Find a routine and get comfortable.
July 13, 2021 by Steve Andrews in Opinion with 0 comments
This is the fourth part in a series on disc golf field work.
One of the keys to playing successful competitive disc golf rounds is managing pressure. This is not just building a strong mental game that helps you not be overwhelmed but building a game that helps reduce the overall load of pressure throughout a competition. The way to play your best is to reduce the number of high-pressure putts and saves you must make throughout the day. Every round will have “defining moments” – long putts you need to make to save par, tough tee shots, or the need to scramble from a tough lie. The key to success is making sure you have the concentration and energy to ride out these tough situations.
Every time you are forced to perform outside your comfort zone, you drain your energy. The way to fight this is to build a game that resists pressure. This is where the parts of your game interlock.
Getting your drives in the fairway takes pressure off your upshots. Knowing you will get your upshots and approaches close takes pressure off your putting. Knowing that you will make putts from inside the circle takes a ton of pressure off your upshots and drives.
The key is to develop a game that minimizes these pressure situations and lets you control the flow of the round. This is why field work in every phase of the game is important — not just to learn a technique but to earn your confidence. It is not just being able to throw a shot but knowing you have done it so many times that you can relax and execute.
There are great athletes who just feel confident all the time. But for most of us, we have to practice to convince ourselves we deserve to be confident. And, without practice, it can be fleeting. It’s why one bad drive yanked OB can undo the confidence that came with a hundred hit fairways.
The best way to take off that pressure is by using your field work to bulletproof your scorecard with a solid short game. That starts with putting.
The most important field work you can do is on your putting. Nearly every hole ends with a putt: expanding your effective putting range is the quickest way to reduce your scores.
Putting thrives on variety. On the course, no two putts are the same, and you must be ready to putt in constantly changing distances, winds, and game conditions. Despite this, we often practice putting by standing in one spot with a stack of putters and putting the exact same putt dozens of times. This kind of putting is very effective for training your stroke, getting data on your make percentage, and working on your timing and release, but make sure that your putting practice also reproduces the constantly changing situations you find on the course.
One of the best putting drills is a classic that I first heard described by Nate Sexton. Take two putters, put your marker at three feet from the basket, and putt both discs. If they both go in, move one step back and repeat. If you miss one and make one, stay at that distance. If you miss both putts, take one step forward and putt from there. It’s simple, constantly changing, and involves a bit of pressure. It is a great drill, one you should return to again and again. It reveals your “sticking point” – the point where your make percentage drops – and show you the distance you most need to practice to expand your circle of confidence.
Track Your Metrics
It is important to have data to know how well you putt from different distances. Set up defined positions moving out from the basket. You can decide the best distances for you (it is common to use the 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 distances used in many putting apps. I prefer to use 6-foot marks since it is about two paces, so I have markers at 6, 12, 18, 24, 30 and 36.) Putt five or 10 putters from each spot and calculate your make percentage. Note that, write it down, and check it every couple of sessions. You can also use apps like Putt360 or UDisc to track your putting.
You want to discover where you drop below making 80% of your putts. This is your circle of confidence, the distance where you can feel likely to make every putt. The usual progression is fairly linear – putting gets harder as you get further away. However, you may find that you are sometimes stronger from slightly further out and that, surprisingly, 24 feet may be the place where you miss more putts than you should.
This is fairly common since short putts can be thrown in with just your arm, but there is a point where you need to begin to integrate more of a push from your lower body. It is easy to know that you don’t need to push much from your back leg to make it from 15 feet but definitely do from 35 feet. The more difficult thing is calibrating exactly how much you need to incorporate your body to hit from 25 feet. Tracking your results will reveal if there is a gap where your mechanics are breaking down.
Use your putting practice to develop a distinct pre-putt routine. Putting is incredibly dependent on confidence and very susceptible to pressure from outside the shot. For almost all players, there is no physical reason why you can’t make every putt inside the circle. Unlike 500-foot hyzers, nearly everyone is strong enough to get the putt to the basket. Confidence and a solid, repeatable stroke are the keys to making putts. And that starts with a pre-shot routine that gets you into a rhythm and blocks out distractions. The practice field is where you can try different pre-shot routines and lock in one that will work for you.
