Short Arm Putting
by Blake Takkunen
Originally Posted: 7-07-02
Last Revised: 07-12-02
Table of Contents
III. Putt How You Practice
IV. Putting In The Wind
V. Distance Putting
VI. Common Breakdowns
VII. The Short Arm Putt in Action
I have found putting in disc golf is one of the more difficult techniques for newer players to grasp and master. I am by no means an amazing putter but I routinely hit 25' putts and I think that with the right technique, anyone should be able to do this. I have used many different putting techniques throughout the course of my playing and evaluated them based on their inherent strengths and weaknesses. The short arm pitch putt is the technique that I have found to be the most complete when it comes to repeatability, disc choice, stance variation, wind, and mindset.
This technique is called the "short arm" putt since you will be releasing the disc before your elbow is fully extended. This uses a very short motion that is easily repeatable and has less time for errors to occur. This technique is founded on a few basic principles, some of which overlap into other putting styles. The short-arm putt is a good way to turn putts under 30' into gimmies and hopefully can help reduce putter differentiation, increase confidence and accuracy, and hopefully extend your 50% make range to 35' or beyond.
See this putt in action by touring pro Shawn Sinclair.
Conceptualizing the form is the first step to mastering a new technique. This section is focused more on the fundamentals behind the technique. Execution of the technique will be expanded on in other sections.
Grip is often overlooked when putting but how you hold the disc and its orientation in your hand have significant affects on the trajectory, spin, and repeatability of your putt.
I recommend using a grip that has all 4 fingers under the disc and at least 2 fingers extended out under the flight plate. The grips that fit this bill are the fan grip that has the index finger and pinkey on the rim and the middle and ring fingers under the flight plate or a grip that has only the index finger on the rim and the other 3 fingers under the flight plate. The fingers under the flight plate will give you greater contol over the disc angle as well as increase your "touch" on putts. Thumb placement should somewhat oppose the index finger and whatever is comfortable should work but I recommend avoiding having your thumb too close to the center or edge of the disc. Your grip should be firm but not overly tight and your wrist should be loose enough to sway freely. I do not recommend grips without the index finger under the rim as they often lead to consistency problems with off axis torque and not generating enough rotation to keep the disc flying without wobble.
A good sign that your grip is stable and in a position to get a clean release with maximum control is if you can lift your thumb off the disc and still hold the disc and vary its angle.
The orientation of your grip is also very important in terms of controlling and repeating your putt. I recommend orienting your grip somewhere between 2:30-3:30 on the disc. This is a fairly wrist neutral grip that gives the greatest freedom of angle adjustment and you can make adjustments as you see necessary. Open wrist grips at 4:00 or lower will generate less spin and have a greater nose-down tendencies. Loft putts and hyzer putts are also easier with this grip orientation. Closed wrist grips at 2:00 or higher generate more spin and make it easier to keep the disc level both in hyzer/anhyzer and nose up/down terms. While this may seem advantageous, a closed wrist grip gives the least freedom to adjust angles and is the most difficult to repeat as it requires a very quick motion to get a clean release. If your putting motion is too slow there will be a tendency to pull the disc to the right. For the sake of repeatability and on a basis of strengths and weaknesses, a neutral wrist grip should be the best choice for most players.
If you are executing your pitch correctly, stance is one of the least important aspects of this technique on putts under 30 feet. Since rhythm is a very important part of putting your ideal stance will vary but there are a few important aspects that should be focused on. I recommend that everyone learn to putt with both a straddle stance and a traditional staggered stance as each has its use in different situations. While straddle putting doesn't have the range of a staggered stance since it does not allow for as great of a weight shift, it is the easiest way to generate a straight line path and does not have the timing or balance issues that can arise with a staggered stance. This is very advantageous for uphill or downhill putts where timing and balance are more difficult.
You should try to keep your shoulders square and aim the center of your chest at the target. This will keep your pitch linear and avoid problems associated with varying shoulder orientation such as tendencies to push or pull the disc and loss of power.
Your center of gravity should be over your front foot at the start of your pitch through the release. You should be able to putt while standing only on your front foot. If you start your motion while still behind your foot your putts will have nose-up tendencies. This will give you a point of reference in the timing of your weight shift as your putt motion should start once your forward motion takes you to that point of balance. A good straddle stance will have your weight centered between your feet and be even with or slightly forward to their front/back orientation.
The pitch line and motion is the most important part of the short arm putt. Your "at rest" position should start with your body in its forward balanced position. Your elbow should be slightly bent and close to your body. Hold the disc directly in front of you and centered on your body with the disc oriented flat. The disc should be somewhere in the range from slightly above to slightly below your waist. Start moving your upper arm up and down, the rest of your arm should follow like a pendulum. Keep the disc flat the whole time and straight in line out from your body ranging in height from the at rest position to the top of your stomach/bottom of your chest. The disc should be moving in an up-and-out line. Notice how your elbow will have to straighten a bit in order to keep the disc flat as it gets farther away from your body. Your elbow and wrist motion will be incidental as the only active motions are the movement of the upper arm and the movements associated with keeping the disc flat and straight in line. If your shoulders are square, this line should be exactly the same regardless of your choice of stance.
