Monday, February 24, 2014

Dear Lord, the choices

By: Kyle O'Neill

I’d like to tackle a couple different approaches to building a bag in this post. I’m going to assume that most readers are aware that you should be in the possession of drivers, mids and putters. If you are not, pro DGer Avery Jenkins made a couple videos that will help the novice familiarize themselves with the basics:

Jenkins being a sponsored player, his disc suggestions all tend to lean towards his main benefactor. You can’t blame the guy, as I’m guessing he wants to continue to receive checks, discs and free swag (I know I would, I love all of those things!).

This is an excellent segue into how I got started playing disc golf. My first experience and subsequent love affair started in San Francisco, California, which is right in Innovas backyard. There was exactly one brick and mortar shop where you could physically walk in and buy a brand new disc (shout out to Purple Skunk skate shop). Every disc in their rather limited arsenal was, you guessed it, made by Innova. I had yet to discover the joys of shopping for discs online, so every disc I bought when I first started out was of the Innova ilk. That was fine by me because 1. I didn't know any better. And 2. I absolutely loved going in and fondling the plastic (sorry Purple Skunk).

Then I moved back to Colorado, and the players I met upon arriving threw discs from companies other than Innova. Imagine my surprise! I was able to test out discs from Discraft, Latitude 64, MVP and Vibram.  I was like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory! I couldn't contain my excitement!

That excitement soon turned to anxiety, however, as I realized that there were so many discs on the market that I would never be able to throw them all, no matter how many disc golfing friends I made. After I stopped hyperventilating, I came to the conclusion that I was going to have to build my burgeoning bag based (alliteration!) on need alone.  That was okay, however, because at that point I was starting to become cognizant of the holes in my game. Holes that could be filled with a type of disc, not a specific disc.

During a round, I might discover that I didn't have a disc that covered the “understable enough for big sweeping anzyhers” slot. One school of thought, in this situation, would be to go out and try as many discs as you can in the hopes that one (or more) fills your particular need. Considering I had neither the time nor the necessary funding for this endeavor, I fell into a different camp. With a bit of research, I found a disc that might meet my needs (the MVP Amp in my case), and I purchased said disc. With some field work and putting the disc through its paces during recreational rounds, I discovered that it did in fact perform the way I wanted it to. Admittedly, I was rather lucky to strike gold on the first attempt, but I find this to be the case more often than not.

Where the hell did all this plastic come from?
I know quite a few players who buy a LOT of plastic in order to find the disc(s) that are right for them and their game. And don’t get me wrong, I would never knock another’s process. For me, however, the seemingly impossible task of testing every disc now on the market is not feasible (mostly for my own sanity.) I've gotten to the point in my game where I believe that I've got every shot I need in the bag, although the next new course I play will probably shoot that right out of the water. I’m somewhat comforted by this fact though, and I try to carry that confidence into every round I play. I’ll also be the first to admit I carry more plastic than I really need to, but better to have it and not need it than the opposite, amiright?

All of this being said, would I like to throw the MVP Servo or the DD Renegade (thanks a lot Jason) and see if the reviews are true? Of course I would, but I might be tempted to put them in my bag. I've already got a Leopard and a Saint that fill those spots, respectively, and I don’t want to mess with what’s already working (again, that sanity thing). Sometimes I have to fight with the little voice in my head that says "but what if there's a disc that you'll like even more?!" Occasionally I lose that fight, but I try not to make any new plastic purchases without doing a fair amount of research first. I find this method is the easiest on my fragile Disc Golf psyche, as well as my wallet.

I mentioned an understable disc earlier, and my hard-nosed editor-in-chief wanted me to further explore the necessity and differences between over and understable discs. After giving it some thought, it's a big topic on it's own so I'm going to save that for next time.

Happy throwing campers! 

A Tale of Two Rounds

A big part of why I started this blog was that I wanted a place to document my path along the way from complete noob to wherever I end up. I've gotten in the habit of writing bigger pieces about technique and reviews for the blog - which I enjoy doing - but I've not talked about where I am.

This weekend was a tale of 2 completely different rounds. I played a windy round with Kyle (who has a new post coming out soon), his friend Brian, my brother, and a few other friends (Chris and Sean for historical accuracy) at Colorado Heights University (CHU). I've not developed my game to handle wind very well. I can't putt well in the wind is what it really boils down to. I had a number of drop in birdies and a number of really hard earned pars that turned into +1 or +2 by floating 3' above the basket into a headwind. Shot +18 on the round. That was with at least 3 birdies that I remember, but to be honest, I felt like the wind made every hole a par 4.

