Learn your discs — and season them.
June 29, 2021 by Steve Andrews in Opinion with comments
This is the third part in a series on disc golf field work.
One of the best ways to structure your field work, avoid overthrowing, and get the most out of your practice is to go to the field with a question. These questions can be as simple as asking something like “do I have a gap in my fairway lineup?” You can warmup and then just throw your fairway drivers and see if they have a good split in distance, how they all fly forehand, and if they can cover all the shots you might need with them. You can also ask questions about your bag more broadly – “which discs can I trust on a forehand?” “What is the gap between all of the discs in my bag thrown with flat release?” or “How well does each disc fly on a turnover?”
If you have a variety of discs, one great question to take to the field is something like “what is the best mid-range for my stable mid slot?” Take your Compass, EMac Truth, Roc3, and Buzzz to the field, warm up, and then throw just those discs for all kinds of shots and distances. Evaluate them on forehands, turnovers, standstills, and any other shot you might use them for. Then, when you’ve gotten your answer, leave.
Answering questions maintains focus; and looking for an answer to a specific question lets you know when you are done. You figured out which disc will go in your bag, learned a lot about all your mids, and practiced a variety of shots. That’s a productive day at the field. Trying to figure something out is always more fun than “I need to throw 300 shots today.”
Test Out Your Discs
Field work is incredibly helpful when you are trying out discs and deciding whether a new disc or mold will make your bag. Unless you are a new player adding your very first discs, make sure that you are evaluating discs in comparison to the ones they might replace or the ones that are the most similar to it that are already in your bag. Don’t ask — “do I like this Destroyer?” — but rather — “Is this Destroyer a better disc to have in my overstable driver slot than this Raider or this DD3?” Again, you’re not looking at whether you like a disc in the abstract, but using the field as a laboratory to test questions – which one is better, is there any reason to have one of these rather than the other, do you need both? Is one longer but harder to control? Is one great on a backhand but uncomfortable for a forehand? You throw until you have your answer, and then you end your session.
The reason to always look at discs in comparison is that lots of discs will fly well for you. The novelty factor alone sometimes makes a new disc seem like it is exactly what you need. So, you should compare it against something else: not asking “does it go far” but “does it go further than what I am throwing?” Not “is it accurate” but “when I throw it ten or twenty times against the discs I am currently using, is it consistently outperforming what I already know and use?”
I love new plastic – more than I should – so I have to work hard to stop myself from making a change just for change’s sake. Ties should go to what you are already using. This is easier said than done (at least by me), so there is always an exception – if a disc brings you joy, then you can always add it. But, generally, you should always remain skeptical of taking something out of your bag that is working unless a new disc is clearly an upgrade.
One of the great parts of this kind of field work is that it sometimes makes you fall back in love with what is already in your bag. And, while you are focusing on comparing two (or three or four) molds, throwing them on various lines and angles, you are getting lots of great practice in – which you will hardly notice because you are focusing on answering a question, not just grinding out your field work.
Flights or Lines
When evaluating discs, I like to think of the difference between “flights” and “lines.” This is not how these terms are usually used, so if they don’t work for you, feel free to use different terms.
The distinction I want to draw is between what a disc wants to do and what I can make it do. This is often my first step in evaluating a new disc, and something I use to check my discs to see if anything about them has changed.
To see the flight of disc or to compare several discs to each other, select a target in the far distance – one you can’t possibly reach – and then throw each disc at that target using your most basic, easily-repeatable swing at your most consistent tempo. Hopefully this is a swing somewhere near flat, though throwing with a little hyzer or anhyzer is okay if this is your “stock” release. Essentially, you are using that distant target as a consistent aiming point and seeing how every disc flies when thrown with your “normal” full throw. Observe the full flight of the disc. This is going to give you a lot of information about the disc’s stability and the flight that will be the easiest to get from it. After throwing a couple of times to eliminate weird releases or other factors, this gives you a sense of what the disc “wants” to do given your standard swing. This is great information, because it gives you confidence that you can make your regular swing and have a good expectation of how it will fly. You are working with the disc. This is the key to easy accuracy – I know the swing I can repeat 85% of the time will give me that flight and that amount of fade. This process will also allow you to see if one disc is more stable than another, or to check if your once-overstable Explorer is turning more than it once was.
This is very different from hitting lines. Now that you know the “flight” of a particular disc, try to get it to fly on a particular line. The goal now is not to let the disc do what it wants, but what you want it to do. This is forcing the disc to fly on a particular line – for example, seeing if you can turn over that overstable Enforcer and have it snap back to the left where you want, or throwing that understable Roadrunner on a hard hyzer to see if it flips to flat or still turns over. You may find that some of your discs are much easier to manipulate than others or be surprised that, for example, a disc that normally flies very overstable can hold an anhyzer angle. These are things you need to know before you try these shots in a competitive round.
Make sure to also test your discs with standstills and powered-down releases. It is important to know how a disc responds when it is thrown at less than full power, which will be essential to playing in the woods.
Once you know the natural flight of the disc and the lines you can hit with it, you can dial in exactly how you need to manipulate each disc to land on a target. This moves beyond flights and lines to focus on where the disc will come to rest. You need to know how wide you need to aim that Firebird to get it to land where you want. You may find that discs that fly beautifully when you are just launching them into a field are not easy to dial onto a specific distance. A disc may fly beautifully but not be consistent. This is particularly true for discs that produce huge skips or require a lot of power to get them to fly the way you want. For some discs, a little reduction in speed or subtle change of nose angle can produce massively different flights. Very fast or understable discs can be incredibly sensitive, so you really need to learn whether you can throw them consistently. This is crucial information – a fairway driver that sometimes goes 280 and sometimes goes 330 may be of limited use when you need to score.
