By Jack Trageser — Rattling Chains staff
Many playing companions over the years have heard me mutter “I see holes” at some point during my pre-shot routine while playing a round of disc golf. It’s a go-to phrase of mine, and has been for probably 15 years. Some ask why I say those words when getting ready for certain shots, and they get the answers as you’ll see below.
The funny thing about this particular mantra is I use it for two distinctly different reasons, yet the two reasons often blend together. The place where the two meet — the axis of risk or reward assessment (a scientific approach) and more nebulous subjects like positive thinking and confidence (closer to an art than a science) — is really the essence of the mental side of golf.
The history of this mantra, for me, was the light bulb-over-the-head realization that even on shots where the trees and other obstacles seem so numerous and throwing a disc cleanly through and past them is impossible, it’s rarely as bleak as thought. In fact, when you consider the overall area covering a particular flight path you’re hoping to take, the gaps between the trees usually represent a much larger portion of the total space than the obstructions.
After this became apparent to me, I would chant “I see holes” as a way to remind myself to think about and visualize a clean flight rather than dreading the relatively few disc-whacking trees it had to pass. In this context it’s really just positive thinking and positive imagery, and the mantra is a way to keep my thoughts focused on the good things that I plan to happen rather than the bad things that might occur.
And it really works!
That’s how the phrase first popped into my head. But it was only a matter of time before my analytical side dissected the magical effectiveness of “I see holes.”
Though my little mantra started out as a vague positive-thinking mind trick, and I’m convinced it works, sometimes I find myself with so many trees between my lie and the basket (or whatever fairway spot I’m aiming for) that even a positive thinker along the magnitude of Stuart Smalley would have a hard time seeing holes. I’m talking about situations where I know realistically the chances of getting through clean on the ideal line are less than 50 percent. At times like that I’m forced to choose between the least “sucky” option.
When it’s time to select from different options on the golf course, the scientific side of me kicks in. Thoughts of percentages and risk or reward kick in. You would think that would preclude the nebulous realm of “I see holes,” but the mantra actually has a place here as well. This time, though, the more applicable adjectives are practical, sensible, and the more golf-specific high-percentage. Depending on the situation, there are a couple of different applications for this approach.
Searching Far and Wide
When your direct path to the target is blocked, look for gaps to the left and right that offer the best alternatives.
Sometimes, as in the first example photo (click to get a larger view), you can hit the gap with a shot curves toward the target after it passes through. Other times the layout won’t allow for anything but a straight shot.
Either way, though, it’s better to get most of the way there than to aim for a tiny slot and hit something directly in front of you.
The “General Area” Gap
This approach usually applies to instances where the obstacles in question are not right in front of you, but farther away, and evenly distributed, so there is no single gap that is the clear choice.
In situations where I see what appears to be a wall of trees blocking my route that is far enough away that aiming for one particular small gap isn’t feasible, I try to identify the least-dense section of that wall. It’s kind of like an attacking army would look for the weakest and most vulnerable spot.
To be clear, I’m not talking about finding a single gap between two trees. In the situation I’m describing, the objective is to identify, aim for and hit a general area that offers the least resistance to a disc that wants to pass through relatively untouched.
In a sense, I’m trying to find the one realistically hittable zone where there are more open spaces than trees (“I see holes!”). A key point is in situations like these, I have shifted my goal away from selecting the shot that can get me all the way to the target — because there is either no realistic option for doing so or the chances that I’ll succeed are extremely low — to selecting the shot that has the best chance to advance the disc as far as possible.
In our second example photo, it shows two gaps — one on the left, and one on the right. The gap on the right is the more direct route to the basket (hidden behind the trees on the right), and it is also a “true” gap in the sense that a perfectly accurate throw will definitely get through. However, I chose to aim for the general area circled on the left for the following reasons:
- Even though a couple of skinny tree trunks cut through the area, the overall area is much larger than the single gap on the right, and my odds of getting through are better;
- The gap on the left provides a better worst-case scenario as there are no early trees to hit on the way to the gap (notice the early trees on the right side on the route to the gap on the right);
- As a left-hander throwing a backhand shot, if I get through the gap on the left with the throw I want, it will skip-hyzer right, in the direction of the basket. The right gap would require me to throw a shot that stays perfectly straight for 200-plus feet, a difficult feat to say the least.
We’ve covered a lot of ground in this post, hopefully filling a few “gaps” in your strategic and mental game. Here is a quick list of the important points:
- Most of the time, even when it seems like there are a lot of obstacles in the way, it’s mostly open space (holes, you see). Focusing on the space rather than the other stuff will enable you to hit those gaps more often. In other words, visualize success!
- When you find yourself hemmed into a particularly tight spot, take a wide view of all your possibly escape routes. If all the more direct paths to your target require hitting tiny openings with an unlikely perfect throw, settle for a higher-percentage throw that at least allows you to make some progress.
- When your obstacles are further away and no single gap stands out as the obvious route to take, look for a general zone that is the most open. Then target that large zone and revert to the first bullet point — think positive!
You Make the Call
In our final photo, there are three routes circled.
You can see the basket is shown in the middle of the center gap. The question is, which gap would you choose (this is the right rough on hole No. 10 at DeLaveaga, by the way) and why?
Give us your answer in the comments below and in a few days, we’ll share the way the author took and why.
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.