My little bro is the real beard.
I am reading a book called "Zen Golf" by Joseph Parent and let me just say that I am in no way able to really take advantage of all of the good stuff in his book YET, but it's in my mind. Missing a putt doesn't mean there's something wrong with me ("What's WRONG with me?! ARRRRG!") or with my putting stroke. It just means I missed the putt, move on to the next shot. That's what I'm trying to do - but it's very tough. I'm as prone to frustration as anybody.

It's hard to have the highs of blasting a great shot, 20' from the basket from 350' out and then missing a putt, missing the come-back and then try to let it slide off your back. I tried to just find things to be positive about and there were a few. I felt like my thumber was flying really well - the 171 Servo has been a god-send for thumbers. It just goes so much further than all my other discs and consistently straight. There was a few bright spots and good friends, but still a very windy and rough round that left me feeling a bit defeated.

Sunday I played 27 holes with my brother at Badlands. Wind was very mild so we were both over-joyed when the sun came out and a day that started covered in snow warmed up to blue skies.  I had played this course just once before, and it was probably in the first month of playing disc golf. It's really a great course and we joined up with a nice guy named Brian who was looking for a group. We each put $2 on the line... so things were serious!

The round started off really solid - I was shooting under par until we went into the Blair Witch section which is heavily wooded. I had almost no clue where the baskets were on a number of holes and consequently threw some pretty wild shots and had to really work to save par on a few holes. Picked up about 3 strokes coming out of the 9 holes in the woods, but ultimately I was really happy with some of my "getting out of really bad trouble" shots. The best was a 70' approach shot that I forehand skip-shot under a bush and around a tree to slide under the basket to save par. Shots like that are what makes me love playing disc golf in the woods.

You're forced to get creative!

Somewhere around hole 23 I think I started to lose focus a bit. Not knowing how far out the basket was lead to under throwing some drives. I felt really happy with my upshots through the round, but I missed 2 easy birdie opportunities with sloppy putting. Then on hole 25 I 3 putted and that just took the wind out of my sails. Ended the round shooting +5, and 4 of those strokes were from missing putts that were definitely in my range.

The positives were that my forehand felt pretty solid with the exception of trying to throw my Valk into a slight headwind and it was worthless and never faded. Another positive was that even though I didn't finish strong, I played pretty solid on a course that I was completely unfamiliar with. My brother won the well deserved $4 from Brian and I - and we were very lucky to have a gorgeous day in the middle of winter.

Perhaps the best thing to come out of that round was that when I three-putted (giving away an easy bird) - I went in my head and actually said, "There's nothing wrong with you. You're having a nice afternoon in a beautiful park. Remember the Zen shit." and then I whistled a tune and looked forward to my next shot.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Dynamic Discs Renegade: Mind = Blown

Review Update: Wanted to say that this disc has become a work horse for me. I have been throwing it 400'-405' for the last week - which was truly a pretty rare feat for me before this disc. 

I am able to throw in my local park which has some nice white lamp posts to measure against. Clearly just distance with no accuracy is trouble, and this disc is so consistent that I feel like I'm able to be very accurate with my drives. 

DD Renegade: 11/5/-2/3
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inbounds Disc Golf
Alright amigos, got a disc review today courtesy of Alan over at Infinite Discs. Please take a moment to check out their site and find something new and exciting for your bag. Supporting Infinite is an easy way to keep these reviews coming.

Before the 171 Lucid Renegade arrived, there'd been exactly one disc that had knocked my socks off. My brother sold me a 171 Echo Star Teebird that has become one of my favorite fairway drivers. I feel like in the right conditions (calm to slight tail wind) I could get that disc to almost effortlessly stay afloat and it's flight is a thing of beauty.

I've enjoyed some other discs quite a bit, particularly the Discraft Surge has been a disc that I've felt like does quite a bit of the work for me on drives - especially solid for forehands. I've liked Wraith's and Destroyers as well - but those discs came to feel like I had to put in what I got out. If I want to throw my Champ Destroyer 400' - it's a full-value rip, meaning I have to get my hand speed up there as well as getting a good hit on the release.

Some discs seem to balance a bit on the need to be thrown just the right amount - not much more - and then they do some great things. Sometimes amazing things. Sometimes ridiculous things.

This is where the Dynamic Discs Renegade lives and it absolutely blew me away. My first clue was when I put about 250' of effort into it watched it slice through the air 325'. I regularly throw in an empty 250' parking lot near my office - so I have that the feel for that distance down pretty well. This was the same throw that landed the previous 3 discs resting in the snow - 250' out. The Renegade just stayed up and glided further. Substantially further with the same throw, from the snow covered parking lot seen below. The Renegade simply put - glides all day like a hover board.

