The five Ws of roller shots

By Jack Trageser — Rattling Chains staff

When teaching or playing with people new to the sport and they see me execute a roller shot for a long, accurate drive, it’s only a matter of time before they ask if I can show them how to do it.

They have correctly deduced that, quite often, a disc can travel farther rolling along the ground than spinning through the air. Actually, if the terrain and conditions are suited for the purpose — and the roller is thrown by someone who knows the right way to do it — it usually is the case. It’s pretty enticing for someone who is having a hard time getting the kind of distance he or she sees everyone else is getting.

Some people avoid the roller as a violation of an important aesthetic element of disc sports. After all, it’s supposed to float through the air. To that, I say geo over it.

At one point, I was in the camp myself. Then I realized I was a person who loved the competitive golf aspect of disc golf. I was jealous that others who could execute rollers had an advantage over me. So, I began to figure out a different world of getting discs from point A to point B.

In fact, roller shots are not as inelegant as they first appear. The same science of selecting the right combination of release angle, arm speed from an air shot applies to rollers as well.

From the time I started to now, I’ve learned a lot. The following is a journalist’s tried and true who, what, when, where and why for rollers. The how will follow in part two of this series.

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Be a sponge part 2: Paying attention to detail

By Jack Trageser — Staff

The previous post under this heading (To play better disc golf . . . be a sponge!) didn’t focus on the absorbent characteristics of a sponge, but rather the practice of “wringing out” every bit of talent and knowledge one already possesses to maximize performance.

In a nutshell, everyone will make errors in execution at one time or another, and it’s unavoidable. It happens less to better, more consistent players, but it happens. However, mental errors are much more systemic and can usually be avoided or even practically eliminated with the proper mindset.

This post goes back to the absorbent nature of the sponge, with three specific suggestions on how to soak up new information that can help you improve.

  1. Observe and learn from players that are much better than you;
  2. Observe your own game from a detached, analytical viewpoint;
  3. Listen to your body.

Observe and learn from players that are much better than you

The key to this bit of advice is the fact that players is plural. Don’t just pick one player whose game you admire and try to emulate him or her. He or she may have an unconventional style that doesn’t work for most other people (like Nate Doss’ putting technique), or maybe his or her physical capabilities far exceed yours.

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To play better disc golf … be a sponge!

By Jack Trageser — Staff

I’m speaking to all disc golfers here, but primarily to those of you who really love to play, maybe even 2-3 times a week, but still feel like you could get way better.

The Am2 players who want to move up to Am 1, the Am1 players who want to start challenging the pros, and the rec players eager to see your scores go down.

When you think “Be a Sponge” you probably think I mean something like “Soak up all the advice you can,” or “Watch the top pros whenever you can.”Though neither of those pieces of advice are bad, I’m thinking the opposite sponge metaphor.

The first thing to do when you want to get better disc golf scores is to wring out all the potential you currently have, even as you work to improve and expand your skill set. In any sport, when you hear about an athlete that maximized his or her potential, or overachieved, it’s usually in reference to someone with an average physical game but an extraordinary mental game and strong desire to get better. They squeeze the most out of their physical potential (like wringing out a wet, heavy sponge).

I’m not saying you have to dedicate yourselves to disc golf, a fitness regimen, or anything like that. Just use your head. Figure out ways that you waste strokes during a typical round, and eliminate the waste. Squeeze it out. I address specific ways you can do this in this piece, and in more detail at School of Disc Golf, but you know which areas you need to focus on most. Here are some basics to get you started:

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Instruction: Building blocks of basic backhand technique

By Jack Trageser — Staff

Disc golf is still enough of a niche sport that by the time most of us are ensnared (like a putter caught in the inner chains of a Mach III) by an obsession to get better, we’ve already been heavily exposed to other more mainstream sports.

That reality has definite advantages for me, as an instructor, because it helps when I’m teaching a disc golf concept related to technique (or even mental stuff) to be able to draw analogies between disc golf techniques and those of other more familiar games. If someone has already learned a similar motion, it’s easier to recall that motion and apply it to disc golf than to learn it completely from scratch.

Case in point, my first session with Rattling Chains’ lead blogger P.J. Harmer.

P.J. spoke of the frustration of not being able to throw as far as he wanted or thought he should be able to throw — nor as accurately. Without actually watching him throw live and in person, I had to rely mostly on the spoken and written words we exchanged on the subject in choosing my advice for him. However, I knew a couple other things that would likely prove useful.

First, players in the earlier stages of the disc golf learning curve usually make many of the same common mistakes and therefore see many of the same negative results from those mistakes. Second, P.J. has talked on many occasions of being an avid softball player, so I knew right away that he would be able to easily understand the comparisons I like to use between throwing a disc golf disc using the backhand technique and proper batting technique in baseball.

Weight transfer and balance

Probably the most common mistake I see players of all levels make with the backhand shot has to do with transferring weight from the back foot to the front foot.

Figure 1: The stick in this photo illustrates the line on which players pull back the disc and throw that results in shots that pop in the air and don't go very far.

