Wednesday, November 20, 2013

30 Days of Putting Review

"I see you've got an ultimate frisbee thing in the back yard?" the neighbor lady hollers at me as she is raking up leaves.

ULTIMATE FRISBEE, is she kidding?!  I smile politely knowing that maybe a few people on my block even knows that disc golf exists... let alone that calling a disc a "frisbee" is like calling a Ferrari a golf cart.

"Oh yes, my disc golf basket." I respond, "I hope it's not too loud", knowing full well that even someone with the patience of a saint and an unbridled love of rattling chains would be sick to death of me and my ultimate frisbee thing.

My son rattling some chains w/ the new basket.

Seven weeks ago, I started the 30 days of putting. Simple math tells you that 7 x 7 = 49 and 49 days is more than 30 days, so what the hell happened?

Life got in the way of my 30 days of putting and about 4 weeks ago I had no practice basket and no time. I had started out strong for 3 weeks but dropping kids at school, crazy work and a sunset that starts roughly after lunch eventually shut me down. Trying to putt at a tree on my lunch break just felt stupid. I was quickly online hunting for a basket and came up with an Instep DG200 for about $80 shipped. Awesome basket and I highly recommend it.

Two weeks ago the basket arrived and I dove back into putting practice like it was my damn job.

If you have any room in your yard, basement or living room - get a basket. Get a basket. It will improve your putting - it is fun - it is a great idea, so just do it.

So, what does it take to improve your putting?

1. Confidence (and you can't have it with out #2)
2. Practice MAKING putts.

Practice, if you are MISSING the shot, teaches you how not to put it in the chains. Practice, if you are MAKING the shot, teaches you how to put it in the chains. Simple idea and it works.

Only push further back when you are making it consistently from a step closer. The process teaches your brain and body how to do it. It just works and it's the brain-child of Mark Ellis.

In the last couple weeks I've found a confidence that is unlike anything I've felt before with my putting. In games I don't get bent out of shape at all if the disc spits out out - or bangs off the rim and I don't get nervous at all stepping up to any putt. Doing the 30 days of putting really is a fantastic exercise and one I hope to start again in a week or two. I'll continue to practice putting in the meantime - but I'm going to take a little break from the 15 minutes, break, 15 minutes routine.

Finding time for the 30 day challenge it is tough, as well as it being physically and mentally challenging. Many times I would be just falling apart in the 2nd session - missing  from a distance that I just felt great at and I just wanted to say screw it and call it a day. You do get tired, you get sore, it's hard to do it everyday and when you're doing all this time putting and then you miss a 15' shot in a's disheartening .

I putted in snow, I putted in heavy wind and sleet, and quite often I putted with a frozen hand.
I putted up-hill, down-hill, across-hill, and almost always very poorly.
In a box, with a fox, upside down, in a town. I putted as poorly as a clown.

Seriously just D- to F+ putting for the vast majority of this process, and by that I mean I was only good inside of 21- 24' for a very long time.

Had a few morning sessions that involved much snow inside the putters.

I missed putts from 5' all the way out to 40' (and everywhere in between) MANY times and I even managed to pickup a wasp once while reaching for a disc and that sucked. Wasps can suck it.

Eventually missing or making stopped really mattering. I no longer felt an up or down emotion with it because it became so routine - and that's when you can drain it uphill, through a tree, from 30' (in the dark) while being attacked by a wolf pack. You get to a point where you just go with the muscle memory and that's the turning point.

Mark Ellis - who created this "Confidence in Putting" program - preaches that you should use whatever putt feels right. Spin putt, pitch putt, straddle, forward, turbo-behind-the-back, whatever works for you. For me, it took some serious trial and error to find out what really works. I went really far down the road with straddle putting before realizing that I wasn't feeling it from 24' and beyond. I could hit the chains great until I had to start giving it more umph, and then it just wasn't as consistent so I went back to the forward stance pitch putt and managed to get consistent results out to about 28-30'.

