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Team Discraft's Mark Ellis

Mark Ellis / Team Discraft NAME: Mark 'Lizard Lawyer' Ellis
TEAM: Masters
HOMETOWN: Brighton, MI
PDGA #: 7423
BORN: 1955
day gig: Criminal Defense Attorney.
notable: Throws forehand most of the time
disc Cred:
  • 8 time Michigan State Champion in Pro Masters or Grandmasters
  • 500+ tournaments, 100+ victories in 20+ years in the game
  • memorable disc golf moments:
    Too many years and too many shots all blur together but I guess I remember a few. I remember the incredible charges put on by Crazy John Brooks and Mike Randolph in the Finals of the World Championships (although in different years) and watching Ken Climo hold them off by force of will and skill.

    I remember rounds put together by my doubles partners who shot like they were God's gift to disc golf: Carlton Howard at National Doubles (we won Pro Masters), Todd Branch at the World Championships of Worst Shot (a tournament which is not really a World Championships nor is it actually Worst Shot format), Critter Bill Themm (we set a course record at the Toboggan during a White's Acres League in exile).

    I remember playing with now departed friends Steady Edd Headrick, Tim Selinske, Brent Hambrick, Gordy Matthews and Gale Vaughn.

    I remember seeing the very first aces thrown by friends Jerry Brown and Ryan Graham and the looks of shock, wonder and joy on their faces.

    I don't actually recall many of my own good shots. Perhaps because they have been so rare. :) Well I do remember this one. I showed up to join a group of buddies who were already half way through a round. From the parking lot I saw a group of beginners throwing in a field who were badly in need of some help so I wondered over and gave them some tips. They were a really nice group and seemed quite enthusiastic about the game. They asked me to join them for a round but a phone call came in I had to take. Later I was walking out to find my buddies when I saw the beginner group driving on a short hole. They called me and wanted to see how I would throw this drive. Always happy to show off a bit I threw a drive which happened to ace. They cheered but I'm not one to react much to aces. A young lady looked at me in surprise and asked, "Do they always go in?" I replied quite innocently, ""Oh no, sometimes I miss."
    Pro Clinics Featuring Mark Ellis:

    Anhyzer Shots

    Putting Confidence Program

    Pro Clinic: Overhead Shot Techniques

    Pro Clinic: Long Distance Drives

    Pro Clinic: The Fastest Way To Improve

    Pro Clinic: Making Long Putts

    Pro Clinic: Forehand Drives

    Mark's Disc Golf Tips For Casual Players and Lower Level Tournament Players:
    Practice for the Future
    Disc golf is a life long sport and your practice should reflect this. Let's start with your normal routine. You go to your local course and throw the same shots that you have memorized from throwing them time after time after time. You don't even have to look at the hole as you walk up to it: you just automatically pull out the disc you want to drive with and know the landing zone you are aiming for. Before your drive lands you know within a couple feet how long your putt will be. You have dialed in these repetitious shots. Congratulations. How much does this help you when you step on a new course? How much will your game advance over time? Your home course (or courses) and your dialed-in shots are self-limiting.

    There is nothing magical or fixed about tee pads. Try going to your local course and inventing new tee locations next round. Then the next round search for tee locations which reward your current skills the least. Then play the next round throwing rollers for your drives and forehands for your upshots. Then, on a day when the course is sparsely occupied play skip a basket (Tee #1 to basket #2, etc). By inventing new and difficult holes you are expanding your abilities and comfort zone. Eventually, you can go to new courses and realize that you are prepared for darn near anything you encounter.

    Another limiting tendency is to throw your favorite shot too often. Let's say, for example, that your best shot is a righty backhand hyzer (how did I ever guess that?). So when you are in the rough after an errant drive you look for any righty hyzer line first, no matter how small. There might be a much bigger anhyzer line to the basket but you have so much more confidence in the hyzer line that you choose it anyway. You are holding yourself back. Instead, take the long term approach. What really matters is not that you shoot the best possible score today, but that you develop your game for the future. Try this: throw to the widest open route in the fairway (or an upshot) even if it forces you to try a shot you are not good at. So you will miss some shots. So what. Eventually you will develop anhyzers and straight shots and overheads and skips and rollers and forehands. You need these shots. Do not be afraid of them. Do not be afraid of throwing bad shots as you learn them.

    Disc golf is a life long sport. Is there any reason you cannot be playing this game in 20 or 30 years or more? You need to develop and master new shots. Start now.

