How and why we learn to pitch putt
Updated: Jun 24, 2020
You have probably played for a while, and found that putting is hard. Learning to Pitch Putt, as it is known, is one way to become better at putting. And almost straight away!
You've seen professionals drop discs in from all over the place, but it looks like some sort of dark Voodoo to you. Today we're taking a look at how to develop a natural pitching motion, and what actual physical movements you should make when learning to pitch putt in disc golf.
What is a Pitch Putt, and why would we use one? It is a vertical swinging motion using your stiff(!) arm as a pendulum. Specifically, it excludes all use of the elbow joint, and the wrist joint, as well.
Unlike a Spin Putt the Pitch Putt does not normally use the wrist at all. It applies a small(!) amount of spin by way of Finger Spring which is described later in the article.
The idea behind a Pitch Putt is that it eliminates all unnecessary movement and uses gravity as a stabilising force to increase its accuracy.
Nikko Locastro - a legendary pitch putting wizard, showing us his stuff.
It treats the disc like a crumpled up piece of paper being lobbed into a waste basket. The throwing motion is to swing the disc through an arc as a pendulum, and release the disc nice and high (never low!) - between the chin and the nose in height (or higher) and the disc travels on a parabolic arc which is stabilised by the tiny amount of spin applied by just the rear three fingers.
A pitched disc is nearly always descending when it reaches the chains, so that if a pitched putt misses, it is nearly always close to the basket - and hence you require a high pitch putt to safely attack baskets which have OB behind them.
The Pitch Putt is vital to reduce the length of the comeback putt.
The Pitch Putt is relatively unaffected by the wind because it is nearly always pitched flat or on a very gentle hyzer angle.
A Pitched Putt normally has a moment when you think you might have thrown the disc a little too high, before it hits chains and nestles into the basket.
The Pitch Putt often gets the disc so high in the air, the thrower and the camera man will lose track of it.
Because a Pitch Putt is swung along the Line Of Play in the vertical plane, it is much more accurate left-to-right than a Spin Putt, but it is less accurate in the horizontal plane, and so you are more likely to miss low or high using a Pitch Putt...
...There is no Free Lunch in Disc Golf - Sorry About That!
But the next best thing to a free lunch is a Pitch Putt, because it reduces the number of joints used, and restricts joints to very simple, repeatable movements, which can be trained up to high performance levels.
It is also more error-tolerant than other putting styles, and hence offers the best chance of reducing the scores of intermediate to advanced players.
The Pure Pitch Putt is limited in range Watching Nikko Locastro - it doesn't seem like he is limited - but even he switches to a spin putt at 2:01 in the above video. Nikko has a huge range, and you shouldn't expect to be able to perform pure Pitch Putts from much more than 7 or 8 metres at most, at least for a while.
Once you get to a range where a pure Pitch Putt - with no elbow and no wrist, can't quite make it, you're going to have to introduce first some wrist so that you are "Spitch Putting" (A mixture of spin and pitch putting) and at even longer range start to flex the elbow to add additional power.
So, while a pure Pitch Putt is very accurate, it takes a while to develop any kind of distance with it. Players will naturally tend to Spitch more and more as they withdraw from the basket, and hence add inaccuracy back into the throwing motion by way of more moving body parts, and increased timing issues.
No. 1: Most Important - Throw the disc flat! When pitching a disc, you want it to leave your hand absolutely flat, or with only a tiny amount of hyzer on it. This is because pitched discs are generally not moving fast, or spinning fast, and often go quite high in the air. Winds affect flat discs very little, while hyzer and anhyzer putts get lifted or slapped in the wind.
Whether you putt nose up or nose down is personal choice, and also according to the wind and your assessment of it. Personally, in a no wind putt, I will always send the disc up, but with the nose down.
No.2: Square up to the Basket.
This is going to be a controversial one, and it may NOT apply to you but I encourage you to give it a go, as it changed my putting for the better.
Align your chest and hips squarely to the target.
Often you will see people in a wide staggered stance, that is with one foot well ahead of the other, and separated by 40cm or more. Their hips will almost certainly be pointing at an angle which is NOT directly at the basket.
