Twizel, MacKenzie County; Big Sky Country. Desert country. Disc Golf country! This last weekend saw 45 National Tour competitors touch down for Moonbase 3, and very few people played anywhere near their capacity, leaving me in 3rd overall when the dust settled after the Super Six playoff. How did THAT happen?
This year after two overall seconds, two fifths, and with five GM victories, and sitting in 9th place overall, I needed a very high finishing position at Moonbase 3 to increase my tour points, and given the fact the effective 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 6th ranked players were in attendance,
plus a bunch of highly talented young guys from Wanaka, Queenstown, Christchurch and Dunedin – it seemed like I would be there simply to make up the numbers, and I considered my chances of getting into the playoff were pretty remote.
The championship 18 layout is a fantastically challenging course in the same way that Bella Rakha in Auckland is. It’s the kind of course where you add up all the birdies you can make, and realise you should be able to turn in a 9-under if you played your best disc golf, but the chances of doing much better than 5-under are heavily stacked against you, because of the extreme number of opportunities there are for it to go pear-shaped and for the course to cough up single, double, or even triple bogies.
There are plenty of risk/reward opportunities if you have a big arm, but plenty of ways to have genuinely good chances of birdie for less than MPO top-card type arms, too. The long birdies are sometimes quite risky, and require adequate thought be given to the attempt beforehand. Going astray can leave you with a pitch-out on a few of the holes, and going from rubbish straight to garbage is also possible.
None of these things could possibly stop me attending, of course; and while I am primarily focused on my place on the NZ tour, the Moonbase competition has everything a disc golfer could ever ask for: a compelling drive on a challenging road, epic views, incredible weather, the world’s most gorgeous sky (day and night!), the Main Divide and Mount Cook, great social gatherings, a well-run event with excellent food, gorgeous keepsake trophies, terrific prizes, a highly challenging course, and the possibility of high winds just to keep you on your toes. It is, for me at least, a major highlight in my disc golf year.
Plus of course, Vortica Disc Golf business partner Martin “Meerkat” Galley puts on the best tournaments in NZ. No bias here, or disrespect to other TDs, including myself! Being obsessed by disc golf, and being slightly OCD is always a good thing when you are a TD, and Martin takes these things seriously – so seriously he ditched me after the doubles on Friday, and did not play in his own event – a rarity for a TD in NZ.
We’d played decidedly averagely together on Friday with a total of 107 against the par of 112, and this did not encourage me regarding my performance potential for the solo rounds. But remember, I was only there to make up the numbers, and have a good time…
Preparing for an event
Each night before a tournament round I have a ritual which helps me to get to sleep, because I often have difficulty drifting off the night before. I play tournament rounds in my head. Sometimes it can take me 3 or even 4 full rounds before I succumb to sweet slumber.
In my mind-game, I only play the shots I can play reliably in real life, and I plan my strategy accordingly, so as not to throw any bogies. I visualise every shot vividly, and imagine them with different winds, so I always have conservative options for any wind strength and direction, throughout the course.
It is very seldom I deviate from my mental rounds on a tournament day, and it is usually only poor execution, or poor luck, which causes it. It should be noted that, as my execution level rises, so too does my luck level.
I am sure these mental rounds are a factor in my relative tournament success in the last few years. Based on my previous experience at a DGC, and my practice rounds, I work out which holes I can realistically birdie, and which holes I will definitely play for par. It changes each year as my skill level increases.
I play my own game
In my mental rounds, I execute the drives so I can either make my par as planned, or simply give myself an opportunity for birdie, on the holes where I can potentially make one.
In real life, I never try to make birdie on my planned par holes, and I stick to my game plan.
How others are doing is irrelevant to me. I’m playing against the course, and the conditions, not against any other person, even arch-rival Grand Master Dom “Silver Fox” Hayden, who denied me at last year’s event, beating me by just one stroke.
To par, or not to par? That is the question.
My decision about whether I play for birdie or par, on holes where I could potentially make a birdie is strictly decided by the risk versus the reward. This was exemplified by basket 6, a double-mando “slalom”, where two large trees are in line with the teepad, and your disc must pass between the gap, from either direction. Missing the mando puts you on the dropzone, 27 metres out, and well beyond anything other than a crowd-pleasing throw in – and those attempts can easily result in an additional two putts.
The birdie play is a powerful and well-weighted RHFH (Right Hand ForeHand) anhyzer drive with an overstable disc, that passes right of the first mando on its anhyzer and flies left, then flexes right around the second mando, and fades into the triangle of trees supporting the elevated basket, shown below. Both mando trees are mature, and have foliage beginning at 3.5 metres height. The skill level required to make this shot, and park it, is very high.
