May 18, 2022 by Steve Andrews in Instruction, Opinion with comments
I hate wind. In all honesty, I would rather play in a foot of snow than wind. And I’m from Tampa.
I am a control player. I do a ton of field work to be able to know exactly where my shots will go; I obsessively tune my bag and plan out my rounds before they start. My approach to the game is about rigorous preparation and eliminating variables. And then the wind blows and all that goes out the window and it’s basically ‘hold on, improvise, and hope for the best.’ I know there are players who love playing in windy conditions. I envy them.
Having played a few Glass Blown and Dynamic Disc Opens, I watched the 2022 DDO in white-knuckled sympathetic terror for players helplessly watching their most overstable discs flip out of bounds. I had to step away from the coverage for a while when a James Conrad eight-footer blew backwards out the chains. To me, planning a tour event in April in Kansas feels like kicking off the tour in January in Minnesota at the Preserve, but that may be my wind trauma talking.
Unfortunately, whether we love it or hate it, wind is something that every player must endure, so finding an approach to handle the wind is essential.
How the Wind Affects Your Disc
I played traditional golf for decades before I ever tried disc golf. In ball golf, the wind is annoying but straightforward. The wind affects a golf ball the way you would intuitively think it would – headwinds make the ball fly shorter, tail winds push you longer, and right or left winds shove you in that direction. There are some weird effects related to spin, but most of the time what the wind will do is clear.: In a headwind, it isn’t going to go as far and, if you get a helping tailwind, tee it up and let it fly.
Discs are more like spinning wings, and that means their aerodynamics are much more complicated. Most players get a crash course on the basics early in their playing career – a headwind will produce more lift and make the disc behave as if it is moving faster. This is the reason that airplanes take off into the wind whenever possible. For a disc, that added speed makes the disc behave as if it is more understable, so it will turn more to the right (for a right-handed backhand). This means your slightly understable Shryke that normally has a beautiful S-flight may crash over into a roller in a 20 mph headwind.
A tail wind will have the opposite effect. It reduces lift, so the disc will fly as if it moving slower. This means a disc will behave as if it is more overstable as well as losing glide and dropping more quickly. That same Shryke will probably not turn at all in a 20-mph tailwind and hyzer out much more quickly than you expect.
Dynamic Discs pro and 3-time Masters World Champion Ron Convers Jr. made a great chart about playing in wind. It was so helpful, I bought it on a disc:
While you could memorize all those different scenarios, it is easy to visualize the way the wind will affect the flight of your disc if you focus on the flight plate – the circle of plastic that is surrounded by the disc’s rim. If the wind strikes the bottom of flight plate, it will lift it and move the disc in the direction of the wind. So, a right-handed hyzer thrown into a right-to-left wind will fly higher and move a lot to the left. If, on the other hand, the wind strikes the top of the flight plate, it will reduce glide and push the disc to the ground. That same right-handed hyzer thrown into a left-to-right wind won’t really sail off to the right but will crash to the ground earlier.
The position of the flight plate is also crucial to understanding the effect of the nose angle. A disc thrown nose up into a headwind exposes the bottom of the flight plate to the wind and will often rise up, stall, and hyzer out. This is one reason that many players’ discs – especially those of newer players who throw with an exaggerated nose-up angle – don’t seem to behave “correctly” when thrown into the wind. This effect can be compounded when players who throw nose up choose a more overstable disc in a headwind because they expect the wind to impart extra speed and turn. Instead, the nose-up angle and increased overstability is going to lead to shorter, hyzered shots. On the other hand, a slight nose down angle will provide greater carry in a tailwind because of the small exposure of the flight plate to the trailing wind.
When the wind is blowing, you need to visualize the full flight of the disc and understand how the wind will affect every phase of that flight. Imagine a right-handed flex shot thrown into a left to right wind. In the initial phase of the flight, the disc is on an anhyzer angle, meaning the bottom of the flight plate is exposed to the wind. This will cause the disc to drift much further to the right and make it harder for the disc to correct back onto a hyzer angle. If the disc is overstable enough to flex back into a hyzer, the top of the disc is now meeting the wind and it will push the disc towards the ground. This means that the disc’s flight will look completely different than if it was thrown in calm conditions – it will have a very elongated early path that goes much further to the right and then an unusually short hyzer part at the conclusion of the flight.
The opposite would be true if you tried to throw a right-handed hyzerflip into that same left-to-right wind. The hyzerflip starts the disc on a hyzer angle, and at that point the wind will be pushing the disc down, preventing the left side of the disc from lifting to flip the disc to flat. Quite often, the disc cannot flip flat with the wind hitting the top of the flight plate: as a result, the shot remains a weak hyzer. If it can flip to flat, it often flips too much – now that the wind is hitting the bottom of the flightplate – and soars off way to the right. This is a reason that hyzerflips are notoriously difficult to control in strong crosswinds.
For both of these throws, it is important to visualize the entire flight of the disc because the wind’s effect on the shot will evolve as the position of the flight plate changes.
Playing the Wind
Depending on the shot you need, the openness of the course, and the speed of the wind, there are different ways to approach your throw.
Fighting the Wind
Particularly if the headwind isn’t overpowering, it is sometimes easy to just go to a more overstable disc into a headwind. The added speed imparted by a headwind will provide straighter and longer flights from discs that might be very overstable in calm conditions. Remember that a higher disc speed usually also means greater stability, so sometimes throwing a driver rather than a fairway can help resist a headwind.