When your hips are square with the Line Of Play it is easier to direct energy from your lower body along the Line Of Play, and hence it is easier to accelerate the disc smoothly and consistently along the Line Of Play. Non-square hips also mean your body and Center of Gravity are moving sideways when you shift your weight from back foot to front foot. That means your arm extension is also moving sideways, and hence your putt is moving sideways.
I strongly encourage you to experiment with hips square to the basket, and see if it improves your accuracy.
No.3 "The elbow is evil and can not be trusted!"
This comes straight from good buddy and 5x Putting World Champion, Jay "Yeti" Reading. So you know my source on this is good!
As a hinged joint, any opening or closing of it moves the hand in a rotary arc about its fulcrum. If you use elbow in a putt, then you will be making an arcing motion which deviates the disc from the Line Of Play, unless you simultaneously move the shoulder in such a way that the disc stays on the Line Of Play. This is not easy, by any means.
And that is why Spin Putting is so hard: with your elbow out, and hitting it hard, and spinning the disc strongly, you stand a very high chance of missing left or right, but a very good chance of making the correct height.
The exception to the elbow opening rule is a Push Putt which restricts the upper arm to a vertical position, and only allows the elbow to open ON the Line Of Play - literally pushing forward, compared to levering forward with a wide elbow in a spin putt.
The Yeti-style Push Putt effectively removes the evil elbow from the equation!
Pitch Putting uses the arm as a solid pendulum, and eliminates use of the elbow entirely.
Pitch Putting requires that you do not tuck your index finger under the rim like you do when throwing a disc. Because we will not use the wrist or elbow at all, there is no reason to risk a spastic release of the disc (There is no ripping force in a putt), and hence we must place the index finger gently on the rim, or place it directly along the disc's Parting Line - or some comfortable midpoint of the two.
It's this author's opinion that index-on-the-Parting-Line is the best option to adopt, as it is the last contact point with your disc, and it can stop the disc moving to the right. It also feels very "point-and-shooty" to my mind. YMMV!
All Pitch Putters use a fan grip under the disc, so that the little finger, ring finger and middle finger are all spread out on the bottom surface of the flight plate, with fingers bent towards you somewhat.
The thumb usually presses the top of the flight plate, somewhere in the region of the middle finger tip.
No.5: Finger Spring
The curled fingers underneath the disc are used to propel the disc forward at the release, and this motion applies a small amount of spin to a disc.
Use the three fingers underneath the disc to push up as well as out. It's these three which provide sufficient finger spring to spin the disc just enough to get it stable enough to not slide off left or right as a non-spinning disc will always do. A wobble does not matter, and the disc only needs to be spinning a very small amount.
The thumb on top also helps to propel the disc forward, if only a little.
I can propel a disc about 80cm from waist height, with nothing but finger spring, and with my wrist locked in place.
I do that because, as Yeti would say "The elbow is evil, and can't be trusted!", but I have a corollary, "The wrist is also evil, and also can't be trusted."
Because, as a person with spectacularly ordinary levels of talent, I know the instant I begin to use any wrist motion AT ALL in my putts, the disc begins to spray left and right. *sigh*
No.6: Tape it up!
I remember when I first taught myself to pitch putt many years ago: it was a disaster! I literally could not prevent my elbow from bending during the swinging motion of the pendulum and during the disc ejection. I was so frustrated, I took a 40cm length of wood and bandaged it to my arm as a splint to stop my elbow bending.
I looked and felt bloody stupid doing this, but it worked! It allowed me to get the feeling of my arm not bending at all, and so after a few sessions I could stop bandaging my arm and simply hold it straight.
Part of the big problem of getting good at putting is that there are literally an infinite number of motions with which we *could* put the disc in the basket. But only a very small number of motions we can repeat with any kind of reliably positive outcome!
The time it takes to "get good" varies. For some, it's years. For others, it is decades. And that is why we have age-protected divisions. And if it does take you decades to get good... that's OK... you're in good company!