This is why field work requires repetition and attention. A disc that produces off-the-charts results 30% of the time and disasters 40% of the time is a very different kind of disc than one that produces boring, average results 90% of the time. Both kinds of discs are useful, but only by throwing them repeatedly in the field and paying attention to the results will you know the right disc to pull out on the course.
No one has ever asked “wow, what was that?” when I have thrown my Savant, but I love that I can throw five of them and know they will land so close together I could cover them all with a tablecloth.
What you want is a deep understanding of what a disc wants to do and what you can make it do – both its natural flight and the lines you can hit with it. And you need to know how you have to throw a particular disc to get it to land on a target.
Know Your Distances
A crucial part of consistently hitting a target is knowing exactly how far you can throw every disc in your bag. This is crucial in deciding what discs you carry and whether you need to add another disc. In Part 6 of the Building A Bag series, we presented a series of questions to discover what discs you throw to given distances – you could use those questions to help organize a series of field work sessions where you set up at those distances and find the best ways to get your shots close.
If there is one thing you must be brutally honest about to score better, it is how far you throw your discs. Everyone knows it is important to forget your worst throws, but I am also asking you to forget your best ones. If you usually throw it 320 feet, the one time you threw your Wraith 410 is not the best guide when you are deciding whether you can make a 400-foot water carry. Most of us reach for the UDisc to check our distance when we smash one, but the more important number is how far they go on an average, repeatable throw.
Discovering this means throwing them at a speed and angle you can repeat and then seeing how far they go. You need to throw these shots enough times to get a useable average. Ignore the ones you throw into the ground, of course, but also ignore those that hit the perfect angle and wind and glide out 70 feet longer than the others. This distance with your “regular” and most repeatable shot is the most important number to know to manage your game.
You also need to know how your disc fly on different angles. Spike hyzers fly shorter, for example, and anhyzer flexes can gain distance. A super high 250-foot spike hyzer is not a 250-foot shot – it might be more like 290. You need to know that your Thunderbird goes 245 on a steep spike and 315 on a forceover. When you play a competitive round, these are your numbers. You want to know that your M4 always goes at least 250 with an upside of 270. You can devote field work sessions to checking all of your distances or seeing if anything has changed.
Whether you use a range finder, UDisc, or just pace them off – be ready to be a little deflated if this is the first time carefully measuring your shots. It is sometimes disheartening to put real numbers to your throws, especially if you have to ignore the one or two that far exceed the usual result. This process, however, is helpful in getting the most out of your game. Remember, it is not important to get maximum distance out of every disc. Don’t try and smash your shots when you are figuring out your dependable distance. Only throw as far as you can while maintaining control and consistency. What makes a midrange great is that it goes shorter than a fairway driver, that’s the point.
This may seem like a lot of work. But you can get these numbers in one field session. Write them down and track them. If you are new to the game (or to field work), you might find they change quickly.
Learn Your Bench
Field work is also important for learning your backup discs and putting enough wear on them that they are ready to step up when your favorite driver disappears into a lake. If your game depends on a perfectly-seasoned Wraith or a beat-up Undertaker that flies just how you like, then the time to start working on a replacement was yesterday. It’s fine to depend on discs that no longer fly like their numbers, but you should use your field work to put mileage on other discs so they are ready to step in. While not everyone can afford to buy an arsenal of plastic, if there are discs that are tentpoles of your bag (and there should be), you should try and get extras in case you lose your favorite disc.
Plastic almost seems alive in the way that it evolves as you throw it; and understanding how a disc’s flight changes over time is one of the most fun parts of the game. Longtime players know that a disc that has already seen a thousand throws may be infinitely more valuable than a new one. You want to know your backups as well as you know your starters – if you lose your favorite disc in the beginning of a two-round tournament, you don’t want the backup to be a stranger. Many plastics, like Innova Star, are often more overstable than expected when they are new and then break-in back to their numbers. This means that you can’t just pull a fresh disc out of the box and expect it to replace a disc that has been in your bag for six months. Making sure to throw your backups frequently in practice will move the process along.
This process of getting multiple discs in the same mold and then wearing them in to different degrees is called “cycling.” It is a reason why so many pros carry multiple versions of the same disc that can be used in different situations. The field is a great place to put on that wear and also keep an eye on how the flight of the discs are changing. The field is a great place to wear in your multiple Roc3s, for example, so they can cover the full range of overstable to understable lines. Even if you aren’t going to try and cycle your discs – it does require a lot of time to get an overstable Verdict to break in enough to replace your understable Fuse – it is important to have your backups ready for tournament use.
Throw these discs in your field work so you have a lot of familiarity with how they feel and fly. If you are dependent on a worn-in disc, it might be worth exploring whether it’s immediate replacement might be a different mold. Your beat-in Wraith that has a lot of turn but keeps its late fade is awesome, but replacing it with another Wraith will probably take time or a change of weight or plastic. Another option is to try to get that flight out of a disc like a Tern until you have another Wraith that will hold that line.
Your field work has a purpose beyond just working on throwing mechanics. It is also where you can learn your discs, test new ones, and tune your equipment. It is also where you can figure out how far you throw each of your discs on various lines, which is key to course management.
Next week, we will dial in your short game field work.