Many players entirely ignore the mental side of putting – and as a result, they teach themselves to fail, when they practice putting.
It is absolutely true that disc golf is nothing but technique and timing. But, it is also true that the other 95% is mental. And hence this lengthy article.
While many practice regimes address the technique and timing aspects of putting, few properly train the mind, or build deep confidence. Below, I'll detail how other regimes fail, what's necessary to properly train your mind, what you need to avoid at all costs, then I'll provide you with a practice regime which will advance your putting as quickly as possible, and finally, I'll show you how you can avoid going backwards again in the future.
But first, an anecdote; I often find myself laughing quietly at lunch time during a tournament, as I watch hapless disc golfers stand 10-15 metres from a practice basket, missing shot after shot, after shot, and eventually sinking one. I laugh because this is the very essence of self-destructive mental programming. It is quite literally the worst thing you can do, short of slamming your throwing hand in a car door.
EDIT: And due to a violently adverse reaction to the above paragraph from a player at /r/discgolf I now have to explain that in no way am I being an asshole by not trying to help people who are doing what I describe above: standing far away, and missing repeatedly! I do whatever I can, at tournaments, to help people wherever and whenever I can. I hold mini clinics for people at the end of the day, and talk to people in the evening, about things I have seen them doing during the day.
BUT - as a natural teacher I have to be very careful about how I approach people. I must be acutely aware of their ego, and taylor what I say to avoid either hurting people's feelings, or failing to explain myself adequately in a way they can easily understand and apply in their own game.
Often it can take several attempts to explain and demonstrate something before everyone in a group gets it.
On top of this, I am not a young guy, and I need to reserve my energy for the rounds, and I do not want to wear myself out at lunch time talking non-stop to inexperienced players. Plus, I am usually exhausted at the end of every round.
THAT IS WHAT THIS BLOG IS FOR, SO THAT I CAN MAKE A VERY LARGE EFFORT, AND THEN DIRECT PEOPLE TO IT, FOR A FULL UNDERSTANDING OF A TOPIC.
Are we good, now? Great - so let's get on with the article!
Your Inner Asshole
The damage is done not by you, but by the Inner Asshole (ref 1.) who lives inside you. Every human has an Inner Asshole. He (or she!) is the person who tells you not to throw into the pond again or hit that tree like you did last time. They beat you mercilessly as you walk to your terrible lie, or wade to your OB disc.
He or she is a horrible person; they record each and every miss when you are practice putting, and store the information in a perfect database, and they are a great statistician – even if you are not!
Thus, when you stand a long way from a basket, with a pile of discs, and you start shooting, he starts recording your misses. He doesn't remember the times you DO get one in – just the misses. So, if you throw 10 discs and get 2 in, then he knows you miss 80% of those putts!
And, when you are on the course shaping up at the 10 metre mark, your Inner Asshole is whispering in your ear, "You miss 80% of these". And with such encouragement, your chance of making the putt falls to almost zero.
If you doubt the power of your Inner Asshole, consider this: he can actually take control of your lungs and voice box, and cause you to shout out, "OH [YourName], YOU ARE SO STUPID!"
Which of us has not exclaimed this on the course? But it was not US doing it – but rather our Inner Asshole. At no other time in your life would you shout out that you are useless or stupid. And why would you? Because you are NOT useless and you are NOT stupid!
In fact, you are not a bad disc golfer. The problem is, you have an Inner Asshole telling you all sorts of negative things all the time, just below the threshold of conscious thought. And he seriously affects players, by stopping them from playing their Natural Game.
Your Natural Game is the best disc golf you are able to play – unencumbered by a malevolent subconscious entity telling you bad things.
Now there are many other things which can affect your performance, but the biggest influence of all is your own Inner Asshole. So, in order to improve your putting (and your game in general), you have to figure out a way to either get him to STFU or to practice in such a way as to not give him enough information to work out the odds of you missing a putt.
You will probably never banish your Inner Asshole entirely, but you may be able to confuse him sufficiently, and deprive him of enough information, that you are able to putt naturally, and be successful.
How to stop your Inner Asshole affecting you when putting
Firstly, and most importantly, we need to understand the difference between practicing failure, and practicing success. We can ALL miss a putt perfectly, and at any distance from the basket! We have practiced missing putts so well, that we are perfect at it, and thus, we do not need to practice it anymore.
What our putting practice regime needs to do is practice being successful. This produces a positive mental attitude and Deep Confidence. As opposed to Bullshit Bravado. Deep Confidence is the knowledge that not only CAN you make this putt, but that you WILL make this putt. It does not even enter your mind that you could miss, and it does not matter how far from the basket you are.
It also does not matter how good you are at putting. You may miss your putt, and frequently will – but that will not dent your confidence, because you'll never be backing up a miss, with another miss from the same spot, which is the kiss of death to confidence.
