Common Problems In Disc Golf: Ranging
Updated: Jun 24
Your drive didn’t go as planned, and you are 50 or so metres from the basket with a tricky shot ahead of you. Do you get up and down? Take a bogie? Or worse? Today Vortica takes a close look at ranging, and how best to put your disc under the cage for a drop-in.
It’s not a drive, and it’s not a putt, and one could make a fairly convincing case the upshot, or approach shot is the trickiest of the lot. It usually requires powering down your dominant throw, and this turns out to be somewhat challenging for many players, and for a variety of reasons.
First we’ll address the physical challenge of powering down, and then take a look at the reasons why ranging can be challenging, which include;
No view of the green
Bottom of the basket not visible
Tiny gap to make
Radical flight shape required
Disc type thrown
+ Any or all of the above!
Finally, we’ll give you some tools to use to ensure your consistent accuracy at these seemingly straight forward, yet often challenging ranges.
Making all your NAGS
Before we begin, let’s understand the concept of what the most famous course designer John Houck calls NAGS, or Not A Golf Shot. That’s when you have 30 to 50 metres left to the basket, and the way is clear of obstructions, and there is no OB challenging your shot.
Under ordinary circumstances you should never fail to get up and down from this position, and there is no real challenge (except consistency!) in such a shot.
But NAGS are challenging for some, because they lack the ability to power down sufficiently reliably to make the shot consistently. Does this sound like anyone you know?
There really is no reason to ever miss a NAGS approach, except super bad luck, or strong wind gusts.
Why do NAGS start at 30 metres?
Because that’s the length of your longest putt. There’s no reason your putting technique shouldn’t be able to reach 30 metres in light winds once you have worked on it. And your longest putt is always going to be more accurate than your shortest throw. Or it should be.
OK, so let’s get it on!
Powering Down X-step – or no x-step?
The disc golf drive is not what you need to approach with, and yet you will still see many people make an x-stepping motion when making a relatively short approach shot. Often, the x-step is used because it contains the timing cues for the throwing motion, but whether it is used when not strictly necessary is a purely personal choice.
I do not have a hard and fast rule about using an x-step, except if it is a low ceiling, or if the footing is questionable, then I will throw from a standing position. If I select the x-step option, then it is dialed down to the power I need.
In the video above, Jason at HeavyDisc shows you how to develop a wicked one-step throw, from a standing position. One of the best disc golf videos of all time. Subscribe to his LoopGhost YouTube channel.
There are numerous ways to decrease the power of your normal throwing motion, whether it’s backhand or forehand. In no particular order:
Standing on one spot to throw You can either keep your feet in place, or take a single step forward with your plant foot in a standing throw. Taking a single step yields more power.
The less you reachback, the less power you will generate. For forehand, turn your shoulders away less, and keep them more square to the Line Of Play.
Don’t turn your eyes away from the Line Of Play This is perhaps the single best way to power down a standing throw, while simultaneously increasing accuracy. Do NOT take your eyes off the Line of Play at any time during your throwing motion. This has the effect of reducing the shoulder turn that is associated with reaching back. You are most accurate when both eyes are still able to see the Line Of Play. This reduces shoulder turn substantially. And hence power. To add more power but retain some accuracy, turn your head and shoulders so that only the right eye's peripheral vision is in touch with the Line Of Play.
Practice keeping the Line Of Play in the peripheral vision of your right eye (for a right-handed player), and your ability to turn slightly more while still being able to see the LOP will improve. We generally use our peripheral vision very little, but we can train to improve it.
Moving fewer body parts and moving them less This should be obvious, but the fewer parts you move, the less power you will generate. For example, strongly shifting your weight from back to the front adds power, and reducing the weight shift removes power. I use a gentle to aggressive fore-aft rocking motion in my standstill, feet-planted, upshot. Reducing the range of motion
ahead of the release reduces power, but if you are restricting your movements ahead of the release, you should still be moving completely freely after the disc is on its way; following through strongly with the off arm and hand to stay in balance at all times. Forehand requires that you don’t follow through. The forehand release point IS the follow-through in the forehand form.
This is the obvious thing, isn't it? But it's not so easy for some, and that is why we're doing all these other things so we can continue to use the powerful extension of the elbow without reducing effort. But, reducing effort, if it is available to you, is an ideal way to create accurate upshots. It's not that simple though! Because WHERE and WHEN do you power down? You should experiment for yourself, but my prefered option is to slow the entire motion down, and delay the effort, so that I am still making a powerful elbow extension, but it might be halfway open before I begin making that powerful, reliable movement down the LOP.
