Is there even such a thing?
April 27, 2021 by Steve Andrews in Gear, Opinion with comments
Do you need a forehand? While some players are forehand dominant to start, many new players begin with a backhand and only later confront the need for a forehand. For a right-handed thrower, it doesn’t take long to realize you need a way to throw shots that move to the right (and, given how many right-handed hyzer shots are required on many courses, even more important for lefties to be able to shape shots to the left.) You can throw such shots with backhand turnovers with less stable discs, but there are significant advantages to having a forehand.
Forehands can be thrown lower and don’t require as much width to get their full flight. They can be thrown from awkward positions and step outs, because so much of the force is generated with the arm and wrist. They can be thrown into headwinds that would make turnovers difficult and unreliable. While many excellent players, like Ken Climo and Barry Schultz, won multiple world titles without depending on a forehand, the sidearm has become a standard part of most good players’ arsenals and a scoring separator in the hands of players like Ricky Wysocki and Nate Sexton. It is fine to be a backhand-dominant player, but your game will become infinitely stronger if you can add a serviceable forehand – even if it never becomes a true weapon.
So, today’s question: how does adding a forehand change your bag setup? Do you need to add “forehand discs?”
Scott Stokely — disc golf pro, teacher, and owner of a legendary forehand — says there is “no such thing as a forehand disc.” And, since his forehand is legendary, I would definitely believe him. I think he means that every disc in your bag can be thrown forehand, and there is no need to hunt for some secret mix of dome and stability for your “forehand discs.” With practice and good technique, you can control your angles and release points to make every disc an effective forehand disc.
Having wrestled with my forehand and watched others do the same, many players struggle to develop a forehand they can trust on the course. This is especially true for new players or those who do not have a lot of time to spend on their game. Yes, with practice, you can learn to throw an effective forehand with every disc in your bag, but if your disc golf time is limited to one or two rounds a week and little or no field work, there are discs that will help you get the most out of the time and talent you have.
Shape and Stability
There are usually two main characteristics that typically mark a disc as a good “forehand disc” — shape and stability. Many players find that flat-topped discs with very little dome are easier to grip and throw forehand. If you have a shop nearby, then it is easy to find the flattest versions of the discs you are looking for. Many online stores, such as OTBDiscs and DiscBaron, provide information on the flatness of discs, which can make the search easier for those shopping from a distance. Beyond this, there are some molds that are almost always flat and are popular for forehands such as the Zone, Harp, Felon, or Raptor. There are other discs often used for forehands, like Destroyers and Firebirds, that can range widely in their dome but often run very flat. Innova also offers a “3 series” in many of their popular molds — like the TL3, Teebird3, and Leopard3 — that come with flatter tops and slightly higher speeds.
The other characteristic of a typical “forehand disc” is overstability. One of the most common problems in throwing forehands is rolling your wrist, which causes discs to flip over and burn out to the left when thrown Right Hand Forehand (RHFH). To stop this, many players choose to throw only overstable discs. This overstability will often overcome poor releases, and the disc will still go to the right (thrown RHFH). However, discs with this amount of overstability require a lot of speed and spin to keep them in the air. Thrown without sufficient power, these discs will often crash out quickly. Many amateur players overcome this by, in effect, rolling over on purpose or throwing shots with an extreme anhyzer angle. The more severely these shots are turned over out of the hand, the longer they take to flex back out and move right. This provides greater distance. This shot can be really useful: professional players like Nikko Locastro and Chris Clemens can smash incredibly long flex forehands throwing very overstable discs like the War Horse. However, if this is your standard forehand approach, it can ingrain a steep, anhyzer release that requires an overstable disc to fly effectively.
It’s worth asking, though, if this is really a problem. This is a debate that often erupts on internet forums when someone asks about learning the forehand. Should you learn with easier to throw overstable discs or start with understable discs that demand good form to fly true? Often, this is presented as an argument that those who start with overstable discs will inevitably develop bad form and learning with understable discs is “better.” There is truth to this, because learning to throw forehands with understable discs will develop angle control and a shot with more versatility. But mastery is harder and takes more practice. Some people don’t have the time or inclination to log those hours – and that’s okay. You can have a solid golf game even if you only throw forehands with overstable discs. That is a better option than never developing a forehand because you don’t have time to do it the “right” way.
It is also possible, of course, to learn the forehand with more overstable discs to build confidence while still working understable discs into your practice sessions before trusting them on the course. The key is to be aware that choosing extremely overstable discs and throwing only flex shots could limit your game. But if you only want a utility forehand, then more overstable discs can get you there more quickly.
Choosing Your Discs
A good place to start building your forehand is with overstable putters and midranges. These discs, especially thrown from a standstill, will add an upshot scoring weapon almost immediately. Slower speed discs will also be easier to control as you improve your technique. If you added an overstable putter like a Zone, Harp, Pig, Entropy, or Berg as an approach disc, then you have a great place to start.