The weather outside favors BRIGHT colors.
Knowing that I was going to need more room, later in the week, I went out to my favorite big field. I thought, okay - so lets see what some power does to it and I put what I'd call 375-400' with a Destroyer and it turned and burned with a flat release. So I dialed it back to try a flat 300' of power and bam - it turned nice and gentle - late fade for 390-400'. Legitimately further than every other driver in my bag with that amount of power. 50' past both my Champ Valkaries, 10-15' past my Surge and it only required about 75% of a full power drive. Over and over - letting the disc do the work, I simply put less into this disc and got more in return.

It is consistently neck and neck with a 100% drive with a 171 Champ Destroyer - and it takes less effort. It is consistently 10' beyond my Surge with less effort. When I play rounds with it, it means I'm fresh longer. It did take a few days to dial in the amount of power it will take - but I've found that to be the case with most discs that I have come to rely on. Learning how discs behave in various conditions is part of the joy of disc golf for me.

Lucid plastic is gorgeous.
It took a while to realize that part of the beauty of it, is that I'm self-correcting bad habits by not trying to blast the disc. My off-axis-torque is getting better; less flutter out of my hand. I'm pulling lower under my chest - rather than higher, which is a bad habit I continue to fight. This is because the Renegade rewards a nice flat snappy drive and it rewards it very generously with distance.

I had my brother throw the Renegade - and he's recently boosted his Destroyers into the 420' range and had some go even further. I told him to take it down to 70% because we were throwing 325' at one of our favorite courses - and I didn't want him to turn it over. He groaned a "whoops" after letting go of his drive - and said that he accidentally put just about 50% on the disc. He over-drove the hole by 40' with 50% of a normal drive.

This disc has glide and a nature that just gives away distance. It's gone in my bag and will absolutely be there permanently. Also, the Lucid plastic not only feels good in the hand - it's gorgeous. If you're ready for some next level glide, some very easy distance, and just a beautiful disc - I would recommend a Renegade without hesitation.

So that wraps it up - I'm trying to keep a fire lit under Kyle and Brian to keep writing, but work seems to be hammering on everybody. Happy discing amigos and remember to be safe when you're throwing bombs.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Distance Check List

Sometimes I will feel like I'm taking 1 step forward and 2 steps back when it comes to disc golf and so I've tried to come up with a quick check list to use if things are going sideways with my drives.

Real quick, I have a few things I wanted to say before I jump into the meat of this post. First, a huge thank you to Marty over at the PDGA marketing department. He's started sharing a few of my blog posts on their Facebook page and it's been a huge bump in our readership and the comments section is really starting to get going.

I also wanted to say thanks to Alan at, who contacted me a while back to to say that he was spending too much time reading the blog and that he'd be happy to send over a few free discs to review. For a guy like me, who's just a hack player who likes to write - this was really cool. REALLY cool and I hope that our readers will pay him a visit! I've got a Dynamic Discs Renegade in the bag that's getting worked over for an upcoming review.

Okay, so lately it's been cold and absolutely miserable. It was -16° the morning I started writing this post and of course I wanted to throw something anyways. At least it was relatively easy to find my discs even if they were doing their best to hide.

The Bugs Bunny tunnel.

After about 20 minutes I was frozen solid. My beard was iced over. My jimmies had crawled somewhere up into my stomach. Too cold for me so I scuttled back inside.

Once I warmed up with a steamy cup of coffee, I ended talking with my buddy Kyle on the phone for about an hour about technique. He's re-worked his backhand a few times and the process was torture for him. Losing distance and accuracy while you're trying to correct bad habits is absolutely brutal, but ultimately it's helped him with consistency and accuracy. He won my tag off me in our last round too.

Learning to throw is without question a very painful task and very counter intuitive. Then you think you've got it. You're cracking out 300-400' drives and skipping up to the pin for an easy birdie. Innova is calling you about a sponsorship and you're not sure if you should buy a Maserati or a Ferrari for commuting to the disc golf course.

 Decisions, decisions.

Then the next day, you're killing yourself to get 275', flipping over discs, discs fluttering out of your hand and you're wondering what the hell is wrong. As Johan Sleman pointed out in the comments, we're creating a kinetic chain of muscles, bones, ligaments, joints, even fascia and skin and it turns out there's quite a few things that go into that. The more you read and watch about technique - the more data points that you have to keep track of and remember - and most painfully, try to integrate into your form.

In my case it was a few months back, I was standing out in my favorite soccer field - trying to do all the things that I had read about, and it had made my form incredibly forced and robotic. My drives dropped off and I got frustrated. I was trying to do all these things right and all I was getting in return was a terrible drive.

