Putting: Putter and Shot selection
Updated: Jun 24, 2020
Vortica Disc Golf has already taken an in-depth look at How to Putt More Proficiently by Practicing Properly, and how you can program yourself to be a good putter by making almost all your putts in practice, using your existing technique. This time we’re looking at what putter and what putting shot to select for various types of putts and conditions.
Having the right putter for the job, and the right shot for the wind and terrain, means your disc has the best possible chance to nestle into the bottom of the cage.
The type of shot you play to the basket is dictated predominantly by the wind, and then by where the basket is in relation to OB, backstops, drop-offs, your vertical height from the basket, what’s behind the basket, and what’s between you and the basket.
The Big One - The Wind
Wind is what disc golfers fear most when putting. Must-make death-putts into the wind instil sphincter spasms in even the most hardened and capable players. But knowing how to approach each situation correctly allows you to relax a little, and do your best.
Here’s how various winds affect various nose angled putts.
Nose Up vs. Nose Down vs. Nose Flat
Nose up + head wind = lifted over the basket and hyzers long
Nose down + head wind = Slapped into the ground short
Nose flat + head wind = Can fly into the basket
Nose up + tail wind = Drops short/slapped down
Nose down + tail wind = Can be lifted/pushed long
Nose flat + tail wind = Drops faster than normal
Nose up + no wind = Can bounce off cage rim, & roll away
Nose down + no wind = Drops slightly short
Nose flat + no wind = Flies into the chains
From the above you should understand why I am a fan of flat putting wherever possible. This is because when the disc is flat relative to the wind, it has a very small cross sectional area – so the wind only “sees” a small sliver of disc, and hence it remains relatively unaffected by it – at least as minimally as a disc can be.
Of course, air can be moving vertically as well, which will lift or slam your disc, and it is extremely difficult to account for the vertical component unless you are putting up or downhill, and there is a natural angle to the wind as it follows the terrain.
Turbulent air cannot be accurately accounted for, so long as we continue to be unable to see air. To get a good basic understanding of wind and how to play it, please read our article Over Here.
Now, the instant a disc shows a face to the wind, by having some nose or hyzer angle relative to the wind, the wind begins to see a much larger object, and suddenly the apparent size of a disc can change from perhaps 40 square centimetres, to 200 or more sq.cm. – a fivefold increase!
This immediately causes the disc to be heavily affected by the wind direction and strength, in the following patterns. This is for a right handed player. Lefties should swap Hyzer and Anhyzer results.
Left to right wind
Anhyzer putt = Lifted over basket and blown long right plus a cut roll
Hyzer putt = Slapped down with no fade, and short
Flat putt = Pushed slightly right
Right to left wind
Anhyzer putt = slapped down and short
Hyzer putt = lifted over basket, and blown long right, with skip/roll
Flat putt = Pushed slightly left
This shows why you should putt using a very flat disc in the wind. Hyzer angle makes for extremely difficult putting beyond a handful of metres, because you are not throwing the disc at the chains, but rather to the right, along the hyzer line required for the disc to hit the pole.
A flat putt is almost always aimed directly at the chains, and the only variable in the putt is how high the disc will be when it gets to the basket. Whether you use a spin putt, or a pitched putt, or a combination, you always need to have the disc descending into the chains when it arrives.
Discs which arrive with a nose up attitude, or on an upwards trajectory often bounce out, or are spit out of baskets due to the uniquely poor catching ability of the targets our sport uses.
Discs which arrive on a downwards slope into the cage are far more likely to end up in the bottom of the cage. Discs which hit the exact centre of the pole with speed, or strike the chains with excessive force are sometimes spat out, or can even fly right through.
Many of these so-called “spit-outs” and “fly-throughs” are often User Error though, and the result of an inappropriate putting form and disc flight selection, for the type of basket being played into. But that is a subject for another article.
Outside easy putting range
It should be self evident that a perfectly flat putter aimed at the chains is only possible from some distances and from some lies. This is because discs will not fly perfectly straight for very far – at most about 10 metres, in ideal conditions for a pitch putt - and longer for a faster spinning disc.
Spin putters are at an advantage here, because spin stabilises a disc, and allows it to stay on the hyzer angle it was released with for longer. Plus, the extra airspeed makes for less vertical curvature, which simply means it won’t go up as high, or drop as steeply as a pitched or high-lofted putt, making it ideal for low ceilings. These factors make it potentially more accurate at long distance, but they can fly a long way past, if you fail to connect.
Often you will need to adopt a putting stance or a putting form which requires that the disc have some hyzer or anhyzer on it at some stage of its flight, and thus, it is going to be affected by the wind somewhat more than usual.
Now’s the time it’s key to understand the effects I described above, in some detail, so you can estimate what the effect is going to be, and do your best to execute along that line.
To lay-up, or to go for it?
In our How To Putt Proficiently article I talked about deciding what you are doing, and never having a “half go”. We don’t practice half-goes, so we don’t do them on the course. Simple.
You decide if you are going for it, and you put it in the basket, OR you decide you are laying up to it, and you put it underneath the basket. Simple! But don't ever confuse simple with easy, as they are not the same thing.
