Monday, September 8, 2008

Rantin' Bout Ratings

In my time in the sport of disc golf, I've covered many things from a journalism stand point, seen many things from both the view as a player and a fan, and I've heard every complaint and compliment one could hear as a tournament director. No matter the topic or the source, when it comes down to a players ability or the effect of a round no matter who it is coming from, one common theme comes into play. Ratings.

There is no doubt Chuck Kennedy has made one of the biggest impacts the sport of disc golf will ever see. As the creator of the now standardized rating system the PDGA uses, Kennedy was able to seemingly fix one of the main problems within disc golf that ball golf never had an issue with; standardization of par.

The idea behind ratings is very simple. In disc golf, some courses are very very easy and you see scores in the upper 30's to mid 40's. Some courses have players routinely shooting sub 54. Others you have only a handful players to ever break 60. This combination of old school short and simple courses have now meshed with the new school thought of longer and tougher courses and thus has created an inconsistency in par. While disc golf is a spin off of golf (whether we like it or not), it is polar opposites when it comes to par. Pretty much every ball golf course you will play will have par at 70, 71, or 72. In disc golf, par can be and has been from 54 to 72 and everything in between.

This is where one of the biggest difference in the sports come and one of the reasons ratings were created. If I told you I usually shoot around 95 when I hit the white ball at Wil Mar Country Club in Raleigh, NC, you would have a pretty good idea of my talents as a golfer without any knowledge of the course, its length, or its difficulty. If I told you I average 50 at Cedar Hills Disc Golf Course in Raleigh, NC, you have no idea what that means unless you have knowledge of me as a player or knowledge of the course.

The ratings system, in theory, has provided a way for a round shot at one course to be compared to any other round you or anyone has shot on any other course and thus gives us a standardization of par within the game. Instead of me only saying I shoot 50 at Cedar Hills, I typically add that a 50 would be rated about 990 and then everything makes sense.

From this point, you are probably thinking I am big fan of the ratings and its effect. However, if you have ever read a single post of mine of the PDGA Message Board, you will soon find that nothing could be further from the truth.

Ratings have grown to the point where people are tanking rounds or quitting tournaments to preserve their rating. There was always a rumor floating around that to be considered to be on Team Innova, you had to be 1000 rated. There is a now a popular website,, that tracks the hot rounds of the week through out the country, up and coming 1000 rated players and those who have fallen from this mark. Tournaments are starting to turn two 27 hole rounds into three hole rounds just so the ratings won't be off. Many players often comment on how many 1000 rated rounds they have shot and feel they get screwed if a round rating is 999. The PDGA Message Board has its own section about ratings. And finally, perhaps the largest proof of the explosion of ratings is that there are now rules of where a player is allowed to compete in PDGA sanctioned tournaments based on their rating.

Based on this previous paragraph, you would think that there would not be many problems with the system because, as you can see and whether you like or not, ratings are pretty important. However, there are very obvious problems within the ratings system that it seems everyone but Chuck Kennedy recognizes.

In my opinion the biggest problem with the ratings is how they are calculated. For some reason even though disc golf is an individual sport, ratings are calculated based on what everyone shoots. If the field plays bad, ratings are high. If the field plays good, ratings are low. This leads to people getting rounds rated to high or to low depending on the situation.

I've never understood why this is the case. If I shoot a course record and come in and find that eight players during the same round beat my score and the course record, does that mean I played poorly? No. All it means is eight people played better than me. Why should I penalized for this? If I shoot horrible and come in with a five stroke lead, does this mean I played well? No. All it means is everyone played worse.

Perhaps my favorite example this came on at Glenburnie Park in New Bern, NC. This past year on the short tees, I put together my best personal round of 46. Mike Hofmann, now rated 1005, matched this round as well. However, North Carolina's newest 1000 rated player, Jeb Bryant, smoked the course and fired a course record 41.

Since I had shot a 49 at a previous tournament on this course in similar conditions and received a round rating 1008, I was anxious to see a round rating of possibly 1040, which would be my third highest ever. However, since Jeb and others played really well that round, my 46 was rated LOWER than my 49. Exact same course. Same conditions. Three strokes better. Two points lower.

