by Conrad Damon, Forward by Rick Bays
The sidearm shot has always fascinated me. It is one of those shots that promises to shave many strokes from anybody's game who takes the time to master it.
Much of the attraction it has for me is that it seems easier to throw accurate drives with a sidearm than a back hand. This is because with the sidearm motion.. you don't have to take your eyes off of your target when you throw. Whereas with a back hand throw, if you want any distance at all, you need to turn your head away from your target during your backswing. I find myself looking at many drives that require a turn over shot, and think, "ya know, I could hit this drive much more consistently with a sidearm, if I only HAD a sidearm."
Every year I promise myself that I will learn how to throw a 300' sidearm drive. Last year I actually started practicing it a little during rounds of golf. I can now throw 250", but it flutters like a wounded duck. 100 foot approach shots are pretty good. With more advice from Conrad, I will achieve my goal of accurate 300 foot shots... and all our golf games can benefit from advice from this master of the side arm.
For those who don't know Conrad, he is a "very good Pro golfer. He can throw a (classic Roc further side-arm than most of us can throw a Cyclone back hand, and roll a Stingray side-arm forever!
It's mid-tournament and you've hit. the wall - an endless string of pars and bogies that you'd give anything to break. The hole is short with a tight straight route, and you can already see the bark flying. The rest of your group is singing the lumberjack song to you and you're trying to resist the urge to kill them. At this point the enjoyment of your round is limited to the small bit of pleasure you get seeing discs other than yours smashing into trees. Then the player teeing ahead of you flips a side-arm through a window on the left, finding a low but open route, and his disc skips up under the pin. Do you:
A - punch him
B - complain about the obvious unfairness of the hole
C - learn a side-arm
The rest of this article is for those of you choosing option C. Check back later for articles covering options A and B.
Just about any experienced disc golfer will tell you that adding a side-arm to your game will move it up a notch. At the very least, it's extremely useful for restricted approach shots. Even with a range of just 80 feet, you can easily take one to two strokes off each round, especially on wooded and bushy courses.
I really should know more about it. I know that Ken Westerfield and Victor Malafronte had the awesome side-arms of the 70's, using it to win distance competitions. One reason for its early success is that it was easier to keep the nose of those vintage discs down. Henry Ford said history is bunk but he never said what bunk is.
As with backhand, there are a bunch of different styles to throwing a side-arm, only one of which I know really well (that would be mine). So I'll let you know what's going through my head - scratch that - I'll let you know the general principles that I think make a side-arm work.
0. The grip
The fact that the side-arm is also called the "two-finger" is your first clue. Put your index and middle fingers under the rim with your middle finger against the inner rim. Some like splaying their fingers; I prefer not to. The ring and pinky finger are curled against the outside of the rim, with the rim sitting on the inner side of the ring finger. The thumb presses down from above. Your grip should be firm enough that a frisbee-eating dog can't get the disc away from you.
I. The snap
The wrist snap for a side-arm is something that doesn't normally come ' naturally. Most beginners make the mistake of using the same motion they'd use to throw a baseball, with the fingers moving directly toward the elbow. What you want instead is a snap that turns the inside part of your wrist up (supination for you logophiles), as if were scooping water into your palm from an open container. You'll also want to snap your middle finger in the direction of the throw.
2. The swing
The first thing to learn is to slow your arm down, though it's awfully tempting to throw it like you're throwing a ball. Trust me, that doesn't make your throw go farther. It makes it flutter like mad, taking offlike a noisy basketball but not going quite as far. Your snap must always be quicker than your arm - the same applies to good backhand technique. As your snap speeds up,you can speed up your arm. Keep your elbow in. That'll keep everything under control and make it much easier to get good snap. (editor's note: Conrad taught me this "elbow in" technique the first time I asked him about throwing side-arm. If you watch him throw, his elbow never strays far from his hip. Don't let your arm flail around.)
Go throw it a thousand times or so. Make a friend chase it down while you learn. That's what I did. Don't be discouraged if it doesn't start working right away. It takes longer to learn than backhand, but once you have it it's yours to keep. I recommend learning with a big-rimmed disc, both because it's easier to grip and it'll keep you honest.
Approach shots with a restricted stance are the first beneficiaries of having a side-arm available, especially with the goodly amount of stretch you can get given that the disc is extended away from your body rather than across it. If you throw it enough you may find that the release feels more comfortable for Finesse shots than a backhand, in fact, most overall players throw accuracy side-arm. Many pro golfers throw most of their 60-300 foot approaches side-arm. Once you develop some power with your side-arm, you'll find it opens up all kinds of possibilities for drives. Turnover holes can become easy side-arm holes. Throwing uphill also seems to be a lot easier side-arm. Some find low shots also are easier to pull off side-arm. Now you have a roller that goes left! Raise your arm, start the throw vertical, and you have an upside-down shot that falls to the right!
Well, of course you can't miss Stokely. Scott's been throwing side-arm golf shots for years since not every problem can be solved with a 500-foot backhand. And surprise, surprise, he's got (as far as I know) the best side-arm distance these days. I've had some marginal success in my new form as a mostly side-arm golfer and mostly bad putter. Jonas Bengtsson of Sweden has an exceptional side-arm which makes him a competitive golfer and overall player.
For some reason side-arm also seems to take a lot less effort. My swing is more a poke than a swing, over in a hurry, so throwing a 350-foot side-arm seems to take around a quarter the effort an equivalent backhand takes. Many older players have discovered the same thing. George Maple, who throws about half and half, just edged hall-of-famer Snapper Pierson at the Masters Cup in Santa Cruz, a course well-suited to having a targe bag of tricks. In the last round I managed the best round by someone not named Ken. Ralph Williamson dominated the senior grandmasters' division for years with side-arm rollers clearing his way.
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