    One Hundred Feet To Victory
    Once a disc is within 100 feet you should be able to hole out within two strokes. Short, controlled upshots are a matter of practice. It is incredibly valuable to be able to park an upshot. If your upshot is within a few feet of the basket you have taken all the pressure off yourself and placed it on your competitors. On a tight course or a windy day how many strokes do you cost yourself by errant upshots? Come on! These are easy shots. The fastest way to shave strokes is to minimize errors on easy shots. The best practice for upshots is playing catch with putters. You need to be proficient backhand, forehand, overhand, hyzer, anhyzer, straight, high, low and skipping in all the different winds. Which ever of these things you cannot do will bite you. See the Fastest Way to Improve video. Once a disc is within 20 feet of the basket you should be able to make the putt.

    So let's talk about short putts. Although anyone can have a poor putting day, we know that in the lower tournament divisions short putts are high adventure. In wind they are comedy. The solution is to practice short putts. Most low-level players, if they practice at all, practice from way too far away from the basket for their skill level. So practice a lot from short range. Yes, I said a lot! Give it a half hour a day for the next month and you will see a difference. Now I did not say putt for hours every day. If you are not focused then practice will not help. You cannot stay focused for hours. If you can focus for half an hour you are doing great.

    Involved at all levels of the game, Mark Ellis shown here serving as the starter at the United States Amateur Disc Golf Championship But now here is the bad news about putting practice: It does not guarantee you will putt better any given day. More than any other skill, putting practice gives long term benefit, not necessarily short term help. So if you practice, then putt poorly the next time out or the next tournament, don't let it bother you. Just keep on practicing. Putting is all confidence. Practice your putts from short enough distances that you make most of your putts. Only move back when you have proven you can make the shorter ones. Putting is the hardest skill in the game to master. Most fine putters started just like you. They sucked. So they practiced and earned their current precision. They also have the ability to forget their last botched putt and make the next one. Look for a video on improving your confidence while putting in the near future.

    Power, Schmower: Mark's Tips for Better Driving
    Most players are way too concerned about power. Golf is a game of control, not power. OK, power helps and it is great fun to rip a drive that glides forever. But the easiest way to shank a drive is to try to throw too hard. So don't fall in love with power. Pursue CONTROLLED power. Leave the raw, unharnessed power to the other fools.

    If you want power, here are the basics: Power is a function of form, wrist snap and fast twitch muscles. Your form you can do a lot about but there are limits on how much you can improve your wrist snap and fast twitch muscles. Some players are blessed with far greater physical benefits and will naturally throw far. Through general strength, stretching, coordination and conditioning cross-training you will improve (slowly) your snap and fast twitch muscles. And, of course, take your drivers out to the field.

    The easiest and quickest way to improve power is by changing and improving your form. I know you do not want to hear this. You want to hear something like: " Just keep doing what you are doing, rip it as hard as you can, try this new driver, drink more beer and tomorrow morning you will wake up and wow your buddies! Sorry, I and many others have tried this approach and it does not work. Here is what does: GOOD FORM. Good form allows you to maximize the impact of your legs, torso and shoulders (the major muscle groups) on the shot. Most players, including you, have poor form. You started this way, are self taught, have never seen yourself on video and are not fully aware how much your form sucks. You may think they have great form like a Mike Randolph or a Cale Leiviska but sadly you do not. So how can you fix your form? It is best to find a good player to coach you. You cannot see what you are doing wrong. Yet, your errors are obvious to a good coach. If you cannot find a coach then you need to watch videos to see what good form looks like and a video camera (or at least a buddy watching you) to give you feedback. Or just come to Michigan. I'd be happy to give you a lesson. How do I know your form sucks? Well, you don't rotate back far enough and don't follow through nearly enough. You keep your head pointing too much forward and don't pull cleanly through the shoulders. OK, I cheated, I have seen you.

    Lizard Games: Mark Ellis is a master of creating games that are fun, weird, and force players to practice disc skills. Once you have decided to take the huge step of changing your form, please understand that improvement is a slow process. You will get worse before you get better. So do not start a new driving style the night before a tournament and expect good results. It will take a few weeks of diligent practice (in the field not on the course) to develop better form and build confidence in it. Keep in mind that developing new form does not erase your old form. It is just a different way to make the shot. There will be times where the old form is right for a shot (for example you are stuck in a bush, have no run up and are shooting through the only opening you can see. Your new form may not help or may be impossible to use). So you are not replacing your old form, you are developing a new shot, an additional weapon. With good form you not only get additional power but an added bonus. The cleaner and smoother your form is, the larger the margin of error you have. With perfect form a missed shot doesn't miss by much. That's why Pros get such good bounces in the woods. The closer you are to the right line and velocity the better the deflections will be. It may not seem fair but the better you are the luckier you will get.

