Having a Game Plan
So you’re excited for the big tournament at your home course. You play a couple rounds in the week leading up the event to get ready, and you shoot some really great scores including your personal best on the course. Now you are even more anxious to play the weekend tournament because your game is on. Then Saturday comes and to watch you, one would think those great mid-week rounds were shot by another player. You end up shooting about ten strokes worse than any combination of your practice rounds and finish in the bottom half of your division. Yet again, you have found yourself “choking” in a tournament.
Well, this is just another event that can be chalked up to tournament day jitters, and there isn’t a player alive that hasn’t experienced something similar or worse at one point or another. The good news is that it is something that can be overcome. Most often, it is not necessarily a physical issue as much as it is a mental hurdle you need to get over. There are many ways to do it, too. What follows is just one possible idea.
Establish a Game Plan
It works in football, why not in disc golf? Of course, a disc golf game plan is not going to be as intricate as, say, a Bill Belichick game plan. But whatever plan you can come up with needs to serve the purpose of focusing your mind on the task at hand. The goal behind any plan is that if you follow it closely on tournament day, you’re should be right where you want to be when the dust settles.
One simple method of game planning for a tournament, especially on a course that you are familiar with, is to determine what your typical score would be on each hole of the course. “Typical” would be defined as what your average drive, average upshot(s), and average putt would give you for a score.
When you are determining your typical round, it is important to be very conservative in your expectations: assume that you will hit every putt from within 20 feet, not hit any shots from outside 20 feet, and that you will never exceed your average drive distance on any tee shot. Too often, we exaggerate our abilities in our mind, which frequently results in exaggerated expectations for what we do on the course. Just because you’ve managed a deuce on hole #6 a couple times doesn’t mean that you should strive for or expect to do it in every round. Therefore, you don’t want to put a two down on hole #6 in your game plan. Better to call it a “three” and give yourself a reasonable goal to achieve.
Stay Within Yourself
Now that you have your hole-by-hole plan in place, it’s time to execute it as best as you possibly can. In order to stay within the game plan, you should try to stick with what you do best as much as you can during the round and avoid trying anything with which you are unfamiliar or uncomfortable. If the game plan calls for a safe and stable shot up the middle, a short lay-up, and a simple putt on the first hole of the round, then that’s exactly what you should strive to do…nothing more, nothing less.
It is most important, however, that when you have a bad hole --and it will happen-- you don’t throw out your plan for the next hole attempting to make up for it. One of the biggest mistakes players of all skill and abilities make is to try to make up for a bad hole with a single shot. It simply can’t be done. If you take a five on a hole which you felt you should have scored a three on, just let it go. You’re not going to make up that two-stroke deficit in one shot or even in one hole. Instead, you should try your best to make sure that that five is the only blemish on your scorecard at the end of the round.
Similarly to following a bad hole, it is also important that you stick closely to your plan even when a competitor in your playing group is playing a hole/round in a different manner than you are. On a hole for which you decided your typical score is a “four”, you should play for that four even if a competitor has made an aggressive shot and has a good chance to score a “three”. Just because he can do it does not mean that you necessarily can or should try to match it. Chances are very good that somewhere down the line, you will have an opportunity to gain that stroke back on him without having to do anything extraordinary at all.
The mistake many make on the course is to play in the moment without regard to the bigger picture. They lose a stroke or two, either to their expectations or to a competitor and immediately start to panic and lose focus. It is important to remember that everyone has to play all 18 holes during the round. More often than not during those 18 holes, things will balance themselves out on their own.
Minimize Potential Damage
Because no player is robotic in their actions, there will come many points during a given round in which a shot doesn’t go exactly according to plan. The important thing to remember when something bad does happen is to minimize any potential damage that could come from each subsequent shot on that hole.
For example, you are playing hole #9 of the course, a hole that your game plan says is a “three”. Now you have shanked your drive into the bushes, leaving you about 100 feet short of the basket and in thick brush. You have two possible shots from your new lie:
The allure of going for the more aggressive shot (option #1) and “saving” the three is certainly great. But more likely, the outcome of attempting that shot will be to miss the gap and probably end up in an even worse position with no hope of getting the three and a small chance of “saving” a four.