Like most people new to disc golf, I wanted a shortcut to being a better putter. I watched every youtube video I could find about spin putts, pitch / push putts, read the forums, and thought - "that's it, I'll do that and I'll be more consistent!" and I still sucked. For me, and I wouldn't say this is true for everybody, but it's very true for me, the only thing that fixed my putting was doing it over and over and over. Eventually my brain and muscles worked out the mechanics and slowly improved and my emotion was taken out of it.

And it doesn't mean that I'm now even a GOOD putter, but I don't have anxiety about those putts. I know that I can and will make those putts because I've seen them go in over and over in practice. Perhaps the best thing to come of it - is that when I miss during a game - I don't go "Ahhhh crap on a stick!" or feel deep frustration because I know that sometimes I will miss and sometimes I won't.

Happy putting.
Another morning out with just mr. pineapple skull.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Improving Back Hand Distance

I watch an absurd a reasonable (depending on who you ask) amount of disc golf on youtube and the one thing I've noticed in the difference between the top pros and the top Am's is how consistent the pros are. Top pros will put a 200' shot within 30' of a pin 9 out of 10 times.

At the core of consistency in most sports is creating body mechanics that are reproducible. Consider a pro baseball pitcher throwing a pitch or a pro tennis player hitting a serve: each repetition is nearly indistinguishable from the next. Once it's completely reproducible - it's much easier to be consistent and can be counted on to go where you want it to.

Can I say that about my disc golf form?

But I can say that about the top pros and while I know I'm not ever going to be pro - I am constantly working to improve my game. I think everybody enjoys disc golf more when they're playing better and these pros are some of the best.

Improving my backhand is not about just adding distance. Adding distance at the cost of accuracy is at best a wash and at worst a huge loss. I'm focused on increasing distance and improving accuracy but that's much easier said than done. 

A fantastic video popped up on youtube that shows Paul McBeth (TopLeft), Will Schusterick (TopRight), Jeremy Koling (BottomLeft) and Dave Feldberg (Bottom Right) in slow motion on a distance drive. Being able to really see what they're doing is a fantastic tool.

Take a look at the video of the top card from EO2013: Watch this clip and tell me these guys aren't smoother than hot butter on polished ice.
Everybody is built a little different - but for the most part - none of these guys is looking back further than about 90 degrees off the target during the reach back. Will Schusterick does take a slightly further look back - and McBeth takes slightly less. It's just a split second, but by keeping eyes on the target does seem to improve accuracy. Less look back should help accuracy but comes at a cost if it stops your shoulders from turning back squarely. You can see that McBeth doesn't turn his shoulders back nearly as much as Will. Will and Big Jerm both have their shoulders squared up like they're leaning against a wall at the front of the teebox.

For me, getting an open shoulder turn and a strong upper body rotation is important but I try to balance it with keeping my head from dipping too far back in the reach back. McBeth makes it work and throws just as far as anybody - because whatever he loses in having less shoulder rotation he makes up for in accuracy and a monster snap.

In the frame above - the disc is at the furthest point back in all of their reach backs. They've all set the front foot and now all of their run up momentum is beginning the transfer to the front leg. Paul and Will are both noticeably bending their knees. I have had more success with keeping my knees more bent versus less bent - it makes transferring weight smoother and puts me in a very balanced and athletic power stance.

And a big takeaway is that from this position - they are set to use all the main muscle groups in their bodies to transfer their energy into the disc. You can tell that if they were pulling your hand, they'd rip your arm off.

It's also worth noting that w/ the exception of big Jerm in the bottom left, everybody has their front foot planted at an exact 90 degrees from their trajectory during the weight shift. Jermey is huge and keeps a more open stance.

So the disc travels back in the reach back smoothly and relatively slowly, comes back to the chest relatively slowly and doesn't actually start to accelerate massively until it it's pulled into the center of their chest. Dave Feldberg has talked about the fact that you want your disc to remain on the angle you plan to release it through the reach back. If you are throwing a flat release, the disc should be flat in the reach back.