Remember that the pitch line will be like an underhand throw and not a flexed elbow "push." Think of (or better yet, pick one up and try) how you would go about throwing a chemistry textbook or encyclopedia volume for maximum distance. The motion will be more like a horeshoe pitch or underhand softball pitch coming from the center of your body than a throw.
Your goal will be to execute this pitch as quickly as possible using by a swing of the upper arm. This will require a very fast arm motion to do so and you will want to keep the disc line linear and straight out from your body. Try this without a disc in hand but with a neutral grip orientation and a loose wrist. If you are performing the motion fast enough, your wrist will wag closed and fire open at the end of the pitch.
Although line is a matter of preference, there are strengths and weaknesses associated with each. I recommend a slight up-and-down motion with the disc peaking in height around 6" above the basket and hitting the chains while its on its dropping out of the air. Your pitch should be a diagonal up-and-out motion to achieve this line. A low line drive putt is achieved with a motion of less up and more out. This line has the longest range potential but also has the greatest tendency to putt low and will leave you the longest come-back putts. A nose-down loft putt with a more upwards trajectory will leave the shortest come-back putt distance but is also the most range limited and most difficult to control in windy situations. While it is helpful to be able to putt with all trajectories, a slight arc line is probably the most consistent.
Now that the conceptual aspects have been covered it's time to try executing the putt. The full-speed motion of this putt will be very quick and there are a few things to focus on.
While the weight shift has been discussed briefly, it is important to know that this is your main source of power. The larger the weight shift the greater distance you can achieve with your putt. The staggered stance has much greater weight shift potential and thus greater distance potential as you can adjust the amount of rocking from your back foot to front foot. The straddle putt also utilizes a weight shift but it is much smaller. This is achieved by slightly rocking back onto your heels and then rocking to the balls of your feet and pressing down into the ground.
The timing of shift to pitch is also very important. The pitch needs to start the instant you reach your forward balanced position. To early will throw off your trajectory and too late will negate the effect of the weight shift. I recommend finding your max range without a weight shift and then putting from the forward balance position whenever your range allows.
It is also important to note that greater putting range is achieved by a greater shift in weight and not by putting "harder." All of your putts should have the same level of quickness and aside from the motion of your upper arm and keeping the disc flat, a putting harder will result in less putt range as the muscle rigidity will sacrifice quickness.
The executed pitch will be a very quick motion. When performed at full-speed it should almost feel like a movement from the upper arm and a simultaneous popping of the elbow and wrist along your desired trajectory. It is very important that this motion occurs on a straight line path out from the center of your body. There should be no sideways pulling of the disc. This motion should happen as fast as possible on all putts outside of 15' to keep the release constant. The "touch" of the putt occurs from the spring of the fingers which is the next topic of discussion.
The clean line, finesse, and rotation of this putt are the result of the spring of the fingers off the disc. The spring is actively removing all of the fingers leaving the disc at the same time. This is similar to throwing a dart. A uniform dart throw requires all of the fingers to leave their pressure points at the same time. A clean putt release will have the same requirement. The spin needed to keep the disc flying without wobble is generated by the slight tension of the fingers "popping" off the disc while the disc is being accelerated forward. Your hand should finish fully open. While this may take some practice to perfect, a good release should occur somewhere near the top of the stomach while feeling very clean and the disc will hold a tight line with some rotation and no wobble. The spring of the fingers is one of the most important parts of the putt.
To be a little more explicit, the spring of the fingers is achieved by actively letting go of the disc but making sure that all of your fingers leave the disc at the same time.
The entire range of motion covered before you physically release the disc by actively springing your fingers off the disc will be small. The disc will only cover 12-18" of distance before you release the disc. The entire motion needs to happen very quickly. The compact motion powering the disc is what separates this form from the elongated stroke and slower motion of the long-arm putt.
Follow-through controls the nose angle of the putt. While this seems counter-intuitive to the pivot point on the front of a disc for a golf shot, the nose angle of a putt is controlled by your ring finger and its contact (or lack of) with the back edge of the disc during the follow-through. When learning this putt I actually recommend using no follow-through. This means you will want to consciously stop your hand immediately after the finger spring in order to ensure a quick motion and a neutral release. Once you have a feel for the putt it is recommended to develop a clean follow-through that has no effect on nose angle.
For nose-down putting, follow-through higher and slightly lift the back edge of the disc with your ring finger as you spring your fingers. This will tilt the nose down.
