Tuesday Tips: Utility Shots – Thumbers & Tomahawks

Handy hints to improve your overhand game

We all find ourselves off the fairway and in the rough sometimes. That’s why it’s important to know how to scramble and get out of tricky situations on the course. Over the next few months we’ll be running a series on Utility Shots in our Tuesday Tips section, with instructional content ranging from common ways to get out of trouble to the rare and unusual. These creative throws are both a fun part of the game and a great way to lower your scores.

Last summer I was — to my immense surprise! — in the lead in my division at one of the larger tournaments in my area. With just two holes left to play, I had a two stroke lead stepping up to a 420-foot dogleg right hole with a low ceiling off the tee, water 35 feet behind the basket, and a fairway lined with rough you don’t want to find. I throw plenty of forehands, so I’m not thinking twice about this tee shot. But — oops — I leave it a little high, and that low ceiling kicks me to the edge of the rough, halfway down the fairway and just in front of the dogleg with no angle for an air shot around the corner. A friend on the card, who was well out of the running for the lead, reminded me that’s just about the last place you want to end up, but I still wasn’t that worried.

This is the kind of hole nobody is birdieing without a huge skip shot, but it’s not one you want to take a 4 on either — especially in my situation. All wasn’t lost, but I wasn’t out of the woods yet. I keep a very, very beat up Roadrunner — it’s one of the very first discs I ever bought years ago — in my bag for situations exactly like this. I stretch out to my left, away from the rough enough so I have a line over the tall bushes in front of me and put up one of my go-to get-out-of-trouble shots: a tomahawk. It gets up and flips, panning back to the left, away from the water and landing inside 15 feet. I make the putt, and finish out the win on the last hole. I wasn’t planning to go tomahawk down the stretch — almost nobody is — but I was glad I had it in the bag when I needed it.

Thumbers and tomahawks (sometimes called hammers) are certainly two of the more common kinds of utility shots you might see on an average day at the course. Oftentimes they are used from the tee, and can even be a dominant part of some players’ game, with thumbers being somewhat more common.

Specifically, these two types of overhand throws look very similar to how an outfielder in baseball would throw the ball back to the infield in an attempt to catch a runner going for an extra base. Just like throwing a baseball accurately, a thumber or tomahawk should finish more or less straight in front of the thrower, with slight variation to the left or right depending on a number of factors, like the stability of the disc or wind.

Thumbers and tomahawks will “corkscrew,” or flip and pan out in the air, with the flight plate facing the ground, on the way to their target. A typical thumber that achieves a full flight will flip and pan left-to-right from the thrower’s perspective. A typical tomahawk that achieves a full flight will flip and pan right-to-left from the thrower’s perspective.

Here’s a good look at a well-executed thumber. Reverse this flight path for a tomahawk:

Thumber Video

Grip

Thumber: Hold the disc vertically, with the flight plate facing away from you. Tuck your thumb into the rim with the edge of the rim resting on your middle finger. Keep your pointer finger on the flight plate to both strengthen your grip and adjust the angle of release.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tomahawk: Use the same grip you are comfortable using for forehand throws. Hold the disc vertically with the flight place facing toward you, pinching the rim between the knuckles of your thumb and pointer finger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Footwork

A smooth and controlled run/walk up — similar to how you throw forehand shots — is all that is needed. It’s also important to focus on shifting your weight from your back to front leg, as forward momentum generated by your lower body will be transferred to the disc and lessen the stress on your shoulder and elbow. To add more momentum to your throw, consider adding a slight crow-hop to your approach – again, just like an outfielder.

Arm Motion

The general arm motion for both thumbers and tomahawks is nearly identical, and many principles that hold for throwing backhand and forehand translate to overhand shots, too. Just like with those more common throws, you will want to stay slow, smooth, and controlled with your movements until just before it is time to release the disc, when the most acceleration should happen.

Bring the disc back to your ear, or to the back or side of head. This will allow you to get more of your body into the throw and avoid undue stress on your shoulder, which happens when trying to throw one of these shots with the disc outstretched from your body.

Bring the disc forward, accelerating the most right before the disc leaves your hand over your head. Always follow through toward your target.

Where To Use It On The Course

There are four relatively common situations where a thumber or tomahawk can be useful. First, simply, is getting out of trouble from the rough when a more typical backhand or forehand air shot isn’t an option. Second, overhand throws can be a great way to get up and over obstacles, or avoid narrow gaps or low ceilings when there is room above them, even when you’re not in the rough:

Utility Shot Video

Third, overhand throws that are thrown low and hard can make for good, controlled skip shots:

Utility Skip 1 GIF

Utility Skip 2 GIF

Fourth, they can be strong options for narrow, tunnel-like fairways where there is more vertical space than horizontal space:

Utility Tunnel 1 GIF

Utility Tunnel 2 GIF

Overhand throws can be a very accurate, point-and-shoot type of throw — depending on the ground surface where the disc is landing — once you begin to learn to the flight characteristics of your discs.

Which Discs To Throw

Typically, stable-to-overstable fairway drivers and lower speed drivers are preferred, as they take longer to pan out (and pan more predictably), thus gaining more distance. Understable drivers in this speed range, though, can be just as useful. They tend to flip and pan out much faster, allowing them to get up over obstacles and back to the ground quickly.

Additional Resources & Video

Search for pros Brain Schweberger, Matt Dollar, and Cody Bradshaw on YouTube for more video from some of the most proficient overhand throws in disc golf. Here are a couple of their greatest hits:

Cody Bradshaw thumber tips:

Bradshaw Thumber Video

Matt Dollar thumber practice, with some slow-motion video:

Dollar Thumber Video

Got any tips to share about your overhand game? Talk back to us in the comments below, or join in the conversation on our social media channels.

  1. Alex Colucci
    Alex Colucci

    Alex Colucci is a writer for Ultiworld Disc Golf. He is a disc golfer currently living in Northeast Ohio who teaches geography sometimes. Contact him at colucc43@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter.

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