The Great Importance of The Rear Leg when Putting in Disc Golf
Updated: Jul 10, 2020
In disc golf most people concentrate on just about everything except their back foot and leg when putting. Today Vortica examines the forgotten limb in detail.
For the last 20 months I have been thinking deeply about, and working hard on my back foot and leg when putting. I’ve been trying to figure out what’s optimal in terms of stance and lower body movement.
Strangely, this has been made more difficult by slightly conflicting conversations over the years with Dave Feldberg and Yeti, but I would not have been able to understand the issues without their invaluable help and guidance. I also want to thank Scott Stokely for his time in helping me clarify my thoughts for this piece.
For a few years now, I have been using a narrow-square-staggered stance (see below), and it has been working well, but I felt it wasn’t fully optimal. But I have made major progress since watching and reflecting on Scott Stokely’s superb (and short!) video, shown below. Please watch it. You could click through and leave a like, and subscribe, too.
Scott Stokely's outstanding 2019 guide to putting stance.
There are a few things I want to discuss about the back foot and leg, and it all ties intimately into stance because stance controls how we can use our back foot.
Pushing and then Kicking or Stepping
Are the three things we can do with our back foot and leg when putting. They are distinct and can be easily defined. Pushing is simply aggressively shifting weight from the back to the front foot. Kicking is done after the back foot leaves the ground. Stepping is performed at the expense of kicking, and can only be performed outside the circle as it results in a falling putt.
Putt-Jumping from a Straddle
Some discussion of the straddle putt is required here. A straddle has either no rearfoot or two rear feet depending on your perspective. Inside the circle, you have no back foot, but outside you have two – as you can eject the disc and then jump forward, to prevent going face-first into the putting surface.
So, the straddle removes the lower body from the equation, apart from a small upward movement, and except in the case of the putt-jump. Nikko Locastro, Gregg Barsby, and Steve Brinster are great examples of pure straddle putters.
Then, there are some straddle putters who will sometimes take a single step forward when outside the circle. Seppo Paju is one such player.
In any case, the majority of putting power comes from the lower body, so straddle putters sometimes struggle with low putts in the 7 to 10-metre range.
Great care must be taken when developing a putt-jump form from a straddle, as a “jump-putt” is illegal, and abuses your card mates.
Straddle putting is an ideal way to reduce the number of moving body parts during the putting motion, and is a necessary part of every player’s game – but it almost entirely eliminates the lower body inside the circle.
This forces players into a different putting form as their maximum straddle distance is reached, and as an (ex!) straddle-putter I could never fully convince myself this was a good idea. Your main putting form should allow you to retain that form no matter the distance from the basket, in my opinion.
Power comes from the Lower Body
Just as on the teepad and the fairway a great portion of your power comes from your lower body. And on the green the way you get a lot of extra power is by pushing and then kicking. But first…
Let’s talk about Stance
After watching the video above you should be pretty well convinced about the need for a wide staggered stance. If not, go back and watch it again.
Wide Stagger Stance, With-A-Twist!
You will see the vast majority of players in a wide stagger, point their back foot at a 45-or-so degree angle away from the basket. This rotates the hips to point diagonally left of the basket.
It means the player can perhaps thrust their shoulder forward more effectively, but the hips aren't aligned squarely to the Line Of Play.
Introducing the Wide-Square-Stagger Stance
Everyone's hips are different. If you see 100 people standing naturally, you will see wide variations in the angle of their feet, and how they position their weight.
For me, a traditional wide-stagger stance feels wrong, weak, and it results in me pushing diagonally across the LOP instead of in-line with it.
But if I rotate my back foot so that it is almost in line with the basket, it brings my knee onto the LOP (or very close to it) and I align my LOP with my back foot and leg, I feel much more powerful, more planted, and I am able to direct power along the LOP more effectively.
As a result, I want to encourage you to try aligning your hips square to the basket in this wide-square-staggered stance, and see how it feels for you.
Using this wide-square-stagger, I can reach much further back and down between my legs in order to give my pendulum swing a much longer path to accelerate along.
So, by switching from a narrow-square-stagger to a wide-square-stagger I’ve added a lot of stability to my stance, and a lot of power, not just from my arm (with the longer swing), but my back leg can now work much harder, too.
