A Conversation With A Beginner Yields Tips For All Players

You have questions. Jason Liebgott has answers.

When working on form, we get to a point, sooner or later, where we have questions. Some of these questions are relatively easy, and sometimes there’s a whole bunch of “it depends” in the answer.

I recently received an email from a reader hailing from Norway, and he had more than a few queries. I thought this would be a great place to flesh out some answers and hopefully help some fellow form hounds.

Nicolai, my Norwegian friend: Hopefully this gets you going in the right direction.

I’m really new to disc golf, started in early May this year. But as a former scratch golfer, I’ve taken to disc golf like a duck to water. What I loved about golf – the difficulty, the mechanics, the analyzing and constant search for “more” – is exactly what I now love about disc golf. I’m hooked.

While I’m certainly not a scratch golfer by any stretch, I also love ball golf. My grandfather sawed off one of his old drivers and re-gripped it for me when I was about 6 years old. He set me up at the driving range and very quickly I found a swing that worked. Finances have typically kept me from playing ball golf very often, so when I found disc golf I loved the fact that I could dive into the underbelly of progression and have lots to work on. And it’s almost always free!

I’ve made really good progress compared to others I know who started with me, and although I’m not fully consistent yet, I am getting the disc over 300 feet just standing still and I’ve got a good touch in and around the basket. I’ve made a comprehensive list of everyone from Dan Beato, to yourself, and all the best pro clinics on YouTube, and I’m also lucky to know one of the best players local to me. But while he chucks a Destroyer a long way, he struggles as a teacher. I asked him about what I’m about to ask you a few weeks ago, and he just looked at me blankly.

Welcome to the world of “good players, bad teachers.” I’ve had the exact same experience. I won’t out anybody, but many sponsored players that can throw a disc a country mile will say things like, “You just need to throw it harder!” I came to my swing by analysis and fieldwork alone. My initial ability was a hot mess, so figuring out all the little secrets was imperative. Unfortunately for me, I forget lessons I learned the day before, so I kept notes on as much of the little secrets as possible. I strongly suggest keeping notes during field work. Even just having a notepad on hand to keep track of how accurate your various shots are is a huge help in learning your own game.

So, here are some questions to start with: When you throw, what strength of pressure are we talking just before release? Are you gripping with equal pressure with all fingers and the thumb? What pressure equivalent are we talking? An analogy often used in regular golf is a toothpaste tube with the cap removed; If you’re squirting the paste out, you’re gripping too hard. But when I read or watch disc golf instruction, words like “overpower” (especially with the thumb) are thrown around, but getting an actual read on what this means is difficult. Grip too hard, and you grip-lock. Too soft, and you lose power and accuracy. But just knowing you have to grip “about this hard” would be cool for newcomers.

Grip pressure is going to change depending on the distance of the shot. A short touch shot at 80 to 120 feet will be held lightly with the index finger hooked in slightly, so that as the disc ejects forward you don’t accidentally pull it right of your intended line for a right-handed backhand thrower. Most players will have a natural feel for this type of shot developed from playing catch. I think of this as letting the index finger slip over the rim without much hooking.

As we move from a 100 foot shot to a 250 foot approach, we firm up the pressure point around the index finger and the thumb pushing down on the flight plate. A huge key is that the disc will be held firm enough that somebody can’t knock it out of your hand, but that you do not flex the forearm. This mantra needs to be repeated: Loose is fast. Imagine flexing your arm muscles and trying to throw a baseball pitch. It would be impossible. If you over-clamp the grip, you will at some point develop tennis elbow because you’re tightening tendons that are going to need to be loose or else they will develop micro tears.

Jared Roan digs into the hook upon release.
Jared Roan digs into the hook upon release.

From 250 to 500 feet, we dig into the hook. That’s how to hold onto the disc through the ejection point. Imagine your index finger as a hook that digs into the inside of the rim and the thumb as holding the disc on that hook. As the disc ejection becomes more powerful, you’ll have to hold that grip more firmly or risk blowing off the rim early, but with the thought in mind that you want to keep the “hook” in the rim.