Here is another level of stupidity about the ratings. Lets say you have 20 players in a field. The highest rated player is rated 1000, you have one player at 990, one at 980, one at 970, etc all the way down to 800. According the system and the way it was designed, that round should have one player shoot 1000. One player shoot 990. One shoot 980, etc. How in the world can anyone predict what anyone will shoot before they even play the round? Isn't possible that three people shoot over 1000? Isn't it possible that no one does?

It gets worse. We now categorize different groups of ratings. Chuck has posted on the PDGA message board many times that a certain hot round is now the nth ranked rating for a certain SSA group. This information is categorized because the higher a course's SSA is, the lower amount of points per stroke is used to calculate the rating. This leads to some very high round ratings on courses with an SSA of around 50 to 54 and some very low round ratings on courses with a SSA over 60.

No one outside of our sport has a clue what a rating is or how it is calculated. All they understand on the surface is what ball golf has taught them and that is how many under or over par a player is. Imagine explaining all this stuff and all the ratings and how they are calculated and why they are needed and all that and then them finally understanding it. Now, they see a 1020 rated round next to a 1010 rated round and you having to explain why the 1010 rated round was actually better because the SSA was really high that round and the field player really well. I'm confused and I understand the whole process.

In the end, I know ratings kinda don't matter; the best score wins regardless of those rounds were all over 1050 or all under 950. However, if we are going to base who gets sponsored, who gets recognition and by all means who can play in what division on our ratings, shouldn't they be a little bit more accurate and not based on such a silly system?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Execution Before the Shot

If I've seen it once, I've seen it a hundred times. I see so many newer players with a great attitude about the game, unreal raw talent, dedication to improvement and that one thing that separates most players - the desire to be the best. These guys step up to their shot and just before I watch them throw what will probably be thrown smoothly with great form and control, I cringe.
So many newer players in the game lack the ability to execute the shot before they even throw it. This sets them up for a poor shot and in the end, it costs them about two shots per round. You are probably wondering how in the world execution happens before the disc is even released. It is simple, really. You must execute your shot selection in your mind before you even throw the disc.
I really never understood the importance of shot selection until I moved up to playing pro. There were many times where I would step up to a hole and take a route that no one else in the group threw or throw a midrange when everyone else was throwing drivers. Did I sometimes pick up birdies? Of course. Did I sometimes reach those holes with my midrange? Of course. However, I soon understood that just because I could park a hole going a unique way or reach a hole with a midrange doesn't mean that I selected the best option.
The first thing to think about with shot selection is the angle of release. The angle of release of a disc is vital to throwing a good shot and is something that most people overlook, I feel. If you are in a tight lie or on a tee pad with a gap to hit right off the tee, you don't need to think about the basket at first. If the shot sets up best to hit that gap with hyzer, use a hyzer release. If you it sets up best to hit it with anhyzer, use an anhyzer release. I like to think of it like this; focus on the first 1/3 of the hole. If you hit the initial gap at a good angle every time, it really is tough not to shoot well. To me, this element is what separates most players, especially the elite guys. Sure, they mess up from time to time, but more than likely, the first 1/3 of the hole is played pretty well if not flawlessly.
Now that you have hit the gap easier in your head, now focus on the rest of the hole. You have to visualize the flight of your disc through the duration of the hole, and that starts back at your release angle.. If you are hitting the gap with hyzer and the hole goes to the left (assuming righthand backhand), you don't need to throw as stable as a disc as you might think because the disc is already at a hyzer angle. If it goes straight, you need throw a bit flippier than you might think because once again, the disc is at a hyzer angle. This same philosophy can be carried over to anhyzer releases and throwing a disc with more stability than you might originally think.
I see so many newer players who immediately think that any shot that is anhyzer is a sidearm, thumber, or a flippy disc and any shot that hyzers as a tomahawk or a stable disc. Nothing could be further from the truth! If you can begin to control your stable discs on turnovers and your flippier discs on hyzers, you will be amazed at how quickly you get better simply because now you are focusing on hitting gaps as opposed to parking the hole.
The next problem I see before a tee shot is disc selection. Just because you have thrown a Roc 320 feet or just because you can doesn't mean that every shot that is 320 feet is a Roc shot. So many people ask me "How Robert, how far do you throw a midrange?" or "Hey man, how far do you throw a putter?" To me, there is no answer to that question. I can throw a midrange 340 and I can throw a putter 300, but how far do I throw them is impossible to answer.
If I'm in on an open hole (assuming calm conditions and no OB) and it is 280 feet, more than likely I am throwing a stable driver out wide and crashing right beside the basket. If I'm on tight wooded hole and it is 280 feet, more than likely I am throwing a putter or a midrange.
OK, so when do you throw a driver and when do you throw a midrange and when do you throw a putter if you have the option for all on a shot? While there is no concrete answer because everything in golf is situational, there are some basics strategies that can help.
These situations are probably best to throw a driver (assuming right hand backhand)
- There is OB right / it is better to be left- A driver has a better chance of hyzering.
- It is better to be long of the pin than short of the pin / you have OB to cross- A driver has a better chance of traveling further.
- There is a head wind or a left to right wind - A driver has a better chance of flying its natural flight in these winds.
- The hole is uphill - The hole will play longer than you think.
- The hole calls for an anhzyer release - A driver is more likely to fight this release angle.
- There is lots of open room to the right of the basket - A driver can take a wider path down the larger opening and still reach the pin.
- The hole is mainly open - Drivers provide a consistent flight and they are very easy to predict.
These situations are probably best to throw a midrange or a putter
- There is OB left / it is better to be right - Most midranges or putters will turn over easier.
- It is better to be short of the pin / there is OB long - A midrange and putter won't travel as far.
- There is a tail wind - A midrage or putter will travel much further than you think in these winds and the tail winds increase a disc's stability.
- The hole calls for a hyzer release - A midrage or putter is more likely to come out of the hyzer release.
- The hole is tight - A midrage or putter typically will have the same flight the entire time it is in the air.
- There is lots of open room to the left of the basket - It is easier to anhyzer a midrage or putter than a driver and this allows you to take advantage of the easier path to the pin.
- The hole is downhill - A midrage or putter not only will go further than you might think, it also has a better chance of not changing its flight as it looses speed going down the hill.
If you begin thinking about your shot and the angle of release, you will see drastic improvements in your score quickly! If you visualize a shot and focus on the first 1/3 of the hole at first rather than the hole as whole, this will also help as well. Good shot selection turns horrible shots into bad shots, bad shots into poor shots, poor shots into OK shots, OK shots into good shots, good shots into great shots and great shots into tap ins.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Disc Golf is way too easy