You can also fight the wind by ensuring that the wind won’t get to the bottom of the flight plate. This means throwing hyzers or anhyzers in crosswinds so the wind stays on the top of the disc. You may need to throw these shots harder and higher because the wind will be working against you, reducing the glide of your discs. However, this is a good way to get the disc around the course under control and avoid letting the wind move the disc too far off-line.
Riding the Wind
You can also incorporate the wind to help shape your shots. In a tailwind, you need to choose a disc that is less overstable and throw them slightly higher. It’s often better to drop down in disc speed by throwing a less stable fairway like a Sidewinder rather than an understable driver like a Tern. These slower, more understable discs are perfect for getting long throws with a trailing wind.
Particularly if the wind is not overwhelming and the course is open, it is often easier to work with a crosswind rather than fight it. A right-handed player with a right-to-left crosswind might aim far right of the target and then throw a hyzer, purposefully exposing the bottom of the flight plate to the wind. Depending on the wind speed, you will usually get more lift and more distance. You also can throw that shot with a stable, rather than a overstable, disc, since the wind will make sure it moves to the left and less overstability will help to keep it in the air.
A left-to-right wind, especially that is “quartering” and blowing diagonally over a right-handed player’s left elbow, is a wind that be used for extra distance. In fact, this exact wind was what Simon Lizotte and David Wiggins used to set their world distance records in 2016. However, unless you are very sure of your discs and your angles, however, be careful about throwing anhyzers that will ride the wind, as they can sometimes turn into unpredictable rollers. As with many shots meant to ride the wind, throwing with extra height can help to get the results you expect.
Remember, though, the wind is a fickle friend. You can’t always be confident that the wind will move your disc back in bounds when you start a shot over OB or trust the wind will stop shoving your disc before it moves too far. Sometimes, you have no option but to ride the wind and hope to avoid disaster, but winds can swirl and have unexpected effects.
Avoiding the Wind
Sometimes you don’t have a lot of room to maneuver, and you just want to keep the wind out of the shot. If you can, throw your shot lower and as flat as possible – hiding both sides of the flight plate from the wind for as long as you can. On shorter shots and approaches, keeping the disc level to the ground can be the best way to keep it close. This can be hard, however, as even the natural hyzer action of many discs at the end of their flight or a moderate skip can catch the wind and send you much further away than you expect.
On the Green
The wind might be even more dangerous as you get closer to the basket. While you may have all kinds of options for choosing different lines and stabilities off the tee, once you are in the circle, you must deliver your shot at a precise height and power. And the wind can seem cruel when you watch a 20-footer sail over the basket to give you an even longer comebacker from outside of the circle.
One of the best ways to reduce the negative effects of the wind is miss on the correct side whenever you can. As you approach the basket, think about which side will give you a downwind putt. It may be better to be 30 feet to the right with the wind at your back rather than twenty feet away into a raging headwind. You can’t always dial up your misses as precisely as you want, but if you are approaching with a tailwind, it may be better to fall short of the basket rather than sailing 30 feet long and leaving a treacherous putt.
Once you are putting, the usual guidelines for the wind remain the same. Headwinds add lift, tailwinds hurt glide, and crosswinds push the flightplate. But you need to know the usual angles of your putt – and many players are unsure about them. Do you putt nose-up or nose down? Do you putt with hyzer? These factors can change how your putter will perform in the wind when you are trying to hit your spot in the chains. A nose-up spin putt can be lifted high over the basket, and even a subtle hyzer release can be shoved to the left by the wind.
Nose angle can also produce frustrating results that don’t match your expectations. A putt with a tailwind should drop. However, if you putt nose down, you are exposing the bottom of the flight plate to the wind, producing lift. Especially if you aim higher since you expect your putt to drop, your nose-down release can lift you into the band or over the basket, leaving you fuming about how it is unbelievable that a tailwind lifted your disc.
Just as with your approaches, one way to reduce the effect of the wind is putting as flat as you can. If you usually depend on extra glide from a nose-up release, then you may lose distance on your putts; if you normally putt with a hyzer, then you may have to change your aiming point. It is important to incorporate flat putting into your putting practice to be able to switch when necessary.
It is also helpful to putt with more overstable discs into a headwind. If you are confident putting with a jawbreaker Zone or a Harp, then you can keep your usual stroke and just putt with a disc that will better fight the wind. I always make sure to incorporate other discs into my putting warmup so I am ready to change if the wind picks up. I am as confident putting with my Suspect as my Maiden and know how I have to modify my aim and release to get it into the basket.
And sometimes, the wind wins. When all else fails, you can always putt with the disc upside down. This absolutely crushes the aerodynamics of the disc and the wind will help push it to the ground. A few years ago, we were playing Clover Cliff Ranch, my favorite course in the Emporia area. On hole 7, a straight uphill par 3 with a basket perched on the exposed edge of a stone cliff, I threw it to fifteen feet. And then, in the 25-mph wind, boldly threw it upside down at the bottom of the pole. As our good friend Clippy says, sometimes “pars win championships.”
And this is not just for terrified amateurs. At the 2022 DDO, we saw there are times when the best putters in the world will lay up from 20 feet. Sometimes the wind can’t be beaten; it can only be managed.
It is crucial to learn how your discs will react in the wind before you must trust them in a scoring round. I have learned to accept the wind by keeping a bag of discs that I pull out for field work when the wind is howling. I still don’t love throwing in the wind, but hours of field work with discs I know I can count on have made the wind just another factor to consider in throwing my shots.