Drivers are tools, not requirements.
April 13, 2021 by Steve Andrews in Opinion with comments
When I was first convinced to try disc golf, I did what many players do: I went to the big box store and bought the disc with the coolest monster on it. For me, a DX Beast. Then I went out and was horrible. But, in love immediately, I went home and watched Youtube and decided what my 46-year-old 40-mph swing needed was a max weight Star Destroyer just like this McBeth guy threw. He seemed good. This rewarded me with a lot of frustration and bad habits I get to enjoy to this day.
You can be smarter.
Hopefully, at this point you have a putter, midrange, and fairway you trust. Assuming you are getting some good results, it is time to think about stepping up your speed. Maybe. I really want you to think of distance drivers as optional tools, not requirements. Don’t make them a big part of your game if they aren’t offering something you can’t get from discs you already throw. You really, really don’t need to throw these kinds of discs if they don’t help you score. On the other hand, perhaps nothing is more annoying for a new player than being told “you can’t throw that” or “that shouldn’t be in your bag.” It sounds, and is, condescending. I don’t mean to do that; the hope is that you can find the best driver for you.
In the modern usage, drivers (or “distance drivers”) tend to start at about speed 11 and run through speed 15. You will undoubtedly notice that lots of other things are called “drivers” or have some version of “midrange driver,” “stable driver,” or “control driver” as part of their name or written on the stamp. Some of these are just holdovers from the fact that these discs – like the Eagle, the Valkyrie, and others – were the farthest-flying discs when they came out, even if they are what we think of now as speed 7 or 9. Remember that the speed ratings were created long after a lot of these discs had been thrown for years.
Keep in mind that the “speed” of a disc does not necessarily equal greater distance. What the number mainly indicates is the width of the rim: the higher the number, the wider the rim — the wider the rim, the more mass of the disc that is moved to the outside edge of the disc. This allows the disc to have greater ability to spin and stay in flight, covering more distance if – and this is really the biggest of all “ifs” – you can generate the speed and spin necessary to get it spinning at that high rate. If you can get it spinning fast at high velocity, then the disc will stay aloft and get big distance. If you can’t, then it will drop early and left when thrown Right Hand Back Hand (RHBH). So – getting a “faster” disc doesn’t do anything but offer the possibility of a disc that can spin faster for longer if you have the arm speed to get it there. It is distance potential, not any kind of guarantee.
If you are a low or medium-arm speed player (like most of us), your first exploration into drivers might be with some of the “tweener” high-glide discs like Innova Sidewinders and Roadrunners. These discs, and others like the Discraft Heat or Westside Hatchet, are good to test how much speed and spin you are generating. Given their speed rating, they are more accurately fairway drivers, but are designed to get great distance with lower arm speed. If they are flying straight and longer than your fairways, you might want to stop off here. If, when thrown RHBH, they are turning over and moving right (as their flight numbers would indicate), then it might be worth exploring whether a true distance driver might fit into your game.
Find Your Mold
It is important to think of your driver slot as you do any of the others. You want to find one to be a dependable workhorse: this is the main goal. Once you find a workhorse mold, you can potentially add a long-range understable bomber and an overstable disc for specialty shots and windy conditions. However, be open to the fact that these slots might all be covered by the same mold. There is a reason that so many players have six Destroyers (or whatever their favorite mold is) in their bag.
If you have average arm speed and an average hand size, a good place to start is in the 11 to 13 speed range. These are wide-rim, high-speed drivers that should provide a performance difference from fairways without moving into the ultra-wide category. The most important place to start is with a mold you like, that fits your hand, and that fills you with confidence. Make sure you like the feel; if all goes well, you will be spending a lot of time together. Every brand has great discs in this category. If you aren’t already looking at a particular mold, you can start with classic or popular molds like the Innova Wraith or Destroyer; the Dynamic Discs Trespass or Raider; the Discraft Nuke, Zeus, or Thrasher. There are lots to choose from – in general, going from flight numbers, we are talking about a speed from 11 to 13, a turn of 0 to -1, and a fade of 2-3. We are not, at this point, trying to find a max distance bomber. We want a disc that gives you more distance than the longest discs in your current bag but still maintains enough accuracy to hit fairways.1
Once you have a few discs you want to try, I advise you to think carefully about plastic and weight. The relationship between these factors and the stability of a disc are not exact, but, generally, heavier discs are more overstable2. Likewise, the plastics from each manufacturer can produce a range of stability. For example, for Innova discs, the glossy Champion plastic usually gives more overstable flights than the premium Star plastic. For Dynamic Discs, the Lucid is usually more stable than their Fuzion plastic. The stability of Discraft plastic seems to be more dependent on the mold, but every manufacturer will have plastics that tend to produce more or less overstable flights.
I know that this variation and inconsistency can be very frustrating and confusing for newer players. It sometimes requires a little research to discover exactly how each manufacturers’ plastics tend to perform, but the upside is that these variations provide a lot of options to get the flight you are seeking.
This knowledge can help you find the right driver. If you are looking at a mold, especially with a fade rating over 2, be very wary of getting your discs in max weight and the most overstable plastic. Destroyers can vary in their stability, but a player just getting into distance drivers should probably not go for a 175g Champion Destroyer – it will likely be wildly overstable. I like to think of finding a weight that gives me the “truest expression” of the disc – the weight and plastic that seems to give me a flight that matches the flight numbers. In drivers, that is almost never 175g. I am much better with weights between 168-171g. I also often prefer the Star, Fuzion, or ESP plastics as I find them less stable than the really glossy Lucid or Champion plastic. If you are an average thrower and looking at a more stable or higher speed mold (like a speed of 13 and/or fade rating of 3), don’t just reach for the max weight.