You should also think about your forehand as you set up your bag. If you know that you want to throw your discs both forehand and backhand, then choose molds that are easy to throw both ways. For example, the Roc3 was my first mid, and I really like the feel and flight of it when I throw it backhand, but, to me, the rim feels really odd for a forehand. When choosing between two discs that fly similarly on a backhand line, there is a good argument for bagging the one that is also comfortable to forehand. For example, when choosing an overstable midrange, you could select a flat Dynamic Discs Verdict rather than the usually domier, big-bead Latitude 64 Anchor. If you find that you prefer flat-topped discs for forehands, keep that in mind when you are choosing all of your discs. This is a good way to avoid having to add “forehand molds” that essentially duplicate the backhand flights of discs you are already carrying.
As you work on your forehand, remember that most players will get less distance on a forehand than they get from a backhand. Often, a forehand will fly about a disc category shorter – so your forehand midrange might be about as long as your backhand putter and your fairway forehands will fly about as far your backhand midranges. There are lots of exceptions, but don’t be surprised if your forehands are shorter than your backhand throws with the same discs. Sometimes, this distance increases as you get more confident with your forehand, but a lot of players also hit a wall with their forehands – their sidearm shot is solid to about 275 feet but they find it hard to get much longer while maintaining accuracy.
Sometimes, this is just the limitation on how far the very overstable discs that many players use for forehands will go. If this is your experience, it is worth seeing if less stable discs will provide more distance. Try throwing stable fairways like a TL3, Explorer, Stalker, or Undertaker that don’t require a big flex to get them to fly. As you develop your forehand, you may find you get more distance out of a hyzer flip – an understable disc thrown with a hyzer release that flips flat and glides out. But even if you don’t feel comfortable throwing forehands with understable discs in a scoring round, try to throw them during practice.
I learned so much about my forehand throwing standstill shots with understable discs like Roadrunners and Sidewinders. Their speed helps add some stability and the limited power and greater control from a standstill really helped me work on my angles and release. This is also a great shot to have when you are playing in woods or can’t do a normal walkup. If you need a forehand to get distance from a standstill, being able to throw a faster, more understable disc is often easier than trying to smash a big flex shot with an overstable one.
Your Forehand Distance Driver
I have argued that chasing big backhand distance doesn’t really help scoring – but is there a scoring advantage to a distance forehand? I think there is. Since the length of a “distance forehand” for many players is still within the average length of many holes, it is worth seeing if you can stretch out your shots with decent accuracy. As we discussed, a flex shot or a hyzer flip may get you more forehand distance. But, can you get distance without having to throw with a lot of hyzer or anhyzer? What are the best discs for a flat distance forehand?
I think we can take some wisdom from the pros on this. When discussing the discs in their bag, pros often identify beat-in versions of their workhorse driver as their main forehand discs. Ricky Wysocki, in his 2020 “In the Cart” video says he has certain Destroyers “only for sidearm.” His forehand Destroyers are lighter weight – one 167g and one 168g – and beat in. When an overstable driver like a Destroyer beats-in, it first loses its High-Speed Stability (HSS) while retaining much of its Low-Speed Stability (LSS). Thrown with a flat RHFH, its relative lack of HSS means it will turn out to the left in the beginning of the flight while the remaining LSS makes sure it comes back. This is a flight pattern that helps maximize distance while still resisting completely flipping over.
That doesn’t mean that a Destroyer will be the best choice for you. But if you have found your workhorse driver, then the solution might as easy as finding a flatter, lighter, or more worn disc in the same mold for your distance forehands. However, if that doesn’t seem to be the answer, you may get the most distance out of stable distance drivers. For example, it may be that a disc like an Innova Tern can play the role a beat-in Destroyer plays for a pro. Try discs that offer a balance of turn and fade like the Discraft Crank, Dynamic Discs Sheriff, Discmania DD2, or a Prodigy D3. Be open to experimenting with weight and plastic to fine-tune a balance of speed and stability.
Remember, a disc’s speed rating means it will fly more with more overstability when thrown at a lower speed. A disc that turns a lot on a backhand throw might turn just enough if your forehand is not as strong. This is why some players have found a disc like the Innova Corvette, even though – at a speed of 14 – it is very wide rimmed and somewhat understable, makes a good forehand disc because of its flat profile and glide. As always, be guided by which discs offer you more distance (with accuracy) than your fairways.
In the modern game, adding a forehand is a necessity if you want to score your best. None of this is to say that you need specialty “forehand discs” or even that there is such a thing. If the forehand comes naturally or if you have time to practice, then being able to shape forehand shots with every disc in your bag is an incredible weapon. But, if the forehand is a challenge, then there are discs that will help give you a useable forehand more quickly.