Sunday, March 1, 2015

SOLSC March 2nd - Putt Perfect

I was lucky enough to play baseball from an early age, all the way through college. I make no claims of being a great ballplayer but I have some varsity letters and had some of my best athletic moments while playing baseball. It used to be that the sweetest moment in sports was swinging and making perfect contact with a baseball. The ball came in slow motion, only reflex on the swing, contact had the right sound, the bat followed through like it hadn't touched anything...all possibilities were open for the next millisecond. Usually it was a hit, perhaps it even cleared the fence, but occasionally a fielder made a great play or it was hit right at them and I could only trudge back to the dugout knowing it was at least a perfect moment.

This summer I turn forty and baseball, and a lot of other sports, have taken their toll on my physically. My knees are in some trouble and my back hurts more than I wish it did. Baseball is out of the picture and I don't really enjoy the softball teams I've played for in the past decade. But the sport of my last fifteen years has been disc golf.

Frisbee golf or "frolf" to some, disc golf involves hurling discs around a park towards a basket in the fewest throws possible. Just like in "ball golf" it's DRIVE FOR SHOW, PUTT FOR DOUGH. A perfectly thrown drive is a joy to behold, whether I threw it or one of the people on my card did. But the mental game of putting is still the hardest part for me to completely control.  Bad putting ruins all but the best drives and great putting makes up for a lot of poor shots off the tee.
Me making a perfect putt at a disc golf tournament last year!
After countless hours of practice, I have found that staring at a basket getting ready to putt is a lot like staring at a pitcher waiting for the pitch. The best results are when there are no thoughts in the brain at the moment of action and the body can do what it has practiced thousands of times. And when I putt, I get to control the pace so everything, including the results and how I react to them, are in my control. Here is my routine which usually takes 10-20 seconds.

1. Mark my drive, put away my disc and pull out my putter (Yes, we have different discs for different types of shots).
2. Put my foot in place and rotate the disc so it feels good in my hand.
3. Look at the basket, feel for the wind and take into consideration possible dangers to missing a normal putt (water behind the basket, a slanting hill that could cause a rollaway, any branches or obstacles to avoid).
4. Once I have the feel of the putt I want to make in the existing conditions, take a deep breath while raising the disc in my hand and pointing it at the basket. Pick the link on the chains I want the disc to hit.
5. Open my mouth, relax my tongue and drop my shoulders. This comes from various mindfulness exercises and usually helps my whole body relax. It's difficult to make a complex athletic movement perfectly with tenseness in my body.
6. Wait until I feel a "Zen Moment." It sounds kinda of corny but an empty mind leads to better putts for me. The distracting thoughts I have about my score, movement of the other players, or memories of missed putts are the worst. I almost always have bad putts when I allow those thoughts to remain in my head.  If I recognize that I have negative thoughts and they don't just flow past and out or my brain, I'm working to step back and start over.
7. Zen moment achieved. That's my trigger and I move into action. My eyes take a quick glance down to the ground and then back to my link of the basket. This hopefully puts my brain and body into reflex mode and refocuses me on my target.
8. As I see my link again, I move my weight onto my back foot and bend my arm to bring the disc to my belt. Once I'm loaded, I shift my weight forward and extend my arm, lofting the putt towards the basket. In a perfect putt, steps 7 and 8 are pure reflex and allow the muscle memory of all my practice  to take over. No thinking required.

If all that goes as planned, it's a perfect putt, no matter the result. There will always be mistakes my body makes, an unexpected wind gust, or the occasional basket that just spits your putter right back at you.

But there is nothing else that feels so perfect to me these days, as watching a putt fly true to the basket and knowing it's going to bang the link I focused on.

My class of twenty-three middle school students is slicing as well! Here is the link to the class blog where they are linking up daily. Cheers!


  1. Wow, I think it's interesting how you've captured the tiniest details to explain the process for frolf putting! It's easy to take for granted how masterful the human body can become when practice is part of the plan...

  2. Your memories of playing baseball ring here, as my sons are gearing up for their season, and that means: spring. (here is New England, spring has seemed so far away ... and we got a few more inches of snow last night). I have not played Frisbee Golf but we do have some chains in our area (Ultimate is huge in the high school and college circuit around here).

  3. Frisbee Golf sounds like a true sport, the way you have described it here, Max. Loved all the intricacies of play and rules...and the idea of weather warm enough to indulge in the game!

  4. I loved it! " The best results are when there are no thoughts in the brain at the moment of action and the body can do what it has practiced thousands of times." Mindfulness/zenning at it's best! I really enjoyed the zooming into each step! Can I share the steps with my students as a model text for a writing craft we're trying to practice?

    1. Suparna, please feel free to use it. Thank you for your kind comment.

  5. I love your description of that "zen moment", kind of like taking a deep breath, right? It never occurred to me that if you play Disc Golf, it would involve putting. It sounds very hard to control the disc, through the air, into a basket! Wow! Also love this line: "all possibilities were open for the next millisecond". I remember playing softball, and that describes what one feels very well. Thanks, Max!

  6. WOW it is finally awesome to here about you playing Disc Golf. It sounds really fun, I might want to try it out some day. The zen moment sounds like you are really focused at that time. Does the Zen moment help you the most? I have always had the question, but are the rules of disc golf similar to ultimate and golf? Nice slice by the way!

    1. James - Rules are closer to ball golf but you're throwing discs instead of hitting balls. It's a ton of fun and cheap too.

  7. Hey, Max! You read and commented on my blog yesterday so I thought I'd check in on yours today. Kids around here are also playing "Foot Golf" with soccer balls and goals around the green flags. Kids love it! You are quite the writer. If you just read your last line...But there is nothing else that feels so perfect to me these days, as watching a putt fly true to the basket and knowing it's going to bang the link I focused on," it could almost be one of the inference challenges. What is the author talking about? Enjoyed your slice. D :)