Imagine playing 114 holes of disc golf and being -67 under on those holes; now imagine being 11 shots off the lead at the same time.
As of 2:53 on Friday, August 15th, this is what Nikko Locastro of St. Louis, Missouri is experiencing. His play has been unreal this week and other than the fact Dave Feldberg should win his first world title, Nikko's play has been the story of the week.
However there has been lots of bickering on the discussion board about these courses not being a true test of disc golf due to the "deuce or die" mentality of the worlds. My opinion is that the courses are not to blame, its simply that disc golf is way too easy.
So many people get caught up in the idea that disc golf needs more tough courses. I 100% agree with these people. However, most players perception of hard a course is one where most scores come in over the number 54.
My definition of hard is not what I should shoot on a course, but the difference between SSA and course par. If a course has 18 par 3's with a par of 54 and 53 is considered 1000, to me, this is a really tough course. The fact that every hole is a chance for 2 makes no difference in its difficulty. That course would be a lot more difficult than a par 60 course with the same SSA.
The main example I use when talking about this is about a par 72 course. Imagine a course with 18 wide open flat 550 foot holes. By nature, these would be par 4's. However, wide open and flat and only 550 would leave even the smaller arms with 250 foot upshots. Most players would be throwing only 200 - 150 foot upshots. This would basically create a par 4 version of the dreaded pitch and putt. With an SSA of around 62 (which I am getting from the fact that most pitch and putts have an SSA of 44 or -10), this course would score identical to the course that people hate and in theory (even with a high SSA) and would be very very easy. Even though the tee shots would be simple and the upshots would be almost the same thing as most tee shots on the pitch and putt courses, the same people who hated the pitch and putt course would probably enjoy the course. This makes no sense to me.
The way I calculate difficulty is simple. Take the course par and subtract the SSA and you should arrive at a number that gives you an idea of the course's difficulty. If you get anything 3 or lower, that's a pretty hard course. 4- 8 is about average and anything higher than 8 is a pretty simple. If you apply this logic to most courses, even the bigger and longer ones, you will soon see that most courses aren't as tough as you think. Also, you may be surprised at how many courses with only 1 or 2 par 4's are tougher than people give them credit for.
My solution to this and the reasoning disc golf is so easy is simply because putting is way too easy. I have been a long time proponent of making the targets smaller. You would scores be higher due to the obvious; tougher putts. However, it also would make things tougher because the random 65 foot jump putt we all make from time to time would have less and less people go for them. I know I have no fear from this range because even if I blow by, a 20 foot come backer is nothing. Also, you will see people got a lot more aggressive off the tee by trying to get closer and thus, added an element of risk verses reward.
No matter what we do, disc golf is simply too easy. The only course I've ever seen where par and SSA are anything close is Renny Gold in Charlotte. The par there is 70 and SSA comes in around that mark. The best players in the world only shoot around the -4 to -5 mark when they play there and outside of Schweberger's insane round there earlier this year, most people never get below 64 or 63 even on their best rounds.
Most people will argue that Winthrop Gold also yields a score around 0 and technically they are correct. However the circus like elements added to that course increase the SSA well beyond what it should be. The course can't be that hard if we see a score of -12 (56) shot there every single year. The Memorial Course this year was like this and we saw lots of 1080 - 1090 rounds. When I saw Barry Schultz a few weeks after and talked to him about this amazing play, he told me that the ratings were way to high. He said the shots were identical to the ones in the past, they just added rope for really bad shots. What this did was produce the top players still shooting what they always shot and then everyone else shooting worse. This raised the SSA when in reality they were not doing anything different.
While I would love to see the baskets made smaller, at this point there are so many at that current type, it would be almost impossible to start over with them, so to speak. The only way to get better now is make sure you know how to putt and realize a safe play sometimes is the best play. You can always make that 30 footer.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The 10 Greatest Shots I've Ever Witnessed