To develop this Deep Confidence in your putting, you will need to apply quite a bit of mental discipline to your practice regime, so as not to waste your time, or fall back into old habits, which will always arm your Inner Asshole with plenty of fresh ammunition for his Asshole Assault Rifle.
Before we discuss the actual regime though, we need to look at some other Nasty Things which will stop your practice from being effective.
15-minute practice sessions
Many people think they need to spend hours on their putting green to improve. That is not the case. As your practice time becomes more and more effective at training both your body and your mind, you need to spend less and less time practicing, to improve your game.
You should never practice putting longer than 15 minutes (ref 3). There are two reasons for this. You have to concentrate so hard when putting, that after 15 minutes you are mentally exhausted (whether you realise it or not), and also, after that time the small muscles in your lower back are starting to give out.
These small lower back muscles are integral to accurate putting, and the instant they begin getting tired, your performance falls off a cliff. (ref 3).
So, set your timer, and stop as soon as 15 minutes is up – no matter how good you are putting, or how good you feel. Have a dozen sessions a day if you want.
"Practice like you play, and play like you practice"
This is more complex than the maxim may at first seem to imply. While you can't perfectly emulate any disc golf course at home, you can replicate your routine entirely – and you must. Nothing must be different. Use putters which are the same mold, weight and plastic – colour even, if you are a bit OCD. Never use more than 4 putters.
Wear the same shoes, the same clothes, and don't change a thing: perform your entire setup and routine for each putt. The only exception you may allow for is using a mini marker – bending down to place one each putt, and picking it up afterwards, puts a lot of stress on the same lower back muscles we already talked about.
Having too many putters
As a disc seller, it pains me to say this, but buying a dozen of the same putter is actually counterproductive because it will lead you to devalue individual putts. In reality, each putt is super important, and represents about 10 points (or more) in any PDGA rated round – so missing 6 putts is missing out on 60+ points for that round.
I hasten to add I have 4 Rurus, 4 Sinuses, and 4 Rubys at my practice basket, but I am only ever using one mold at a time. So there is still plenty of room to buy a dozen putters… ;)
The object of each putting session, whether it is 3 minutes or 15 minutes should be the same: to throw as few putts as possible.
Don't rush your routine in any way. Don't hustle up to retrieve your discs. Take a leisurely approach to it. Just as you do on the course. Assess the conditions, and putt like you normally do; take your mark, find your aim point and execute your planned putt.
Which leads into the next Bad Thing; don't mess around!
Don't think about it too much!
"That's probably why Ricky is so good."
--Simon Lizotte. (ref 2)
Putting expertise comes with practice, observation, application, repetition, experimentation… and frustration. :P
It's worthless to spend too long thinking about a putt. After you have assessed the conditions, quickly make up your mind about what putt to make, and execute it. There is nothing to be gained by second guessing your best instincts after you have observed the conditions.
Concentrating too long
There has been some study into concentration and performance, and it turns out that once you have adopted your putting stance in the Business Box, concentrating for 2 to 4 seconds before executing your shot provides the highest performance.
Recording your progress
This is the worst thing you could ever do. Games likes "1025", that require you to shoot X times from Y position are atrocious, and only give your Inner Asshole huge piles of Loser Ammunition to reload his Asshole Assault Rifle.
You do not need to record your performance in any way – and it is necessary that you do not. The only measure of success you need is how confident you feel on the course, and what your putts on the course say about your skill, which is reflected in the score card.
Missing repeatedly from one spot
This is the epitome of bad mental programming. You never get a second shot after missing on the course, and likewise, you never get a second throw at home when you miss, either. It's just that simple. Don't do it. Not even if you Putt with an extra disc in your off hand.
If you want to stand at a spot you can make reliably, and putt 100 times into the basket – by all means - please do so - as that is the sort of positive reinforcement which builds Deep Confidence.
Making putts builds confidence, happiness, and success, while missing putts builds self-doubt, anger and leads straight to failure.
Getting caught between two putts
Giving something a half-run is nearly always a bad idea. It's not something you practice at home, so it isn't playing like you practiced.
Is it in the range you can miss it and definitely make the comeback putt? Then you should commit to putting the disc in the basket. If not, then commit to putting it under the basket for a drop in.
Hitting the rim of the cage on a half-run often results in a cruel roll away, and the dreaded triple-putt, especially if you putt with the nose up.
Failing to properly respect The Business Box
Thanks to buddy Jay "Yeti" Reading for this great description! The Business Box (ref. 3) is a 30cm x 30cm square which surrounds your lie, behind the disc. You do not put a foot inside the Business Box until you mean business, and you are ready to execute your planned putt.