Spin is obviously important to the flight of the disc. If I understand the mechanics correctly, does it mean that if I throw a disc flat, with no hyzer or anhyzer – say, a Valkyrie (with flight numbers 9, 4, -2, 2) – if the flight of the disc is fairly straight out, then a fade (instead of high speed turn to the right, then fade back center), does that mean I’m not developing the necessary revolutions on the disc to give it its “normal” flight pattern? And when I overpower the disc (I take this to mean with spin), that the same disc will fly straight then turn right or hard right?

Spin happens when you’re throwing properly, but it is not a goal. Trying to spin a disc in any sort of shot, other than a specific touch shot, is putting effort into the motion that isn’t needed or helpful. For the sake of the vast majority of beginner to advanced players, the turn of a disc is a product of nose angle, ejection speed and hyzer angle, and of course the flight characteristics of the disc (which you can’t control).

David Wiggins GIF

Just for the sake of argument, where in the motion above could we imagine David Wiggins Jr. adding spin? Hint: He’s not. But the disc is coming out spinning properly. He’s adding power to the disc, and the way we properly throw discs will spin it. There are three important components to meeting this end:

  1. Nose angle: Drivers need to be thrown nose down in order to get their full flight. I often refer to this as “pouring a cup of coffee” – which I nicked from YouTube form master MikeC. Possibly the easiest way to gain 50 feet on a drive is to tip your wrist down in the backswing and keep it down through the ejection. You can adjust your trajectory or the height of your shot so that it’s flying 10 to 15 feet off the ground, but trust me: All discs will fly best when thrown nose down. Midranges and putters can tolerate being thrown nose up more than drivers, but more on that in a bit.
  2. Ejection Speed: Just like in ball golf, you don’t hit further by swinging your arms faster. You throw further by improving your weight shift, your brace and keeping the hook in as long as possible. As the disc speed increases to a proper level, the flight characteristics of the disc start to ring true. This can be extremely confusing for new players who have a disc (like a Valkyrie) that may be overstable or understable depending on plastic, weight, or level of wear.
  3. Hyzer angle: Another slightly confusing issue is that a hyzer release – even a relatively small amount on certain molds – can stop your disc from turning at all. It may “flip to flat” and then fade. A hyzer flip is just a shot that is throw with a hyzer angle that turns to flatten the disc. Some hyzer flips will have enough turn to flip to flat, then turn more. This confused me for some time because I thought I was getting “late turn” in my putter’s flight, but I was just releasing with enough hyzer that it was slowly flipping to flat and then turning late in the flight.

Taken together, those three elements are the contributions that we can add to get a disc to fly with its intended characteristics. There are other things, but those are the ones to start with.

In the same clip you talk about release angle (pouring coffee) but that the “nose down” applies to stable drivers. This is probably my biggest issue at the moment because when I get the odd one right I find I can hit 400 feet. But as I’m new and find using understable or just stable discs easier to throw, I’m wondering if understable drivers are even more sensitive to release angle and can’t or shouldn’t be thrown in a nose down attitude?

If you throw a disc nose up (so that you can see the flight plate of the disc while it’s in flight), you are effectively adding stability to the disc. I know it’s not making the disc more stable, but it’s an easy way to think of it. You’re slowing the disc down and it will behave with low speed stability sooner in the flight. Throwing it nose down, it will fly faster and behave with its high speed stability characteristics for longer during the flight.

So, if you want a long flight from an understable disc, throw it nose down with enough hyzer and good ejection speed. It should flip up to flat, turn to some degree and then, hopefully, fade. If you want a short straight shot, try taking a putter and throwing it nose up on an anhyzer line. That particular shot is a great tool for getting a disc to stall and drop out of the air.

What’s your take on blizzard type discs and throwing lighter discs? I get that they’re not as good in wind, but am I right in thinking that if my arm is not strong enough for a max weight disc then I can choke down and get better results on lower weight plastic (and even overpower them eventually)?

I like to have a lighter disc in my bag for substantial uphill shots, or if there’s a legitimate tail wind that’s knocking discs right out of the air. I carry one Star Teebird at 159 grams for those specific shots.

Have your own questions for Jason of HeavyDisc? Leave them in the comments and he can help you out, too!

  1. Jason Liebgott
    Jason Liebgott

    Since the spring of 2013, Jason Liebgott has spent the majority of his free time standing in a field trying to throw a disc. This can drive a man insane, teach him quite a bit about form, or, in his case, a little of both. He runs the website HeavyDisc.


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