This article is about how you can improve your short game in disc golf. A majority of players consider practice to be a round of golf at that local course, throwing drives at a nearby field or putting practice in their own backyard. One key element that is usually missing from any player’s routine is dedicated practice on the short game aka the approach game. It’s often overlooked but it could be as critical as any other facet of the game.
Every player practices driving. Every player practices putting. But very few players actually take the time to devote to practicing upshots or short game. It’s a well versed skill that requires a significant amount of time to master but a craft that will never be perfected. It’s much simpler when compared to traditional golf because the execution should be much easier and the landing zone is much bigger. In golf the approach must be within 5-feet to be considered a successful shot while a disc golf approach can be within 20-feet to be an excellent shot.
In the end, a skillful approach game is going to decrease the stress of having to make a lot of long tester putts throughout the round. Plus it’s going to ultimately lower your overall score for the round with a bunch of easy tap-in putts for birdie or par. So here’s some tips that are going to help improve your disc golf short game.
1. Shot Factors & Characteristics
The Art of the Approach. The approach is a fairly simple shot that consists of the proper height, angle, line and power. All of these flight characteristics must be carefully calculated in order to throw the perfect approach to the basket. But if even one of these elements is disregarded, it could prove to be a costly mistake and effect the scorecard.
When you first address your lie or where your disc came to rest, you need to evaluate the situation in regards to how far away is the basket and what do you need to do in order to get your need shot as close to the basket as possible. Then you should check your surroundings, obstacles, objects and out-of-bounds areas. The main objective is to keep your next shot in play and ultimately right under the basket.
The height factor should be based on how much ceiling room you have to throw your shot, whether it’s low-ceiling or you have low obstacles that you have to throw over. The angle factor is at what release angle you must throw your shot in order to get the desired flight. The line is determined by how wide or how tight you must throw the approach to get a good result. And the power component will be gauged on how far or short you need to throw the disc to get to the basket.
You need to a good combination of all of these shot characteristics to have achieve a successful outcome. Even 90% of all four of these factors will get you the desired result but if you miss on just one of these factors than that will result in an errant approach shot and hopefully no more than just one stroke. So you need to take all of these into consideration at all times if you want to master the art of the approach.
2. Wind Conditions
It’s the first element that should be recognized and evaluated when you step up to any approach shot. The wind direction and velocity are the key factors to assess before selecting your disc of choice and determining where exactly you want to throw your approach. The ultimate goal is to land the disc as close to the basket as possible and preferably on the tailwind side of the basket.
Now when I mention the tailwind side of the basket, I’m saying that for the fact that you don’t want to leave yourself with a putt back into the headwind no matter the distance. Because the fact of the matter is that a tailwind putt is more consistent and much easier to make percentage-wise as compared to a headwind putt. It’s all about the numbers.
The wind direction is something that needs to be initially identified that most players don’t consider. Plus giving yourself a tailwind putt to finish the hole is going to be slightly easier to convert and hopefully less emotionally draining throughout the round. The last thing that you want struggle with during the round is having to make a bunch of putts back into the howling headwind, this could definitely be the breaker in your score for the round.
Choosing where to land your approach shot is crucial in windy conditions.
3. Basket Surroundings
Always examine the surroundings around the basket meaning that you assess the situation of what type of surface you are going to land your approach. You are going to look for objects, obstacles and overall ground composition. This plays a crucial role on how the disc is going settle once it’s thrown near the target.
Now, you are considering the height, angle, line and speed of your approach shot based on the surroundings and texture of the ground. If the area around the basket consisted of thick grass or soft sand, then you would be able to throw your approach a lot more power and angle with very little worry of the disc skipping away. Now consider that there is hard packed dirt, roots or rocks near the basket then you might evaluate some aspects of the disc delivery by possibly throwing a softer shot with less angle.
As for the obstacles surrounding the baskets, those need to be avoided if at all possible. But in the case when there is a bunch of trees, you take the high percentage route or the path of least resistance in order to get as close to the basket as possible. And if you do happen to hit a tree hopefully it’s close enough to the basket in order to still make your putt.
4. Terrain of the Green
Ideally, the surrounding area around the basket is nicely cut grass free of obstacles and on an open, flat surface...ideally. But most of the time that is not the case. That is when you examine where the basket is positioned and evaluate the overall terrain of the green. The landscape surrounding the green plays a huge part in the shot selection and how the disc is going settle once it gets to the ground.