Why is powering down hard?
In ball golf there is an expression known as Full Clubs. It means hitting every ball with exactly the same power – full power. The way the ball golfer controls their distance is by switching clubs. Using Full Clubs makes you more consistent.
Disc golf is exactly the same, and you are always better off using your full power shot from the teepad, and discing down to control your range. This is why putters from the teepad are excellent, and why ultra-slow discs like the Sinus are superb, as they glide like a Teflon brick.
Once you switch away from your full power shot, the timing becomes trickier, and your form can degrade unless you have practiced dialing back on power, using the techniques outlined above.
Now let’s take a look at some of the other things which can make ranging difficult for beginners and intermediate players alike.
No view of the green
Blind shots are always hard, and are arguably the second hardest thing in disc golf, after throwing perfectly flat and straight. It requires that you throw over the top of something, or around something in order to make the landing area.
It is usually the case that when you can’t see your landing zone, you tend to throw short, because most people slightly underestimate the distance required, and slightly overestimate their ability when throwing a disc high in the air, or skipping far.
So, when faced with such a shot, put quite a bit more power in than you think you need to, and plan to fly past the area you want to actually land in. Doing this often results in the perfect upshot, just as when putting uphill, and you aim to go clear over the top of the basket but it results in the disc just sneaking over the top of the rim – up to a metre lower than you were aiming!
Bottom of the basket not visible
A common ploy used by course designers is to interrupt your view of the basket, such that you can’t see the playing surface all the way between the tee and the basket. Perhaps you can see the top of it, or from the cage up, but the pole, or base of the basket is hidden by a gentle downslope.
Designers know that if your view to the basket is not contiguous, then it is more difficult to determine the distance, and the size of the basket becomes more of a factor than the amount of ground between you and the basket.
This situation is similar to the one above, in that you will tend to throw short on such shots. Once again, add a little power, and plan to fly slightly past the basket. If the basket is on a gentle slope, this will result in an uphill putt, which is always preferable to a sphincter-puckering downhill putt.
This is one of the most commonly failed upshot types. Even if the basket is in clear and contiguous view, from 50 metres out, with a low ceiling, many players won’t make it anywhere near the circle, due to colliding with foliage early in the flight.
A height restriction tends to worry beginner and intermediate players, giving their Inner Asshole a good opportunity to freak them the hell out, and wreck any chance they might have had of getting up and down. See our article on Proficient Putting - the mental side of putting, for some ideas about your Inner Asshole, and how to get rid of them.
Touch shots such as this require superb control of the disc’s nose angle and airspeed. Often you will need to use a putter, but put it out with some extra nose-up, and at the right speed so that the nose angle does not allow the disc to climb, but rather, ride a cushion of air which creates drag and lift such that the disc flies flat and straight, before dropping close to the target.
Using less Ulnar Deviation in your wrist, in your normal grip, will cause the disc to fly nose up. See our article about Nose Angle.
Using a flat extension and a flat pull along the Line Of Play will ensure you send the disc out on a flat plane – the Plane of Play – which I discuss at length in this article.
Don’t crouch down or bend over! You will often see players crouching down to throw when facing a low ceiling, but unless they have practiced extensively from a couched position it is unlikely they will be successful.
Crouching shows a misunderstanding of the type of shot required for a low ceiling. The player thinks the disc has to go up, and so they figure if the disc is thrown from a low position, it can climb more without interference. But this is not the case. You can throw a disc flat, using nose angle to control the overall height of the throw, and be much more successful.
Keeping the disc high throughout the throwing motion prevents dipping, which causes discs to climb after they’re released (see our article about Classic Dipping). So, bring the disc through higher than normal – above your sternum.
Standing tall and straight, and performing your normal throwing motion, albeit pulling through slightly higher, is the counter-intuitive solution to the low ceiling problem.
Make sure your follow through is at the same height as your release point, keeping it on the (horizontal) Plane Of Play. A higher follow through results in a hyzer throw, while a lower follow through yields anhyzer.
Driving under a low ceiling is a non-trivial topic, and will get its own article in the future.
If you have a low ceiling shot, then it’s unlikely the wind is going to be a huge factor, as the canopy above does a brilliant job of filtering wind, and reducing the size and speed of the turbulence at (and close to) ground level. See our article on Wind Gradient. However, the same rules apply to low ceiling wind shots as for normal wind shots: use a low-glide disc to prevent it climbing into a headwind, and do not throw nose up into a headwind unless you have exceptional control of it.