First off, it will probably amaze you how many of these shots I've picked actually didn't go in or weren't aces. My main criteria for this list was simple - it had to be a shot I witnessed in person (not on video or something like that). Most of the shots I've selected made the list simply because it was just an amazing shot, either by execution or simply because of how clutch it was. Here we go...

10. Walter Haney - Buckhorn White Tees - New Hill, NC - #17
This hole is about 360 feet and somewhat downhill. There are two trees about 15 feet apart that act as the gap right before you cover the last 200 feet of the hole over a lake. The basket sits guarded by trees just on the other side of the lake. Up until this day, I'd seen 2s to 12s on this hole, but that range was about to increase just a bit. After poking fun of about 3 groups of players for laying up, Walt stepped with his Red Pro Wraith and pured the gap. As soon as the disc stood up flat over the water, Walt says "got it." The disc crashed in the chains, dead center I might add, for the coolest ace I've ever seen.
9. Jeremy Koling - Zebulon - Zebulon, NC - #9
Leading the Amateur Dogwood Crosstown Classic with just 10 holes to go, Jeremy threw a pretty terrible drive down the left side of this 600 foot par 4 leaving himself a 300 foot spike hyzer to the pin. Thanks to an awful lie, Jeremy got on his knees to throw the shot, however, this took backhand out of question. He takes his red Surge and flicks it from his knees and at an extreme angle. Not only did he get out of the woods, he got the disc down the fairway - anhyzering the entire way - to the pin. Just as the disc was about to reach the hole, it flattened out landed smooth, like a simple approach, and Jeremy had a tap in birdie.
8. Justin Jernigan - Buckhorn Blue Tees - New Hill, NC - #17
The second time this hole has been on the list, but this time from the blue tees. The hole plays exactly as before except the tees are backed up so all players must lay up and it becomes a par 4. There are three trees about 30 feet short of the water that always come in to play because pretty much any driver that hyzers has these threes in the way. Justin's drive did just that leaving himself 250 feet to clear the water; with no run up and no chance at a follow through. Justin took out his orange Firebird and threw an huge anhyzer flick confidently over the water about 40 feet left of the pin, at least it appeared that way. Perfectly missing the all the trees in front the basket, the disc S'ed right under the pin for a short birdie putt.
7. Avery Jenkins - Zebulon - Zebulon, NC - #7
The third round of the Dogwood Crosstown Classic started off with Avery really struggling. As he drove the 7th, Avery found himself about 120 feet in the rough. He steps up and throws his white Aviar perfectly through about 70 feet of deep rough right in the basket. Perhaps it wasn't the execution of the shot but its importance. Avery's day completely turned around and he would come from 10th place starting on Sunday to win the tournament. I truly believe it was this shot on his 4th hole of the day that got him going.
6. Brian Schweberger - Barnet Park - Kinston, NC - #18
As much golf as I've played with this guy, I knew he would make the list at some point. The 18th in Kinston is about 320 feet down a tunnel of schule and then hyzers into a field. Schweb's drive was just terrible; it didn't even get past the first tree. In the deep rough on the right side and about 260 feet out, Schweb throws a thumber through a narrow gap, over the fairway and the OVER the other side of rough. The thumber left him about a 15 footer for one of the best 3's you will ever see.
5. Bard Soleng - Tupelo Bay Executive Course - Myrtle Beach, SC - #10
This par 4 on a ball golf conversion course left most players with a huge drive and then another driver to the pin. At over 650 feet and uphill the entire hole, most players would be happy with a putt inside the circle for 3; Bard had one for 2. The hole is about 500 or so feet of fairway until you reach the OB green. The pin sat just back left of the green and Bard tried to throw a roller up to the green and over to the right. He threw it and it was going right up the fairway until it disappeared into the valley just in front of the green. About that time, here it rolls up towards the green and everyone watching started shouting it for it stop in front of the green - it didn't As it rolled on the green, we all now were shouting for it to get across the green - it did. As it disappeared over the green we were all shocked to see it reappear going up towards the basket. Bard had a 25 footer for an amazing 2 - which he missed for one of the craziest birdies you will ever see.
