I don’t want to tell you what to do. Okay, maybe just a little about some of the things in which I am passionate. This is especially true when it comes to you playing disc golf for as long as possible. The one prerequisite for longevity in the sport is a healthy body, especially our throwing arm. But what if we use both arms for throwing? What if we intentionally become ambidextrous? The forehand throw in disc golf is arguably responsible for the highest percentage of injuries in our sport. This is why it is wise to develop an off-hand backhand. We’ll take a look at Eagle McMahon’s story and learn about how an off-hand backhand will bring fresh eyes to your game via a beginner’s mind. Let’s dive in.
Healthy Shoulder Happy Disc Golfer
Disc golf is a lifetime sport. This is one factor that makes our sport so wonderful. We can play it well into our twilight years and reap all the physical and mental rewards. However, to do so we must have a healthy body that can take repetitive torque. Enter the forehand. There is a large amount of torque put on the ligaments and shoulder when throwing a forehand. Just think of pitchers in baseball. Arm injuries to pitchers are the most common injury in the sport. In my experience disc golf is quite similar. I have had elbow issues at certain times in my disc golf career when throwing too many power forehands. I have also had multiple friends who have similar injuries and have to put their discs on the shelf for periods of time. As a disc golfer, this is the worst!
A study entitled “Injuries In Disc Golf” was performed in 2015 on 105 Danish disc golfers and published on the National Library Of Medicine website. It found that 13% of the disc golfers surveyed reported injuries. Amongst this 13%, the vast majority (51%) reported injuries to the shoulder or elbow. While they did not disclose exactly how these injuries occurred, it is feasible to deduce that the power forehand played a role in a large percentage of the injuries. Another point of note is that most of the injuries had a gradual onset. This means that they were repetitive use injuries that largely could be prevented via proper mechanics.
The best way to protect your arm is by slowing down your swing and playing smoothly. This includes power shots and especially power forehands. I also recommend throwing more light and understable discs as you age in the sport. This provides ease of movement and less torque on the body. The bottom line is that you can get more distance with less effort by throwing lighter and more understable plastic. The combination of lighter plastic, smoother swing, and fewer power forehands will keep you in the game for years to come.
Eagle McMahon is one of the biggest names in disc golf. He has incredible distance from both sides of the disc and is one of the best putters in the world. Unfortunately, he had a shoulder injury while filming a promo late in the 2021 season. He threw a 360 degree sidearm into a net and went down in pain. He underwent rehab and through advice from his doctors and a change
of mentality, he abandoned his power sidearm. Yes, he will still rarely use a touch forehand for upshots. But what he did to replace his power sidearm was revolutionary for the sport. He developed an off-hand backhand(leftie for Eagle) which actually works. Can you imagine throwing backhand hyzers consistently from both sides of your body?!
The best way to appreciate these lefty hyzers is by watching McMahon in action. There have been ambidextrous players in the past that were great players. However, what Mcmahon has developed is revolutionary for disc golf.
One of my favorite aspects of learning a new shot is “beginner’s mind”. Beginner’s mind is inquisitive and listens to the body. It is feeling into the shot and not expecting certain results. There can be no disappointment when there are no expectations! I appreciate this on my journey as I threw repeated wounded ducks into the field with my left hand. But over time I have noticed an increase in skill and the shot is becoming somewhat viable. Somewhat. While it is nowhere near as skillful as my right backhand it is beginner’s mind that allows me to be content with how I currently throw the shot.
The other aspect of beginner’s mind is looking at courses with a brand new perspective. A simple 300 foot hyzer hole now becomes a massive challenge when throwing with our off hand. It brings an appreciation for skill and muscle memory. It is much easier to be humbled by simple courses. Embrace this. Disc golf will become fresh again. Remember what it felt like when you started playing? That feeling can manifest again as we learn to throw with our off hand.
Bringing It All Together
Disc golf is a wonderful sport for the body, mind, and spirit. However, we can only reap its rewards when we are physically capable of playing. This is why it is important to limit power forehands that stress the shoulder and elbow. The key to replacing this shot is to develop an off-hand backhand. Let McMahon be an example of how and why to do this. Via hard work and patience, McMahon has turned this shot into a weapon. Try it out. Apply beginner’s mind to the process so you too can have patience and see courses with new eyes. I wish you many years of healthy disc golf adventures ahead!