It all comes from the center
Scott Stokely is 100% right; the reason disc golf putting form is accurate is because the disc’s Line Of Play is in line with your eyes. This is why a hammer-style upside down putt, directly above your head, and the Turbo-putt can also be very accurate throws, and why I practice them both.
No putting form which has the disc’s LOP misaligned with the eyes can ever be truly accurate or reliable. It’s why no one putts forehand unless they have to.
The Line Of Play is the line you draw your disc along and is the beginning of the flight path shape. If it is vertically aligned with your eyes, then not only does aiming become easier, but it allows your arm to swing down as a pure pendulum, using only gravity on the downswing. This also promotes accuracy.
By adopting a wide-square-staggered stance you allow your body to move to the maximum extent possible and extract as much power as possible.
Your mileage may vary, so try this out and see if it works for you. It certainly made me more centered, more balanced, and more powerful.
Maximum vs. minimum movement
Minimum movement allows a player to be more accurate, and concentrate on nothing but the shoulder swing and the release of the disc from the hand.
Maximum movement yields the largest possibility for errors in execution and timing but has a greatly extended range.
Are you Right-eyed or Left-eyed?
If you tend to miss right of the basket you are most likely right-eyed.
Here's how you can easily tell: grasp your putter in your putting grip and place your index on the rim. Now do the same with your left hand, and place the tips of your index fingers so they are touching.
Now swing the disc out at arm's length in front of you while focusing on the basket pole. Swing the disc along the vertical line of the pole, and stop when the disc is in line with the basket and your eyes. Now you will see the phantom sausage-finger shown above. This is created due to the parallax of your eye's positions compared to your focal point on the basket.
Now, holding the disc in this position, which end of the phantom sausage-finger does your putt naturally align with? If it is the left, you are left-eyed. Most people tend to be right-eyed.
Being left or right-eyed means missing towards that side of the basket. You need to account for this in your putting motion because you want the LOP to be perfectly aligned with your dominant eye when beginning and executing your putting motion.
Now – onto Pushing
Pushing from the back foot moves your entire body forward, along the LOP. The further back you place your foot and move your weight, the more aggressive you can be in your push without making a falling putt.
Watch how Ricky Wysocki putts, often you will see him with as much as ~80% of his weight over his back foot. This allows him a tremendously powerful push forward in his putting motion.
The power of this push shouldn’t be discounted – as it is literally propelling his shoulder and arm forward along the LOP.
You can continue pushing forward so long as your foot remains in contact with the ground. Once it has left the ground, you can turn your pushing foot into your kicking foot, or your stepping foot, depending on whether you plan to remain in balance or perform a falling putt.
The timing of the leg push and the arm thrust
Many players can be seen making simultaneous efforts; their arm begins swinging up just as their back leg begins pushing forward. But I believe that timing is inconsistent with a consistent putting motion. Here’s why.
If you delay your arm pitch/thrust until your forward push has your body in motion, then you get a chance to feel if your push is correctly down the LOP before beginning your arm work.
I push hard with the back leg, and then I begin to move my arm upwards from its furthest back position, which depends on how much distance there is to the basket.
I believe this promotes more accurate putting.
You can often see Ricky delaying his arm on some putts, and I believe he does this to increase his range and accuracy.
The reason we want to push firmly with the back foot is so we can use less power in our shoulder, which aids accuracy. Plus, it gives us two variables in terms of power application and hence increases your potential range.
Who hasn’t had a quiet giggle at the very talented Jennifer Allen when she putts? She often does the vertical splits with her left foot higher than her head. It looks almost comical. And yet…
Jennifer about to launch the women's world distance record
with a 360 backhand, smashing it over 173 metres!
…this same Jennifer Allen is the women’s world distance record holder (see that above, thanks to Frisbee Rob), and a devastatingly powerful player. And if you look at the distance she can putt from, then you should feel envious because I doubt you can putt as far.
Jen' uses all of her body in her power shots and putts – and we can learn a lot from her, and the way she goes about executing her massively long putts and superbly long drives. In particular, I want to focus on her use of her back leg, and the enormous kick she makes when she putts.
Kicking adds huge power to a putt
It is obvious Jennifer fully understands that if you are going to make a massive effort on one side of your body, it must be matched by an equal and opposing force on the opposite side of the body if we are to remain in balance. And in disc golf, that’s the rear leg, which is diagonally opposite the throwing arm.