Next screen capture - all their weight is now on the front leg ready to go into their arm. Back foot is up on the toe (weight is fully off the back leg) - and you can see that they're all leading with the elbow. Feldberg is the anomaly here - he creates more of a tightening arc with his pull. The rest are all driving their elbows forward - chins down and very importantly their disc-hand is on the outside edge of the disc. You aren't pulling the disc forward with your hand on the front of the disc. Hand on the outside when the disc is close to your chest.

And here's why: this shot perfectly show the levering action of the disc almost coming out of their hands while their arm is opening up and your hand rotates to the front of the disc. Squeezing your grip extra hard right before you release it with a small thought of "I want this disc to lever out between my thumb and index finger" has helped me. You want to fight the torque as long as possible, keeping the wrist straight as late as you can.

From the point where your hand is at the front of the disc, the wrist extends open maybe an inch, and at that point you aren't going to be holding onto the disc long. Clamp down like a monster, and let the disc lever out between your fore finger and thumb.

Lets dig in a bit into WHY does all this make the disc fly further. What each of the pros above are doing is throwing a disc faster than their arm speed. They're imparting huge spin on the disc by pulling their hand very quickly from the outside of the disc to the front. The longer they wait to have their hand pop through that distance - the faster the disc will spin and the more it will accelerate. Furthermore, the faster a disc is spinning - the longer it will stay spinning. Once a disc stops spinning at a certain rate - the force keeping the left edge of the disc up will start pointing down and your disc will fade left.

A very accurate analogy that I've read about is if you were to consider yourself throwing a hammer. If you held the end of the hammer and swung it so that you were whipping it out of your hand - you could throw it much faster than your hand is traveling.  If you don't whip it, it will only travel at your hand speed. We're throwing discs the same way, but our whip comes from moving our hand from the outside of the disc to the front before it's ripped from our fingers.

In getting my drives to go further, I realized that there was basically no more physical exertion in the action. I don't do anything faster, stronger or much harder. I simply had to start delay the release more and make sure to keep the disc nose down and squeeze harder on my grip right before the hit.

My run-up is slow and doesn't generate a ton of energy. It's something I know I need to improve - but the more I try to put into my run-up the worse things get. It adds hitches in the giddy-up as they say down south. Getting from 400' to 500' is going to be much harder I'm sure.

Lastly, choosing the right disc is important and unfortunately it's extremely dependent on personal preference. Everybody has a disc they'll tell you is awesome for this or that, but the reality is that a disc that I liked 8 weeks ago for distance is now too flippy. As you gain snap and power - you're going to overpower discs that you used to be fine with. Adding weight to the disc will add stability to a disc, so if you find yourself turning over a disc mold that you love - try throwing one that's 5-10 grams heavier.

Learning how to throw further and more accurately is frustrating and hard, and ultimately it comes with throwing for hours in a field and using what works. Many people have argued that throwing longer distance is not really needed. That being accurate trumps distance any day of the week and that's very true in certain places, but if I'm trying to improve all aspects of my game - and this is part of it. Being able to park a 350' hole so I don't have to sweat an approach or long putt means I'm way more likely to be able to birdie it.

  1. The Distance Checklist Reminders for stretching your drive.
  2. Innova Daedalus Gstar goodness with a helping of turn. 
  3. DD Witness Understable Distance has never been easier.
  4. DD Renegade So good it goes permanently in the bag.
  5. Beware the Bad Towel When things go seriously bad.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Luck is real.

Worst than losing some plastic.

Every once in a while, your luck simply runs out and you have a bad day. Flat tire, dead battery, lost credit card. Bad day.

Once every long while, bad luck seems to be able to just multiply, expound and spawn. I remember back when I was just a young man of 16, I was watching a play at a high school one-act competition and I saw one of the most phenomenal displays of compounding bad luck unfold right before my eyes.

