top of page

I Think, Therefore I Am... Bad at Disc Golf

Disc golf is easy. You just throw discs into a basket in less throws than everybody else. Just look down the fairway, pick the disc that's most likely to fly an a clean path from the tee to the basket, and throw it like you imagined. Easy.


So why is it so hard to do?

Think of the best round you've ever had. You were focused. You were having a great time. You cared about each throw, but not too much. Your discs went where they were supposed to and you got the disc in the basket in less strokes than usual.

The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the word "flow" to describe these experiences. Flow is a mental state where you perform an activity with energized focus, full involvement, and uninterrupted enjoyment in the process. Flow gives you complete absorption in what you do and takes away your sense of time. Most people have felt this at one point or another on the disc golf course but it just seems to happen to them by chance. However, it is a state that you can learn about and replicate.

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times . . . The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).

Back to your incredible round. You achieved flow on the disc golf course. You've tried to replicate the experience but you can't and it's so frustrating. Your inability to replicate the round is not a problem with your form or your discs. It's a problem with your thinking. Most people know more about how to pick discs and throw them than they do about how the technology of their mind works.

Let's take a look at your mind's technology during a round of disc golf.

The Golf Minds

Your mind is the most important and most complex piece of technology you own, but have you ever read a manual on how to operate it? There are many manuals available to understand the mind's inner workings (such as Buddhism, psychology, neuroscience), but they can get quite complicated. Not to worry though, modern sports psychologists have broken the mind's basic operations down into simple, intuitive chunks. Disc golf has a void of literature on this topic, so let’s dive into some traditional golfing lore.

One book I’ve read recently is “The Inner Game of Golf” by W. Timothy Gallwey. In it, he calls the different minds Self 1 and Self 2. Self 1 is the analytical, judgmental, consciously controlled mind that reads the conditions, plans a strategy, and really really wants to get birdies and win. Self 2 is the subconscious mind that actually controls all the motions of the body to bring into existence the beautiful plans made by Self 1. If these two Selves work together it can be wonderful, surprising, and effortless. However, most mental errors in golf can be attributed to interference by Self 1, usually in trying to overcontrol the movements of Self 2 due to anxiety.

Here are some examples of how Self 1 might interfere:

  • “Get your wrist down so you don't throw a noob hyzer."

  • “Don’t forget to get a good solid plant and reach all the way back.”

  • “Get a full turn but don’t turn back too soon.”

  • "Remember to keep your left arm tucked in."

  • “Last time you bogeyed this hole so you don’t want to do that again.”

  • “If you lose a stroke here Phil will be one up going into the sidearm stretch of the course.”

Does that sound like your mind during a round of golf? If it does you’re making this sport a lot harder than it has to be.

Your body creates what your mind sees most strongly. It’s similar to the computer science principle of “garbage in, garbage out”. If you fill you mind with garbage images you’re going to throw garbage shots. If you fill your mind with three or four different garbage images mixed with one good image, your body is going to mash the images all together and produce some kind of hot dumpster fire.

The Boss and the Worker

I like to think of Self 1 and Self 2 as a Boss and Worker relationship. Self 1 is the Boss and Self 2 is the Worker. Who am I in the equation? Well, I’m both, but I feel more like my true self is the Worker. Let's look at how these two minds might interact on the tee.

Thrill Hill Hole 9

Here we are at the tee of Thrill Hill hole 9.

Hole 9 is a 525 foot par 4 with a long straight fairway. The pin is tucked tight behind the woods on the right in a clearing. OB lines the left and thick trees line the right. There are two main difficulties in playing the hole: keeping the disc in the fairway on the drive and accessing the well-guarded pin on the approach. You want to be close to the pin for your putt on this one because there is a nasty ditch filled with oily water 15 to 20 feet behind the basket.

The Boss decides we should birdie this hole. He knows from history that most of our birdies come from a nice conservative play by throwing a 330 foot low sweeping backhand hyzer off the tee with a somewhat overstable fairway driver. Our favourite approach from there is to cover the remaining 200 feet with a high stalling sidearm hyzer, usually with the same disc. (I may write a future article on the different hyzer flight paths and what they can be used for, but for now, a stall is good for this green because the disc gets all its energy out by stalling in the air and lands with very little energy left to skip and roll.)

So the Boss, when he’s being a good boss, feeds me the image above. I, being a good little worker, say, “I got it Boss. I’ll get it done right away.”

Now comes the defining moment for a boss to either become a good boss or a bad boss. A good boss would give you a thumbs up and leave you alone. A bad boss hangs around and micromanages.

“Hey, Mike, one more thing. I know you got this, but did you notice it’s a pretty stiff headwind today?”

“Yeah, I noticed that so I disced up a notch in stability. I’m good to go.”

“Is that disc really stable enough though? What if it turns right into the trees?” The Boss shows me this image: