—By Scott Zimmerman—
Despite the lightning fast growth of disc golf, by and large the PDGA Rules Committee does a good job continually working to improve the rules to make them fair and easy to apply. But in this post I’ll explain why the falling putting rule badly needs surgery. We’ll cover how jump putts and step putts differ, how the workflow of two PDGA committees created an important historical divergence, why some jump putts are a stance violation, and even how to fix this mess.
Thanks to live coverage at major tournaments, I’ve been able to study dozens of pros making jump putts. When I see a close call, I watch it in slow-motion, frame by frame. I’m not here to single anyone out, but I’ve seen several major PDGA tournaments awarded to a player who had committed stance violations with jump putts!
Here’s a synopsis of the problem. For all throws, you must have a “contact point” (of your body) on the “playing surface” (the ground) behind your “lie.” So if you “jump putt,” you must release the disc before your final toe gets airborne.
Valid and Invalid Jump Putts: The author throwing a valid (left) and invalid (right) jump putt. The disc must be released before the foot leaves the ground.
Each player should develop their own putting style to be a clearly legal form, but many players push the envelope and actually jump before putting. It’s very hard for observers to detect the timing of toe on the ground vs. disc in the air in real-time, and players understandably don’t like calling violations because it may disrupt their own focus, especially on such close calls.
Disc golf tournament purses will soon reach one million dollars. It’s unfair for a player to lose out on a title and thousands of dollars if a competitor in another group wasn’t called for violating a rule. Think about it—there is no point having a rule if it’s widely abused and not called. The rules must be written clearly so they can be applied universally. I hope this article will raise awareness for this problem, and encourage the PDGA to act.
Ground Box "Hole" Used in 1974 AFDO
To solve the falling putt problem, we must understand the origin of the putting rule, and a historical divergence in the PDGA, and finally the difference between a step putt, a jump putt, and a fairway throw.
With a new car as first prize, the prestigious 1974 American Flying Disc Open in Rochester was a milestone in disc golf history. Tournament Director Jim Palmeri knew that object targets would not suffice, so he built “ground baskets” using two-foot square cardboard boxes. These were tricky to putt into even from 12 feet. But six-foot-six Dan “Stork” Roddick had an innovative move when putting: He dove at the basket to get closer! With that edge, and the pinpoint accuracy of his hyzer bomb up shots, Stork won the car with a margin of 11 throws over the field!
Thank goodness Jim and Dan immediately saw that the diving putt was not something we wanted to have in the game and soon wrote the falling putt rule to eliminate it. They also knew they must allow players to follow-through in their throwing motion on long fairway throws. That’s a fine line.
Let’s pause here to emphasize this distinction: the falling putting rule merely delineates between throws that allow a follow-through motion, and throws that do not. All disc golf throws are one or the other.
When “Steady” Ed Headrick installed the first pole holes in 1976, it was extremely challenging to hit putts from 10 meters. In fact, it was considered spectacular, especially with even a light wind!
This is because discs were lighter and less aerodynamic and larger diameter (some didn’t even fit completely in the basket).
Wham-O 119G vs. Aviar: The Wham-O World Class 119G compared to the Innova Aviar. Popular putters are smaller, heavier, and more aerodynamic than the Frisbee’s used before 1979.
Original vs. Modern DGA Baskets: The original 10-chain disc pole hole from 1976-1977 compared to a modern target which has a deeper and wider basket, and 24 chains.
Also, the disc pole holes were smaller then, and shallower and had 10 chains, not 24. The differences are striking. Many good putts would “cut through” or bounce out in those old days, assuming you could get the light disc to hit the target.
Here’s where the critical divergence comes in: the PDGA Rules Committee has made 10 meters the boundary line defining a “putt” for nearly half a century, but the PDGA Technical Standards committee long ago locked in vastly improved technology for discs and targets enabling a massive shift in putting success.
Today, due to greater skills and improved technology, 100% of the pros are putting from 20 meters, and they make them very consistently. So why does the putting rule still specify 10m? It’s a historical oversight that must be fixed.
Step Putt: The author throws a valid step putt. The disc is released while the left foot is gaining momentum toward the hole but the right foot is still on the ground behind the lie.
A step putt is when your plant foot remains on the lie as you throw, while your other foot is in the air in front of the lie, as you begin walking toward the hole. Some players do this to gain momentum for long putts. As long as that free foot doesn’t touch the ground in front of your lie before you release, it’s legit.
A jump putt is when you jump with both feet in the air as you throw. As long as you keep at least one toe on the lie before you release the disc, it’s legit.
Even though they are thrown with a putting motion, today both jump putts and step putts are improperly classified as fairway throws, because they are outside the defined putting circle. Obviously, jump putts and step putts only come into play when the lie is outside 10m.
Again, “putts” are purposely defined to contrast with fairway throws, where we are free to run-up and follow-through by stepping past the marker disc after release. We all appreciate this freedom as it helps us achieve longer throws.
Nearly all step putts are valid fairway throws, but a large number of jump putts are stance violations because the player leaves the ground before throwing. Some experienced players estimate that 1/3 of jump putts are violations.
It’s arguable whether step putts that scrape the tall grass in front of the lie—before releasing the disc—should be considered a stance violation. However, as the rule is currently written, if your foot is scraping the grass, it isn’t a supporting point, so it’s allowed.
You may be wondering: Are these putting violations really a problem, since it’s only a few milliseconds of difference between the hand releasing the disc and the toe leaving the ground?
Yes! It’s simple logic. We need to “draw the line” somewhere to define precisely what skills we want the sport to reward, and which activities we classify as invalid. The NFL doesn’t award a touchdown when the ball is marked just shy of the goal line.
