Tuesday Tips: Building a Bag [Learning to Score – Pt. 2]

An overstable approach disc could be more important than a driver

Kristin Tattar sizes up an approach during USWDGC. Photo: Alyssa Van Lanen – PDGA

So, you have the pillars of your bag – your stable fairway, midrange, and putter. What’s next?

If you are getting good flights out of your discs, and your fairway is consistently going further than your midrange, then it might be time to add a driver to the bag. That is certainly an option.

However, the other possibility I want to suggest is that you fill the overstable putter or midrange slot in your bag. Most new players overvalue the importance of distance in scoring. For most players, adding distance to their shots –particularly if that distance is not accompanied by a lot of accuracy – will not have a huge effect on their score. If distance comes with a lack of control, then it may even be counterproductive. Adding 150 feet to your drive doesn’t help if the last 75 feet of that throw is into the woods or across a road. If you care about your score and are obsessed with chasing distance, you are pursuing the wrong thing.

Distance Isn’t Everything

It is important to realize that scoring in disc golf is often inelastic. That means that scores are less affected by the quality of throw than many players expect. Given an open line to the basket, most 900-rated players will often get up and down in two shots from either 70 feet or 250 feet, so the quality of throw isn’t always that important to the score.

Let’s imagine two 920-rated players playing a 500-foot hole. Player 1 throws a great drive – 430 feet dead center, gorgeous. Player 2 squibs a low duck fade into the ground about 250 feet in front of them – not a good shot at all. But Player 2 is still only 250 feet out and throws it to 15 feet for an easy par. Player 1 threw a great drive – but what is the reward? – a 70-foot putt they will make about 10% of the time. They putt, probably miss, and both players walk off with 3s.

Unless distance gets you a putt that you have a good chance of making, then it does little to affect your score. It is true that not every 900-rated player will get up and down from 250 feet, and that a player is more likely to get up and down the closer they are to the basket, so getting all the safe distance you can is certainly an advantage. But raw distance is usually not the key scoring separator many of us think it is.

And it’s easy to imagine 430 feet is 920-rated Player 1’s best possible drive. It is also likely they don’t throw that high-speed driver as reliably as they would a fairway driver that would go 300 feet or even a midrange that would go 250 feet. If so, then they are adding risk of having to punch out from the trees or going out of bounds (taking a 4 or 5 on a straightforward scoring hole) for the reward of a 70-foot putt – if they throw their absolute best drive. Is that worth it?

Maybe. If throwing 430 is a well-controlled shot or if they can throw it 480 with decent accuracy – giving themself a very makeable putt on a 500-foot hole – then it’s definitely worth the risk.  Distance is a weapon. But is that your game? If you are taking risk without a real, tangible reward as a possibility, you are burning strokes. Again: scoring your best requires honesty about your game.

The key to shooting better scores for players who are playing above par is not making more birdies — it is avoiding big numbers. Getting more birdies can be hard, but minimizing double and triple bogeys is easier and will pay off very quickly.

Upgrade Your Upshots

So, what does this mean about what should go in your bag? I think there is more chance of stopping those round-wrecking triples by adding an overstable putter or midrange rather than a driver.

The key to scoring is upshots. No, it’s not the key to birdieing every hole on your course. But clean upshots give you a floor so that the birdies you get aren’t erased by three-putts. The fastest way to improve your score is improving your putting, but the second fastest way is making sure that you can get up and down from 200 feet and in.

If you are approaching the basket, the goal is to get to a makeable putt. If you haven’t practiced much, then upshots from 60 feet to 200 feet can be a no man’s land. You hardly ever throw from here if you have a decent throw off the tee. But when you hit the first tree, have 195 feet to the pin, then blow past the basket, then miss the putt…you can see the value of approaches and upshots. Imagine your score if, every time you were within 150 or 200 feet of the basket, you knew were going to ensure a tap-in on your next shot. That is the power of upshots.

You might be able to use your regular stable putter or midrange for upshots. But it is hard to throw discs with a lot of glide a precise distance without a lot of practice. But this is a spot where an overstable putter – such as a Zone, a Harp, a Rhyno, or a Pig – becomes a secret weapon. This is a disc that is slow (usually 3 or 4 speed) and overstable (with a fade of 3 or 4), so it wants to dive left1. What could be seen as frustrating about these discs – they don’t glide, dump left hard, and don’t go very far – makes them perfect for upshots. You can throw them with power – and it is always easier to repeat a firm throw than a touch shot – and they will still not go past the target. My favorite upshot is my Harp on a small anhyzer, thrown right of the basket. I know the overstability will cause the disc to move to the left and, when it hits the ground, curl back towards the basket. It is an easy and repeatable shot, and the overstability of the disc helps it self-correct and get close.

It is also good to add a forehand to your game as soon as you can: an overstable putter is a great tool for learning one. This will allow you a reliable way to throw upshots that move to the right (for a right-handed forehand thrower) and sit down quick. There is a lot of debate over whether it is “better” to learn a forehand with an understable disc (which forces you to have good form to get them to fly correctly) or an overstable one (which is easier to throw but creates good results even with bad form.) I think the goal for a beginner is to get a forehand that is useable – even though it is important to learn to throw forehands with your other discs to avoid developing bad form.

An overstable putter or midrange is also going to be a huge help if the wind picks up. Throwing upshots with stable or understable discs is very difficult in the wind – as is putting – so it is important to give yourself the shortest putts possible in bad conditions. There is no better tool to do that than an overstable putter.

And it is not just a good tool to get your approaches close. One of the best solutions to putting in the wind is switching to a more overstable disc. It’s true: they will not glide very far, and you may miss your putts low or left. But they will sit. That lack of glide will help avoid the dreaded 45-foot floater over the basket from a 20-foot headwind putt.

Distance is fun and drivers are important. But, at this stage, drivers will still be there. Get yourself a Harp.

  1. for a RHBH 

  1. Steve Andrews
    Steve Andrews

    Steve Andrews is a college professor and disc golfer in Bloomington, Indiana. He came to disc golf from traditional golf and, even though he is 50 and playing on bad knees, managed to reach 950 rated through course management and playing smart. He is sponsored by Skybreed Discs.

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