Prior to moving into the Business Box, the first stage of any putt is assessing the lie, and the shot you will make to achieve the basket or a successful layup. Then you take your stance in the Business Box, and make your putt.
So now you know what not to do, let's talk about
The Practice Regime for Body and Mind
It doesn't matter what technique you use, this is going to maximise it for you.
The first thing we need to recognise is when we say we want to get better at putting, we really mean we want to never miss putts below a certain threshold. Sure, it's great to bang in a 15 metre putt, but it's absolutely devastating to miss 5, 6-metre putts in round 1, and be 4 shots from the lead!
So, the goal of your new regime is to concentrate your work on the shorter shots, and we will seldom get to practice long putts. You're going to concentrate on building up a mental bank account of putting discs into baskets almost every time we putt. It doesn't matter from what distance we do it, as long as it goes in.
This is vital. We are practicing success, not practicing failure.
FYI, if you never miss a 6-metre putt, and throw no bogies, you will win everything except the MPO division at an A-Tier event.
Starting Distance when practicing
Your individual starting distance is easy to define: It's the length of the shortest putt you have missed on the course, in the last year. Now for most people, that will be 3 metres. Come on. Be honest now!
We are going to eliminate ALL those short misses.
Taking your stance at your starting distance, go through your routine, and make your putt. Now move back one metre, and repeat the process. If you are making these putts easily, feel free to make more than one putt from the spot. For faster progress, force yourself to make 2, 3, or 4 putts successfully from each spot, before moving out one metre.
The repetition of both the physical putting motion and the success of it is a powerful combination to develop mental and physical ability in putting accuracy and consistency.
Moving back each time you are successful is a reward for your success. You have to earn the right to putt a long way from the basket!
Go back to your Starting Distance every time you miss
By repeating successful putts, and immediately going back to your starting distance when you miss, you are programming both your conscious mind and your Inner Asshole that you are actually a putting machine, who makes almost all their putts. The increase in your performance as a result of truly believing in your own ability is substantial, and releases your Natural Game.
Your Inner Asshole never gets enough data to calculate what percentage of shots from what distance you miss from! This is vital. And while your Inner Asshole is confused, your Natural Game can shine through, using your new found Deep Confidence.
Let's see how we can program our own mind using statistics working FOR us, instead of against us:
Back in the Days Before Positive Reinforcement, you would stand at the 10+ metre mark knowing that at home you missed 80-90% of these, and as a result, you'd miss, and further damage your own mental game, by your own (accurate!) self-doubt.
But now, just a couple of months after Practicing Proficiently, you no longer have any statistics your Inner Asshole can use against you. Rather, your conscious self has a wealth of statistics which back up the idea that you make pretty much all your putts.
Let's see how that happens.
In order for you to get to 10 metres when practicing at home, you first have to make successful putts from the 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, & 9 metre positions, in a row! That's 7 sweet putts. Woohoo!
Now – what're your chances of making the next putt, from 10 metres? Well, even a pessimistic analysis of the previous 7 putts would put the estimate at 7/8ths! And an optimist would tend more towards 8/8ths, because it has the Deep Confidence of so many successful putts backing it up.
Due to the cumulative effect on your mind over weeks and months, of making all these shorter putts, you become far more likely to make the longer ones too – even if you do not get to practice them much, or at all. It's true, I promise you.
And don't worry – you will once again, get back to 10 metres regularly using this regime.
How not to mess it up after making excellent progress
It's so easy to develop an ego about your ability. It's so easy to forget what got you to where you are now. And the instant you start practicing long putts far away from a basket, without shooting all the 1-metre spots in between, is the same instant your Inner Asshole grabs his Asshole Assault Rifle from the rack, loads it up with all the fresh new ammunition you've just handed him, and he's going to blow your brains out on the course later.
You don't practice missing – EVER. Period. End of story!
Your Inner Asshole is never off the alert. He doesn't sleep. He doesn't need food. He only has one mission in life, and that is to mess you up with maths! Just like a Terminator; he absolutely will not stop! So you simply can't give him any ammunition. At all. Ever.
It is also very easy to fall back on your Deep Confidence while getting lazy and failing to perform your putting routine when up close to the basket. This is a grave mistake. EVERY putt is super important, and the closer you are to the basket, the more essential it is that you putt successfully.
You must perform your routine for every putt which is not a drop in from beneath the basket.
So get out there, and get better!
-- Chris "Dingo" Davies
Ref. 1 - The Inner Asshole comes (with some translation) from the outstanding book "The Inner Game of Golf" by Tim Gallwey. No disc golfer has a complete game until they have mastered the Inner Game.
Ref. 2 - Simon Lizotte in commentary at the Utah Open 2017.
Ref. 3 - Jay "Yeti" Reading, NZ Nationals putting clinic, Paradise 2017.