Tail winds will cause your disc to drop more rapidly due to the lower airspeed, and thus more airspeed is required than would normally be the case. So, put some extra mustard on these ones.
Cross winds will either lift or slap the disc down according to which surface of the flight plate the wind can see. So, it’s critical to ensure a flat release, with no hyzer angle at all. This is the holy grail of disc golf; the perfectly flat and straight throw. So do not be discouraged when these shots do not pan out exactly as envisaged, as they are extremely difficult.
Tiny gap to make
This is a situation where you can not only fail to get up and down, but potentially descend into a hellish scenario where you advance minimally, only to be faced with another Very Difficult Shot. There’s no telling how badly wrong such a shot can go, and it could cost you 2, 3, or Zod forbid, 4 extra shots. A real round killer.
Attempting to hit small gaps is often tempting, but great thought needs to be put into such a decision. Unless you are desperate, and it is the final few holes, and you have a buffer to the next player, you are probably best to play a golf shot, and simply pitch out safely to the fairway, and take your medicine, no matter how bitter it may be.
You will NEVER be wrong to pitch out, but you will often be wrong not to.
However, let’s assume you’re confident you can make the gap – with the Dunning-Kruger Effect fully taken into consideration!
First and foremost the gap your eyes see is not the actual gap you are going to throw through. There is quite a lot of parallax between your Line Of Play, and your Line Of Sight. In order to see the gap your disc sees and has to hit, you need to bend down and get your eyes onto your required Line Of Play in order to see the same gap.
The difference in angle between your Line Of Sight and your Line Of Play requires an adjustment to your Line Of Play and Plane of Play to account for it.
Secondly, when you are shooting a gap, you must never turn your eyes away from it, no matter what kind of shot you’re playing. You’re much better off making the gap than failing to. Which leads us to…
The third thing; dialing back the power. It is literally impossible to hit a small gap when trying to throw hard, so do not attempt it.
Radical flight shape required
Sometimes your drive leaves you out of position, where a radical skip shot, extreme spike hyzer, crazy anhyzer, or wild S-curve is required to make the green. In such situations, as above, we need to consider the potential outcome of failing to execute such a shot, and decide to play accordingly.
Extreme flight shapes will usually require extreme discs. Either extreme in rated Speed, or extreme in Stability rating. Spike hyzers should be performed with overstable discs, and sometimes a high-speed driver might be appropriate for the shot, as they have thinner flight plates and tend to buckle upon landing, and bounce rather than skipping or rolling.
Drivers may also be considered if you need a radical anhyzer which quickly fades out to hyzer, but something like a Lucid Justice (an insane meathook!) may also be appropriate.
Remember that discs flying slowly show a far more radical flight shape than when they are flying fast, so we can manipulate the hyzer angle and airspeed to produce the flight shape we need to make our target area.
Radical anhyzers must only be attempted when the player can put enough altitude on the disc so that it lands flat, and doesn’t roll. Check out our "Anhyzers that fade out early" article, another in our Common Problems In Disc Golf series.
Disc type thrown
Now this is mostly down to personal choice, and you should throw what you are most comfortable throwing. However, we should ensure the disc is appropriate for the planned shot, and you aren’t trying to force a disc to do something it doesn’t naturally want to do. Forcing discs is for advanced players only.
We want to let the disc do the work, whenever possible.
This means having quite a few low glide discs in your bag, as well as high glide options. Discs with the lowest glide numbers are the easiest to range, by far. So you can use a combination of disc speed and glide to control the range, whether it be driving or approaching.
*All of the above!
Oh, dear. Things are not looking good. Do your best to get up and down, and forgive yourself instantly, when you don’t.
This is key to enjoying disc golf and becoming good at it: Forgive Yourself Very Quickly. Recently, I heard Jessica Wees explain her amazing “2-Step” method of getting over bad shots: She takes two steps, and she’s over it!
Adding it all up
Disc golf is more than just the shots you make, it’s about observation, the thought process, and the decisions you make ahead of the shots you take. And the more you know, the more likely you are to make the correct decision, and to execute as planned.
You know that you constantly face a wide range of challenges to your upshot ability, so whenever you get into a tricky spot in a casual round, make it an opportunity to shine – or at least to improve, and throw several discs.
BUT! If you do this, make absolutely sure you count your discs at each and every basket, to ensure no disc is left behind. I wish I had a dollar for every disc I’ve left on the fairway, and which hasn’t come back to me. C’est la vie, I guess!
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