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Putting the Golf Back in Disc Golf Part 1: Posting Your PB

Updated: Jan 8, 2020

Two time world champ and three time US champ Barry Schultz wants to ask you a question: are you a golfer or a thrower? This is a question on which he based his disc golf clinic at the 2011 USDGC. Click here to watch the whole video. Roughly paraphrased, according to Barry a golfer is someone who warms up, thinks about their shots, takes the sport seriously, purposefully varies their practice, enjoys new challenges, and seeks to improve. A thrower is the opposite of that. They do the same thing every time they play and complain that they never get any better.

Most importantly, Barry believes becoming a golfer helps you enjoy the sport of disc golf.

Now this is a big topic and one I really enjoy so I’m going to chip away at it over time. Today the angle on becoming a golfer I would like to explore is how to use golf smarts to shoot your personal best score.

Play the Odds

Believe it or not your entire golf being is a set of percentages and probabilities. Every time you pick up a disc and try to throw it a certain distance in a certain direction at a certain angle, there is a measurable probability that you’re going to pull it off. If I was going to place a bet on you succeeding, all I’d have to do is look at all the times you tried to do it in the past, and divide how many times you made it by how many times you tried. Are you 80% on that shot or 30%. I’ll bet on anything over 75%.

Here you are: you’re on the edge of the green of Thrill Hill’s hole 3 after a botched layup, there’s a slight headwind, and you’re 25 feet from the basket. Behind the basket looms the muddy creek. You want to putt hard to cut into the wind, but you want to putt soft so if you air ball it might not make the creek. You know headwinds lift putts most of the time, especially on uphill putts, but what if it doesn’t this time? So you’re trying to decide whether or not to aim low. However, if you doink off the cage it might roll. You just parred hole 1 and birdied hole 2 so you have kind of a streak going - you definitely don’t want a bogey now.

Tough situation. Would it change anything if I, your caddy, leaned in and whispered this in your ear: “Your percentage on normal 25 foot putts is about 50%. In a headwind and with these nerves that’s bound to drop to 35 or 40%. Also, your average on this hole is 4.2, so laying up now for a 4 is actually putting you ahead of your average.”

Suddenly, it’s a no brainer. Pitch that putter under the basket, ignore the jeers from your cardmates (who are just jealous of your golf smarts anyway) and move on to hole 4.

Let’s look at some of the methods you can use to analyze your golf game, and how to use that to plan out your best round.

Average per Hole

If you keep track of your scores on UDisc you can look at some of your stats for each hole on a course. This is very informative for planning out how to get your best performance on a course. Even if you don’t keep track of your scores, you might have a general sense of how you typically do on a hole “I usually bogey hole 9” or “I’m able to birdie hole 13 about half the time.”

Here’s an example of how UDisc breaks down your hole averages. (To find this in your UDisc go to Courses > choose a course you have played > My Stats tab at top)

Since I started using UDisc a year ago, I played 95 rounds on Thrill Hill. You can see my average for hole 1 is a bit over par at 3.3. I happen to know that most of those bogeys are caused by trying to throw a drive down into that tunnel for a birdie and getting into trouble. I have way more bogeys on that hole than I do birdies. So if I was trying to get my best score, should I risk the birdie or lay up for the par? The numbers give you the answer: I should probably lay up for par.

When you look at hole 2 at an average of 2.5 it’s a no-brainer. I’m running birdie all day long.

Hole 3 shows that I average just under par. Yes, I’m running birdies. Actually, if you split my 95 rounds in half they would tell different stories. The first half I would probably be at or over par, but for the second half I would probably be down around 2.7. That is because later last year I finally developed the power to reach that hole on a hyzer and it became a frequent birdie. Am I disappointed if I get a 3? No.

If you were to hire me as a caddy to help you shoot your personal best and take down your rival, I would probably start with assessing your averages and design a strategy to get you around the course deciding smartly where to attack for birdies and where to stay out of trouble and take the easy par.

Distance Percentages

Just as you have an average per hole, you also have an average success rate for throwing the disc a certain distance accurately. This is most obvious with putting where you can practice and calculate your exact percentages. For example, putt 100 times from 20 feet and see how many you get in. Did you sink 75% of them? If so I’d bet on you making a 20 footer.

This early spring I practiced a lot of putting from 35 to 50 feet and just for “fun” I kept stats at each distance. What I learned is that keeping stats on your performance isn't that fun and kind of stresses you out, but I also learned that from 50 feet I was hitting about 1/3 of my attempts. That’s good information if I’m ever facing a 50 foot death putt to take the lead on hole 17 - should I bet on a 33% chance now or lay up and take my chances on hole 18 and a potential tie-break? Depends how I’m feeling, but the odds on the death putt aren’t great.

You also have percentages of success throwing longer distances as well. At 150 feet you may be 75% likely to hit a landing zone 30 feet wide, but as the distance pushes out to 200 feet that percentage might shrink to 50%.

Pros often talk about percentages of getting up-and-down. What they mean is that within a certain distance range, no matter the angle or obstruction as long as it's a fair line, they should be able to throw an upshot close enough to the basket to be guaranteed to make the putt. I believe they generally consider getting up and down from within 200 feet a must. What distance do you feel getting up and down is a must? I remember when I started, getting up and down from 30 feet was not guaranteed.

Shot Type Percentage

Everybody has their favourite shot that they know and trust. For me it’s a 200-250 foot backhand hyzer with a stable midrange (to read more about hyzers click here). For some it’s a flat sidearm with an overstable fairway driver. Whatever throw is your cozy go-to shot, it is your high percentage shot. This is your most powerful tool to get you around the course with the best score.

If your favourite shot only goes 180 feet then what do you do? Most of the holes on Thrill Hill are in the 220-250 range. That means you’re not going to reach most of the greens without making yourself uncomfortable, and if there’s anything I’ve learned about this sport it’s when you’re uncomfortable that you’re most likely to make a mistake.

The long term solution is to work on your form to gain more distance. However, the short term solution is to use your greatest weapon to defeat your enemy: the course. In just a minute we’re going to look at an example of how to do this. But first...

Using Feel in Place of Numbers

All of these numbers can get very technical and I know it isn’t how many people think. If you’ve gotten this far through the rubbish, I’ll reward you with another way to think about it: by not thinking at all. Instead, tap into your emotions or your “feel”.

When you step on a tee and look at the shot before you, how confident are you that you can pull it off? Not very? What happens if you picture a landing spot on the grass 100 feet short of the pin, does your confidence increase? If you think you can hit that spot 100 feet short, then do you think you can make that next 100 foot shot easily and put it within 15 feet for an easy putt? Well, you’ve just become a golfer planning out how to play a hole for a smart par.

When you walk to the next tee and it’s a hole you never throw well, you don’t need to know that your average is a full stroke over par, you already “feel” like the hole has the better of you. Then why keep trying to play the hole the same way and getting beaten up over and over? Try a different strategy.

Thrill Hill Hole 11

Hole 11 is an interesting hole with which to consider your averages and decide whether to play smart or risk the big shot.