The basket is suspended with the rim of the cage at 170cm in height, from three mature trees in a triangle, and it is protected from several angles (see right), especially the hyzer line, meaning that missed runs often result in triple putting.
This hole saw only 4 birdies from 45 players in 3 rounds, or just 3% of attempts. For the first time in NZ disc golf history, live scoring was used, and DiscGolfMetrix showed an average of more than 3.8 for the hole, over the tournament.
This aligned nicely with my assessment of the hole, which was that even the attempt at the forehand anhyzer flex shot was insane, as missing the mando results in an average of 5 – double bogey!
So, I did not try or practice the birdie play, and concentrated on playing a short skip shot with my Enforcer, which always put me in easy range of par. And I dropped in 3 times out of 3 for par, while better players averaged close to double-bogie, attempting the birdie.
One could argue about the design of this hole and say it should be par 4 – but par is utterly irrelevant to scores. One could say such a hole is poorly designed because it makes suckers of good players by having many of them hyzer out early or hit the second tree and miss the mando.
But I think it is an excellent hole, and I will never attempt to birdie it, because it is a sucker’s hole! It is designed to cause otherwise smart golfers to make silly decisions, by attempting a very difficult shot, the failure of which results in an automatic double bogey. The risk is far too great for the reward, and you are crazy to attempt it.
Because it’s in the middle of the course, it’s never a decider hole – where if you don’t make the birdie you’ll lose the tournament. And to my mind, the only justification for going for that birdie is if you have to make it to force a playoff. Or you are a show-off, in which case, you deserve your double-bogie!
Otherwise the best strategy on that hole is to always take my easy 3 – because it IS an easy 3 – take 0.8 strokes on the field, and move on to basket 7 which I can also birdie…
Despite these (I thought!) very self-evident facts, many people with skills on par with mine were making the crazy birdie attempt, and failing. Even if the FH annie-flex shot actually gets through the mando, it’s unlikely it’ll be within easy putting range – and the elevated basket makes long putts very problematic – so you can still easily take bogie even if you succeed in making the risky drive!
This hole design perfectly demonstrates players’ basic failure in risk/reward analysis of a hole, and a misunderstanding of the intention of the designer. He is NOT inviting you to make a birdie, he’s inviting you to take double bogey!
The position of the DZ makes this hole’s design very clear: you mustn’t try for the birdie, or you’re a sucker!
There are other Mandos and OB/Hazard which tempt a player into playing a shot for which the punishment of failure exceeds the reward of success. Some of the holes are cunningly designed to only tempt the top players into birdie attempts, where only truly terrific shots can ever make the birdie. And several of them paid the price looking for that stroke, by landing in a Hazard, missing Mandos, or going OB.
By planning my game strategy based on my assessment of each hole’s risk and reward, I’m able to minimise risk to my score, and maximise what few opportunities I’m able to create with my conservative strategy.
I’m open to changes to my strategy if needed – and after failing to execute on a high spike forehand in round one on basket 8, I converted to the high putter backhand anhyzer for the final two attempts, with more success.
I also disced down for a tunnel shot in round 2, in response to two things. Firstly, the condition of the tee was awful, and the ceiling was very low, and it was into a headwind 2 of 3 rounds. Many players were throwing high into the foliage about 20 metres in front of the tee, and it wasn’t until round 2 when I took a close look at it that I realised why; there was a subtle but definite height difference between the back foot and front foot placement, with the plant spot being about 50-60 millimetres higher than the back foot position.
Thus, the teepad had an effective incline, which people were not taking into account, and then wondering why every shot was going high almost instantly. I only told one person about my observation, and then kept quiet about it, and proceeded to throw discs at the right height and nose angle from then on, and I did make it out of the tunnel, to give me a clear shot at the basket.
I also disced down to a low-glide midrange due to the headwind which tended to turn and lift fairway drivers into some nasty stuff on the right, and I figured a straight midrange was the right solution, absent a long, low, and accurate RHFH skip shot with an overstable driver – something I can’t rely on in my own game, as yet.
I can only assume most people thought their shots were skying out because of bad form, or headwind – but in reality it was the teepad angle doing it.
All these observations on the course help to reign in failure, and give success a chance – because that is all I look for in my game, a small chance to make something happen on my designated birdie holes, and to hold par with conservative throws where I can’t make birdie.
