by crushed dreams, financial ruin, divorce, the woes of home ownership - they have a look of apathetic optimism and acne.

I stood in the field warming up and noticing that a group of eight kids had setup shop just 50' behind me on a park bench. "Is that guy going to play Frisbee by himself?! Hahahaha."

Oh kids, I thought, it's much worse than you think.

A few rounds of warm up shots with putters and mids before I jogged out to pick them up while the thinly veiled mockery continued. I really didn't mind, I remember being 16 and having the world laid out before me, yet still being unsure of anything except wanting to fit in.

And then I started throwing the drivers and things got quiet. Long flexing backhand drives that hovered across the park got a "Duuude, did you see that?!" ... "Look, look! That is insane!" I turned around and smiled at them.

"Who wants to throw one?"

Laughter and some shoving, "NOT ME!" "Dude, you should do it!" "No way, you do it." ... "No thanks man."

"I'll throw one!" a skinny kid in a tank top says. "Me too, I want to try," his buddy with long hair and skinny jeans says.

They walk over and I quickly show them the basics. Skinny jeans actually manages to keep the disc down and gets it out 150' to the cheers of the peanut gallery. Tank top kid shanks it high and it fades hard left. I'm immediately reminded of my own first drives: the newb hyzer.  I stare at the kid for a moment, he's probably 110 pounds soaking wet. Lanky and more elbow and knees than anything. Reminds me of myself at 15 only more Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High than I ever was.

Skinny jeans walked back to the group after throwing another drive, but Spicoli stayed with me - still wanting to work it out. I showed him how to follow through, how to hold the disc and he threw more discs, making marginal improvements. I threw a few more and I can see that he was having his mind blown. "Damn dude, that's just... crazy!" The disc, to his eyes, was doing the impossible... going so much farther than makes sense. It's that feeling that had initially hooked me, the feeling that you were bending physics to your will.

A year after I started playing and I still get that feeling when I see somebody throwing huge bombs: that's just... crazy!

He thanked me (knuckle bump) and wandered back to his group and I continued throwing as his group lost interest. Ten minutes later and Spicoli is back with more questions.

"Why are the discs all different? Are some for throwing farther?" Hook, line and sinker. I explained about what the various molds are intended for and hand him another stack of discs. This time I show him how to throw forehand. ("Sick, dude! No way!!") Before he left the second time, he'd found out where to buy his own discs, how much they cost and where he can play a round of disc golf.

Welcome to the club dude.

  1. Innova Daedalus Gstar goodness with a helping of turn.
  2. Improving Backhand Distance Check out the pros to fix your issues.
  3. DD Renegade So good it goes permanent in the bag
  4. Beware the Bad Towel When things go seriously bad.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

My Dinner with John E.

Okay, so it wasn't dinner... it was though, dinner time. And it was a really awesome chance to learn a metric ton of stuff from John E McCray (PDGA#9852) who recently set off with his wife on an across-the-country tour in an RV to kick ass in every tournament he could squeeze in. Stopping in Colorado for the first time ever, he put on a clinic in Denver for a group of us that were extremely stoked to ply him with questions.

Anybody who plays a round with me knows that I'm going to start interrogating them at some point or another about stuff. Discs, technique, shots, courses, tournaments, down to the color of their socks. Now I've got one of the best disc golfers in the world standing in front of me and completely willing to answer all my questions?! OH SWEET HAPPY DAYS!!

I don't want to give away any of the juiciest secrets, but I'll try to paraphrase to the best of my recollection some of the great stuff we went over.


JohnE is, by his own definition, a small guy. Compact and powerful. He subscribes to the Barry Schultz style of drive which lines his shoulders up along the line of his drive as opposed to standing perpendicular to it and then having to twist sideways on his x-step to get aligned. He leads with his hips and for most drives pivots on the ball of his foot - only rotating on the heel when he has to muscle it up to longer distances. Zero flutter... and I mean ZERO flutter on a 400' drive with a putter.

We cornered him on a few issues that we'd been debating. OS vs US discs for distance... he throws OS on a slight anhyzer to get a bit more distance. 400-450' though and he's throwing something stable flat and just off the right to let it fade in. I also asked if he felt like he was throwing the disc hard for longer drives... "Oh yeah! I'm really throwing it hard!" which was actually not what I was expecting!

