Tuesday Tips: Building A Bag [Think Shots, Not Discs – Pt. 6]

Now, we put it all together.

This is the sixth part in our Building a Bag series. Part 1 is about the fundamentals; Part 2 is on learning to score. Part 3 is on adding drivers to the bag. Part 4 is on utility discs. Part 5 is on forehand discs.

Recently in various Facebook groups, lots of people have posted charts (often from mydiscbag.com) of the discs they carry and asked for feedback. Since the disc golf community is usually supportive and enthusiastic, these conversations often become cheering sections for people’s favorite discs. When there are questions or criticisms, they are almost always about the total number of discs or how many of them overlap. From these exchanges, it is clear some people feel very defensive about what they bag and how many discs they carry. There’s no need for that. You can, of course, carry as many discs as you want. There is no moral superiority in carrying fewer molds or discs. There are great golfers with lots of discs and others who only throw five molds. The goal should not be to carry fewer discs but to carry exactly what you need.

Throughout this series, we have talked about many of the pieces of the bag you are building, but now it’s time to put the pieces together. I would like to make a case for a “rational” bag. This means choosing your discs by thinking carefully about them as the tools you will use to solve the problems you find on the course. I want to suggest that what goes into your bag should be guided by what you will throw from particular distances and for certain shots.

The key to setting up your bag–and succeeding at every level of golf–is being honest about your game. Build your practice around the game you want, but build your bag around the game you have. Don’t carry discs because you threw them great one time. Don’t carry discs that you hope you can throw well. Hope is great, but hope is not a plan. Carry discs that fill you with confidence and are fun to throw.

I have listed some questions below to think about; as you consider each question, consider the shot shape as well as the disc you would throw. For me, for example, a 120-foot upshot is a standstill Harp on a soft anhyzer. At 150 feet, I throw the same shot but with the slightly longer Suspect. And from 180 feet, my best shot is a one-step hyzer throw with a Harp. It may seem strange to have different discs and shots for relatively short distances, but I have figured this out through a lot of fieldwork. I would, of course, modify my choice if there was rain, snow, or a strong wind. But in clear, open conditions, I know exactly the disc I am reaching for and the shot shape that will get me closest to the basket.

Think about these questions, and then compare your answers with what you carry in your bag. You might find that you aren’t sure when you would use some of the discs you carry. They may have just stayed in your bag as you added other discs and might no longer have a clear role. It might be that you have 28 discs but only throw 7 of them in a typical round. If you find yourself carrying discs you seldom throw or don’t really know why you have them, then experiment with taking some out. If you want to carry two Bosses, a Daedalus, a Colossus, three Shrykes, and a Corvette, then you certainly can. But I’m asking you to figure out when and why you would throw a Daedalus over a Colossus.

The courses you play may change the challenges you face. If your home course has holes with strange shapes – a 215-foot hole with a 90-degree turn 80 feet off the tee – you may need to carry a very particular disc for that specific shot. If your usual courses are shorter, then you will need to dial in your putters and midranges. If your local course is long and open, then you need to have overstable midranges and fairways you can use for long approaches in the wind. Wooded courses might require more understable discs.

I am basing the distances in these questions around how a right-handed amateur player who throws a 350-foot max drive might break down their shots. If you have considerably more power, you might be able to throw standstill upshots instead of approaches. If you have much less power, you may be throwing fairways from 200 feet. The key is knowing what shots and discs are right for you.

I also use distances divisible by 30 feet. I want to know what to throw from each of these distances (180, 210, 240, 270, 300, etc.) because I know if I am always within 30 feet of my target, then I am in the circle. If you prefer thinking in some other increments – 150, 200, 250 – that’s totally fine. Whatever makes sense to you. The important thing is to get a sense of what, in standard conditions, you throw for a shot with a particular shape and distance. And remember, until you are putting, disc golf shots generally have one job – setting up your next shot. Shots don’t usually require pinpoint distance – if you throw your Zone 210 feet, then you will have an inside the circle putt on a target anywhere from 180-240 feet from you. Yes, you want to be as close as possible, but a shot that gets you a consistently makeable putt is effective.

Feel free to change these questions to fit your game and the courses you play. The key is to know that each of your discs answers a question – when do I throw it?

The Shots You Need

Putter

  • What is your inside the circle putter?
  • What is your wind putter?
  • What is your long putter/jump putter?

Most players have a main putter that they trust and depend on inside the circle. Sometimes, they change to a more overstable putter – or even a midrange – if the wind is blowing. Similarly, some players putt with a particular disc inside the circle but want something with a different stability or more glide if they are throwing a hard spin putt or jump putting from a longer distance. These might all be the same disc, and your putters out to 60 feet might always be Luna/Luna/Luna. Or you might putt with a Dagger in the circle, a Harp if the wind blows, and use a Swan for jump putts. Whatever setup gives you the best chance to make putts or, at worst, leave them close to the basket.

Upshots

  • What do you throw from 90/150/180 feet?
  • What do you throw from 90/150/180 feet that moves left-to-right? (Forehand and/or Turnover?)
  • What do you throw from 90/150/180 when you have to throw straight?
  • How does it change with a 20-mph headwind? Crosswind?