Evaluate the putt – Get an idea of how far it is, whether the putt is uphill or downhill, how the wind is blowing, what are the dangers if you miss, and whether there are obstacles in your way. Depending on your putting stroke, make sure to check above you for limbs or leaves that might be hanging down in the flight path of your shot. Decide whether you are going for the putt or laying up. Make sure that you can take your stance without anything impeding your full motion. To save time, you can do a lot of this analysis as you are walking up to your putt. Be mindful of how much time you have, but if you are in a tough situation around trees or other obstacles, approach the putt with an open mind. Don’t get into your regular stance and get “locked In” to making a shot you don’t want. Look as to whether a straddle to one or the other side, or a knee, or some other stance might set up a better angle. Be open to the idea that the best shot might be a pitch out away from the basket if there is too much risk from putting directly at the target. This observation stage should give you a clear idea of what you are trying to do with this putt. This is crucial.
Visualize – Form a mental picture of the flight of the disc. See it going to the target. Now is a great time for a deep, cleansing breath. If you focus on a chain link or a point on the basket, now is the time to lock that in.
Trigger – Now you need a trigger. This might be physical – think of Nate Sexton’s disc flips or Paul McBeth grinding his back toe into the ground – a key that starts the process. This may involve a practice stroke or two to line up your release and get your body moving. It can be tapping the top of the disc twice or spinning it. It could be verbal, telling yourself “let’s go” or “up and in.” Whatever you do to signal to your body that you are beginning the sequence of motions that will lead to a successful putt. The best thing is to have a distinct action that starts this sequence. You want a trigger to set this sequence apart and form a cocoon of focus.
Find a Balance – Doing the same sequence to get your body into the comfort zone of a consistent rhythm will help to block out distractions, but you don’t want to get so caught up in doing the exact number of disc flips or practice strokes that it becomes its own form of distraction. (See Giannis Antetokounmpo at the free throw line for a cautionary tale!)
If making exactly three practice strokes works best, then do that. But if you want to be more relaxed about the exact number, that’s fine, too. I assume Sexton doesn’t count his disc flips but goes when he feels ready. The key is to practice this set of actions – visualize, trigger, breath, practice stroke, breath, go – enough in practice that doing it relaxes you and gets you ready to make the putt. Hopefully, you have done it enough times that you just expect the routine to end with a putt settling in the chains.
The exact things you do–and the exact sequence–may take some experimentation on the putting green. The key is that it must put you in a good place mentally and physically to make the putt, and it has to be simple enough to be done efficiently well inside the allotted time to make the shot.
A key part of your routine comes after you release the putt. Let go of the result. Although there may not be a physical reason you can’t make every putt in the circle, we all know there are a thousand things that can happen – even to a perfectly putted disc. The wind can change, discs can bounce off the center pole, chains can fail to catch, or a tiny miscalculation of distance can mean hitting the band instead of falling into the basket. If you have gone through your routine and made a good stroke, you have done everything you can. At that point, whether it goes in or not is, in the end, not in your control. Let go of the result and focus on process. If you have been doing your practice, you know how good of a putter you are. Don’t let missed putts rattle you if you are taking care of your part of the shot.
If you are consistently missing in a way that is unusual, or if your results are drastically different from what you see in practice, then you can investigate whether there is a mechanical cause. But don’t mess with your mechanics, routine, or equipment unless you see a real pattern of failure. If you know you are 90% from 20 feet, then chalk a couple of misses from there down to the 10% misses you expect and move on to the next 20-footer with confidence. If you’ve been doing your work on the putting green, you’ve earned it.
You don’t need to do this routine for every putt you take in practice, but you need to practice it enough to own it and be ready to take it to the course. A pre-shot routine is great for helping to create the feeling that every putt is just another practice putt and reduce the stress of “must makes.” It is also good for slowing you down enough to focus on twenty-footers instead of just tossing them in. Every twenty-foot putt counts the same on the scorecard as every 400-foot drive, so focus enough to make sure your gimmes are got.
More Than One Putt
It is important to hone a primary putting stroke, but you also need to add in other variations to account for what you may encounter on the course. If you use a standard staggered stance, you should also practice straddle putts you may need if your line is blocked by an obstacle. Also, spend at least some time putting from a knee, on an anhyzer angle, or even turbo putts. How much you need these kinds of shots will depend on the courses you play, but it is always good to at least have some experience with all these different stances in case you need to pull one out.