It was about a week of this and finally I said, screw it, I'm just going to forget everything and throw my bag as loose as I could. Like a big wet noodle with a very short run up.  Loose hands, loose body, loose arm - generally trying to do things right - but I was not going to think about it.

Bingo. I was able to throw my mid's 300' immediately. "Awesome, I'll just add my X-Step and throw a big drive!"

No dice! 250-275'. It was clear at that point, that as soon as I started tightening up and trying to "rip it"  - I completely screwed up my kinetic chain.

This went on for about an hour that day. I would throw fantastic when I was loose, then I would try to throw further and lose distance. Finally, I mentally said that I was going to throw my RoadRunner on a hyzer-flip as slow as I could, and just try to clamp down on it really hard at the release.

I almost fell over when I saw it go 400'. It was the loosest throw of the day and it was by far the furthest. By slowing down, I kept the disc lower, under by chest, and my arm was looser.

Through tons of trial-and-error I eventually came up with the following very basic list for diagnosing what's going wrong when I'm losing distance. It has helped me to quickly self-diagnose in conjunction with lots of video reviewing in the field.

1. Slow Down. It's crazy, it sounds crazy, it feels crazy, but it's true. We're not throwing the disc far like you would with football, we're accelerating it and spinning it out of a lever. When you accelerate and spin it - the disc will travel. You've probably seen this many times when throwing an upshot 100-150' and you barely put anything on the disc in your reach-back, but your really squeeze your grip at the release and the disc looks like a laser beam!

Speeding things up will make it harder to accelerate the disc. Speeding it up, at least in my case, almost always introduces tightness, raising the disc too high in front of my chest, the disc nose being too far up, and off-axis torque. By waiting until the disc is in front of your chest, I feel like I'm giving myself a better chance to start the acceleration from a powerful spot - under your chest. 

2. Keeping the disc pulled tight and low to your chest. Coming away from your chest is going to take the snap out of the whip that you're creating with your arm. Bringing the disc up above your upper abdominal muscles almost always leads to trying to strong arm it. This is one of the many things that feels wrong while you're initially doing it. Since we were kids throwing Frisbees, we have been lofting them from arms length away and now you've got to pull it tight and keep your hand on the outside of the disc? Yep.

3. Part and parcel with #2 is driving with your elbow. By driving forward with your elbow you're also keeping your upper body forward during your follow through. Leaning back like you're a big league slugger is completely wrong. I see that most often when guys are trying to knock their disc out of the park (myself included) it puts your body in the wrong position for a clean follow through. By driving with your elbow and following through on the line you are throwing - you can take huge steps towards killing disc flutter from off axis torque.

4. Squeezing my grip right at the end. Loose hands, loose hands, SQUEEZE. It's so helpful to keeping the whole chain loose if you can keep your hand, wrist and forearm loose. Squeezing your grip hard at the end of the release will help to create the spin you want on the disc. Also important to note that you want to keep the nose down. What's really important about keeping a disc nose down?

"Drag force is minimum when lift is zero. This happens when angle of attack is about -4deg. (The disc's nose is turned downward 4deg with respect to the direction of flight)" - Sarah Hummel's Master's Thesis

You catch that? Took me like 4 times reading that to understand it. Drag on the disc is going to effect it the least if your disc is at -4° at the point you let go of it.

Huh? Okay, it means throw it nose down and it will go further because there's less drag on it before it steadies itself into it's natural flight pattern. FREE distance, I won't even charge ya!

So now you are trying to get all of these minute little details into your form without giving up being loose and smooth. The best thing I can equate it to is if you've ever tried to throw a ball opposite handed. You know you have to do all these things, and nothing feels quite right. This is by no stretch a comprehensive list of what to do - it's just 4 things I keep in mind if I'm trying to diagnose what I'm doing wrong. Slow, under my chest, elbow driving, squeeze it nose down.

There's a huge omission in this post. Footwork. Footwork can very well make all these issue meaningless and it could easily take up it's own long (and of course rambling) post. The video above does a great job (on the 2nd guy) of showing the key points of transferring all your momentum onto your plant foot and leading with your booty. I'm not discounting good footwork, it's just outside the scope of this already long post. (You'll also see Marty's preaching the same thing about staying loose with the first guy.)

Finally, I've been a big fan of MikeC's chilled out DG videos, including the above video. I've probably watched it 100 times. It really hits home that the disc doesn't accelerate until you've got it back to your chest. The proof is that you can see the disc clearly, until it enters the hit-zone, then it's basically a blur because that's where all the acceleration is happening.