***If you are executing this putt correctly, all putters should fly the same inside of 30' and your putts will have little to no fade inside this range.***
III. Putt How You Practice
While some players recommend to take your time on all putts and never rapid-fire putt during practice, if you trust your putting stroke, how you practice isn't as important as long as your putts during the round match those you have practiced. If you find yourself having better success with rapid fire putting in practice, when playing a round you should step to your mark and fire. Slowing yourself down and spending more time eyeing up your putt and going through the motions will give you more time to psyche yourself out and prevent your putting motion from being quick enough to give you a clean release and tight line. Similarly, if you practice putting taking your time and lining up, you should be doing the same thing out on the course on anything that isn't a drop in.
IV. Putting In The Wind
While many players recommend using a max weight putter to counter wind factors, this is not necessary if you putt with the disc perfectly flat. Tailwind putts will require more height as they drop faster and putting flat will be advantageous in these situations. Nose down putting will accelerate the drop process making it easier to pull up short and hyzer and anhyzer putts will need to be adjusted since the disc will act more overstable. Headwind putts require more of a low line drive path with a flat disc as they will make your putter rise. Putting nose down into a headwind is a bad idea as the headwind will knock your putter down very quickly. Adjusting the trajectory of your pitch while keeping the disc flat and making sure you spring your fingers off cleanly should keep the wind from affecting your putt too much.
I also recommend putting with less follow-through or none at all into a strong headwind. The wind will begin to push the disc BEFORE it has left your hand so you'll want to get rid of the disc as quickly as possible on your desired line. If the disc doesn't release early enough the wind can push the disc off of your fingers during your arm extension and alter the nose angle of your putt.
V. Distance Putting
If you have reached your maximum range with a standard weight shift there are a few tricks you can use to get more distance out of your putter.
The easiest way to stretch your putting range out is to putt with a slight anhyzer. If you are using a stable to slightly overstable putter you will get a little added distance by putting with a slight s-curve. While this technique isn't as good in windy situations, it will add quite a bit of distance. I recommend putting a little higher and slightly nose down with this and using your fingers under the flight plate to raise the angle of the disc in the "at rest" position. You'll still need to putt with a quick motion.
The jump putt is the technique used by the pros to run putts well out of their normal range. This technique utilizes an extreme weight shift as you do not need to worry about stopping yourself after you release the disc. This is achieved by rocking from back to front and continuing forward with a slight hop off the right foot or a step by the left foot after you have released the disc. With a little practice of timing and form you should be able to get a lot of distance with the same line and pitch motion of your regular putt. This technique is only legal outside of 10 meters and you must release the disc before you move beyond your mark or it is a foot fault.
VI. Common Breakdowns
Any technique change often requires some adjustment. Here are some common technique flaws that will lead to problems with the short arm putting technique.
A successful short arm putt requires a very quick arm motion to generate enough power over a very short range of motion. If your pitch is too slow you will have a tendency to "long arm" putt and not release the disc until your arm is fully extended. This technique requires more height and if you putt slow and with the trajectory for a short arm putt you will putt low. Too slow of a motion will also be detrimental to closed wrist grips as your arm will not be moving fast enough to uncoil your wrist and you will yank the putt to the right. If you find yourself putting low or to the right, focus on putting as quickly as possible and release without a follow-through until you (re)gain the feel for the motion.
Dropping Your Off Shoulder
Your non-throwing shoulder will play a large part in the power you generate during your putt. Although I recommend a square shoulder stance, this is not absolutely critical. What is important that the relative orientation of your shoulders stay the same. If you drop your off shoulder back, you will be robbing yourself of distance.
Not Enough Spin
While too much spin can cause putts to kick out, not enough spin can lead to wobble and loss of distance. To generate more spin concentrate on getting a better finger spring off of the disc. An alternative, although not highly recommended (unless you are putting with an open wrist grip) would be to close your wrist by shifting your grip orientation up the disc and closing your wrist more. Also, if you are using a grip that does not have your index finger under the rim, adding that finger should help add spin.
Not A Clean Release
If you aren't getting a clean enough release to keep the disc from wobbling, concentrate on a cleaner finger spring and use less or no follow-through until you (re)gain your stroke. This will force your hand to open cleanly and quickly.
Too Much Nose Down
Another reason for pulling up short or having the wind knock your putter down is releasing the disc with too much nose down angle. If this is happening unconsciously, try shortening or eliminating your follow through and focusing on getting a cleaner finger spring off the disc until you (re)gain your stroke.
Fear is one of the top causes of putting short. Being afraid of missing and blowing by will have you constantly putting short. You need to trust the stroke and always putt with a quick motion. Choose a trajectory that will give you makeable come-back putts on misses and have the confidence to run putts in your make-range.
VII. The Short Arm Putt in Action
Here is a clip of Shawn Sinclair executing a short arm putt at the 2002 Minnesota Majestic. Shawn is an excellent putter and uses a technique very similar to that I have described above.
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