For me, my workhorse driver is the Dynamic Discs Raider. I usually only throw about 350-370 feet – so, there is a really good argument that I don’t need a high-speed driver at all. That definitely would be true if I was only throwing Raiders at max weight and in the most overstable plastic. But, 166g Fuzion Raiders, for me, are long and straight. I throw them as accurately and further than anything else in my bag. This is a plastic and a weight where I get the true expression of the flight for my skill and arm speed. That is the sign of a good workhorse driver. And this is not just an amateur workaround to throw discs we shouldn’t. In an “In the Bag” video from 2018, Bradley Williams, one of the best throwers in the game, had two Destroyers in his bag. Both 168 grams. The Destroyer that Philo Brathwaite threw on his famous albatross shot was also 168g. Lots of pros carry less than max weight drivers, especially in molds that tend to be overstable.
Test it Out
Once you have a disc you like, the true test is to put it up against the other discs in your bag. Does this driver give you a distance advantage – longer than your longest fairway driver – while keeping enough accuracy to hit your target? If it is longer but you can only get that distance on a huge flex line that requires 150 feet of clearance on the right side, then this is not a workhorse driver. It may be a max bomber, but not one you can count on in a wide variety of conditions. Can you cover more distance than your fairways and land this driver longer within 50 feet of your target — with a repeatable throw? A wide dispersion pattern — that is, discs landing far apart — is a sign that a distance driver is not right for that workhorse role. So, is it comfortable and reliable – are your shots not just landing farther but also consistently landing near the same spot? If so, then you have a workhorse driver. Congratulations. Go buy eight of them.
There is still some utility in other kinds of distance drivers. One is a max bomber, a disc that gets maximum distance, however you get it. There are lots of ways to get more distance – one of them is to throw your usual driver on a higher anhyzer angle to get a different flight. If you can add this shot, then maybe you don’t need another disc. But another way is a change in equipment – a driver that is faster, lighter, or more understable that allows you to get more distance with your usual swing. It might mean shifting from a DD Trespass to a Westside Destiny, moving from a Wraith or Destroyer to a Shryke or Vulcan, or going from a Zeus to a Nuke SS. Also, as mentioned earlier, these more extreme discs are worth trying if you have lower arm speeds. One of the ingenious miracles of modern disc design is to make wide-rim drivers that are also understable, which can help people with less arm speed generate enough spin to get good flights. It may be that – whatever their numbers – these drivers can serve as your dependable workhorse when thrown at lower speeds.
But, remember, there is no golf without accuracy and these discs are often inherently unreliable. The typical effect of going up in speed, up in turn, and down in weight is that distance comes at a cost. Distance is fun, but it is not worth adding 70 feet if half of your throws are in the trees. I added a 159g Latitude 64 Air Bolt to my bag when it flew 100 feet further than anything else I had ever thrown the first time I threw it. I promised myself that I would only use it when conditions were right – wide-open hole, downwind, and I really needed distance. But, like a teenager with an “emergencies only” credit card that gets maxed out on Microsoft Steam, I found myself pulling it out all the time. And then rolling it, losing it into trees, and generally throwing it all over the lot. Distance is a hell of a drug, one I can’t be trusted with. I don’t have a disc like this in the bag.
What I do have is the other extreme – a very overstable driver that can fight serious wind and still get good distance. In the Midwest, we often get days with 20+ mph winds, so you need something that can stay in bounds and still get you down the fairway. This kind of disc usually has a higher fade than your workhorse driver while still staying at a similar speed. These can be any number of seriously overstable discs with a fade of 3 or 4. For me, it is a relatively lightweight 170g DD Enforcer in the more understable Biofuzion plastic. I do that because I want the overstability of the mold while having it light enough to still get good distance. You could always go with a less overstable mold and max out weight or change plastics — whatever gives you that reliable fade and wind resistance.
Another way to address this question of driver slots is to use the same mold in different weights, plastics, or states of wear. Drivers, like all discs, will become lighter and more understable as they are thrown and take damage. And, as we know, you can change the stability of a mold by changing weights and plastics. For some manufacturers, different runs of the same mold (even in the same plastic) can have very different stability, though this might take some research to discover. While I don’t carry a “bomber” mold, I do have a beat-in flat 166 Fuzion Raider that turns a lot. It’s not an Air Bolt, but the flight is much longer and to the right of my other Raiders. That is my understable driver. I also have a max weight 175g Lucid Raider that isn’t as stable as my Enforcer, but much more overstable than my workhorse 166 Raiders. I won’t throw it into a hurricane, but it provides a much more overstable option. So, one mold gives me three very different flights. It is very common among players to start with an overstable disc and then, as it beats in, gradually let it take on a different role. A pro’s “roller” or “turnover” Destroyer is quite likely a veteran in the bag that has lost a couple of grams and a lot of stability.
Once your game is ready for it, adding a distance driver can be a great weapon and a lot of fun. The important thing to remember is that you have to be guided by your skill, your arm speed, and what gives you the best chance to score. Be open to experimenting with molds, weights, and plastics, because you might find something you love. But also be open to finding out that these discs are not offering you a real upgrade from your fairway drivers. If not, that’s totally fine — you can always try distance drivers again later as your game develops.