A half-go often hits the rim of the cage, and sends the disc rolling away from the basket, often outside of the circle – resulting in a triple putt; the Ultimate Round Killer.
Developing a proper pitch putt
In order to prevent the aforementioned disastrous outcomes, it’s necessary to develop a wide range of putting forms, and practice them. Often, when a basket is very close to OB, or a drop off, you absolutely must have a putt available to you, such that the disc is descending strongly when it arrives at the chains.
If you putt with a flat disc, then you can throw a disc up quite high indeed, even over a relatively short distance, and still retain good accuracy.
Creating a proper spin putt
I believe that over-concentration hurts a spin putt. It is quite intuitive, once you have arrived at your ideal spin putting form. (See Lizotte, and McMahon.) The spin putt is best executed with very little thought at all.
You simply adopt your stance, make the motions of your spin putt, while focusing on the basket, and this is the critical part; look away from the basket (whether it be at the ground, or wherever), gather yourself, look up, find a link to aim at, and instantly fire the disc at that link. No thought. No aiming. Nothing. Just throw the disc at the link.
This will be very different to the way many people spin putt; concentrating, concentrating, concentrating… putting.
I truly believe, that the only concentration you need for a spin putt, is to quieten your inner self, become properly calm, align yourself with the basket, and be aware of the power your spin putt is going to need, and then you should direct your attention properly away from the basket, so as to release the Inner Spin Putter within you. That Inner Spin Putter will look up, and send the disc on its way the instant they focus on a single link to aim at.
Give it a go – as always, your mileage may vary!
Spin putting has the advantage of not needing a high ceiling, being very intuitive and accurate once you stop thinking about it, and also being able to propel a disc a long way. Often a spin putt can get you out of a lot of trouble when a long way from the fairway. Or make an astoundingly long putt, a real crowd pleaser.
But woe betides the spin-putter who does not take account of his surroundings properly, and causes himself to triple-putt repeatedly!
How many types of putt can you make?
Clearly, when it comes to shot selection, you can only select shots you can actually perform. If you haven’t practiced a putting form, then it is almost impossible to execute all but the very shortest putts using that style successfully.
And this is why, in practice, you should adopt many different stances, just so that you can add these shots as options to make putts you’d otherwise miss.
Some Putt types
Straddle Putt The straddle is the bare minimum alternate stance you need, so that you are not blocked when behind a tree or a bush.
Narrow Staggered Stance The most accurate stance for all standing, non-straddle putts. This might seem counter-intuitive, but it is generally more accurate than a wide staggered stance, which results in the player moving right as they transfer weight to the front foot.
From One Knee Often you need to reach left, or right, with one foot behind the marker, and this allows a very low ceiling shot.
From Both Knees Sometimes you just don’t get an option to do otherwise.
Reach-Right Forehand Both flat and anhyzer putts are available with the forehand reachout.
Reach-left Backhand (Patent Pending) Right foot behind marker, back to target, reaching right. Flat or anhyzer putts available.
Tomahawk With the disc at a 45-80 degree angle, above your head, thrown forehand so that it lands in the basket upside down. This shot clears a tall bush in front of you.
Upside Down Normal putting movement, but disc upside down with thumb inside the rim. The disc behaves differently, and in extreme winds is sometimes a viable option, because any lift generated will be directed at the ground.
Lying on your stomach This putt is needed more often than you might think, and requires a BH and FH option. Worth practicing!
Spin Putt As described above
Pitch Putt The disc is pitched upwards using a stiff elbow, and no (or very little) wrist movement, and hence ultra low spin speed, to follow a ballistic trajectory so that misses land right next to the basket. Spin is provided for by the finger extension at the release.
Spitch/Spush Putt As distance from the basket increases, so does the spin of the disc have to increase, and the speed of the disc too. This requires a gradual addition of bending the elbow joint, and using more wrist in the throwing motion to achieve the desired distance.
By adding these various forms (plus any others you care to chuck in) to your putting repertoire you also add new shots you can select to play on the course. And it is to your advantage to have as many shot options as possible.
Working various putting forms into your practice regime
I get bored pretty quickly using the same form over and over again in my back yard, even though I never go longer than 15 minutes in a putting session. To stop myself getting bored, I will spend 5 minutes working on my normal putt, using the very strict rules I detailed in the Proficient Putting article, and then I will switch to a straddle putt, until I have either gone 3 sets (A set is 4 putts, because I use 4 practice putters), or I have made a putt from 7 metres, whichever comes first.
Then I switch to the next form, and repeat.
The other thing I do is select a putting form that I will use to complete ALL my missed putts, no matter how close they are. I try to make that my weakest form. There’s a lot to be said for straddling your misses. ;)
In this way I gain experience using the various forms so that even if my performance with a new form is not great, it does still improve my chances of sinking a putt with a bad lie. And it is surprising how often you’ll be called upon to execute some extremely weird putting form and be within 7 metres of the pin. You’ll be able to say “I practice those at home” as you walk up to get your disc out.
