By Jack Trageser — Rattling Chains staff
Before you dive into this post, make sure you read the first 3.5 tips and universal truths to improve your putting from the neck up. You can see part one here.
If you’ve already seen that one, or are now done with it, read on!
4. Follow through. Really, really follow through! Think about all the pictures you’ve seen of pro players having just released a putt. I guarantee that most of them will show a player with his or her arm extended almost perfectly straight, and with all fingers — and even the thumb — rigid and reaching out toward the target.
Following through is an important aspect of mechanics is many different sports, especially those that include throwing a disc or ball. The benefit is two-fold as the best way to ensure consistent aim is to extend toward your target in an exaggerated fashion, and doing so will add a smoothness and extra bit of momentum that increases power and speed just enough to make a difference.
I’ve had too many putts to count barely go in where I noticed, as I brought the disc forward, that my grip was a little off or I wasn’t providing enough speed, but compensated by following through as strongly as I could.
This might be tough to do right away as it requires developing muscles in a different way. But this short video tutorial demonstrates an exercise that will help you understand the concept as well as develop the form.
5. The formula for balancing commitment and confidence with intelligent game management. A big part of good putting is making a decision, then committing fully to that decision. But that doesn’t have to be a black-or-white, all or nothing equation. Think of it more like a sliding scale, or rather, two sliding scales.
On the first one you’ve got the difficulty of the putt itself. How long is it? What’s the wind doing? What obstacles do you have to navigate past? The second one measures the possible negative outcomes that may result if you miss the putt. Rollaways are one of the most common of these, along with OB near the basket and obstacles that might impede your comeback putt.
Players who simply decide to go for it lose strokes by not adjusting their approach in a more granular fashion. If you assess your odds of making an 80-foot putt at only 40 percent, but add a pretty flat, grassy field, you should be able to make some kind of run at the basket provided you throw the disc on an arc so it’s falling downward and sideways as it approaches the target.
On the other hand, if you think you think your odds of hitting a 35-footer with a lake five feet from the basket are 60 percent, you’re taking a pretty big risk going for it rather than laying up.
I’m not a math person (far, far from it), but I’m certain that there are some advanced calculations going on behind the curtain in my head as I assess shots. I imagine they’d look something like this written out:
Where X is the probability of making a putt, and Y represents the odds of a miss resulting in taking an extra stroke or more, then X + Y = a ratio that tells me how much weight will be given to trying to make the putt versus making sure I can hit the comeback putt.
For purposes of illustration, this ratio will be a scale between 0-100, with 100 being the most aggressive go-for-it putt, and zero being a complete layup.
If I have a downhill 40 foot putt on a windy day at Hole No. 7 at DeLaveaga, with the pin in the long position, my equation would be something like .50X + .60Y = a go-for-it/play-it-safe ratio of zero on the 1-100 scale. In other words, in that case I deemed the odds of something bad happening too high to go for a putt that I only had a 50/50 chance of making.
(Remember I said I’m not a math guy, so don’t go telling me that .50 + .60 = 1.1. This isn’t real math.)
Another example: I’m on Hole 6 at DeLaveaga, 25 feet from the basket, which is in the long-pin position and right next to an OB road. I estimate my X value to be .85, and the Y value is .70 since missed putts here seem to end up in the road more often than not. What this results in is a putt where I go for it (since I’m very confident that I can make it), but with lots of touch and loft so if I don’t get it in, it’ll have a good chance of staying safe. A go-for-it/play-it-safe ratio of 76.
6. Use – but don’t abuse – those chains. Assuming you’re playing on a course with baskets, there is a specific firmness of a throw or putt that will give your disc the best chance of ending up in the basket. And just like the Three Bears’ beds to Goldilocks, it’s not too hard, or too soft, but just right.
“Steady” Ed designed the chains in his Pole Hole to “catch” the disc — in essence to arrest the momentum of the disc then drop it into the cage. There is a specific optimal firmness or speed of a putt where the chains perform this function the best.
It’s hard to describe this exact optimal firmness, but when thinking about it now, one of the best ways is through the sound the chains make when a perfect putt hits and falls in the basket. It’s full and musical, with a slightly delayed smaller sound as the disc drops down into the cage. Putts that are too hard sound more violent, like loud cymbals, and putts that are too soft remind me of a bowling ball hitting only three pins.
The other reason to develop a putt with the right firmness lends itself to a more visual description. The chain assembly of a basket is designed for the thrower to aim at the pole in the middle. If you’re thinking more about “tossing” the disc into the basket cage you’re ignoring this design intention, and also likely throwing a disc that approaches the basket falling away at a bad angle. Putts like this — even decently aimed ones — can tend to glance off the outer chains and slide out to the weak side.
Conversely, putts that are too hard can penalize the thrower in a couple of different ways. As the chains are only designed to reliably catch discs thrown up to a certain speed, harder putts tend to ricochet more violently and have a great chance to either bounce right out or blast right through before they can be ensnared. This can even happen to hard putts that are perfectly aimed. And of course a hard, line-drive putt that completely misses the basket will end up further away.
7. Learn your range. This tip is more of a game management tip for those playing in a format where score is important. Also, it could be considered 5.5 as it really is a building block for employing my fifth tip.
You are hopefully getting a little better the more you play and practice, but at any given moment in time you have a very specific range — or, as described in tip No. 5, the probability of making a putt. The key here is to be in tune with your range and base shot decisions on that range rather than your desire, or what you wish your range was. It’s situations just like this for which the term “wishful thinking” was coined.
Humans, being emotional creatures, can easily let emotions and ego factor into decisions that really should be made in a completely Dr. Spock-like, logic-based manner. Knowing your range is all about boiling down putting decisions to nothing but a cold, detached assessment of your own capabilities. It’s not as easy done as said, I know.
And to make it even harder, our range is subject to wide variances from round-to-round or even hole-to-hole. Sometimes I’ll realize a few holes into a round that for whatever reason my putting game is just not there yet. Or maybe I realize that my back is a little stiff and it’s affecting my form. So, on a putt I may usually go for aggressively, I’ll also take these temporary factors into consideration and just lay up.
Knowing your range means being realistic about where your general putting game is and making decisions accordingly, but it’s also about being in tune with the minor variables that pop up in the moment and adjusting to those accordingly as well.
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.