I wish I could remember more, but this is my best recollection. The first thing to spin off the tracks was that an actress was sitting at a table with a glass ball in front of her, and as she stands up, she bumps the table, sending the glass ball to the floor where it rolls into the front row of the audience.

Next, one of the prop doors on the side of the stage, that the characters were using to enter and exit, became completely stuck and actually pulled over the entire prop wall down on top of the poor kid. People scrambled to push it back up while trying to continue the dialog.

Not to be outdone, an actor came on stage with a prop bloodied bandage on his forehead. He begins to deliver his monologue, but as he's talking, one side the bandage comes un-stuck and is flapping back and forth like a flag - clearly showing his uninjured forehead.

Missed cues, forgotten lines, props that just didn't work... you name it, it happened. The crowd, tried for some time to politely hold it together, but eventually - I believe when the walls literally and figuratively started to collapse, the audience lost it and just roared with laughter. It was brutal, just unredeemed brutality.

That play is the best analogy I have for when disc golf starts to go bad and you simply cannot recover. I played a few weeks ago with my friend Sam, when he had such a round. Lost discs, found discs, lost discs, hitting trees, more trees, lost discs, terrible shots, nothing worked. It culminated when he was teeing off - and at the exact moment he was releasing a drive - he was stung on the neck by a wasp. Seriously.

He valiantly tried one more hole, but he again shanked a shot - losing his favorite driver - and he just quit the round. At the time, I had to hold my tongue because he was clearly not a happy camper - but the next day we were able to laugh about it and he said it was bar-none the worst round he has ever played.

Well, yesterday was my day to fail and it was ugly. I have a park near my office that has a nice long narrow field that borders a small pond and some big bushes. First thing to go wrong - I throw two drives that turn too hard right and end up out by the pond - lost in a huge deep mess of some very thick bushes. I had to go into this mess about 40 feet to get them back. I found them and say to myself, "I can't end on those terrible shots. One more round of drives, just one more!"

I was already pushing an hour into my lunch break, but I wanted to end positive.

Bad call.

This time I manage to turn over my favorite Discraft Surge, which I don't think I've ever done before, and put it INTO the muck filled pond. I can see it floating 20' from shore and start throwing rocks passed it - trying to gently send it floating towards the edge of the pond. Finally after an eternity of rocks, it's 5 feet from the shore and I reach out with a stick to pull it closer and let the air out from under it and it sinks into the murky muck.

At that exact moment, I notice that my wallet is no longer in my back pocket. It's gone.

In all of the crawling through bushes I'd somehow lost it. I quickly pull off my shoes and socks, get into the slime covered pond - manage to get my pants wet and scoop up the sunk Surge. Back to the shore, and shoes back on - pretty sure that I scared the living crap out of a young mother walking her newborn in an otherwise serene park as I come tromping out of the bushes looking angry. I search the shore, I search the bushes. No wallet.

Now I'm running around a park the size of 2 football fields, covered in leaves, trying to find a wallet that's basically camouflage color. Back and forth I run, sweating like a pig, no wallet. I go back to the bushes by the pond and once again dive 40' into the first thicket. Finally, there it is, under some leaves in the spot where the first disc was... my stupid wallet. Nearly an hour had passed since I put the Surge in the pond - and I am done. Or more to the point, "it" was done with me.

So anyways, that's how my lunch break went yesterday. When your luck runs out, just hold onto whatever you can and hope the train stays on the tracks. And when does go off the tracks, just smile and know that it's only disc golf and not a high school one act competition.

This thing exists.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

My first sorta tournament recap

I've already copped to doing more fieldwork than healthy, but after a this last weekend's tournament I felt like it was not all in vain. This was my first tournament of any kind. It was really nice to play doubles for my first time and I somehow lucked out and my brother ended up being my partner. More likely the random draw wasn't THAT random. I played a round where I had some big old nasty screw-ups, but thankfully it was doubles and my brother managed to pickup the slack when I did shank one, two or well, you get the point.