4. Barry Schultz - Cedar Hills - Raleigh, NC - #10
At 260 feet and downhill, the 10th is a pretty simple birdie. Barry threw his drive way to high as it hyzered about 65 feet into the rough on the left. I remember standing there watching this putt and not even being able to see Barry. About that time I heard a little rustle in the leaves and heard him say "c'mon!" a few seconds before the disc landed in the basket. I ran over to where he was and he showed me the hole he went through on this spike hyzer straddle jump putt - the hole was about 15 feet right of the target. Cedar Hills is my home course and I've probably attempted to make the same putt about 200 times and I've never even the basket or the chains. I'm 0 for 200 from there, Barry is 1 for 1.
3. Nate Doss - Highbridge Gold - Highbridge, WI - #18
Nate had given up his 2 shot lead in the final 9 of the world championships to Markus Kallstrom with just 2 holes to go. The world champion would be decided on the very last two holes of the tournament and Nate had all the pressure on him after Markus bombed his drive on this 650 foot uphill par 4. Nate didn't exactly execute as you would think, spraying way to the right in the rough leaving himself around 275 feet. Throwing first, Nate got on his knees with this white challenger and thew it with everything he had, so much so that his follow through saw him land on his stomach. Despite the poor lie in the rough, throwing from his knees and the pressure of the world championship in the balance, Nate put his shot within 20 feet. He would go on to win the tournament by 1 shot. This shot would be difficult in your weekend foursome, I can't imagine its difficulty with all that pressure.
2. Markus Kallstrom - Highbridge Gold - Highbridge, WI - #15
Just 3 holes before Nate's world title winning shot, Markus was cruising and looked like he would win the tournament. This hole was about 600 feet but through tight woods the entire way and uphill to make things even tougher. The last 150 feet or so were a huge incline as it opened up into a field where the basket sat offset to the left. There was one tree about 100 feet off the tee that truly made the hole; golfers had to decided which way to play it because of this one tree. Markus steps up and throws to the left of it with some anyhyzer and absolulty bombed it, perhaps too hard. There was no doubt the disc would be pretty far from the tee, it was just a mater of where in the rough he would be. About the time it was anhyzering towards the rough, the disc stands up perfectly and begins to hyzer and kept going. Markus had thrown his drive in the middle of the fairway and only about 100 feet from the pin. Just imagine throwing a 500 foot drive, through the woods, uphill, during a worlds final 9 just one shot out of the lead. This was the most incredible drive I've ever witnessed.
1. Luke Reiser - Johnson Street Park - High Point, NC - #10
It wasn't an important putt. It wasn't a difficult hole. Luke isn't a big name. It didn't even happen in the pro division or even in a big tournament. It just was simply the greatest shot I've ever seen. After spraying his drive way left of the pin and leaving himself a nasty 55 foot putt, Luke was a bit frustrated. The left of the green features hundreds of thin trees where if you are in them, you are simply trying to pitch out and get an easy 3. As Luke approached his lie I knew his shot wouldn't be easy and I was thinking since I was parked, I would easily get a shot on him, probably 2 even. He gets on his knees and does the exact opposite of what you would expect; laughs. He then gets up and we see him putting his disc between two trees and he explains to us that the only way he could get to the pin was to go through a gap so small he didn't know if a disc could physically fit through it. He then finds that it does, goes back to his knees and putts. Not only did he split a gap where he didn't think a disc could physically fit through, he makes the putt. Simply the greatest shot I've ever witnessed.