It must be said my strategy never goes entirely according to plan, (to put it mildly!) because if it did, I’d have taken 9 birdies and no bogies each round, winning the tournament by 13 strokes, when in fact after 69 holes, I was 19 strokes behind the winner, NZ’s own Ken Climo; 14x NZ Champ, World Mini Disc Golf Champ, and ex-world Masters distance title holder, Simon Feasey, owner of RPM discs.
But because I have a firm plan for every hole, and know what my strategy is, I do not waste my time or energy feeling nervous about holes, or shots, or other players, and I simply try to let myself execute my plan.
The perils of too much Testosteroni!
It’s worth noting that as a 52-year-old, I have less than half the testosterone of players half my age, and probably half the strength too, based on my recent attempt to relocate a boulder I had no trouble with 10 years ago.
Having less testosterone makes life a lot easier on the DGC; and Masters and Grand Masters play is superior fun to the usual MPO Lead Card, where it’s all Serious Business, and not many laughs. If given the choice, I’d usually choose to be on the chase card right up until the final round, simply because I have more fun when I am not in the top four; I’m a boisterous player (and spectator!) at times, something which does not always endear me to all top card players.
Not suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous hormones makes playing much easier, as I never put pressure on myself to perform. Such things are clearly counterproductive, unless you have some world-class mental game going on, where you are able to use that pressure effectively. Dave Feldberg is such a guy. He spends half his rounds muttering to himself, but the guy he is muttering to is a World Champion disc golfer.
Back in Twizel, others were flailing all around me, and it was easy to see that many players had no plan of attack (or defence!) for the course or the conditions which varied from dead calm to strong and gusty winds exceeding 50 km/h at times.
Additionally, many players were allowing errors and bad luck to get to them, with some tempers flaring momentarily at times, and dark thoughts were obvious on some faces, if not lips.
Such reactions to bad luck, poor judgement or simply failing to execute are counter-productive as we all know – and if you have been reading these articles of mine, you are familiar with what I call your Inner Asshole. The Inner Asshole took some major scalps this weekend – as he/she always does.
Your Inner Asshole is always on duty!
Briefly, your Inner Asshole is that voice in your mind which tells you Very Negative Things ahead of a throw. Your Inner Asshole has an amazing memory for bad shots, and he or she will remember every bad shot you have ever played on a hole, and will remind you about every single one of them if you give them half a chance. They actively prevent you playing your Natural Game – which is the best disc golf you are capable of, given your current skill set.
Letting your Inner Asshole cause object fixation, results in smashing trees, finding OB and missing your line. Failing to concentrate and focus on the correct outcome, the correct Line of Play, and the correct form to achieve the intended line are vital.
And if that’s not enough, you’ve got to laugh when your PBJ lands PB side down! Because when it’s laugh or cry, and you cry, you look (and sound!) like a whiny little baby on the course.
Whenever I hear someone get angry on a DGC, I feel like giving them a big hug, patting them on the back, and saying, “There, there! Did the big bad golf course hurt your feelings? Aaaaaw - you poor thing, you! Don’t worry about that mean old golf course, Daddy will tear it a new one for you!”
Getting mad on the course is a sign of personal failure. It’s like getting mad at a compass for pointing north! If every shot you played was perfect, you’d stop playing disc golf very quickly because it would rapidly become the most boring game in the world, with no challenges left for you.
It is OK to become emotional when a shot goes wrong – that is human nature and we are emotional creatures – BUT, just 5 seconds later, you should have calmed down again, and your heart rate should be returning to its normal level.
In the playoff, I got badly out of position after a drive failed to stay turned for long enough, and I only had a very tight reach-out forehand available… which collided with a tree 4 metres in front of me, and dribbled out onto the fairway. I heard a collective gasp, and I instantly burst out laughing. What else can you do? I mean, it’s funny – right? Here I am, supposedly demonstrating the skills the gallery came to see, and BOOM, right into the first tree!
Most critically, you mustn’t ever allow your Inner Asshole to become an Outer Asshole. Your Inner Asshole is so powerful he can take over your voicebox and lungs – causing you to scream silly stuff about your own intelligence immediately after a shot goes wrong. Not only will you wreck the vibe in the group, and ruin your game, but you will become an unpopular player, and people will avoid you in casual play.
Keeping it up for the Safari Super Six
I was very tired after 3.5 rounds of regulation play, and had hoped I would be in clear 6th place, so I could pull out of the playoff and keep my position, and GM title – but that was not to be, and I was in a 3-way tie for 3rd which meant it really was all still to play for, with 2nd well out of reach and 6th just one stroke back.