For some reason I thought that these guys throwing 550' had worked out the technique to the point where it was less physically demanding and more about mechanics - but he insists that he clamps down on the disc really hard from the start of his x-step to the release and he's driving hard with his hips and extending a full reach back and that YES he has to really rip it hard. There's no trick to throwing it that far!


McCray was pretty adamant that it's a big mistake to try to learn a huge bag of various molds. "Get a small number of drivers, and bag 4-5 of them, letting them beat in to various stages of stability. Leave the under stable out on a windy day or pull the most stable out on a calm day."

He bags 100% Gateway (his sole sponsor for over 10 years) - even though they'd let him carry a mixed bag, because he loves beating guys with only Gateway discs. He insinuated that some guys look down on Gateway a bit, so it makes it extra sweet. He throws putters on pretty much everything 400' and under. He's so accurate with them it's ridiculous.


Known as a lights out putter who throws a pretty direct line putt and of course some wicked turbos. He said he doesn't really change any aspect of his putt between 20 and 40 feet. He wants to keep the disc flying at chain height until he's getting further out and then maybe 6" above the bucket - but he doesn't do a slow and lofty style of putt.  Calm upper body, with as little movement as possible - with follow through being extremely important.

I asked him about the decision making of going for a 40' putt against water or OB and he's going for it every time. "I'm hitting metal and that should stop it." Talk about putting confidence! Well, it comes from an insane amount of practice. He would throw 1000 putts a day with a stack of 32 putters - well past the point of wearing all the skin off his fingers.

On a windy day, I asked, would he change discs for putting? "Oh yeah, I throw an over stable driver, no question." And of course there's the turbo putting that he's so well known for. He explained that when he first started playing, that's just the way he liked to putt - so he only threw turbo putts for the better part of 8 months and then it turned out to be really handy in some of his local courses that were packed full of prickly bushes that were chest high.

Lastly - he likes the adage "aim small, miss small" - meaning he finds the tiniest spot on a chain and he aims to hit that exact spot. He can miss that spot a bit, and still be right in the heart of the basket - but aiming at the general area of the basket can lead to being off by way too much.

And now for a bit of the fun that comes with playing a round with one of the top disc golfers in the world after the clinic.

"I love throwing this shot!" Hole 2 at the course we were at throws about 200' over a pond - JohnE parks his shot with a putter, then he grabs a driver and skips it off the water about 40' from shore and putts it about 8' off the bucket.  That's a shot I won't be trying myself.

A few holes later, I pull out a bottom stamp destroyer I'd picked up recently. 167g... even a bit domey. Thing is the biggest hook I've ever seen, more over stable that a max weight Champ Fire Bird. So I hand him that disc and joked he could buy it for cheap.

"Man, I could roll that disc", he grins. I laughed and said to go for it... this I gotta see.

He just CRANKS on this thing throwing it on a high anhyzer that would have flipped a small yacht over. The hand of god reached down and pulled that disc back over, it straightened out and then faded. Damn thing barely even turned!

"Yeah, that's pretty overstable!" he beams at me. We all bust up laughing and I had him sign it.

 "Not a roller. John E McCray"
So long story short - when John E McCray shows up in your town, make sure you find your way down to watch him, cheer for him, buy a disc from him, shake his hand and learn as much as you can from him. He won't disappoint and he's a fantastic guy. Thanks JohnE and I am sure we'll see you back in Colorado soon!

To arrange for a clinic at your home course, hit!contact-us/cyha for finding out more.

  1. Innova Daedalus Gstar goodness with a helping of turn.
  2. DD Witness Understable Distance has never been easier
  3. DD Renegade So good it goes permenantly in the bag
  4. Beware the Bad Towel When things go seriously bad.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Innova Daedalus Review

UPDATE: I've had a few discussions about disc speed... because honestly it seems to vary pretty greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer. Technically, speed was originally just a measurement of the rim width.

1.6cm = speed 6
1.7cm = speed 7
2.2cm= speed 12.

But rim width has zero real information for how it's going to fly in terms of hand speed. Some 2.2cm rims will fly understable, some over stable.