You also need to decide how you will putt from longer distances. Some great putters, like Simon Lizotte and Eagle McMahon, essentially keep the same spin putt as they move further out from the basket. Other pros, however, incorporate jump putts or step putts as they move outside of the circle. Kevin Jones has a straddle jump putt that makes him as deadly from long range as he is from inside the circle. Paul Ulibarri, Dave Feldberg, and James Conrad all have step putts that are evolutions of their normal stroke. Sometimes these changes in form are large and sometimes they are just adding angle or speed to your normal putt, but experiment until you find a technique that works and then practice it until you own it.
Don’t feel that you need to only putt with one stroke and one disc for all your putts. You can always change putters or go to a midrange for your longer putts if that is more effective for you. Nate Sexton, for example, uses a straddle putt inside the circle with a Firefly and then moves to a strong spin putt with a Pro Dart as he gets further away. It would be fine to straddle putt with an Aviar inside 20, spin putt a Luna out to 35, and then jump putt with a Truth out to 60. That amount of variation would require a lot of practice, but it’s important to recognize that putting is not always throwing one kind of shot with only one disc.
Keeping Your Confidence
Everyone loves making those putts from way outside the circle. However, even top pros often only make about 30% from Circle Two, so while it is a good idea to practice from this distance, be realistic about what you can expect. The problem with spending too long outside the circle is that it can be easy to get frustrated and hurt your confidence. It is crucial to leave the putting green with more confidence than when you started.
To help eliminate this sense of frustration, I always use a “safety.” A safety is a spot you return to putt from to regain your rhythm when you have missed some putts from further back. The safety is a putt you should make every time, but is far enough back that it requires a putt with your regular technique (so not close enough to just toss it in). This is usually between 20 and 25 feet, but the distance should be modified for how well you putt and your effective range. At the start, your safety may be at ten of fifteen feet and that’s totally fine. It needs to be at the point where you have confidence you can make them all but requires you to use your regular full stroke to get it in the basket.
If I start missing from further back, I go to the safety and can’t move back to longer putts until I make 5 in a row. Even if I am putting well from long range, I will stop every other set of putts on the way back from retrieving my putters to make a set from the safety. This is a check that focusing on throwing harder, faster, or higher from 50 feet is not interfering with the rhythm and mechanics of my inside the circle putts.
It matters how you miss. If you are hitting the cage and dropping down, or always catching chains and spitting out to three feet, those are better misses than if you airball the basket or sail past 30 feet. You need to putt out your practice putts. Having an aggressive spin putt is great – if you can always make your comebackers. If you are leaving yourself 25-footers off your 30-footers, then you need to know you can make them all coming back. If you are going to be facing a lot of challenging putts after you miss, then you need to get into the habit of making them in the field. Missing, then making, is a crucial skill if you are going to putt aggressively.
This is especially true when you are practicing long putts and jump putts. While there are occasions where you must putt aggressively – putts to stay alive in match play, the closing holes of a tournament when you are trailing, for example – you need to weigh the value of running a putt with the need to make the comeback if you miss. Part of developing an attacking putt from long distance is honing a stroke that can run aggressively at the basket while still leaving a makeable putt from a miss. One of the (many) great things about Ricky Wysocki’s putting is that he putts nose down even from very long distances, which means he can run a putt from 70 feet chains high and still have it stop 15 feet from the basket if it misses. Making after misses should be part of your practice. Putt out.
Don’t Putt Too Long
Putting thrives on repetition and confidence. There are pros who putt for hours every day. If you can do that, then that’s great. However, most of us are not professional disc golfers and will start to wear out if we putt for that long, losing our focus and the ability to repeat our stroke. It is great to get a lot of repetitions and make lots of putts, but it is important to only throw good quality practice putts. If you have been putting for a while and it has stopped being fun and your results are deteriorating, go to your safety point, make five good ones, and call it a day. Quit while the practice is still paying dividends.
Dynamic Discs pro Chris Clemons says that one great way to practice putting is to do it in multiple short sessions. If you own your own basket, you may get more out of three short ten minute putting practices over the course of a day rather than throwing putts for thirty minutes in a block. If you don’t own a practice basket at home, then think about mixing your putting practice into your field work sessions. If you do field work at a course, then try mixing in ten minutes of putting at the beginning and ending of your field work or incorporating it into your short game practice.
Putting is the most important key to scoring. If you can make all your putts inside the circle, you can put a floor under your score. Making a few from outside the circle is a cheat code to outscore your ability to throw the disc. The good thing is putting is the easiest part of the game to practice and solid putting is within the reach of nearly every player. Use your practice time to establish a routine you trust and a repeatable putting stroke you can count on.