Shedding Distance Myths
by Blake Takkunen
With the boom in the last few years of disc golf and its subsequent increase in internet related traffic it has become much easier for newer players to gather exposure to players of varying skill levels. However, this has also led to cases of intimidation and unrealistic expectations for players that are still on the learning curve. Hearsay, message board exaggeration, and faulty estimation are often causes for these expectations. With this article I will attempt to confront some of the rumors that seem to frequently pop and up and evaluate their legitimacy.
The first thing I would like to discuss is the contrast between raw distance and golf distance. First it is useful to have working definitions of these terms.
Def. The distance a player can perform a controlled throw on a line drive trajectory where the goal is to hit a specific line and finish in a desired target zone.
Def. The distance a player can throw when there are no limitations to adhere to, such as height, strict left/right boundaries, and diminished emphasis on target landing zone or required accuracy.
For well over 99% of the world the phrase, “I can throw 500',” (if indeed true) refers to raw distance and not golf distance. Currently there is somewhere in the ballpark of 5-20 players in the world that can actually throw a 500' golf shot with any kind of consistency and accuracy. Keep in mind that this type of shot is rarely applicable for a number of reasons: courses generally have very few holes over 500', a 500' golf drive still requires substantial height under it as well as some room to work lines (that are not always available), throwing a disc with this much power behind it is generally very risk/reward and has a substantial loss in accuracy so most players who can throw this far will often choose to throw a controlled 450' instead, etc.
To sum things up, if you are a newer player and read that someone is throwing 500', it very well may be true, but the shot they are referring to is most likely a 40' high or higher S-curve shot that requires at least 50' of left/right “play” on the fairway and likely can't be done with more than 50% success. Interestingly enough, there are a large number of players that rarely throw farther than 380' that would probably be able to clip 425' on a fairly consistent basis if they were to further explore raw distance lines. Most often, it is the really big throwers that will reference distances below what they can actually throw and/or make the distinction between a controlled drive and a distance drive.
Another mis-communicated concept (most common amongst players that throw less than 400') is the idea of “How far can you throw?” vs. “How far have you thrown?” I generally look at it with this rule of thumb: you should be able to do it at least 2 out of 5 drives to claim that as your distance. I have thrown 490' on flat ground before, but it was just once and I make no claim to being able to throw anywhere near 490'.
Taking this idea a step further leads to the concept of consistent distance. I view consistent distance as more of a mindset than a figure.
Def. The range at which you change your throw for a shot that is 20' shorter.
While this concept may seem simple, I have found very few players that seem to be conscious of it. To elaborate on it a bit, basically, each player has a peak range where they are in control of the distance they are attempting to throw. If a player can throw a “consistent” 380', that means that on all throws over 380' they will be throwing “full power” and if they throw farther than 380' they have little control over how much farther that they do throw. However, on throws of 360' and shorter, they will change their throw and adjust to throw shorter.
Tee Signs and Local Routes
The last of the distance myths I will confront are local course hole measurements and local routes. When you step up and read the tee sign keep in mind that very few courses have accurate measurements. Many older courses were measured before GPS and laser range finders were available so they were often measured with old school distance wheel counters (consult your local high school's track & field program to see such a device). Terrain such as elevation will give an inflated value for the distance.
Even when hole lengths are accurate the measurements are often for “how the hole is supposed to be played” and there are often local routes available that will cut off a substantial portion of the length or have periods of downhill terrain that allow for exaggerated carry on discs. I have experienced several cases where such routes have been used to reference someone's throwing distance. So if someone says they have parked a 425' hole several times, keep in mind this may mean they took the route over the O.B. road just to the right of the stop sign, get the disc turning over, gliding down hill, and fading back in bounds to the right of the basket. The outcome is yes, they did indeed park a 425' hole, however, they only threw a 360' shot to get there.
Distance Records and Long Throws
With the distance record standing at an astounding 820' (thrown by Sandstrom in 2002), I believe that people's perspectives of what a long throw really is has gotten fairly skewed. The majority of the longest throws since Stokely's 656' throw in 1995 have been very wind assisted, in areas that often had 15-35 MPH winds to catch as well as other factors such as altitude, thermal updrafts, etc. In fact, the five longest throws of all time (820', 810', 761', 748', and 738') were all performed on the same day and 16 of the 18 longest throws of all time have all been performed at the same location.
The first official 600'+ throw occurred in 1987 at 613'. The 700' barrier was not broken until 2001. In 14 years leading up to Voigt's throw of 712', the distance record had increased by about 80' (Stokely held the last distance record before Voigt at 693'). I have found with certain newer players, a 650' throw just doesn't seem to impress them as much as it probably should. The honest difference between a 650' throw and a 725' throw is basically a little bit of luck, catching the wind just right to get that extra carry at the end. Nearly every throw that breaks 600' looks almost identical for the first 2/3 of the flight (assuming you are comparing anhyzer to anhyzer and hyzer flip to hyzer flip) and it's the behavior during the latter part of the flight… with everything happening just right… is where the factors that boost the record breaking throws reside.
I guess the point I want to make with this is that anyone who can throw over 550' (on any available line) has tremendous and awe-inspiring power and do not let the fact that the current world record is in excess of 800' detract from the value of any long throw.
Now, to cover some more realistic expectations for what you can expect along your learning curve.
1) Expect plateaus in your golf distance. You will hit plateaus and generally break through them as each concept “clicks.” If you linger for an extended period of time at one of the intermediary plateaus, chances are there is something wrong with your throw on the fundamental level. These are most commonly linked to nose angle, failure to utilize leg power, lack of a good follow through, etc. The plateaus are approximately as follows: ~240', ~280', ~320', ~370'. While disc technology is slowly pushing these plateaus out farther, the spreads have remained relatively similar over the past few years.
2) Most players will never break the final plateau so do not feel bad if you cannot eclipse it as most people do not. The key to breaking this plateau is snap. Snap is probably the most difficult concept to grasp, master, feel, and teach. The majority of players that do throw well beyond 370' picked up this ability naturally (with lots of practice).
3) Experiment with lines and angles. I find very few players hit their distance potential simply because they do not adequately experiment with lines that will allow them to reach it (without requiring an improvement in form). It is fairly safe to say that you will not throw max distance with a low line drive thrown flat. Mastering the distance anhyzer/turnover is one of the easiest ways to push your throw farther. Having a good roller is another way to greatly exceed your normal distance.
4) Experiment with discs that will allow you to make them fly a full flight path. If you throw discs that require speeds beyond what you can generate you will be at the mercy of the disc rather than the disc being under your control. This is critical in developing mastery of flight manipulation.
5) Be willing to take one step back for two steps forward. Any major changes in your throwing technique will likely be met with a period of struggles and inconsistency. However, understand that those changes are often necessary to push your throw to the next level.
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