This has been a fun list and its amazing to think the shots I've seen that didn't make the list!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Disc Golf's Marathon; The Worlds

Every tournament is pretty much the same. You show up play 2 - 4 round of golf and go home. This process goes on and on every weekend. Yet, we decide our world champion in a marathon type of tournament. The crazy part of worlds is it really is a totally different style of golf and really takes a totally different mindset than your typical weekend B Tier, or keeping with the running analogy, a 100 M dash.

Whenever I think about worlds' strategy, I always think back to my first worlds in 04 in Iowa. It would be my only time at the worlds in an amateur division due to the success I had in the advanced division during that tournament and over the next few months after it.

My tournament started at Big Creek, a course where in the advanced division, a score of 54 would be a great round and anything in the 50's would keep you in it. I remember starting on hole 12 and I was playing just great. It seemed every short hole I was parking, I was avoiding trouble on the hard ones and when I threw a bad drive on a birdie hole, I hit a big putt.

Perhaps the hole that proved I was playing well was the 4th, a very tough, tight and demanding par 4. I actually hit the basket on my second shot and at that point the spotter told me I was only the 3rd 3 on the hole for the round. When you are hitting the basket for 2 and there are only two 3s on the hole before that, you kinda know are playing well.

Heading to 9, I was only +3 (off 54, I don't remember what the real par was, but in the 60s I think) and had just three holes left. Hole 9 could have been the easiest hole we played during the entire world championships. Hole 10 was a birdie chance, but more than likely, an easy 3. I would at least surrender one stroke on 11, probably 2, as it would be the toughest hole we would play all week. A chance at a 57 seemed very realistic if I could finish 235. I went 556 to shoot 64. 56 was the best round.

2 rounds later I found myself on the bottom of the 9th the SECOND pool. Never in my life have I ever felt three holes cost me so much.

What is the point of this story? Simple, the worlds are a marathon, not a sprint; I had only played 3 of the 8 rounds. 5 rounds later a poor round would drop me to 26th where I would finish the tournament. Yes I said DROP. In your typical B Tier, I would have been in a lot of trouble after those three rounds. However, in the worlds, I still had a chance to do some damage.

I think too many people get way too caught up in what place they are in during the worlds, especially in the larger divisions. Typically, just 5 strokes is around 20 - 40 places. You can easily make that up over the course of 3 - 5 rounds.

You really have to keep your head up and keep playing your best at worlds. It is so easy to make a huge jump in either direction because the field size is so huge. Most people are in the mindset of a hot round moving them up a card or two because that is the way it is in that 100 M Dash style tournament. However, at the worlds, the marathon, you can move up possibly 10 groups with that hot round.

I wish all good luck that are competing for a world title in Michigan. Just remember all you sprinters out there, those who run at a steady pace, always will beat you in the end.