That said, you're supposed to throw the disc at a certain speed to get the appropriate flight path - and a few extremely competent players that I throw rounds with, all had a very hard time getting this disc to fly it's intended flight path when we were throwing it at higher hand speeds. It does help quite a bit to throw it very high and really make sure there's minimal OAT or to simply throw it with a slower hand speed.

Innova lists their definition as: Speed is the ability of the disc to cut through the air. Speed Ratings are listed from 1 to 13. Discs with high numbers are faster. Faster discs go farther into the wind with less effort. Slower discs take more power to throw, but have less of a chance to fly past the basket.

To be honest, it's a bit confusing because if speed is simply a measure of wind resistance or drag - then the #'s that innova uses have no relation to hand speed or disc speed at all. I think that most disc golfers (myself include) have taken the speed meaning to correlate with the speed you throw it. Turns out, that by their definition - that belief was incorrect. You can have a speed 13 disc that won't fly it's intended path if you throw it 50mph and some speed 13 discs will only fly their intended paths at 50mph.

So that was my update - please excuse my confusion below about speeds. I'm still learning!

Today's review is brought to you by the fantastic folks at Infinite Discs. Promo Code HEAVYDISC will save you some coin on your next purchase! They truly are stand up folks - they'll get you the disc in your hands and you won't even have to lift a finger!

Have a quick look at their selection - it's more fun than you can imagine!
So let's get down to business. Innova makes some of the best discs on the planet. 

The Destroyer. 
The TeeBird.
The Roc.

These three discs could easily be the Zeus, Poseidon and Hades of Greek Mythology (my son's into Percy Jackson so I'm well versed). They are staples in more bags than I can imagine. The Daedalus is the newest demi-god to show up. It's a mold that was born when the Zeus shagged a mortal and knocked her up... something Zeus was known for doing. Some gods are just hound dogs.

Right turn Clyde.
Speed 13. Glide of 6. Turn of -4 with a fade of 2. (167 g in my disc)

I'm honestly not sure that the speed number really mean much with this disc. I've not been able to crank it at a speed 13 without throwing it on the biggest hyzer I can and I live in Denver where everything is extra stable because of the thin air. Anything less and it'll turn over and hit the ground, murdering worms by the hundreds.  Why call it a speed 13? It's probably a marketing ploy - because having a disc this flippy with a 13 speed just doesn't make sense. Taking it down to a more mortal speed 8 or 9, and this disc shines like something special.

In the hand, I was immediately impressed with GStar plastic. It feels superb to the touch; grippy, not super gummy at room temperature. Once it's in the sun though it's going to get substantially softer and extremely flexible, much more so than any other plastics that I've thrown with the exception of Vibram soft. Gummy discs are nice when you throwing in trees or where you want the disc to avoid rolling down a hill.

The disc is flippy. If you like flippy discs (Roadrunner, Sidewinder, Mamba, Witness) for long distance shots, you will like this disc. When you hyzer-flip this disc or throw it in the right tail wind - you can expect some substantial extra distance. Beyond what I can get with my current stock of understable discs. It's a hyzer flip disc if you regularly throw a Destroyer 400'. If you're maxing out at 300', this disc will most likely gain you some distance because it's going to do the turning for you.

It will go drastically right and far on a backhand anhyzer shot. I'd guess it's doing a solid 45 degree turn from the initial line of flight if you really get some mustard on it, which can be incredibly useful on certain holes where you want the extra distance of an anhyzer shot that finished right.

It will also be a fantastic disc for throwing uphill on a hyzer line. The glide rating is accurate, it stays up for a VERY long time. It works well as a roller disc as well.

Long and short of it is that this will be a hugely popular disc with beginners/intermediates because they'll be able to throw distances that they didn't think possible. Longer arms will most likely be forced to throw it on a big hyzer when throwing anywhere near a speed 13. Barring the slightly confusing idea of a flippy speed 13 disc, you can expect to see some huge distances with a tail wind and with lesser hand speeds.

  1. DD Witness Understable Distance has never been easier
  2. DD Renegade So good it goes permenantly in the bag
  3. Beware the Bad Towel When things go seriously bad at least there's a good story to be had.
  4. Coaching Column The Psychology of Learning Plateaus with Brian Earhart