By Jack Trageser — Rattling Chains staff
After playing the seventh hole at DeLaveaga the other day, it occurred to me I had already had three bogeys. To loosely paraphrase Ice Cube from back in the 1990’s, I was givin’ out strokes ‘like government cheese!’
Then, in keeping with my longstanding practice of pondering why the bogies occurred rather than simply lamenting the fact, I observed each was attributable to one of the three reasons players take extra strokes in disc golf — bad execution, mental errors, and bad luck.
If you haven’t thought of your disc golf game from this perspective before, it might be worthwhile to check it out. Bad luck (and good luck!) will happen when it happens, and luck is impossible to control (although often times bad luck is set up by a bad decision). Errors are another thing entirely.
Knowing which type (execution or mental) you’re more prone to commit will help you know which area of your game requires more work in order to improve performance and consistency.
To make it clearer, here are the details of those three bogies at the start of my recent round:
On hole No. 1, my drive was thrown too low, resulting in it turning over and grinding to a halt. Cut down in its prime. It ended up well short of my normal landing area, which on the uphill first hole at DeLaveaga means a difficult par save. Sure enough, I took a bogey. The problem here was purely a lack of execution. I had a good, straightforward plan, didn’t vary from my routine, and didn’t have distracting thoughts floating through my brain. Quite simply, I overthrew in an effort to compensate for the cold, and in the process removed all the smoothness from my form.
The fourth hole requires the player to pass through trees. The course rules at DeLaveaga state the two-meter rule (a one-stroke penalty for discs stuck two meters or higher in a tree) is in effect. And because of the way the fairway dips down midway through, any air shot has some risk of getting snagged in some branches. Lower shots are less likely to get caught, but on that day my drive, which seemed rather perfect as it left my hand, ended up OB. The odds of that happening were quite small, but happen it did. Oh well.
Now the bogey on hole No. 7 was by far the most avoidable of the three. The mistake I made there was entirely mental, and those are the ones that bother me the most.
My drive had left me about 70 feet from the basket, with the slightly downhill angle of the shot making it play more like a 50-foot birdie try. But here is where I screwed up — a putt anywhere between 50 and 70 feet has a less than 50 percent chance of landing in the basket. And, depending on the conditions (in this case a bit of a low ceiling near the cage), quite a bit less than 50 percent.
The low probability of success alone would not be a reason to lay up rather than go for it. But coupled with the reality that the seventh hole has a very fast, rutted fairway and a green that slopes down to the basket and far beyond, it makes birdie attempts quite risky.
Yet go for it I did, and the result was predictable. After a skip, rattle and roll, my comeback putt was around 40 feet — and I missed it. All I could think about was it took me three shots to hole out from 70 feet. Not acceptable.
Think about these three bogeys, and consider whether you identify with any one of the three in particular.
If you identify with Hole No. 1 (bad execution), you will likely see the quickest improvement through practice. Get out on a field, and get your reps in. Commit your good form and technique to muscle memory, so when it comes time for real play on the course, your body knows what to do.
If the bad break on the fourth hole seems all too familiar to you, think long and hard about whether you’re really getting more than your share of bad luck or if it’s maybe the result of leaving too much to chance too often.
I believe luck evens out over time, so if you think you’re always getting the short end of the stick, it’s likely because you’re not making the best decisions. At DeLaveaga tournaments, such as the Masters Cup, out-of-town players often act frustrated at what they claim is the “fickle-factor” connected to the course’s sloped terrain and fast greens. The players who score best in events there, however, know these elements require special respect and adjust accordingly.
And that brings us to the stroke I took on hole No. 7. I knew the risks involved in going for that long putt with a fast, downhill green. The odds of making it didn’t match well with the odds of a miss, resulting in a long comeback putt. But I went for it anyway, succumbing to whatever bad rationale happened to float through my mind at the time.
Maybe it was impatience at being 2 over after six holes, or maybe it was a type of bravado that led me to think nothing bad would happen if I ran the putt. But the odds played out, and what was most likely to happen did occur.
If this type of mental error costs you the most strokes in your rounds, consider it good news. These are the easiest to eliminate as they have nothing to do with your ability to play the game. You just need to learn to get better at thinking your way around the course. No one is perfect in this respect, but those who work at it get the most out of their abilities.
If you enjoy analyzing disc golf as much as playing it, it’s actually quite interesting to do a postmortem on your mistakes. You’ll end up learning something nearly every time, and that means even your screw ups can be productive in the long run.
So which of the three do you identify with the most, and more importantly, what are you going do about it?
Jack Trageser is the founder of School of Disc Golf and the instructional writer at RattlingChains.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.