Putting routine with different forms
By necessity, you won’t be able to perform your full and normal routine if your body weight is resting on your left arm, one knee, and a foot, or you are lying on your stomach trying a Hail Mary Anhyzer Forehand. But you can still perform a critical part of your shot-making regime by visualising the complete Line Of Play the disc must fly along to reach the chains.
That includes the portion of the line prior to the release; moving the disc along the line of the LOP, whether it be moving vertically along it (as in a stiff-arm pitch putt, like Nikko Locastro) or horizontally along it as in a spin putt, or some combination of the two.
So, use what parts of your normal regime you can, and add whatever you need to be comfortable with a specific form. It's very important that you DO have a routine for these alternate putting styles. And that you stick to it whenever you're using that form.
Most players will be carrying more than one putter, as disc golf is not like ball golf; we will often want to throw a putter from the teepad, if we can reach the basket with one. This means you need at least one throwing putter, and one putting putter.
If your putting putter is not a highly resilient premium plastic, then we won’t ever be throwing it hard or far, as we do not want to risk damaging our putting putter.
Depending on your skill and ability, there are several putter slots we’d like to fill in the bag, as below:
I discussed in a previous article, How to Choose (and Use) a Putting Putter and that it doesn’t matter what you choose, as long as it feels good in your hand.
However, if your putting putter is a bit more overstable or understable than normal, it is going to affect the nature of the other putters you choose for your bag.
Getting a putter to stay aloft well in a good tailwind is very tricky, and you’ll be wanting a lightweight putter if you desire your best chance at sinking a very long downwind putt, especially if the ceiling is low. This is also the putter you’ll use for any long uphill putts, as discs always drop shorter than you think. I am often aiming almost a metre above the basket, when putting uphill.
Generally, you are going to want an understable item in this slot, such as the excellent Opto Ruby, not just a first putter for kids and the ladies, the Ruby has great glide, excellent understable flight path for approach shots, and is available down to about 150 grams.
Other discs which will be ideal in this situation are lightweight items of Tui, or Deputy.
Here’s where the important disc qualities are heavy weight, overstability, and low glide. For my bag, this slot is filled by the stunning Medium Sinus, a disc I would fight to retain.
You want a disc which is minimally affected by the wind because of its weight and stability. The Sinus even has the ancient Latin text “Non sinet tactus venti” stamped on it, which means “The wind doesn’t touch it”.
You also want a disc which will not tend to climb into a headwind, and that is where the low glide comes in. Have you ever noticed how high-glide drivers climb like crazy, even when thrown flat into the wind? Now you know; High glide discs will develop so much lift over the top surface at extremely high airspeeds, that they are literally sucked into the sky, and hence the stronger headwinds above. Which of us hasn’t seen this happen?
So, we throw the very worst gliding discs into a headwind, regardless of whether or not it’s a drive, approach or putt.
Other discs which can fill this slot are the Slammer, Harp, and Ryhno.
Not really a part of this article, but worth mentioning. Sometimes a player will carry a putter purely as a thrower, and never use these for putting. There are many great examples of putters which have the right kind of stability and glide to allow a skilful player to dot their putter tee-shot down, right under the basket. They include the world-famous Axiom Envy, Westside Harp, RPM Ruru and others.
Typically these putters will not have excessive glide, and will withstand the power good players can apply to a disc without turning over radically, and they will typically fade gently to strongly at the end of their flight. You probably aren’t choosing an understable putter for power shots from the teepad, unless you have a flippy flight path planned, or you’re in a big tailwind.
Adding it all up
Hopefully you’ve come to realise putting is quite the complex topic, especially when wind is considered – and let’s face it wind is usually a factor when playing disc golf. Here in Christchurch, I can count the calm days each year on the fingers of just one hand! Typically we have 15 to 25 km/h of wind and usually from the North-East. Or a howling Nor-West at 50+ klicks. sigh
So, in order to become a great putter in the wind, there are two vital putting tips I’m going to pass along to you, as told to me by 1987 WFDF World Champion and good buddy, Peter Bowie. Firstly, and most importantly, put your drive under the basket.
And secondly, always throw your upshot shot to give yourself a downwind putt.
These two small things can make an enormous difference to your game! Make entirely sure you understand the wind direction at the basket, and execute to give yourself a downwind putt, or a drop-in.
If you fail to achieve this, then you’re going to need to combine all the advice above, with the right disc, and some luck, to make those tricky putts when blocked, wind-affected or far from the basket. But if you practice well you’ll find a good portion of your Hail Marys actually do end up in the bottom of the cage. And remember, each stroke is worth around 10 PDGA rating points.
We want to express Vortica’s appreciation for your eyeballs over the last few months, and thank you for taking the time to read what we’re writing and we very much hope you’re improving at a better rate than you were before finding the blog.
We have a big 2018 planned, with more Common Mistakes In Disc Golf articles coming, as well as plenty of other pieces on technique, and quite a few Hot Tips. These will be extremely short pieces, that will take less than 20 seconds to read; a merciful break from our usual lengthy pieces.
Martin and Chris wish you all the very best results in 2018!