As you move further back, your putt transforms into a different shot. Find the point, usually around 70 feet, where your jump putt or hard spin putt becomes unreliable and your putting motion naturally transitions into a throw. This is your upshot distance.

I tend to separate “upshots” from “approaches” – though some people use the terms interchangeably. I think of upshots as shots thrown without a full walkup and almost always much less than full power. These are standstills or one-step shots. I think of approaches as more like full shots. Not always thrown full power; but thrown with a technique (like a crossover step) that more closely resembles your full throw. If you don’t like these definitions, that’s fine. Throw them out and use whatever language makes the most sense to you.

For me, upshots stretch out to nearly 200 feet. However, the distance where you need to add more footwork may be earlier or later, depending on your shot shape and disc choice. Changing footwork is a way to consistently get multiple distances out of a single disc without manipulating the angle or release. Often, many different shots could work – for example, at 220 feet you might throw a standstill with a fairway, a one-step with a mid, or a full throw with a putter. All of them are viable options – which one is most accurate, reliable, and comfortable for you?

I am asking you think about both your favorite shot and what you would throw if you needed to move it to the right, left, or straight. If your most reliable shot from 180 feet is a big hyzer or flex, then you should throw it whenever you can. But you also need to know how you will get it close if you have to bring it in from a particular direction or throw down a tunnel.

Again, you may not have thought much about this distance and your answer to 90/150/180 might be Zone/Zone/Zone with a Zone FH and a Zone into the wind. If that gives you the best outcome, then that’s great. But be open to experimenting with other shots and discs to see if you can get even better results.

Approaches

  • What do you throw from 210/240/270 feet?
  • What do you throw from 210/240/270 feet that moves left-left-to-right? (Forehand and/or Turnover?)
  • What do you throw from 210/240/270 when you have to throw straight?
  • How does it change with a 20-mph headwind? Crosswind?

This is an area with a lot of variation depending on your power. A 210′ shot might be a simple putter approach or a midrange upshot. At 270′, many players will be throwing a full midrange or reaching for a fairway. Again, the question is not “what disc can you get there” but “what is the disc and shot shape that gets there most consistently?” Yes, you may be able to throw a high Aviar turnover that goes 290 feet, but is that the best and most consistent way to get there? Throwing slower discs is often better because they are easier to control, but there are no bonus points for smashing a putter where you could easily throw a controlled fairway shot. Be guided by results.

This is also a distance where many players can use forehands effectively. You might forehand mids on the shorter distances and overstable fairways out towards 300 feet. Identify which discs you are most comfortable throwing forehand and how far they go with a repeatable throw. It might be Zone to 210′, Buzz OS to 240′, Raptor to 270′, and Zeus to 300′. Or, for you, your longest forehand might go 240′. That’s fine. The key to setting up your bag is being honest about exactly what you can reliably get out of each disc.

Many right-handed players naturally feel more comfortable with either forehands or turnovers when moving the disc from left-to-right. If you depend on the forehand, then you may not carry many understable discs. On the other hand, you may need more understable options if you prefer turnovers and your forehand is only a utility or trouble shot. The real question is: how often you are throwing one shot rather than the other? Your bag should provide more options for the shapes you prefer to throw.

Also, you need to identify the longest disc you can throw dead straight. What is the disc and shot you can throw 240 feet (or longer, if you can) down a narrow tunnel with a straight finish? If you know you have an understable mid or fairway that will hyzer flip dead straight for 270-300 feet or more, that is a powerful weapon. Your maximum distance on this shot, however, might be a putter you can throw 180 feet. If so, then keep looking a disc that provides more distance, but in the woods when disaster looms on both sides, throw the putter you know you can keep straight. You will make up the distance you lose when you don’t have to pitch out on your next shot.

Placement Drives

  • What do you throw 300/330 feet?
  • What do you throw from 300/330 feet that moves left-left-to-right? (Forehand and/or Turnover?)
  • What do you throw from 300/330 when you have to throw straight?
  • How does it change with a 20-mph headwind?

As many newer and amateur players get to 300 feet, the most reliable shots become full sends with fairways and drivers. Between 270-330 feet is also a typical area where lots of discs in players’ bags begin to seriously overlap. Many players will carry multiple fairways and drivers that are often landing within 30 feet of each other. Some players carry two putter molds and three midranges and then 13 different fairway and driver molds that might all land in this zone.

Choose what stays in your bag by what is giving you clear, defined, superior performance. Make sure that all your discs have a “lane” – you may throw an Escape straight, a Felon for forehands and hyzers, and a Hatchet for turnovers and shots that move right. If you have less power, this might be where your drivers top out and you throw a Beast for your straight shot 300, a Mamba to go right, and a Thunderbird for wind and overstable shots. You should consider removing discs that consistently fly similar shapes and distances and don’t have some other role – such as a roller or a forehand.

