Ben Franklin and disc golf — the wisdom shines through

“When in doubt, don’t.”

Golf had barely made its way to the United States during Benjamin Franklin’s lifetime, otherwise I’d be inclined to think the above quote, taken from his Poor Richard’s Almanac, came to him while playing a round.

jack_2

I also believe that Franklin, if born into a world where both ball golf and disc golf existed, would undoubtedly have chosen the latter. Add that to the long list of reasons why he is by far my favorite among the founding fathers.

I could write an entirely separate post listing and elaborating on the reasons he would favor disc golf — chief among them its accessibility to people of all classes and the endless intriguing flight path possibilities of a flying disc. But that’s for another day. Let’s focus on that quote, and how it applies to disc golf.

When in doubt, don’t.”

I like to think the best interpretation of this nugget of wisdom in the golf world is this: In order to execute any shot successfully — and especially the most difficult ones — 100 percent conviction is a must. You can’t be waffling on which way to play it and expect things to turn out well. Let’s look at a couple of examples:

Example 1

You’re 30 feet away from the basket with a downhill putt, where the terrain continues to slope down behind the basket, with a lake at the bottom. You know this hole well, and as you approach your lie you think of the many times you’ve hit this putt and others like it.

Continue reading

A secret ingredient of putting power

Notice that the title of this post is not “The Secret of Putting.”

There are simply too many mental and physical aspects to good and consistent putting for there to be some secret that, once discovered, instantly turns a weak putter into a good or great one.

jack_2

If anything, the best advice is the one players often like to hear the least — practice.

But we’re not talking about flour and water here. Those are major components to making bread, but the secret ingredient is yeast. Without the yeast the bread won’t rise, and if it doesn’t rise, well, it’s not really bread, is it?

Secret ingredient.

The same goes for putting in disc golf. You can propel a disc toward the basket any number of ways, and it’ll even land in the basket once in a while.

But if you want a putt that seems to zip out of your hand, go farther and hang in the air a little longer than your effort warranted, you need some nice tight spin. And believe it or not, there’s a pretty simple modification you can make that will help you get it.

Continue reading

Disc golf lingo: Many groups have their own dialect

In a recent round at DeLaveaga, I paused briefly to tell my friend that his last throw had tons of “E.V.,” but I held the comment for later when we noticed a large group of marauders was quickly gaining on us. So naturally we…

What’s that? Not exactly following my meaning?

jackDon’t worry, you’re not behind on the latest disc golf lingo — at least, not yet.

Most of those reading this are well acquainted with the fact that, while disc golf borrows a great deal of terminology from its stick-and-ball ancestor (par, birdie, drive, putt, etc.), the sport has a lexicon all its own as well.

Words like hyzer, anhyzer and thumber, and terms like “chain music” and “high-tech roller” mean nothing outside of disc golf (or at least disc sports). And words like “chunder” and “schule” — while they can be found in a standard dictionary — have very different applications in the world where golf meets flying disc.

These words and phrases serve as an instant bond between people who might otherwise have zero in common. Picture, for instance, a 55-year old clean-cut professional type visiting a course he’s never played before during some free time on a business trip.

As he arrives at the teepad of a blind hole, he encounters a couple of long-haired, dreadlocked, hemp-wearing locals. The locals offer to let him play through, and the traveler asks them where the basket is located. One of them replies “If you throw a big anhyzer over those trees on the left and can get it to ‘S’ out at the end, you’ll be putting for birdie.”

Different as they might appear and even be, in respect to the other aspects of their lives, the visitor and the locals understand each other perfectly well on the disc golf course. We’re all members of a subculture that, while steadily growing, is still far from the mainstream, and our lexicon of unique terminology is one of the true identifying marks about which those not yet part of the clan remain completely ignorant.

Continue reading

Part 2: Two universal truths — and 7.5 tips — to help improve your putting

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.

Rattling Chains staff member Darren Dolezel shows his follow-through on a putt. Notice how his arm and fingers are pointed straight out. (photo by P.J. Harmer)

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.

Continue reading

Gap Analysis: the art and science of navigating trees

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.

school of disc golfAs always, this is best explained through the use of specific examples, which we’ll get into, but first a brief explanation of the two reasons for “I see holes!”

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.”

Continue reading

Three causes for taking extra strokes in disc golf — and how to avoid ’em

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.

school of disc golfIf 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:

Continue reading

Part 2 of the ground-up approach to saving strokes

By Jack Trageser — Rattling Chains staff

The disc golf courses where I live have plenty of variety, but one thing they don’t have, for the most part, is the kind of thick, lush grass found in manicured city or county parks.

I’m used to fairways and greens that present many complexities when the disc comes into contact with them, because of the surface itself, as much as the mountainous slopes.

The hard, and sometimes, barren ground results in all sorts of action after the disc makes first contact. The uneven nature of the terrain — rocks, ruts, and exposed roots (an especially notorious villain in Santa Cruz) — add a second layer of complexity to the already technical nature of these seemingly unpredictable shots.

