I throw a lot of flick rollers, and have realized -- even playing with a lot of the local pros here in Virginia/Maryland area, and in Texas and Massachusetts in the past -- that not many people practice or know how to execute this shot well.
I was playing in Hot Springs, Arkansas (sweet course) this past weekend, and keep realizing how many strokes the flick roller saved me -- probably 3-4 strokes per round -- because they have a lot of tight fairways and tricky elevation and the flick roller was such an amazing recovery shot after missing the line off the teebox on some of the long holes. Anyway, this got me thinking about encouraging other people to get out and practice a Flick Roller. Thus, my first training lesson for Disc Golf Review.
First and foremost: just like any other style of shot, you can use any disc for this throw, but some will work better than others. Personally, I most often use a Firebird or Max for rollers off the Teebox and a Wizard for closer, precision rollers. However, depending on the course and terrain, I've also had great success with Speed Demons, Teebirds, Rocs, Magics, Reapers, Predators and a variety of other discs. The point being: you don't need to go out and buy a special, magic roller disc to put in your bag -- the best flick roller discs are the ones you already own; you are just learning to throw them in a new way.
Many people want to rush out and try new shots on the course instead of learning them in a field first. This is never the best way to learn a new throw, and the problem is particularly pronounced for rollers. Rollers have a tendency to get away from you -- they can quickly bury themselves deep in underbrush, take off for hundreds of feet downhill into nasty, hard-to-find spots, and if you don't know your disc and it gets out of sight, it is almost impossible to even begin to know where to look for it. Also, with rollers, every bump, branch and pebble in the ground can mess up the travel path of a roller, so if you are practicing on a typical course, it is very hard to know if your throws go where they do because of you or because of the terrain. This is why it is vital to start out practicing your rollers in a flat, smooth field so that you know how the discs SHOULD roll before you get to a course and start adding extra variables. That said, let's go to the field:
Practice Session 1: Selecting Your Roller Discs:
Take your whole bag out to a field and either set up a target or pick a stationary object to use as a target -- Stand 200' away and roll every disc in your bag and try to get them as close as possible to the target. You will quickly figure out which discs seem to work naturally for this shot for you. Narrow your flick rollers down to the few discs that seem to feel the best in your hand -- these are the ones you are going to practice with..
If you've never thrown a flick roller before, a few words of advice: Grip the disc with your index and middle finger splayed apart -- your middle finger should be on the inside rim of the disc and your index finger should be towards the middle of the disc. Spreading these two fingers apart helps give you a greater control over the release angle of the disc, and release angle is CRUCIAL to successful flick roller shots. Your thumb should be on the top of the disc, putting a fair amount of pressure on the disc. Keep your thumb just towards the outside of the disc, just before the rim.
Releasing the disc is similar to a forehand throw, except that you bring the disc up to approximately shoulder height when you are coming through on the release -- the final release comes as your arm is about 12"-18" in front of your body, swinging down in a follow-through motion.
Where you aim to hit the ground with the disc is determined by how far you are trying to make the disc go and what travel path you are wanting it to take. In general, if you are trying for max distance on a flick roller, use an overstable disc and release it tilted 30 degrees right of vertical, throwing it on a low, hard arc that will hit the ground about 80-100' in front of you. Thrown hard, the disc will fight to stand up for the first 150-200 feet, then will come up level, roll a little further and finally finish off by curling hard to the left about the time it looses momentum. However, rollers can take almost any travel path you want, thrown with the right combination of speed and release angle. So the purpose of this lesson is to get you to practice until you find the balance of speed and release to achieve the distance you want.
Practice Session 2: Speed and Release Angle
To work on speed and release angle, mark of distances of 50', 100', 150', 200', 250', 300', 350'. You will get a feel for the min-max range for each different disc, so you know which is appropriate to each situation on the course. Try different amounts of arm speed and release angle for each disc at each distance until you find a line that gets you close to the target. At any given angle, if a disc rolls off right early, throw with a little more power/speed on your release; if it rolls off left early, throw with a little less power. Conversely, at any given release power/speed if the disc rolls off right early, tilt the release angle left a little closer to vertical; if it rolls off left early, tilt the release angle right a little further from vertical. Once you find a combination of release angle and speed that gets each disc close to the target, you are ready to move on.
Practice Session 3: Rolling Hills
Find a place with rolling terrain and practice the same shots from Lesson 2, except this time roll uphill, downhill, hill sloping right, hill sloping left, through a valley, etc... Watch to see how the different angles of the terrain effect the necessary speed and release angle of your discs.
Practice Session 4: Rough Terrain
Find a place with rough terrain -- trees, roots, gravel, etc... see which discs you can predictably roll across adverse terrain and how the terrain effects the distance, stability, speed and travel path of each disc.
Practice Session 5: Windy Days
Go back to a flat field, but this time, make sure you are there on a windy day. Move the target around several times during the drill so that you are throwing rollers with a headwind, tailwind, and both left and right crosswinds. Try other angles if you want. Learn how to adjust your release angle to compensate for -- and use -- the wind. With a good right to left crosswind for instance, you can release a max-stability disc at a 45-degree angle to the ground and have it roll forever, because the wind keeps the edge from biting hard into the ground (the roller equivalent of hyzer). If possible, practice several times on days with different strengths of wind.
Practice Session 6: New Lines
Stay in the flat field, but this time, instead of finding just one path to the target, work until you find multiple lines to the target based on travel path and release angle (i.e., if you release a disc with a sharp right angle way to the left of the basket, you can have it roll in a semi-circle to reach the basket -- you can use a shot like this to roll around a clump of trees or escape from undergrowth). Try to find at least three lines to the basket based on speed and release angle for each disc -- look for a line that starts to the left, a line that goes straight and a line that starts to the right. For this exercise, you don't need to try all the original distances -- instead, shorten things up a little since these different rollers will often be used to get you out of trouble -- I suggest distances of 30', 50', 80', 120', 160', 200', 250'. These tricky roller shots will save you lots of strokes when you are trapped in the woods.
Additional Practice Suggestions
If you want even more practice sessions, take the New Lines challenge and apply it to the Rolling Hills, Rough Terrain and Windy Days exercises. You can combine any of these challenges based on the terrain available to you.
Once you have the roller figured out in the field, it's time to take it to your local courses and try it out. I suggest walking the course first to look for roller lines and to think about the terrain -- for instance, if there is an unmown or very sticky area of grass near a pin, think about how to get a roller into that grass, knowing it will stop quickly and you'll have an easy putt. Also, think about places where a roller will help you get an easy 3 instead of a possible 2/3/4/5 airshot.
For instance,I know there are a lot of holes on my local Seneca course (Maryland) where there is an air line to the basket, but the air line is very tight and hard to hit consistently. The airline might be the best chance at a 2, but if you miss (which is likely), you are going to fight for a 3 and likely take a 4 or possibly even a 5. A flick roller can hit much larger, higher percentage gaps because the ground is clear, so I can almost guarantee a 3 on holes I would otherwise be taking higher score on. Sure, I might forfeit a birdie opportunity or two during the course of a round, but my total score is always lower overall.
Remember that scoring well in disc golf is about placement and percentages: know where you want to end up and throw whatever shot gives you the best chance of getting there consistently, with the lowest chance of critical error. Bust out a roller every time it is going to help your odds.
And most of all: have fun -- flick rollers are probably my favorite shot and the best thing I know of to get out of trouble; if you have any questions, let me know.[/b]