You need an overstable option here. Either a distance driver or a fairway that is wind-resistant. Ideally, you would have a disc that could get the distance of your workhorse driver while still fighting wind. But overstability often means shorter distance. It may be that your overstable fairway – Firebird, Felon, or Raptor – goes the same distance as an overstable distance driver – Warhorse, Enforcer, X1, Ape, PD2. If they give you different performance (if the distance driver is significantly longer, for example), then you should bag both. But if, given your arm speed, they are all landing in a similar spot, then the overstable fairway may be all you need.

Distance Drives

  • What is your longest straight shot?
  • What is the longest shot that moves right-to-left?
  • What is your absolute max distance shot? And how often does it work?

Once many players move further into the 300s, there just aren’t as many options because they are throwing at close to full power to just reach these distances. If you’re a high-power player, you will continue to have a lot more choice about shot shape and disc options at 300-400 feet and beyond.

Your longest, straightest shot should be from your workhorse driver. Hopefully, it flies more than 30 feet longer than your longest fairway and you can trust it to land on your target line. It might be that your longest and straightest drives are from a 9-speed fairway like a Sidewinder, Roadrunner, or Escape. That’s fine. The key is knowing your reliably longest disc and most consistent shot shape.

You also need to know what the longest shot that you can shape opposite your normal flight is – for a RH backhand dominant player, moving it left to right. Is it a big flex forehand? Is it a turnover with a stable disc, or ripping something understable that flips and moves right? Again, any of these options are fine if they consistently give you the flight and distance you need. It may be that you don’t have a shot that reliably goes a long way on this shape – your forehand flies short and your turnovers roll too much. That’s okay. If you know that your shot that goes to the right gets unreliable at 240 feet, you can plan for it.

Finally, what is your longest shot? By nature, it is probably unreliable. That’s okay, you just want to know, back to the wall, what is the disc and shot shape you can get out there the farthest. How much does it gain you and how often does it end in disaster? You might find it works great, but only in certain circumstances, like a tailwind. Or you might find that it is much less reliable than your workhorse driver and, at best, gets you 40 more feet. If so, it is probably not worth the risk except in very special circumstances. But it’s still nice to know.

Specialty Shots

  • What is your roller disc?
  • What is your overhand disc?

Some players throw rollers all the time and others use overhands as regular drives and upshots. These players may have already answered “Raptor thumber” for what they throw from 270 feet. On the other hand, these are shots that many amateur players don’t have. That’s fine. You can play great for decades without ever throwing a grenade or a roller. On the other hand, if you incorporate them into your game, they can be really powerful weapons.

Putting it All Together

Bob has been playing about 18 months. He is a high 800s player who has a solid game – a decent putter, an okay forehand, and throws his driver about 330. He has all the tools to be a mid-900s player with just a little game planning and course management. He never really thought much about his bag and has been carrying a lot of discs. Thinking about these questions, his bag might look like this:

Proxy: Inside the circle putts, upshots out to 180 feet, drives out to 210
Zone: Headwind putts, forehands out to about 180 feet, upshots in wind, overstable drives out to 210
Fierce: Anhyzer putts, jump putts, soft turnovers, straight throws in the woods under 210
Buzzz: Low-ceiling jump putts, standstills from 180, straight drives out to 240
Justice: Overstable utility disc, upshots in high wind, forehands out to 210, short drives into the wind, skip shots, forehand rollers
Explorer: Slightly overstable drives out to 270, straighter-finishing forehands
Leopard3: Straight drives out to 300, standstill forehands, longest dead-straight disc
Felon: Overstable drives out to 270, forehands to 240, skip shots, headwind approaches, forehand rollers, overhand shots
Mamba: Understable driver, big right-to-left drives out to 330, tailwind drives, backhand rollers
Trespass: Workhorse driver, controlled drives to 330, forehands out to 270
War Horse: Overstable driver for headwinds, big forehand flex shots, long skip shots

Here’s a visual look at his bag:

In some situations, Bob might find he needs to add a mold. If he played more in tightly-wooded courses, for example, he might need to add an understable midrange or fairway to bridge the gap between his Fierce and his Leopard3. There is also still room to tighten the bag if he wanted to – for example, Bob could get a more overstable Zone to replace the Justice, find a beat-in or lightweight Explorer to use instead of the Leopard3, or use a lightweight or Air Trespass to take the place of the Mamba. If the wind wasn’t blowing, Bob might not need the War Horse on many courses. But eleven molds is very reasonable and manageable.

The best thing about Bob’s bag is that now he knows why he has each disc. He should feel confident that he has the tools to cover every shot he will typically face. These shots are not locked in stone, of course, and he should not robotically throw these discs in these situations. These are guidelines so when he faces a particular challenge – such as a 255-foot shot into a strong headwind with danger short and right – he knows which discs and shots he should consider first. In this case, with a headwind, he can consider an Explorer or Felon. But, with danger short and right, a Felon offers the most safety and hopefully a 15-foot putt from long and left.

At the beginning of this series, we presented the idea of building your bag around a stable putter, midrange, and fairway. Then we suggested that a crucial scoring weapon was an overstable putter or midrange. After that, we looked to find a workhorse driver and suggested a few utility discs. And finally, we discussed how to include forehands in your game. Now, hopefully, you have a bag you can trust out on the course.

We would love to hear how you have set up your bags and the find out the discs that have become essential for your game.

  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.

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