I realised at this point I could possibly snatch a sneaky 3rd place if I were cunning, and I could collect some unexpected tour points and maintain my 9th spot on the tour, even though Simon was going to leapfrog me from 16th straight to 2nd. So, I asked one of our young sponsored players, Phil Botha to caddy for me, and I put on my serious socks and my serious clown shoes, determined to take 3rd outright.
The Super Six holes did not suit my power and I was the shortest thrower in the group, but I knew that the right way to take third was simply to take pars, and let the others throw mistrokes and make mistakes! I knew my two younger opponents; both ~20 years my junior were going to play aggressively; I could see it in their eyes, and they really wanted that 3rd place, and would play aggressively for it. It turned out that they did, and got punished for it, leaving me in 3rd outright despite taking bogie 6 on the final basket, after two upshot attempts went awry.
Now – there ARE deficiencies in my over-arching strategy for tournament play, with the main one being that I am highly unlikely to ever win an NT event no matter how well I play, because I simply won’t often be able to take birdies when I am playing for the par, while young talented players with a lot more power and stamina than me, plan to birdie holes I can’t.
But in saying this, I did birdie 125-metre basket 3 in round 4 with a great flexing drive and a lovely putt, which I never thought I would do – so it can happen!
So, by understanding my own game with some accuracy, understanding the course from the perspective of the designer (which wasn’t me!), understanding the conditions, and understanding other players, and being observant and somewhat flexible, I was able to walk away with a fantastic and unexpected result.
And this weekend it was not because I played brilliant golf, but rather because other people played less-than-stellar golf – and this seems to be the recipe at tournaments where I do well; it’s because I play within myself and within my skill set at all times in tournament play. Or at least, I try to. I have failed many times in the past, and no doubt will fail many times again in the future.
Now, I hasten to point out that my strategy is not the best strategy for you, unless you happen to be a 52-year-old Grand Master, with some OK distance and a decent mental game – and every player needs their own strategy and tactics to play to their potential.
An important take-away from this article is that you DO need a strategy, and it needs to be grounded in reality, not in fairy-tale Internetland where everyone can throw a putter 500 feet, with pin-point accuracy.
Errors in Observation and Thinking
This is probably the single biggest factor in shots which go awry. Mis-reading the wind, and making the wrong disc choice as a result is extremely common; trying to throw the right shot, but with the wrong tool.
Unless your observations are correct, your shot choice and disc choice is going to be wrong, simple as that. So, great care and attention is required at all times to assess the wind, and you will see me with my head pointed skywards for a significant amount of time when I am competing.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect means that unskilled players tend to assess their ability as much higher than it truly is, and it is very common for players when they first begin to strategise on the DGC, to over-assess their ability.
And of course, that leads to bad strategies, and bad performances. It always behoves players to be honest with themselves about what shots they can and can’t reliably achieve, and what they should try for, and what they should not.
As you get better and better at disc golf, you tend to start rating your own ability as lower than it truly is, and to think the things you regularly do as a golfer are easier than they really are. This is Reverse Dunning-Kruger Effect in action.
As a burgeoning expert player this is something else you need to be aware of. You just MIGHT be able to make birdie on a few holes you think you can’t. Just don’t count on it!
Errors in Execution
Provided you’ve got a good strategy, it’s tactical play which allows you to execute your plan. And of course we all make mistakes in execution.
However, we usually only make errors in execution when we’re not totally committed to the shot, or are unable to properly concentrate on it.
Each time we make a mistake in execution, we need to self-assess why it happened, and eliminate that error for every hole from then on.
There is never a time when we won’t make mistakes in execution, and so we will never stop learning.
Errors in Attention
We all want to beat someone, don’t we? And it is tempting to keep a track of what score your rival is on, and to be a bit sad if they are beating you. However, this is a very poor way to think on the course. Your attention must be firmly focused on your own game, not anyone else’s.
The main reason you want to watch other people’s shots is so that you can see what the air is doing before you throw – and so you can obey the rules by assisting in searching for a lost disc, if necessary. As a disc golfer you also want to see awesome shots – so there’s that, too.
If you find that your emotions are at the mercy of how others are playing, then you are Doin’ It Wrong, and need to change the way you think. Yes, it is always disappointing to do poorly against a rival, but what it more important is how YOUR game is going.
The one and only time the score of another player is relevant is in the closing holes of a tournament, where your position may dictate a strategy change if you need to gain a stroke or two, while having a buffer to the players below you. That allows you to change up to a more aggressive strategy.