Courses in manicured, grassy parks -- such as this one in Hillsboro, Oregon -- can be played more aggressively because the disc is less likely to skip or roll far from where it lands. (photo by Jack Trageser)

Courses in manicured, grassy parks — such as this one in Hillsboro, Oregon — can be played more aggressively because the disc is less likely to skip or roll far from where it lands. (photo by Jack Trageser)

So when I find myself on a course in well-manicured park setting, with lush green fairways that are beefed up by Scott’s TurfBuilder and mowed to a shag carpet-like regularity, it takes some time for me to adjust.

Certain things are just hard-coded into your game if you play a particular type of course nearly all the time. Dealing with tricky fairways and greens is part of my DNA. After watching the locals time and again attack the greens with reckless abandon, and then constantly coming up 30 feet shorter than I intended myself because my discs are plunging into the soft, thick grass like M & M’s in chocolate pudding, I’ll begin to realize some adaptation is necessary. And even then, the old cautious habit is hard to break.

I’m glad the adjustment I have to make when in those situations is from more to less difficult, but it’s an adjustment nonetheless.

It reminds me of the pool table my Grandpa built from scratch long before I was born. He wanted his sons to be good at billiards, so he built the table regulation size but with snooker-size pockets, which are smaller than the pockets on a normal pool table. It made those who used it more precise with their aim, but it also required an adjustment to the increased shot-making possibilities when playing on normal tables. In both cases, the key is to be aware of the changes in the environment — and then know how to adjust one’s game accordingly.

Continue reading

Part 1 of the ground-up approach to saving strokes

By Jack Trageser — Rattling Chains staff

You’ll often read the term “saving strokes” in my instructional posts because I believe the best way for an average player to improve his or her score is to cut down on taking unnecessary bogeys, doubles, or worse.

Birdies are wonderful, but for those who consider breaking par consistently to be a lofty goal, the quickest way to get there is to identify the avoidable mistakes we repeatedly make — and eliminate them.

There are many ways to do this, and the good news is most don’t require increased athletic talent so much as an understanding of three things — what’s likely to happen given the situation, your current skill level, and a number of environmental factors.

This post focuses on a big part of what happens after the disc leaves your hand — specifically the moment when it obeys the law of gravity, as all discs must eventually do. What goes up must come down, and unless your disc lands in a tree or on a roof or somewhere else above the playing surface, it’ll end up hitting the ground.

The question to ask yourself is, when you’re planning the shot you want to throw, how much thought are you giving to what happens after your disc first makes contact with the ground?

If your honest answer is “none” or “not much,” you’re likely taking some unnecessary strokes during your rounds. And if you’re like me, you might have been giving the subject plenty of consideration for years and still not realizing the important points.

My goal with this lesson is to list a few factors related to the angle or texture of the terrain that may affect your decision making when determining the exact shot you plan to execute. In the first part, we’ll cover the best ways to deal with holes that slope — uphill, downhill, and side-to-side. The second part will address the texture of the terrain — thick grass, dirt and rocks, thick brush, and hard-pan. Each presents special considerations, and we’ll cover ’em all. Now, on with the book, er, blog learnin’!

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Book Excerpt: Why golf is great, and why in the 21st century disc golf is better

By Jack Trageser — Rattling Chains staff

It is my firm belief that the sport of disc golf — which already has enjoyed strong, steady growth for more than two decades — will experience an explosion in popularity when two things happen:

  1. The general public is properly educated about the true nature and accessibility of disc golf, and all the nuances that make it so much more like traditional golf than most people assume to be the case (the variety of discs and throws, the effects of wind and terrain, etc.).
  2. Disc golf reaches a ‘tipping point’ in terms of popular opinion, triggered by either a critical mass of popular culture/media recognition or a handful of random watershed moments. For instance, if a super-famous person suddenly lists disc golf as their favorite activity, or a TV show, website, or publication with millions of fans features it prominently.

Now, it is altogether possible that a famous person will stumble across disc golf at any time, fall in love with the sport, and by sharing his or her passion for the sport do more to promote it in one day than all other players combined have done up to that point. But unless there is some exhaustive source of correct, detailed, and compelling information available that explains the many different reasons why people that have played it love it so much, chances of that watershed moment resulting in anything but a temporary fad are minimal.

Those seeking the truth about the sport will find nothing substantial — or worse, the misinformation and oversimplifications that currently exist. My goal is to fill that void and have answers to the inevitable questions ready and waiting in a book, for the day the dam breaks.

I’m writing a book that aims to make the two events numbered above much likelier to occur, as well as making the inevitable explosion of disc golf a mere launching point for something with staying power. The book will include chapters that discuss the history, finer points, unique grassroots growth, and formats of the sport, among others. But the unifying theme is a very specific sales pitch for disc golf, and it’s established in the first chapter and repeated throughout:

Continue reading