Hit the gaps.
February 22, 2022 by Steve Andrews in Instruction, Opinion with comments
I love asking people about their bags and why they carry the discs they do. I was talking to a friend in our club and noticed that they had two Destroyers, a Raider, and a Boss. He also had three midranges that seemed very similar to me: an EMac Truth, a Roc3, and a Compass. When I asked him why he had those particular discs, each one came with a story – a great shot they had thrown with it or the tournament where they had won it. This was a bag built by adding discs, each carrying the memory of a great moment on the course.
Many people’s bags are like this, built like a collection of their favorite songs. They like each of these discs a lot and so their bag has become a kind of greatest hits of their plastic. But a collection of favorite songs does not always work together as a whole. Instead, you should think of your bag as an old-fashioned mixtape — all the tracks need to flow and sometimes this means leaving out a favorite that just doesn’t work or including a song that holds everything together.
The important thing is to see your discs as a set. Each one plays a role, and they cooperate to help you navigate the course. You want manageable and consistent gaps between your discs to help you always have the right tool for the shot you need.
Build Out from a Solid Core
Your discs must cover all the shots you will need from your shortest approach to your longest drive. How you get there will depend on the discs you decide are the “center” of your bag. This will be different for every player, depending on their power level and the kinds of shots they like to throw. If you love hyzerflips, you may need a completely different lineup than if you rely on flex shots. It is not just whether discs are “great discs” – it is whether they fit the shots you throw the best.
Your bag should start with a disc that you love. This tentpole disc will then determine the discs you choose to fill out the rest of your lineup. Once you have that disc, you can build outwards in two ways – by finding similar discs in other speeds and by filling gaps around your tentpole disc. For the first method, look for discs that allow you throw the same shot at different distances. For example, if you are a powerful forehand player who leans on the Raptor, you can build off that disc. If you throw the Raptor around 300 feet, then you need other discs that give you a similar flight but with different distance potential. You are essentially looking for a driver, midrange, and putter version of the Raptor. For example, this player’s bag might have a “spine” of the Force, Raptor, Malta, and Zone. With this lineup, they can throw the shots they like best and use one style of throw to cover a wide range of distances. On open courses, they might only throw this shot with these discs all day.
Another way to build out your bag is by adding discs that compliment the tentpole discs. As a player with only moderate power, fairways are often the most important discs I carry, and I like to build my bag out from my main fairway driver. I have had several discs in this slot as my bag has evolved and right now my bag centers on the Teebird3. It is exactly what a tentpole disc should be: it is straight enough to be a go-to disc for a wide variety of situations and flies over 300 feet while being stable enough to resist some wind. As one of the Innova “3” models, it is also flat enough to be a good fit for my sometimes shaky forehand.
I need to fill out my bag with discs that fill the gaps around my Teebird3. In my fairway lineup, that is a straighter fairway that works great in the woods, a less stable fairway for hyzerflips that ride right, and an overstable fairway that can hold up better in the wind and be more reliable on a forehand. For me, I put in a Leopard3, which is much straighter than a Teebird3, a Roadrunner for hyzerflips, and a Firebird, which is much more overstable. I will throw the Teebird3 whenever I can, but those other discs are there to give me very manageable gaps between the discs in my fairway lineup.
This is the place where some players cycle discs instead of adding extra molds. A different player might simply beat in a Teebird3 until it was flippy enough to fit that slot instead of adding in a Leopard 3. That is also a great approach. The goal is to have useful gaps between your discs so you can cover every shot you need, and every disc has their own lane. Getting there by cycling discs or adding discs can both work. You can also mix these approaches; I like to cycle my drivers while carrying multiple molds for my short game discs.
This is also where you need to pay attention to variations within a mold. I can find Leopard3s, especially in the halo plastic, that are almost as overstable as my more beat-in Teebird3s. But though I love the feel of those halo Leopard3s, I don’t carry them. Instead, I bag a mellow middle stability Leopard3 because I want to maintain the gap between my Leopard3s and the other discs in my fairway lineup. Every disc in my bag has a specific role; the Leopard3 is there to fly dead straight and land flat.
Sometimes, you find a new disc you love and want to include it in your bag. Resist the temptation to just toss it in without thinking about how it will relate to the other discs you already carry. When you add one, think about whether it overlaps with other discs in your bag. I fell in love with the Mako3 and, when I added it to my bag, I discovered I needed to move other discs out because their flights were too similar.