A basket positioned on a sloping hillside presents some very unique challenges that you don’t experience on a flat surface green. Obviously, the slope of hillside is going to affect the angle in which you approach the green. Any off angles of the disc on the approach shot are going to increase the chance of the disc getting on edge and rolling away. You always want to match the angle of the shot with the angle of the sloping hillside. If it’s sloping left to right or right to left, be sure to match the angle of the approach shot accordingly to get the disc to land flush on the ground to avoid roll-aways.
Lastly, always try to throw your approach shot to the high side or uphill side of the basket. The natural rotation of the disc and gravity pulling it downhill is going to cause the disc to spin down the hill in the direction of the basket. Plus even if the disc stays on the uphill side, it makes for an easier putt as the target will appear bigger as you will be putting downhill into the basket. The fact of the matter is that a downhill putt is more consistent and much easier to make as compared to a uphill putt that has to be released nose-up into downward angled chains. It’s a situation that you want to avoid.
Good short game is key when approaching to the target of hole 16 at the European Open in Nokia, Finland.
5. Circle of Confidence
The circle of confidence concept is describing a certain area from the target where a player expects to make a very high percentage of their putts. Visualize that circular area around the basket. You might consider to be fairly good putter and feel comfortable making almost all of your putts within 15 feet (almost 5 meters) of the basket. Your circle of confidence is a 15-foot radius around the basket, so you should expect to make a majority of your putts. No matter if your approach lands 15 feet short, long, right or left of the basket.
So instead of focusing on the basket itself being a very small target, you can now focus on a much larger area to land the approach and still convert on the putt. It’s obviously nice to have the disc as close to the basket as possible. Ideally, right underneath the basket is going to make things much more easier for you, but that’s not always the case. That larger landing zone is going to give you a good idea of how aggressive or risky that you might have to play on an approach in order to give you a higher percentage putt to follow.
And of course, the better putter that you are the larger your circle of confidence is going to be. If you’re a phenomenal putter, you landing zone around the basket could be as big as 30 feet (almost 10 meters) around the basket for the best players in the world.
The absolute best way to dial in your short game is to play catch, there’s nothing better for replicating the process of the approach. It’s something that I recommend that every player does in preparation before each round. Playing catch allows you to get a feel for the disc with the release heights, angles, lines and power. Plus playing catch is going to provide lots more throwing repetitions to save you on having to pick up and retrieve shots after throwing.
You are more than likely not trying to throw the approach in the basket but land the disc as close to the basket as possible. The chances of you making that approach shot into the basket is a very low when compared to the higher percentage of missing that approach long and possibly missing that par putt coming back. Unless it’s a skins match or a throw-in on the final hole on an attempt to tie, you are much better off just laying up the shot and moving on to the next hole and realizing that there will be plenty of other chances to score on the remaining holes.
Summary of Disc Golf Short Game
- Shot Factors & Characteristics
- Wind Conditions
- Basket Surroundings
- Terrain of the Green
- Circle of Confidence
- Bonus tip: play catch to improve your short game.
The writer is a household name in disc golf. A face for the whole sport. Avery has been touring professionally since 2000 with great results, the brightest being his 2009 Disc Golf World Champion title. Avery is also known to be one of the longest arms in disc golf distance, with 3 US Distance Champion titles under his belt.
Besides being one the top pro players in our sport today, Avery is well recognized as a true ambassador of the sport. He’s played disc golf in almost every US state. Outside the US, he's played in countries like Taiwan, Japan, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Estonia and Germany. At Discmania, Avery is responsible for the Deep in the Game clinics, and he goes around the world educating players on how to become better in the sport of disc golf. He's also our Discmania Combine host responsible for evaluating players trying to make it to Team Discmania. Furthermore, Avery also works as a Disc Golf World Tour expert commentator.
Other helpful disc golf articles:
- Become a Professional Disc Golfer (First Part)
- Become a Professional Disc Golfer (Part Two)
- Top 5 Beginner Tips
- Top 5 Discmania Disc Golf Discs
- How to Choose the Right Discmania Disc Golf Disc
- Discover Disc Golf
- Most Popular Discmania Discs
- Disc Golf as a Camp Activity
- DiscGolfPark is Lifting Disc Golf in the Mainstream
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