    Play in Terrible Weather
    The only way to learn to play effectively in terrible conditions is to...play in terrible conditions. Most players are fair-weather golfers. With the right clothes and equipment you can play in almost anything (lightning, earthquakes, wildfires, hurricanes, floods, volcanic eruptions, war, civil unrest and alien invasion excepting).

    Go to your local course during bad weather. There will be plenty of available parking and no backup on hole #1. The few golfers who are there are players who are already good or soon will be. There is no way to learn how to deal with tough conditions by imagining how you would play as you sit comfortably on your couch, feet up, warm and dry and sipping a beer. One of the best training conditions for disc golf is big wind. You will learn to throw dead nuts flat because nothing else works. You will learn how small the margin of error is on upshots and putts in screaming wind.

    If you have never played in a February ice storm blowing sideways on slick tee pads then you have no idea how to deal with it. There are a myriad of techniques that can make it bearable-even fun-with practice and experience. If you have never played in elevation or up and down big hills or in high heat and humidity then you are not ready for it. So if you want to remain a fair-weather golfer then let me ask you this: If you are in a tournament and bad conditions come up do you just quit?-new paragraph-Don't be a wimp. Life is too short to golf only in nice weather.

    Getting old. Don't give in: Fight back
    Most PDGA members are not young kids. The average PDGA member is a 35 year old Amateur, not a 19 year old Pro (who throws 500 feet). So if you are old or getting that way, your only choices are to look, act and feel old or to fight back. I was 39 years old when I threw my first golf disc. I am 52 as I write this. I found that in my 40's I had to start stretching. I did and it helped a lot. In my 50's I had to start cross training. Now in my second year of cross training I have a personal trainer who pushes me to exhaustion. It is worth all the pain and every drop of sweat. I wish I would have started it 30 years ago.

    The great thing about a good personal trainer is they know enough so that you are not likely to hurt yourself with poor form and they will push you to do things which you just won't do on your own. I really hate push-ups. For the year that I went to the gym and worked out on my own I worked out harder than the old folks around me and harder than most of the kids, too. But I didn't do push-ups. Now I do push-ups. I also do all kinds of other things that would never occur to me without the direction of someone who knows much more than I do. When you get tired of being old and feeble it is time to fight back.

    Course Comments
    Blue Gill
    Wayland, MI
    A private course owned by Joe Gill on fabulous land (hills, ponds, forests) with inspired design, great holes and unforgiving tunnels.
    Flip City
    Shelby, MI
    A private course owned by Bill McKenzie with non-stop hills and rock formations. Lovely and lethal. A labor of love.
    Ludington, MI
    Long, tight, nasty tunnels punish every mistake and reward perfection.
    Burlington, KY
    Long, tight, nasty tunnels punish every mistake and reward perfection.
    Lemon Lake
    Crown Point, IN
    The Gold/Silver course is a great combination of power and control.
    In The Disc Golf Bag: Drivers
    Disc Comments
    Z Nuke
    My primary long distance driver, so I carry a stack in different degrees of stability. I was not an early fan of wide rimmed rivers. I practiced with various Nuke prototypes and 1st runs for a year until they made my tournament bag. Sure they glide farther , I thought, but they are harder to control. What I learned is that when your competition is using them and out driving you then you have to step up and use them too. Now, with practice they are second nature and so worth the effort it took.

    For me, being a forehander, controlling the nose of the disc on release is key for a wide rimmed disc (the nose is the forward leading edge of the disc). If the nose angle is just a bit off (too high, too low, too right or too left) then the Nuke won't go where I need it to. But by concentrating on the proper nose angle release this disc flies better and farther than anything with great predictability.

    In golf, control trumps distance but controlled distance trumps both. It is a popular trend for players to avoid wide rimmed discs as they develop their games. I think this is a flawed approach. If you start learning a Nuke now you are closer to figuring it out and can be cautious as you figure out when to trust it under which conditions.
    Z Crush
    For controlled hyzers and fighting headwinds. This is a workhorse disc and I carry multiples.

    A Z Crush is overstable and maximally predictable. I love Crushes and have since they came out. I throw more drives with Crushes than any other disc. Most of my aces come from Crushes. Into a screaming headwind I throw it for everything outside putter range.