Official Rules of Disc Golf
Last updated: Friday, December 31, 2021 - 17:46
If we don’t require the toe being on the ground as the precise definition of the skill, it would mean that somebody could be in the air for say, half a second, or whatever, depending on how each city implements local customs, and the mood of each foursome. That’s nuts! In fact, there is literally no technical difference between invalid jump putts and diving putts! That is certainly not the skill we want to measure in this sport.
Whenever it’s easy to do, the rulebook should make an incontrovertible classification. We have that clear line today, which nobody can misinterpret: the toe must be on the lie at the time the disc is released.
(By the way, a similar problem is that some players allow their toes to be on their marker disc when putting. I can only assume that they rationalize this with the belief that one or two centimeters doesn’t hurt anything. But it’s not about the centimeter—it’s about the effort to be correct. And this line is also incontrovertible: we must not even bump the marker disc.)
I understand the view that valid jump putts are athletic and a learned skill. But hang on, we don’t necessarily want to measure every disc-throwing skill in disc golf. Anyone interested in a new rule allowing you to subtract one stroke if you throw a 10-second MTA after putting out? I guarantee you it would add excitement.
Official Rules of Disc Golf
806.01 Putting Area
Last updated: Thursday, March 10, 2022 - 19:20
Some argue that jump putts are great for the sport because we all like to see long putts go in. But you know, we could also see many more successful putts if we enlarge the basket diameter to say, 2 meters! Thoughtful game designers obviously wouldn’t go down that path because then putting would be too easy. We want the test of skill to be just challenging enough so it’s exciting when we make it. Hence, the rules don’t allow step putts, or jumping or diving, or fairway throws from inside ten meters.
Thoughtful game designers strive for rules that are clear and easy to enforce. The current falling putt rule passes the clarity test but fails the enforcement test. And this enables diving putts. Again, invalid jump putts are diving putts! If we don’t reestablish the line today, nothing will stop players from running up and diving.
Opponents of changing the rule argue that the only people who don’t like jump putts are those who can’t do it themselves. Nonsense. First, diving putts were already banned 50 years ago. The problem today is enforcement, not redesigning the game. Second, consider the failed logic of a similar example: many of us don’t like the way the current mandatory rule is written. But we discuss it because we want to improve the rulebook, not because we can’t make the mando!
It’s also silly when people think they are contributing to this conversation by saying “Chill out man, if the cardmates didn’t call it, it doesn’t matter.” That misses the point of having a rulebook. We’re not talking about a single instance where one player wasn’t called. There are hundreds of instances— we’re talking about simplifying the rule so it can be applied universally.
From studying the pros and videoing myself in my backyard, I’ve learned how to detect the subtle difference between an invalid jump putt and a good one. When I see one of my cardmates make an invalid jump putt, I call it in practice rounds and tournaments. Naturally, people are shocked by this. I realize that our cardmates are unlikely to “confirm” the call because they believe it isn’t fair to call a violation without proof, and who can say the disc was released a few milliseconds too late? So I always tell my group, it’s not personal. If the call isn’t confirmed, let’s play on as if nothing happened. And by the way, please call me if I violate a rule. (A stance violation results in a penalty stroke only if confirmed by another player.)
Some people have suggested we could use video replay to call falling putts. Aside from the logistic problems, it would be unfair to the players on the lead card who might be the only ones with a film crew.
Since everyone is putting from 20m, it makes a lot of sense to define that distance as a “putt.”
At 20m, it would still be a violation to leave the ground before releasing the disc, but being in the air a bit early won’t give a player a significant advantage. And we won’t likely see players running up and diving from 20m.
Some say 20m is too far, make it 15m. Sorry, but I’m afraid that’s not good enough. First, everyone putts from 20m so there is no good reason to not define that as a putt. Surely we’re smart enough to call a putt a putt.
Second, we want it to be a distance that significantly aids enforcement and won’t require future tinkering with the rulebook. Players appreciate a relatively stable rulebook so they know they’re on solid ground.
I believe 20m is the goldilocks zone where invalid putts won’t matter. There are exponentially fewer throws made 20m away from the basket than there are throws made from 10m. So there are exponentially fewer situations where this question would come up.
I was at first intrigued by a suggestion for a new rule saying that the burden should be on the player to demonstrate he was on the ground at the time of release (similar to the requirement to maintain balance within 10m). However, this wouldn’t solve our problem because this rule is already implied today! All of us know that the toe must be on the ground—but many jump putters ignore this as if they are claiming that we can’t prove it wasn’t. Furthermore, the effect of writing this rule would be to ban all jump putts, even from 30-60 meters! Think about it. To convince your group that you were on the ground… you would have to stay on the ground.
For tournaments, Phil Pollack suggests that a light 20m chain could easily be attached to each basket, and players could pull it out to their lie for borderline cases. That gives TD’s an alternative to measuring and sticking 72 whiskers in the ground. But you know what’s even better than both of those options? Doing nothing. That’s right, when the falling putt rule is increased to 20m, who cares if you are at 19m or 21m? The beauty of this rule is that it doesn’t matter. We can more easily play by the spirit of the game.
I hope this article has convinced you we need to fix the falling putt rule. The rule has been in place for 50 years, but during that time discs and targets have evolved substantially, and now pros are deadly accurate from 20 meters. It’s long overdue to correct the rulebook to this reality, and greatly reduce the enforcement problem with diving putts, erm, I mean invalid jump putts.
About the Author:
Champion Level Disc GolfBy David Feldberg & Scott Zimmerman Scott Zimmerman has won 17 world and US championships in flying disc sports. He recently wrote Champion Level Disc Golf with Dave Feldberg which covers everything a player needs to know to substantially raise their game. See https://championleveldiscgolf.com/