I’m speaking to all disc golfers here, but primarily to those of you who really love to play, maybe even get to play 2-3 times a week or more, but still feel like you could get way better. The Am 2’s who want to (and should) move up to Am 1, and the Am 1’s who want to (and should) start challenging the pros. Of course everyone has room to improve, though, and can hopefully gain some insight from this article.
When you think ‘Be a Sponge’ you probably think I mean something like ‘Soak up all the advice you can’, or ‘watch all the top pros you can.’ While neither of those are bad ideas, I’m kind of thinking of the opposite ‘sponge’ metaphor. The first thing to do when you want to shoot better disc golf scores is to wring out all the potential you currently have, even as you work to improve and expand your skill set. In any sport, when you hear about an athlete that ‘maximized his or her potential,’ or ‘overachieved,’ it’s usually in reference to someone whose physical game is greatly enhanced by an extraordinary mental game, drive, focus, or all three. Such people squeeze the most out of their physical potential. I’m not saying you have to dedicate yourselves exclusively to disc golf, a fitness regimen, or anything like that. Just use your head. Figure out ways that you waste strokes during a typical round, and eliminate the waste. I’ll address some specific ways you can do this here and in a follow-up post, but you yourself know which areas you need to focus on most. Here are some basics to get you started:
Many disc golf courses play through forgiving wide-open flat grassy park land, allowing you to see the basket you’re aiming for no matter where you land. Other courses –DeLaveaga in Santa Cruz, CA, for instance- are not so forgiving. Therefore at DeLa it is much more important to throw your drive accurately than it is to throw it far. You can save many strokes by not always trying to throw a drive as hard as you can – focusing on a smooth, accurate delivery instead – when your odds of reaching the hole with a birdie-look are small. In fact, if you take this ‘accuracy first’ approach, you?ll be surprised at how quickly your distance improves as well from increased smoothness. Side Note: I first exposed myself (heh-heh) to this concept by reading Golf In the Kingdom by Michael Murphy, an author of local notoriety. It is one of the many golf books I’ve found useful with parallels to disc golf.
Have you heard the golf term ‘Game Management?’ It refers to the mental side of golf in general, specifically to making smart decisions during a round based on everything you know about your abilities, the course, and the conditions. In disc golf – and especially at DeLaveaga – I think game management comes into play on the second shot more than any other. Either you have some kind of look at the basket for birdie and have to decide whether to really go for it, or you’re in trouble behind trees or down a ravine. Either way, your decision on each shot comes down to the basic risk/reward ratio. If you are not familiar with this term, it is the comparison of the risk on a given shot (disc hits front of basket and rolls down into ravine, hundreds of feet below), to reward (Birdie!) A smart disc golfer considers risk/reward along with his/her own abilities on that day (tired, nursing an injury) when making shot decisions. Sometimes, when I know I’m not in the groove, I’ll play it conservatively simply because I don’t want to chase my disc down into a ravine. But other times the discipline to be able to recognize my limitations and manage my game accordingly means winning vs. losing.
Much of what I just wrote about approach shots applies to putting, in terms of risk/reward. But putting requires special attention unto itself, because until you put the disc in the basket you ‘re forced to keep doing it. Plus, strokes can pile up quickly on the green. On the mental side of putting, I’ll just say for now that you need to first decide exactly how you want to proceed (go for it hard and straight, go for it with a safe lofty shot, or lay it up), then execute the shot decisively. Make sure you know what you want to do, then do it with full confidence and focus. More to follow in part 2, but questions and input are always welcome at email@example.com.