Chris Davies. Edited by Martin Galley
Getting Better Is About Making Your Worst Less Bad. And Knowing More.
Updated: Jun 28, 2020
This week, we take a break from the Common Mistakes in Disc Golf, and Vortica director Chris Davies, takes us on a round-about tour of his own disc golf game, introduces some micrometeorological ideas, and offers a few things to help you get good. CMiDG returns next week.
This year I have played very average disc golf indeed. And yet I find myself currently 9th overall on the New Zealand National Tour coming into the pointy end of the calendar. Admittedly, that won’t last long. There are players below me who should leapfrog me, after their final rounds.
So I will end up around 12th for the year.
And I will be very happy with that. I’m a Grand Master at age 52, and getting noticeably weaker and slower with every passing year. I weigh 20 kilos more than I should. I have a fused left ankle, and a destroyed left elbow. I am not terribly talented, and I physically practice very little. My scoring at the Majors has been lacklustre and I’ve had bad tennis elbow twice in the last 18 months.
Yet my PDGA rating has never been higher, and I’m playing the best disc golf of my life. So, I put it to you that if I can play good disc golf, then literally anyone can.
How did I get here?
It’s not the fact I’ve now been playing for almost 3 decades. Talented young guys who have been playing for just 3 years regularly kick my butt.
It’s not that I have found some extra disc golf talent. I haven’t! Everything I have ever done physically in this world, such as teaching skiing and paragliding, came at considerable effort for me. I am not a natural athlete of any kind or shape.
It’s definitely not that I practice a lot, because I don’t. In the past I have pounded the basket in the back lawn, but never excessively, and never for longer than 15 minutes at a time. This last year I’ve had very little actual physical practice.
I play 2 to 4 times a week. Every week. Maybe that’s it?
Nah. There’s a ton of people who play more than me, and I can beat lots of them.
So, what is it, then?
I attribute my decent performance today to a few things.
Firstly, my decision in 2012 to actually get decent at disc golf, instead of being just decent at my local course. I made a conscious choice, to follow the National Tour, to work hard on my driving and putting, and to improve my technique.
I hasten to add that despite being Obsessed By Disc Golf, my laziness usually trumps my passion, so I did not hurl myself into disc golf practice like some 18-year old with a one-track mind.
Since 2012, if I have been practicing at all, then I have been practicing specific movements in the throwing motion. Concentrating on developing the feeling of proper movements. Asking myself “How does a straight-drawn disc FEEL, when I pull it perfectly straight?” I also used my camera in slow motion mode, to help me get fast feedback as I tried to make changes to my movements.
I have so little talent I had to resort to inventing a machine to help me feel what proper form is. The Mobius Line Puller worked better than I could possibly have hoped for, in that regard. Buddy Paul "Mc" Deacon even calls it “The Holy Grail Machine”.
So, it took me 5 years to get close to my goal, which was a rating of 950. A younger, more talented man would have done it in 2 years or less!
I Understand the Micrometeorology of a Disc Golf Course
Micrometeorology is simply a big word for weather at the smallest scales; the type of scale we observe and feel physically on the disc golf course.
I think my years of teaching paragliding and intently studying the ground from above; how wind flows around objects, and how far downwind the turbulence extends gives me a much better than average understanding of what’s actually going on in the air. When you are paragliding, and scratching for thermals, you must pay very close attention to every indication of wind movement on the ground, and in the air.
But there’s nothing I do on the ground today that can’t be done by an observant person who is not a pilot.
Air flows through a disc golf course in exactly the same way water would, if the wind were a river – but without the massive destruction part, obviously. Air always prefers to go around things if it possibly can, rather than over the top, just as water would rather go around a rock than over it, in a stream. Standing waves or rotor can often develop in the same place like clockwork, in certain conditions.
It often surprises me how few people know of the single most basic micrometeorological concept called Wind Gradient, or how to use it or avoid it in their game.
Wind Gradient is how the wind speed always increases as you gain altitude.
Wind speed at ground level is always zero. You might not think so, but there it is. It even applies to discs. The air molecules which are on the actual surface of your disc never move, no matter how fast you throw it.
This is basic aerodynamics and physics.
Wind Gradient is why wind turbines are placed on such tall towers, and why they fail so spectacularly if there’s a problem. The air up there is gushing hard.
Players can use wind gradient to their advantage or become a victim of it. Figure 1, shows a very typical wind gradient, with zero wind at ground level, and the wind speed rapidly rising from the ground up. In particular, you should note that wind speed can effectively double simply by climbing from 3 metres to 6 metres altitude – but expect some variance based on the surface features and wind strength. Height, therefore, has a very dramatic effect on your shots.
Throwing a disc above 10 metres altitude means exposing your disc to winds that are far more powerful than those close to ground level. If you can use that to your advantage, then you should.
It means that into a headwind, you need to throw a very fast, very overstable disc with very low glide, and keep It flat and low. I use an Elasto Westside World for this task. The idea behind this is more aerodynamics I’m afraid.
The more glide a disc has, the more lift it generates relative to its drag. Glide is defined as Lift over Drag. Or as an actual equation: G=L/D.
So when you throw a high-glide disc into a monster headwind, it has so much extra airspeed, it generates a lot more lift, and it will often climb strongly, into the even stronger headwinds above. This will cause the disc to turn excessively, and reduce its range substantially. What you planned was a s