Meanwhile, taking the safe pitch-out (option #2) probably eliminates any chance of scoring your “typical” three, but it should also prevent you from scoring anything worse than a four on the hole. This is what is meant by “minimizing the damage”. Choosing #2 may not give you the best chance at the lowest possible score (three), but it takes away any risk of taking an extremely bad score (five or worse). By choosing option #2, you are minimizing the potential damage to overall score.
Sometimes swallowing a little pride and pitching out or laying up rather than trying to make the spectacular shot is what saves strokes on the course. But that’s not to say that there aren’t times where aggressive play is okay. In playing within your game plan, you should be presented with a number of opportunities in which making a more aggressive play might be appropriate and could pay off with a better score. The key is to know when and how to do it.
Pick Your Spots
When you established your game plan scores, you assumed that every shot from outside of 20 feet was not going in the basket. But, of course, once you are out on the course, you will be presented with 25, 30, even 35 footers that are imminently “sinkable”. In the same vein, you assumed that you would never exceed your average distance on any drive. In reality, you probably will have one or two or more very good drives that get you closer to the basket than your game plan might have indicated.
When presented with opportunities to potentially gain a stroke, it is still important to minimize the risk involved. Remember, you still want to be able to match your game plan score, so you want to be sure to pick the opportunities that will still allow you to stay within the plan even if you miss your shot.
For example, on a hole which according to your game plan is a “three”, you find your drive closer to the basket than you had anticipated (let’s say you have about 35 feet left to go). So now you have a better chance to score a two here than you had anticipated. But before you aggressively run that putt, make sure you know the risks involved. If you miss, where are you most likely going to end up? If you miss, is the come-back putt still a cinch? How is the tree(s)/wind/terrain going to affect my shot?
The last thing you want to do is to turn a simple three into a heartbreaking four or worse because you got over-aggressive trying for the two. Ideally, your attempt for the deuce should give you a fair chance to make the putt, but still leave you a relatively easy return shot if you do miss.
Flexibility shouldn’t just be reserved for executing your game plan (i.e. deciding to lay up after a bad drive or getting aggressive after a better than expected drive), it should also be present in formulating and re-formulating your game plan as conditions warrant. In general, your pre-tournament game plan will be conceived with the assumption that conditions on tournament day will be ideal. Rarely is that the case when you get to the course.
Once you get out there, you may find the wind is blowing abnormally hard or from a different direction than you had anticipated, or it may start to rain mid-way through a round. It might even be something as simple as losing your favorite disc while warming up before the round that throws your expectations out of whack. Whatever the case, you want to be ready mentally to change your expectations and possibly your plan when the need arises.
For example, a heavy wind from a particular direction might affect the way you intend to play certain holes. Suddenly that hole where you figured a three would be a simple exercise is going to be difficult to shoot a four on. It is important to recognize these things before they happen and adjust what you do accordingly. If a change in wind direction will make getting your drive over that small pond that much more difficult, be prepared to lay up and perhaps take an extra shot to complete the hole. Remember that the conditions have changed for everyone, so while it may feel like you are giving up a stroke to the field, chances are nearly everyone will be faced with the same difficult decision.
Let the Chips Fall
The only thing you have total control over during any round is yourself. So it really does you no good to concern yourself with what other players are doing. As alluded to earlier, never should what a competitor does affect what you do on the course. The best course of action in any tournament is to play your game and let the chips fall where they may, because sometimes even your best might not be good enough. Then again, sometimes less than your best is plenty good enough. The thing is you never really know until it’s over.
Now, utilizing a game plan such as what has been laid out here certainly is not the only method for winning disc golf, nor might it be the best method for you. But it isn’t so much the method, but the frame of mind that it creates that is important. What having a game plan does is force you to recognize what your limitations are and to play within them. The greatest mistake a disc golfer can make is trying to play beyond his means. Drastic improvement doesn’t happen over night, so expecting to do better than you ever have before and to do it RIGHT NOW is a losing proposition no matter how you look at it.
Maintaining reasonable expectations should lead to more fun and less frustration on the course, which in turn will lead to noticeably better play. Playing from a basis of frustration will only lead to more frustration in the long run. Remain realistic and positive, and the birdies will follow.