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Missing Short Putts in Disc Golf: A Punch in the Gut, But Not a Deep Cut

I missed eight tiny putts in the last six holes of my final round during the Des Moines Challenge*. It was especially disappointing because up until that point, I had a good round going for the first time in a long time. That is, until a strange moment occurred where I started feeling like I needed to make the putts. Completely out of character for me. I know from previous experience that if I impose expectations on my putting, I am more likely to let the misses hang around and bother me. Somehow, that well-established awareness abandoned me on the 13th hole – after a really fantastic drive, too. Anyone else would have made the putt for a birdie. Or the next short one to save par. Me being me, I did not. I doubled down and carded a four instead. 

I’d like to say this is an anomaly, or that there is something or someone to blame for my baffling inability to close out a hole like nearly everyone else who plays professionally, but I believe my particular issue goes much deeper than muscle memory. It lies somewhere between my innate fear of success (which I am intentionally working to understand), and the brain signals that temporarily shut down as I forget how to let go of my putter. This only happens when there is a scorecard attached to my performance. I’ve chalked it up to personal growth and life balance for a long time, but I think it’s time to shift the pattern, and create a new one that keeps me enjoying disc golf, including putting, for years to come! 

The week before the Challenge, I played in the Masters World Championships. I missed most of my putts inside the circle(a 10 meter radius around the basket) – for all four rounds. Confounding. In fact, the closer I was to the basket, the more likely I was to miss the putt. My body was incredibly confused, because I honestly believed I had worked through the glitch. For the first time in my life, I had actually prepared for a disc golf tournament by taking the advice of experts: practicing and developing a routine; making it so that my muscle memory is well-conditioned to take over when things get weird.  As I’m writing this, I’m shaking my head in disbelief thinking about why and how I keep repeating this cringy pattern. At the same time, I am aware that it ties to my inherent fears, and I’m curious about the condition of their roots. Why do I remain connected to missing putts even though I clearly don’t enjoy it?

Looking back, my permanent record has always been a concept I’ve grappled with: probably because it connects to my baseline concept of personal freedom. My childhood didn’t have cell phones or cameras, so there were a lot of us out there getting away with whatever we could. In my neighborhood, it was kind of admired (at least among the younger generation), but I didn’t see that as any type of problem until I was much older. These days, the all too familiar lyric from the Violent Femmes song, Kiss Off — “I hope you know that this will go down on your permanent record” — spins hilariously on a background loop in my head whenever I consider doing something questionable. It plays extra loud when it comes to putting in tournaments, but it’s just not as funny. 

So what do the Violent Femmes have to do with my disc golf skills? I wonder…. In high school, I would laugh at that particular  line, and think “what permanent record?”.  I definitely knew when I wasn’t being watched. Modern day, I am aware (perhaps too aware?) that every shot I take during a scored round is recorded as a number. Which, to my mind, makes my round look much worse than it felt most of the time. And apparently, I struggle with that aspect of the game. I’ve never felt like my score (or my rating) accurately reflects my ability to throw a disc. I can consistently throw every single shot except the one that completes the hole, and I obviously cling to that distinction for some reason. 

I’ve walked around claiming that I am the poster child for “all show, no dough” for a while now, which is clever, but certainly reinforces the problem pattern. I’m now making a concerted effort to look a little deeper, so that I can grow something new. Which means gaining a better understanding of what kinds of thoughts, beliefs and humorous deflections are standing in my way of mind-body freedom while putting. It’s all so easy in my own backyard. How do I make that quantum leap into tournament rounds?

 I know that my body responds to any uncomfortable situation by collecting fear. I was in high school when I first heard that ‘stupid’ song, and we can be sure I was doing plenty of things behind the scenes that were not very okay. Maybe I ignored their message then, and they are bringing it full circle now – but that seems like a reach! 

In April of 1983, we were heavy into the practice of burying bodies (mostly figurative) and promising to keep secrets forever)**. Back then, loyalty ranked among our highest values, and it often usurped personal integrity, too. The idea of living with authenticity was largely viewed as some kind of problem, and most of us were encouraged not to do that by the people in our churches, schools, and social circles.

The only people firmly in support of ‘being yourself’ were guidance counselor-types, but they weren’t really respected for their opinions like they are now. No offense to Marian Godfrey and Terry Hoyle, who were wonderful support to me, but still…..even though I knew better, I wasn’t willing to publicly admit it to my friends (or even myself, if I’m honest). I can’t speak for everyone, but I believe we were encouraged and conditioned to compartmentalize our problems and issues. Especially if they were emotional. Our minds were prized for being stronger than the reality of the matter, whatever it might be.

All of the books and movies I enjoyed supported the idea that letting your freak flag fly was an immediate invitation for social ridicule. Every win for the underdog’s genuine personality seemed more like a one-off than a trend toward living out loud. I mean, that stuff only happens in the movies, right? At least that’s what I believed at the time. How I wish my ego could have been a little less concerned about what other people thought of me! Turns out, my biggest lessons in life are centered around dissolving that need, and being okay with whatever anyone else thinks. About anything, including me. Or my silly putting issues. This is not easy, but as I clear these moments where I want to ‘correct’ someone, I feel infinitely more powerful in my own life.

