Driving is not the only aspect of your game that could use some closer examinations. A solid approach shot can quite literally be the difference between a par, bogey, or an easy birdie attempt. There are a few finer points that come to mind when discussing approach shots; disc selection, what routes to the hole are best, and green evaluation. However, in my opinion, THE most important part of a good approach shot starts before you even pull a disc out of your bag. So my question is: How well can you judge distances?
This skill cannot be praised enough. Too often I play disc golf and have a drive not go as well as planned. I know I’m not the only one this happens to. Something about MY game that I’ve always taken pride in, is the ability to ‘stop the bleeding’. Problem holes are everywhere. Nothing will frustrate your card more than seeing all those saved 3’s after a round that was badgered by any number of adverse conditions. For myself, gauging distance has never been much of a problem. In all honesty it was a separate hobby that introduced me to it, bowhunting.
As a bowhunter this ability is more than just for personal convenience. Properly judging distances is also for the animal because a poor shot does not always miss the mark. Sometimes a poorly judged shot can add insult to injury for the beast, and it only takes a few inches in any direction to cause suffering. For some all it takes is trust in a ‘gut’ feeling to pinpoint distances. Letting instincts kick in is a trait that is becoming less and less common the more ‘civilized’ we become. For players who do not have this inherent ability, there are a couple of easy tricks you can do to tune this skill up.
The Walk Off:
This one is self-explanatory, but basically take a target and walk off the distance to get a ‘feel’ for it. Simply walking off 20 yards, and looking back at how far you travelled/steps you took can become muscle memory. When you rely on gadgets problems arise when they fail you, so I urge you to practice with YOUR tools instead. If you happen to have access to a football practice field, this can end up being the only tip you need. Football fields have 100 yards lined off, and all you need is some simple math conversions to see a 300 foot area for fine tuning. The Walk Off is very simple, and meant for those who learn better with ‘hands-on’ approaches.
The Double Up:
For the players who have no access to large open practice spaces. In your own backyard you may have an awesome tree that for whatever reason you KNOW is 50 feet from your porch/patio/deck. To you, this is so recognizable you could mow the lawn with a blindfold on. Remember this tree when on the course, and how far away it feels. If that basket is down range a bit, take the time to observe your fairway/lie. That tree, or bush slightly off to the right, up the fairway might be at the fringes of your 50 foot comfort zone. How far away is the basket from this marker? Twice as far? Three times? Now you’re looking at an 100-150 foot shot. Learn to adjust using landmarks.
When it comes to adjusting a shot for elevation change keep in mind that uphill shots will feel shorter, but throw longer; and downhill shots will feel longer, but throw shorter. Re-read that, and stay with me. Uphill shots will almost always need more velocity on them because the disc will spend less time airborne. In addition, discs will not benefit from post impact actions like rolling/skipping (unless it’s back down the hill you just dealt with). Disc flight relies partly on airtime, and with the ground coming up toward the disc in its flight uphill, that airtime is limited. The exact opposite is happening with downhill shots. It is wise to let physics work for you going down toward a basket. The disc will receive more flight time with the ground disappearing beneath it. It will also glide further, and is more akin to skips/rolls/tumbles upon impact.
Another useful tip for your approach shot’s distance is knowing how far YOU can throw your own disc of choice. Ricky Wysocki may be able to plant his Harp from 300 feet out, but that does not mean that you can. There is no shame in putting that midrange back in your bag in favor of your favorite fairway driver. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to grip & rip that trusty putter in your bag for that shorter look. It is far more reliable to disc-down and throw 100% with a short range disc, than to try and calculate a shot at 50% power with a longer range one. Ultimately, when it comes to becoming a better player, it boils down to what Allen Iverson is so famous being misquoted for: Practice. How else are you going to know what works best for you?
What tricks or tips do you have for measuring distance when it comes to your approach shots? Let me know in the comments below.