I love the Berg. It is a great disc, it fun to throw, and has a completely unique flight. But the strength of my play is my short game, and it has been fine-tuned by hours and hours of joyfully monotonous field work with a Harp. Adding the Berg would require moving things around and could affect one of the best parts of my game. Maybe I should do it, but until I can pull the trigger to really shake things up my stack of Bergs stays in the basement.
Discovering a Gap
Sometimes you find a gap when you confront a shot that just doesn’t seem to be in your bag. You might discover that your midranges are too overstable to hold the turnover you need or find out that your bag has trended too much to the understable side and you can’t trust your drivers or fairways in the wind. This happens frequently if you always do your fieldwork in calm conditions. After throwing in the field, I often find myself adding discs that go further with a little more turn and then find out that disc with a perfect little turn becomes a roller when the wind blows in a tournament round.
One way to find these kinds of gaps is by playing rounds with a limited bag. A few weeks ago, I went out and played a “mids only” round. When I started, I was happy with my midrange lineup – a very overstable RocX3, a mellow Mako3, and an understable Tursas – but my gaps collapsed when the wind started blowing. It wasn’t howling, but it was enough that the Mako3 was flipping over and the Tursas became a roller. These discs, which seemed very different from each other during my field work, became very similar with just a small change in the conditions. Another problem was that the RocX3 was so overstable it flew too short off the tee.
Before this round, I thought the Mako3 was my long stable midrange. It is…as long as there isn’t any wind. Once the wind picked up, I couldn’t trust the Mako3 or get the distance I needed out of the RocX3. I needed to make a change, so I moved to a more overstable Mako3 and replaced the RocX3 with a Westside Bard that gave me the same overstability with more distance. Now I have better gaps between my discs and can face changing conditions with more confidence.
Some gaps you will find in your bag are situational. You may discover that the straight mid that you love for most of your rounds isn’t that straight when you must throw down a wooded tunnel. The fifteen to twenty feet of fade at the end of the flight that you hardly notice on a wide-open approach may send you down a 30-foot ravine in the woods. I have Raiders that are reliably overstable on a calm day but flip in a 20-mph headwind.
When this happens, there are a couple of questions to ask – is this a common situation, or a shot you aren’t likely to need very often? If this is just a unique situation or an oddly shaped hole, then you probably don’t need to change anything. However, if the situation is common enough to necessitate a change, sometimes the solution is easy, such as just adding a more overstable driver. But if you have common shots that are hard to pull off – if you can’t throw turnovers very well, for example, and you play courses where they are necessary – your bag may have become too full of overstable discs and you need to think about making some changes.
It may also be that you don’t need a new disc, you need a new shot. You may just need more field work working on turnovers or forehands with the discs you have. Often it is a blending of the two, you may need a disc that can more easily hit a particular line and more time in the field dialing in that shot.
Everyone’s Gaps are Different
A forehand dominant power player should have a different bag than me, a righthanded backhand player who builds their bag around moderate stability discs and accuracy. Where his bag might be built around the Force, Raptor, and Malta, my bag may center on the Sheriff, Teebird3, and Mako3. These bags are completely different, but they are both built around the kinds of shots we throw the best and supplemented with discs that help close the gaps.
Your playing style will reveal the gaps that need to be filled. One of my weaknesses is my forehand – I simply can’t throw them for distance. On the other hand, I love throwing hyzerflips that ride out to the right. I have much more confidence on throwing with my standard slight hyzer angle whenever I can and letting the discs do the work. My bag reflects this – right now I carry a Roadrunner and a Tursas, two discs that are very understable and perfect for this shot. The problem is that there is about 100 feet between their average distances. That gap is unmanageably large. I need a disc that will sit between them and be reliable on a hyzerflip with a right finish and go about 300 feet. I am still looking.
If I developed a great forehand, I might not need to carry these discs at all and my bag would look completely different. That’s fine. Build your bag around the discs and shots you like to throw. If you don’t throw many forehands and you don’t have a lot of power, you may not need many overstable discs in your bag. If your main shot is a huge forehand flex, then you may not need many understable options. You want to fill in the gaps around your favorite discs but build a bag that fits your game.
Yes, we should all strive to throw every shot we need with every disc we have. If you have gotten to the place where you can carry a bag like Philo’s – only five molds broken in perfectly that you can throw on every angle – then that is great. And, to be honest, I envy you. Until then, build a bag that fits your game and gives you manageable gaps – each disc working together to allow you to get the most out of your game.