Down the hill, up the hill! Repeat. Lynn and Ron Leader.

Let's talk about the screw-ups first (because everybody loves a good bone up story).

To start, I woke up at 5am and couldn't get back to sleep! I was excited and nervous and I just lay in bed for another hour and half waiting for the alarm to go off. Not exactly a screw-up, but I certainly could have used more rest.

Next, new plastic that I'm even slightly unfamiliar with should be left at home on tournament day. I brought a new 176 MVP Axis that I'd thrown for 4 days during my field work practice. I figured I had some idea as to what it would do and that a hard snap would keep it straight, even turning right early a bit. Right?! I threw a shot across a big tree filled gully that I wanted to put a straight line across, and I even added a little anhyzer to the shot to hopefully keep it heading right. Of course, that anyhzer release sapped all of my snap... the thing went STRAIGHT, STRAIGHT, LEFT, LEFT, LEFT down down to the bottom of the gully into the abyss. I lucked out and found it 200' down the gully - but still it was a terrible shot.

Had I thrown my well worn Z Buzzz - it probably would have been a straight shot - I know I don't add anhyzer to it ever to keep the Buzzz straight... but I wanted to throw the new plastic. Gratefully my brother bailed me out with a great shot. 

TEAMWORK is what we called that... AKA, him bailing me out.

The new 175 Katana also came out and I know that mold pretty well - as the one I found (and lost) was a disc that I threw quite a bit. Big downhill throw (400ish feet) with a bunch of time for the disc to fade. I put it way out there - and it faded and faded and faded - ended up probably 50' pin high, 150' left of the pin. New over-stable plastic is more over-stable before it gets beat! I guess I just believed I could snap it hard enough to keep it straight for 450'! Dumb move. Brother saved me again. Team. Work.

Probably the most painful screw-up came on the first or second hole. 15' gimme putt for a double birdie (-2 on the hole). Brother putts in no problem. I look at it for a second and it was like I went into tunnel vision. I could feel the other players looking at me even though I knew this was a fun game and there was no real pressure. 

I felt like I was rushing and wooden and nervous. Off the top it goes and I immediately feel like a donkey. I had warmed up a bunch with putts from 15', while everybody else was shooting from 30-50'. I felt like an idiot doing it, but I wanted to get the same feeling I have when practice putting and I'm actually consistent. I never really got that feeling because I felt like I was dodging discs, in the way, talking with people... it is HARD to warm up your putts.

Lastly, if the teebox drops off - don't have your run-up end 6" from the edge of the teebox. I did this. As I approached the release, I leaned way back during the throw so that I didn't fall off the box and shanked the crap out of my drive. TEAMWORK! Thanks bro.

So it wasn't all bad!

I had my bag packed the night before - clothes picked out so I wasn't rushing to find clean socks while the wife slept. I also had a big breakfast and a mug of coffee so that I wasn't dealing with a caffeine headache. Plenty of snacks and 2 liters of water in the bag. I ended up refilling a bottle w/ 4 holes left to go... it was that long of a day. We got there and were checked in, warmed up and ready to go with plenty of time. I would have hated to have been rushed.

Eventually my putting came around and between my brother and I we made most of our shots from within 25'.

Field work payed off when I put a thumber about 6' from the pin over a huge bush from about 100' out. I didn't feel like I had a chance at getting over the huge bush with a forehand or backhand.  I throw thumbers a few times a week during field work - but not much more because they're brutal on my thumb. It feels like the skin on my thumb is being ripped off, probably because that's what's happening. It's a strange throw, no question, but a very nice shot to get you out of trouble.

I actually threw the damn anhyzer and it worked.

