Approach shots are perhaps the most overlooked part of disc golf, especially when it comes to practice. It’s fun to stand out in a field and try to throw distance drivers as far as possible. Putting practice is relatively easy to do at home or on the practice basket at the course because it doesn’t require much space. Touch shots, longer putter throws, upshots, fairway drives and other approach shots are less convenient to practice.
If you only play short par-3 disc golf courses, then you may not have many opportunities to practice or utilize approach shot skills. A good drive gets you within putting range. At most, you may need to scramble some after a bad drive. As you get better and start playing longer, more challenging courses, you will find out how valuable a good upshot game can be. Remember that the term “approach shots” can also encompass second shots on par-4 and par-5 holes or scramble shots from off the fairway. Let’s take a look at a few drills and practice tips you can use to get better at your disc golf approach shots:
1. Find a Way to Practice
Perhaps the biggest challenge with practicing upshots is finding time and space. If you are at an actual disc golf course and it’s not too crowded, you can work on your approach shots from different points on and off the fairways. Maybe lay up a few drives in a casual practice round to force yourself to play from different distances and lies. Keep in mind, you don't necessarily need a disc golf basket for upshot practice time. Find a local park and pick out random trees or signs to throw at. You can even incorporate upshot practice in your fieldwork. Bring some mid-ranges and putters and throw them at different release angles and speeds to dial in your form and learn your discs. If your approach game needs a lot of work, schedule a few upshot-only practice sessions.
2. Practice Different Types of Upshots
As we mentioned, when you're out on the course, there's a wide range of approach shots. You may be throwing a full fairway driver for your second shot on a par-4. You may be jump-putting from 100 feet in the woods. You may be in the rough having to throw a standstill forehand or patent pending backhand. If you are able to practice your approach game, throw from different lies and distances. Figure out what discs are best for certain shots and lines. Practice your scramble skills because you never know when you might have to throw a tomahawk out of the deep woods. One of the reasons a professional disc golfer like Calvin Heimburg is so good is because he knows how to throw a variety of shots and he can recover from a bad shot. Just about every possible difficult scenario from blind shots to shots around and through trees, Heimburg and pros like him have practiced many times over.
3. Learn Your Approach Discs
Disc selection is very important for approach shots. You may carry disc golf discs in your bag that are specifically for certain scramble throws. Then, you want to have your go-to discs for controlled upshots from various distances, both forehand and backhand. The only way to learn your discs is to get out and throw them. Figure out what will give you the most confidence, whether you are faced with a difficult stance and angle or you have a wide open look.
4. To Run or Not to Run?
One of the biggest dilemmas disc golf players face is knowing when and when not to run it. Sometimes, it’s prudent to lay-up if the green is tricky or if the tournament situation demands a safer play. Other times, you may choose to be more aggressive. Improving your upshot practice and skills will help you have more confidence no matter which option you select.
One thing that many top professional disc golfers do is visualize the shot before they throw it. They see the line and angle in their heads, and then have the skills to execute the shot. If you are practicing your approach game in an open field, visualization can help mimic game time situations and strengthen your mental game. Pretend you have to make a 200-foot anhyzer putter throw with the tournament on the line. Then, practice that shot until you have nailed it. When this situation does arise during a real round, you’ll be able to visualize it and have confidence in executing a good throw.
The first tip above is undoubtedly the most important. If you don’t take the time to practice your upshots, you will have a harder time improving that component of your game. Look up drills on YouTube, try new discs and try new shot types. You can turn approach shots into one of your strongest skills on the disc golf course.