A good backhand throw derives most of its power from the back, torso, and legs rather than just the arm. In this way (and some others, which we’ll cover soon) throwing a disc backhand is just like swinging a baseball bat with the goal of hitting the ball with any kind of power.

In both cases you’re standing at a 90-degree angle to the direction you want to throw/hit. And in both cases you want your weight to shift from your back foot to your front foot at a precise critical time. With baseball, that time is a fraction of a second before the bat hits the ball. With disc golf, it’s right as the disc is passing your body mid-throw. Any sooner in either case and you’ll rob yourself of all that power you had coiled up from your legs and torso.

Using the baseball analogy, think of what a hitter looks like when he’s way out front on a change-up or curve ball. And in the case of a backhand throw in disc golf, you’ll also likely mess up your balance and lose accuracy as well as distance.

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The number-crunching approach to better disc golf scores

Today’s hopefully useful game improvement post touches on a way you can improve scores on the course by recording and mining the data of past rounds while off the course.

However, talking about crunching numbers tends to get dry in a hurry — especially if you’re reading this in a disc golf frame of mind. So we’ll ease into the meat of this lesson by way of an illustration. The guinea pig in this case is yours truly.

I shot an even-par 84 (28 holes) morning round at DeLaveaga last weekend, and earned satisfaction on two different counts.

First, with the exception of only a few holes, the course is set up in its toughest configuration in preparation of the fast-approaching Masters Cup — an annual stop on the PDGA National Tour. Par in that layout is good for a plus-1000 rated round, and right now, I’ll take that any day of the week and twice on tournament weekends.

Hole No. 1 at DeLaveaga. (Photo by John Hernlund)

The other reason why I was able to bask in my own pysche a little after my round today — and the main subject of this post — is that I had a game plan and executed it quite well. My strategy at DeLa, when the course is long, is to think par at nearly every hole, even off the tee, and even though I can birdie most of the holes with a perfect tee shot and good putt. The result in this case was 24 pars, two birdies, and two bogeys — one of which was on Hole 13, which plays more like a par 4.

So why play for par on a hole when I know I’m capable of doing better? Because being capable of a executing a shot once and being capable of executing it consistently are two very different things. Understanding that basic fact is the first step in properly assessing the risk/reward quotient of every shot in golf — disc or otherwise.

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To save strokes near the basket, think more like a golfer

Disc golf and ball golf can both reduce a grown man to tears, and they can both elicit language from a grown woman that would make a Marine drill sergeant blush. Is it because we, the loyal devotees of our sport, are mostly unstable people drawn to these tests of sanity like moths to a bug zapper?


Well, maybe. But I have another theory.

Sure, bad breaks happen with heartbreaking and hair-pulling randomness — like my recent 40-foot putt for birdie that hit the cage 1/2 inch short of paydirt, then rolled down the sloped green and across an OB line 60 feet away (result: double bogey). Why?

No, really. WHY?!

But that kind of frustration dissipates quicker than the other kind. I’m referring to that instinctive knowledge, after a round, or a hole, or a throw, that we could have done better. Specifically, that we would have done better if not for some type of mental error. That kind can keep you tossing and turning at night.

Maybe it was a poor decision. Or the fact that it became quite obvious — a fraction of a second after the disc was released — that the wrong thought dominated the wrong lobe at the wrong time. Whatever. I’m convinced, though, that the mental side of golf is at the root of the love/hate paradox that keeps most avid players coming back again and again.

You see, even those of us with the most marginal physical skills know that if we can only squeeze all the potential out of those skills by playing smarter, our scores will improve immediately. As you read my posts here on Rattling Chains, you’ll discover this is a favorite theme of mine. We can all improve simply by playing smarter, and there are many, many, many ways to do that.

Saving strokes on the green

And what better place to start than on the green, around the basket? Mistakes related to putting are the quickest way to take needless strokes (from birdie to bogey, just like that!) so it stands to reason that plugging leaks in one’s putting game immediately translates to lower average scores.

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Improving skills can equal more fun

Jack Trageser is bringing his many years of disc golf experience to Rattling Chains.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m digging the Rattling Chains blog so far. It’s well-written with new content just about every day. In the short history of disc golf on the web, that combination has been as rare as a Ken Climo three-putt.

In others words, practically non-existent.

In joining the Rattling Chains team, I’m hoping my particular contributions will give readers another reason to check in on a regular basis. If my personal experience and observation of other disc golfers over the past couple decades is any indication, improving one’s play and one’s scores (and finally beating that smug ‘friend’) tends to result in more fun as well.

I intend to focus on posts that help those new to the sport learn how to do things the right way from the start, and more established disc golfers how to play better.

And I’ll also be bringing a decidedly more seasoned perspective to Rattling Chains.

Most of the other writers here are still oozing with the kind of excitement and enthusiasm that comes from recently having discovered disc golf (ahhh, good times).

They’re still in that phase where they’re discovering some wonderful new benefit each time they play, think about, or read about disc golf.

Don’t get me wrong — I still ooze disc golf, and after all these years I still occasionally have ‘discovery’ moments.

But I’m used to it by now.

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