The back-hand anhyzer drive. There's probably no shot that I fail with, during a game, as much as this shot. Throwing 250-300' with this shot, when it really has to go right and stay right, requires leaning my upper body back in a way that seems to drain all power from my shot. So two things HELP but don't solve this problem. First, I use a lighter understable driver. The same 167 Star RoadRunner that I use for thumbers is my disc of choice. Just a flat hard release will get this disc to turn right. But just turning right isn't always enough if you want it to get over a tree, which requires some UMPH and height.  Second, I pull tight across my chest and really try to get a good hit. 

Well, I actually nailed the shot! From the teebox, I managed to park a shot 5' from the pin - 300' across a deep valley and left of a tree hanging out near the teebox that was just enough in the way to keep you from getting a straight shot at the pin.

I didn't feel like I was just relying on my brother for getting us outta every bad situation - though I certainly put the pressure on him a few times. We both managed to have our shots go bad when the other guy had it covered.

My brother and I ended up shooting '-3' for the day over 21 of the most challenging holes that could ever imagine dreaming up (and we were friends at the end of it!). I felt like I was able to relax in between times when I really wanted to focus. It was great that it was doubles, everybody seemed social, lots of laughing and having a good time and it was charity event - not some scary sanctioned PDGA tournament. It was really fun and relaxed. But, I tried to imagine playing that course as a regular singles tournament and it gave me the shivers. It would have been a very very BIG score if I was playing solo. TEAMWORK!

My brother and doubles partner for the day (left) and I (right) before the start.

Monday, November 4, 2013

More pix from Deer Mnt

A couple of the other guys on our card got some worthy shots that I don't want to lose track of:

Yours truly getting the anhyzer going with a RoadRunner.
That disc has done it's best to get lost - but it's still in the bag.

Little bro about to sent it air mail.
The big hyzer bomb into the woods. Amazingly our card only lost 1 disc.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Winter Warriors at Deer Mnt (Part 2)

Alright, so the fun continues as we enter the belly of the beast. I'm already wishing I had the chance to play this course again - even though my body is sore and my neck feels like an elephant used it for a foot rest last night. Thanks again to the owner's of this gorgeous property for letting us come out and for they guys who make it all happen.

Michael getting psyched up to cross the valley. NO FADING LEFT!
Andrew loading the arm cannon for a big rip.
Dave getting dangerously close to falling off the teepad!
The pin is about 50' left of the SUV visible at the bottom of the hill.
Michael getting a strong pull. Pin around where the trees hit the horizon.
Andrew hoping to avoid timber.
Lynn on our last hole of the day. What a trooper!
Pin is somewhere out there in the trees. What a hole.

Andrew getting all of this drive.
Same tee, different angle. Dave letting it rip.

Winter Warriors at Deer Mnt (Part 1)

Saturday was the kickoff to the 9th season of Winter Warriors at one of the most spectacular and extreme disc golf course in Colorado... perhaps THE UNIVERSE. Nearly every hole has challenging hazards, and quite a few of them have extreme hazards - meaning there's no safe way to play it!

Deer Mountain is on private property and is 21 holes over miles and miles of terrain that follows ridge-lines, gulleys, sometimes going from one ridge to the next. A few times a year this course opens for public tournaments and I was lucky enough to jump on the chance. Needless to say some plastic was donated to the disc gods yesterday! I drank 3 liters of water and was dead tired by the end of the day.

The morning kicks off with the player's meeting. 105 players for the event!

Michael (my brother) and I overlooking the course... yep, that's the course below!
Dave Cervantes at one of the many custom made pins. At this point we all are thinking 
we've died and gone to disc golf heaven.
Dave in a bush. Going long past the pin is a VERY bad idea.
First hint that disc golf heaven has a touch of disc golf hell in it!
A quick note about the image above, if you click on it - you can see the full size image. You can make out the next pin across the valley on the right side of the image. You throw across the valley from just about 30 feet left of the pin he's putting at. Andrew, who was in our group had his drive fade left on a drive like this and we watched it go about 1000' down the valley. Good bye sweet disc.

Lynn (dave's doubles partner) wasn't going to miss
out on a chance to climb into the bush!
More to come!!!!