I turned 18 in October of my senior year, when I was legally allowed to access my school file. Thank you Winston Scott, Government teacher, for sharing that right with me at exactly the right time. It makes me wonder if he told me I could read it because he wanted me to know what was in there. I was shocked (but not really) to find a note written by my third grade teacher, Mrs. Hostetler; presumably to my future teachers or whomever might have questions. She described me as one of the most manipulative children she had ever encountered. I was angry that sentiment had followed me throughout school, but she probably wasn’t completely wrong. 

That was the year my parents divorced. We lived with our not-ready-for-prime-time Dad, Duffy Carduff, and it was definitely a new frontier for all of us. The wild west might have even been impressed with what we were able to get away with in Prairie Village, Kansas! My best friend at the time was Lisa Evans, who also lived with her dad (and older brothers). Lisa and I took the Pippi Longstocking vibe to extremes. That is, until several concerned parties helped to rein us in. But not before we had filled Mrs. Hostetler’s desk with dirt, stolen candy from McDaniel’s Drug Store (and gotten caught), egged a house down the street (and gotten caught), and flirted with the idea of eating the spaghetti with mushrooms that her brothers had told us we were not allowed to eat. We thought better of it, or who knows where we’d be right now (thank you universal guidance).

I always hated it when people felt sorry for me, or even worse - like they were somehow better than me, as a human being. So it stands to reason that anything that becomes a potential part of my permanent record appears to scramble my mind-body connection a little bit at the moment. Putting is the public stage where this pattern plays out, but it’s a low-key personal struggle in other areas of my life as well. I try to rock and roll with it, but my ego doesn’t enjoy the universal diss, score-wise. 

Lately, I’ve been wondering if I should stop trying to compete, and just play disc golf for fun and exercise. The jury is still out. I’m not sure I’m ready to give up on the hope that I will have a breakthrough with making these short putts. They cost me anywhere from 5 to 15 strokes per round, which is quite a significant difference. I feel like I should be able to work out some kind of karmic exchange. Or maybe that’s exactly what’s happening, and I’m missing it?!

I am ridiculously empathetic, prone to feeling things for others, and highly suggestible, which aren’t the best qualities to lean into during competition. I have no game face, and the harder I try to cultivate one, the more I feel like an imposter in my own body. I am persistent and tenacious as a human being, but I become physically timid when it comes to putting. It’s hard to explain what happens, because it feels like an out of body experience (even though I claim I’ve never had one). I’m lined up, I’m confident, and then some part of me just checks out in the split second before I have completed my shot. I can’t say whether it is more mental or physical. It feels like a bizarre energetic hiccup as they try to meet in the middle, and miss signals.

One one hand, I love how our technology maps the current layout of our courses, connects people and tournaments, and keeps our scores. On the other hand, it has brought my latent fears about permanent records front and center. Full circle. If I have a bad score, anyone who is looking online is able to see that. It doesn’t tell the story, it simply records a number. We don’t even distinguish penalty strokes anymore, which seem to have factored into many of my scores over the years. Somehow, those tiny distinctions really matter to me. Which tells me that my ego is still trying to be involved in the outcome, adding pressure to the sketchy situation.

This is my sticking point and I know that the only way through it is to breathe while I accept my own triggers and fears. My ego might feel the hit, but my soul knows what’s up, and I trust that. If I back out of short putting and look at my overall disc golf experience, I feel like a world champion every single day. The friends, the places, and the experiences I have encountered as a part of this amazing community are valued at priceless in my book. From this broader perspective, missing tiny putts is a small price to pay for the ongoing soul support that I get to offer and receive. 

So how do I stop missing short putts? I’m ready to start listening to suggestions. The ramped up frequency this summer has me walking a tightrope, and it’s starting to pull me away from the fun parts of playing disc golf. I recognize this. I claim it. And I invite the beautiful sound of ringing chains to accompany me for the rest of my competitive disc golf journey if it is available. I’m really hoping that writing openly about it will bring about the energetic change I desire, but even if it doesn’t, I have a nice shift in perspective. 

So on to my next issue, which might be a direct cousin to this one… 

Why can’t I identify right and left in the moment? Bonus points for the answer to why I often confuse them under pressure, and turn the wrong way! PS: I also have a good high school memory about that particular Queen song.

*Several years ago, I watched someone get an 8 on the very hole I’m describing. He crumpled the disc as best he could and threw it into the woods. I’ll protect the names of my accomplice, but we retrieved the disc, wrote a big 8 on it, and snuck it back into his bag after the round. This connection didn’t occur to me until I started to review what I had written. It seems the universe has jokes :)

** I looked up the release date for the song. I was exactly 14 and a half on April 13, 1983. I didn’t know it yet, but that entire album would figure prominently into the soundtrack of my life for the next five to seven years. It obviously still lingers today…Like, totally and for sure.

1 Comment

Simply exceptional flow between your outer world of 'validation-seeking' & inner exploration of your soul. Brava 👏🏾 ❤️



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