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.


  1. Nice article. I like to use the Perfect Putt 360 game for putting practice, especially during the winter when I have the 30' in the basement. By keeping score at each distance with incentives to make all the putts at each distance it helps to get the adrenaline going and simulate what competing feels like.

    I like the approach game also for 50-200' shots, Great to play with a friend or two and each player gets two putters. Throw from your chosen spots -- make it in 3 points, hit metal on the drive(approach) 1 point. Then play out your shots for 1 point each. First to 11 or 21 wins.

    Simulating the competition is one of the most important ways that I practice... I like how you quantify the data. That's something I'll be paying more attention to next time!

    1. I was doing the 1025 putting app for a while ( but I'm basically back to trying to only putt 2 discs before resetting and trying to change up my location each time. In the video, I wanted to stay in the camera's line of sight - but typically I move around the yard.

      I like that approach game idea, especially if you've got a few folks out with you. Typically I'm trying to squeeze in my field work on a lunch break or right after work and I'm alone for that 99% of the time.

      Knowing how much more accurate one shot is over another really helps me when making those shot decisions.

  2. Awesome stuff! Thanks so much. And thanks so much for giving an off-track greyhound a wonderful home. Please let me know if you're ever in the Santa Barbara area, I have a private course and would love to have you out for a round and a beer,

    1. Thank you! I may have to start the hard sell on the wife for a trip back to CA!

  3. LMAO - The Dog says, "Oh crap, is he going to start that again?" And before the first disc lands, "Sigh, yep. I'm outta here."

    1. Haha, yeah - Max is very tolerant of abuse of all types. 2 kids have been rough on that old pooch.

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