Adding a kick to the back leg when putting extends the range of your putt by allowing your arm to move more quickly, due to force being exerted across your body in a balanced and even way.
The reason we don't thrash the off arm and hand around in a putt is that it is nearly always held in a stable position, assisting with overall balance during the putting motion, and afterwards, to maintain balance on the front foot.
Although the talented young player, Anthony Barella, is an interesting counterpoint: he can be seen thrusting his off arm/elbow backwards in his putting motion, in a very unconventional effort to develop more power. Try it for yourself if you like, but don't expect good results.
Putting Your Back Foot First!
When I have a putt of 6 or more metres in distance, after I align myself with the basket, and swing my arm through the right arc, and align the disc correctly in my grip, I almost exclusively think about my back leg, and when I have completed the push, I kick up with my back foot. The longer the putt, the harder I kick.
Now, you won’t see me doing the splits like Jennifer, but I am able to putt much further when I kick hard than when I kick less or don’t kick at all.
How to perform your kick
I think it's likely Ms Allen has a significant background in gymnastics or ballet, and thus has a coached preference to perform an athletic kick into the splits position because that is a good thing to do as part of a rhythmic and athletic routine in either discipline. It demonstrates flexibility and control, and the slower you perform it, the more difficult it is. (I can only assume this.)
However, a gymnastic splits is designed to be aesthetically pleasing, and not to offset the kinetic energy being expended on the opposite side of the body, by the throwing hand and arm.
Watch how Paul McBeth putts: he kicks, but he swings his back foot around his knee, and he does it strongly any time he needs power. Using the lever in a reverse fashion, curling it up - effectively, to fully oppose the force expended by his putting arm, and to extend the reach of his putting motion, and to stay in balance.
An alternative kicking form as shown above, by Ricky Wysocki, in what I call the "laid-out kick" as opposed to the "upright kick" of Paul's. It allows a longer pitch and reach before the release, and slightly shortens the distance the disc must fly to the basket.
Note that both Paul and Ricky finish not just balanced on their front foot, but on the ball of their front foot.
Balance on your front foot to finish
2008 World Champion, 2018 & 2019 Masters World Champion, and Legendary Teaching Wizard, David Feldberg, promotes the idea of practicing such that you finish balanced on your front foot, and then while keeping your rear leg in the air, bend down and pick up your mini. This is a good idea.
It completely prevents falling, and if you keep your leg out as a counterweight, is pretty easy to do.
Not kicking results in short and low putts beyond 5 or 6 metres. Your arm is plenty powerful enough to make the height and distance required, but without a counteracting force provided by that rear leg and swinging foot, there simply isn't any way for you to utilise what strength you have in a way which is predictable and accurate. You will always have issues with low putts.
Flying Over The Basket
Indeed, that can happen. But you should always give yourself a pat on the back if you do because any disc above cage rim height at least had a chance of going in.
Be Thankful for Dots!
I also give myself a pat on the back each time I hit the basket and don't fly by it. Hitting metal but not going in is sometimes known as a "dot". You can mentally score dots when you play, and it gives you some idea of what your scores would be like if all your close putts went in.
Stepping through outside the circle
Often, players can be seen making what is correctly called a “putt-step”, as they putt before they step through. Stepping before putting is illegal. Sadly, many who think they are putt-steppers, are actually step-putters, and their form is frequently illegal, as their stepping foot touches ground before the disc is released, and slow-motion footage has shown many pros have abused this rule.
Stepping prevents kicking, and the player relies on the pure acceleration provided by the back foot push, and putting arm to accelerate the disc towards the basket.
Use what works, but...
…give everything a proper chance. An initial weird or bad feeling is not always indicative of something that will not help your performance. Sometimes you DO need to take one step backwards, in order to take two steps forward.
And YES - you CAN make just about anything work well!
Here's the thing; as a dynamic and capable human being, you CAN make bad form or sub-optimal form work successfully on the DGC. The unsettling visions of Eric Oakley and Sarah Hokum demonstrate this well.
Everyone IS different, but there are common themes in the putting and driving form of all the top players. The fact we can easily identify top players from their putting or driving form from 200 metres away, shows us there is plenty of variation possible within the bounds of "Good Form" to permit individuality and uniqueness in your own form.
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