But it’s the player you are chasing who has the big advantage, because they are playing their own game, while they have forced you to change yours – and this is often the kiss of death to a round.
So, even when you think you need to be aggressive, it’s often a better idea to stick to your plan, and hope your opponent makes a mistake, and you don’t.
But, hope is not a strategy!
Nor can it reliably produce a win. So, hope on a golf course is a pretty useless thing to try to deploy. Switching from hope as a strategy to aggressive play might undo all your hard work, or it might not.
This is the inevitable Catch-22! I can't advise you here, because every situation is different, and you are the Buck Stops Here guy, so make your choice and stick to it.
Skill and ability is not enough to win
How many skilled players with plenty of talent have you seen explode at a tournament? I have done it myself, playing my way onto the lead card at the 2016 Nationals with a 7-under par first round – and I came back in round 2 with a 7-over par, my biggest collapse ever in tournament play.
Turns out I was tired, and muscling the disc instead of concentrating on form. I’d overdone it in the practice rounds, and hadn’t slept well for a couple of nights. Thanks for waiting to tell me I was muscling it until after the round, Simon! :P
Ensuring you have sufficient energy for all tournament holes is vital: it’s a marathon, not a sprint race – and running out of energy 6 holes from the finish is a sure-fire way to let yourself down. FYI, in Twizel we walked about 51 kilometres in 3 days of competition.
If you feel yourself getting tired, you must consciously battle the urge to throw hard. Don’t do it! Just play you regular drive and accept that it is going to fall a bit shorter than normal. Trying to compensate for tiredness by throwing hard will ensure the bogies come thick and fast.
One thing that greatly contributes to getting low on energy late in a tournament is throwing too many practice drives and putts at lunch time, or after the day’s rounds. Driving takes huge amount of physical energy, while putting drains your mental reserves and tires your critical lower back muscles.
Do not overestimate your physical and mental limits.
It should go without saying that drinkers are at a severe disadvantage at a tournament, and the first ones to bed are usually the ones who collect the trophies at prize giving.
If you are drinking more than ~4 standard drinks in a night before a tournament round, then you are just there to make up the numbers, and you stand no chance of winning.
Practice to win
A player who wants to do well will always get to a tournament early, to practice ahead of time, and to ensure they know the course sufficiently well to be able to play a round in their head.
Not knowing the course sufficiently puts you at a disadvantage. And it is extremely difficult to turn up late and put in a hot round on game day. Even if you have played the course many times, it always pays to re-familiarise yourself with it.
Plus of course, if you are developing your game seriously, then each year will mean new opportunities for you, as your skill level increases.
Don’t throw until you know!
I suffered this twice in the tournament. I went totally brain dead, and threw without really knowing what I was doing, or what was going on. Both times resulted in pars that “should have been” birdies. :P
It is absolutely vital, that on each tee, you remember to follow your plan, and to craft the shot you need to achieve it. Don’t skip any step in your routine, even if you are just going to play the exact same shot as last time; assess the wind properly, observe the other player’s discs in flight, visualise the line you are throwing, and align yourself on the teepad appropriately.
Because once you let go of a disc, that is a stroke.
Pull up! Pull up! Pull up!
How many times have you felt something wasn’t quite right as you start your x-step on the teepad? How many times has that shot gone bad? My guess is that figure is close to 100%.
How many times has a foot not been quite in position, and you continued? How often has your grip not been just so, and you threw anyway? How many times have you suffered a slight slip before the release, and released the disc anyway?
In disc golf we are very lucky we have no “swing and a miss” rule resulting in a stroke added to our score.
So if you are distracted, or not happy at any time before the disc leaves your hand, you can crush down on your grip and stop it coming out. It is a total fallacy that you can’t hang onto a disc when you smash your wrist.
In the past I have clamped hard after a slip, and taken a big tumble off the teepad, but it’s well worth every bruise and scrape, to prevent a spastic shot.
In this tournament I pulled out from at least 8 and maybe as many as 10 drives, as either my grip or footing wasn’t right – and each time I thanked myself for not being stupid, and carrying on. Once I pulled out three times in a row, and was really pushing my 30-second shot clock. I parked that one with a new S-Line DDx. :)
So, you are never wrong to pull up!
Full scores are available now: https://www.pdga.com/tour/event/33813
NZ Tour Points are up, too: http://teepad.org/nz/tour/2017/tourpoints
5,000 words is far too long. That’s it folks. Next week it could be the Disc Flight article, but probably not, as the subject gets ever more complex and ever less clear the deeper I go.