    If you are a forehander or a strong arm backhander then you owe it to yourself to try a Crush.
    FLX Surge
    My primary winter driver. The FLX plastic is the best plastic ever made for winter. Any other plastic (except soft D plastic, which is also excellent in cold) gets slippery and stiff in bitter cold like we have in Michigan. The FLX plastic is engineered to change less in temperature extremes.

    FLX plastic has a vibrant and distinctive look. Players ask me what disc I am throwing, so I hand them the disc. So far, every single player that has touched it liked the feel of it. The responses are eerily consistent, 'Wow, this feels great! What is it?' The FLX Surge is more overstable than Z or ESP Surges and flies just like a Z Crush (generally Surges are less stable than Crushes but the FLX Surge is the exception to that rule). I carry at least two in the bag because I always carry at least two primary drivers and deep snow has a tendency to swallow discs.
    Z Flash and
    DGA Proline Rouge
    These disc are very similar in design and vary mostly due to the plastic blends (Z is clear candy-type plastic where the Proline is a candy blend. Z tends to mold a little flatter and Proline has a mild dome). Flashes, in my hands go straight, where the Rogue will gently flip on the same release.

    The Flash/Rogue has great glide on very little effort. This is not a disc to force into flight, so don't torque on it. Rather persuade it with a smooth, clean release and watch what a pure, effortless glide looks like. A perfect disc for tight tunnels which demand precise lines.
    Z Tracker
    For short anhyzer lines but beyond the distance of a midrange disc. Sometimes you need a disc to bend down a tunnel and turn without throwing it hard. Going long can be just as bad as going too short.

    For these critical shots I use beat up Z Trackers. New a Z Tracker may be straight to overstable but with enough seasoning they turn beautifully. Here their lack of glide is what makes them valuable.
    In The Disc Golf Bag: Midrange
    Disc Comments
    X Buzzz
    and Z Buzzz
    The Buzzz is the only only midrange I carry (except for days of extreme wind). I carry at least 4 in different stabilities. My flippiest Buzzz is in X plastic. X Is a candy blend which is softer and a bit domier than Z. It is also less stable and breaks in faster.

    The rest are in Z plastic (clear candy). Buzzzes fly straight, frozen rope straight when released flat. For hitting a window in the woods this is exactly the most useful and safest line.

    Has there ever been a better disc designed than the Buzzz? Not that I know of. A Buzzz works great in the hands of top pros and everyday players. It is also a great training tool for young players. Learn how to throw a Buzzz straight. Once you can do this your game will immediately escalate.
    and Z Wasp
    For crazy wind midrange shots. I keep these in backup until the big winds visit but then they come out and prove how useful an overstable midrange can be.

    The Wasp is from the Buzzz line of discs. Bascially a Wasp is a Buzzz with a bead on the bottom of the rim to make it overstable. For any forehanders out there who are trying to learn to control a midrange, a Wasp is like a Buzzz with training wheels. It is so strong it is hard to turn over and you know its going to hyzer out at the end. If your form is so poor you turn over a Wasp then upgrade in stability to a Zone. These are very overstable.
    In The Disc Golf Bag: Putt and Approach
    Disc Comments
    Soft Magnet
    For putts and approaches. I think I have tried darn near every putter ever made. Nothing is as universally useful and feels as good in the hand as a Soft Magnet with a slightly concave top. The Magnet has been my primary putter for over 20 years. Fresh, a Magnet fight winds very well without being strongly overstable. Beat up, a Magnet just gets more valuable.

    Last summer I tried taking an old Magnet out of the bag. After years of service it I only used it for those rare anhyzer putts and somewhat more common anhyzer approaches. This experiment lasted for exactly one round until I gratefully put it back in.

    The runs of Soft Magnets coming out for the past few years have been superb. So one you can pick off a shelf right now is as good as any ever made.
    D Rattler
    Putts and approaches. My favorite disc ever but a specialty disc. Rattlers are made for soft "touch" shots. This disc should not relied upon for fighting winds or thrown hard. The vast majority of my approach shots within 100 feet are made with a Rattler.

    A Rattler when thrown soft and flat will float in slowly and hover before coming down gentle and straight. If you have a shot fifty to a hundred feet away with danger behind the pin this type of shot lets you run the basket without gliding past long if it misses.

    The Rattler is the perfect catch disc and playing catch is the fastest way to learn and perfect approach shots. Many beginners don't understand how important this skill is. When you can park approach shots then there is no pressure on making tough putts. By becoming adept at approaches you prevent the putting errors which plague the lower divisions.

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