How robust data on the course is transforming the golfers approach

by | Aug 22, 2021 | Driving Ranges


Evan Rothman

August 22, 2021

Analytics is changing the sport of golf.

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Andrew Rice, Instructor at The Club at Savannah Harbor and GOLF Top 100 Teacher, has described himself as an “everyday golfer’s coach”. So he was exactly the right man for PING to take a look at the work of a company called Arccos, with which they had a young partnership. As a man who prides himself on being fact-based, not selfish, and who demands his students to be the same, Rice can admit that at first glance he didn’t see the cheers.

“I said, ‘Eh, I don’t know, I’m good,'” Rice remembers seeing Arccos in action in the spring of 2019. “The guys from PING came back to me and said, ‘Andrew, please take’ one more look because there is something to this stuff. ‘ ”

Arccos ‘material was and is data – terabytes of information on the course about regular golfers’ shots distilled into useful nuggets by proprietary AI. Small IoT sensors, which are attached to the handle of each racket, synchronize with an app in a smartphone, a smartwatch or the portable Caddy Link shot tracking device from Arccos and collect information that is converted into ShotLink-like data, among other things. Only the data from Arccos are richer, and not from Tiger Woods, but from John D’oh. (Arccos knows if you hit a 6-iron or a 7-iron; ShotLink doesn’t know.) Rice’s second glance saw the scales fall from his eyes and focus on the potential impact of Arccos.

“About 90 percent of my work with golfers is on the range – on the practice field, not on the battlefield,” says Rice. “I have to be very aware: ‘Is it very different on the pitch than on the shooting range?’ Arccos could certainly help. “

It also helped overcome another common Bugaboo for instructors like Rice: demonstrating their investment in improving players.

“As a trainer, of course, my students are close to my heart, but the challenge is to show them that I’m interested,” says Rice. “Arccos gives me the opportunity to show that I am interested in how they are.”

He does this today by texting or emailing students after the details of their laps have been viewed in the Arccos app, congratulating them on a good performance, or showing them what to work on or continue working on for the next lesson , armed with key statistics from those nine or 18 holes.

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“That’s incredible to me,” says Rice.

Sal Syed, the Yale-trained co-founder of Arccos, understood the great opportunity presented by his first meeting with John K. Solheim, President of PING. His Elevator Pitch: You shouldn’t have to think you know your strengths and weaknesses, your distances and tendencies, what to practice or what stroke to play – you should know, period. Better golf through all inclusive

“I was like, ‘John, just give me a spin with you,'” recalls Syed. “Use the products and you can decide whether it is the future of the game or not.”

Syed knew that PING was potentially fertile ground. John K. was a trained engineer, like his father and company boss John A. Solheim and his grandfather, company founder Karsten Solheim. This is the company that built a ball impact robot, PING Man, and in the analog days used surveying tools to collect data from its driving range. Data was in his DNA.

“That was my dream when I started at PING 20 years ago,” says Paul Wood, VP of Engineering. “The ability to add a new data set to our knowledge environment is like gold dust for our teams.”

Luckily for Wood and his team and for Syed, John K. tried the product and was interested enough to start a trial – with homework for employees that every desk jockey envies.

To build a test database, about 30 PING employees started playing as much golf as they could fit into their schedule with Arccos sensors on their clubs. After a few months, the company had about 70,000 recordings to review. These included shots taken by John K., who turned out to be an interesting case.

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“We saw that he was missing six times more greens on the left than on the right, which is not the best fitting or aiming pattern I think,” says Chris Broadie, Head of Fitting Science at PING (as well as the son of Strokes Gained.). Statistics innovator Mark Broadie). “Something biased him pretty far to the left.”

John K. found the Arccos data revealing and eventually went ahead with a partnership (in that regard, he joined Cobra). Today, PING receives more than six million recordings per month from Arccos. Six million. For comparison: The ShotLink data of the PGA Tour covers 1.2 million shots annually, so PING sees five times as much data in one twelfth of the time. (Even an English major who did not know that “Arccos” was the inverse of the cosine function can estimate the difference in the scale.) In total, Arccos now has more than 450 million beats from 3 million clubs over 7 million rounds and has 31 billion Data points on the course including club, shot, GPS location, and even wind and moisture.

Back to John K. Armed with such a disturbing left bias, the Arccos caddy feature would direct the player to review his aim and practice that weakness. (After all, not everyone has a trainer.) A trainer like Andrew Rice could have made swing adjustments and suggested exercises to correct the problem. He was also able to check the next results from Arccos on the course in the dashboard function and see whether the optimizations were working or whether further changes were required.

Meanwhile, PING manufactures golf clubs. It also tries its damnest thing to perfectly suit the end user. First of all, let’s say the boss. How did PING solve a problem like John K.? By moving it into a stiffer, slightly heavier shaft. Broadie recently checked out the latest swing data from John K. because it is never really a bad idea to inquire about the boss’s welfare.

“In his last 20 laps, he’s gone from six times the number of missed greens on the left to just 57 percent on the left and 43 percent on the right,” said Broadie. “So after a diagnosis after the adjustment, we took his strong left tilt and moved him to a better place using Arccos data.”

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Turn the telescope back, from individual to collective, and the power of big data such as Arccos offers has potentially (and appropriately) enormous implications. Firstly for teaching and club fitting, such as automatically generated fittings and data-driven push notifications that suggest that you, for example, adjust the preload of your PING G425 driver (which is now included as standard with Arccos). But the club design itself will also be affected.

When, like PING, you learn that the average player is more than four times more likely to hit partial punches than full punches with gap-through lob wedges, you will begin to test wedges differently and also to design the soles slightly differently. When you know how far different iron shots fly on the course for different handicap golfers (and soon, in different weather conditions and from teeing off fairway versus rough), you’ll optimize the gapping for each club in the set and optimize the models for different types of customers .

“If Arccos saw a player missing the fairway a lot, his advice would be: ‘Aim to the right,'” says Wood of PING. “We could say, ‘Maybe you can try the CG shifter in the fade position of your driver.’ A coach might say, ‘Let’s stick that elbow in.’ You’re all trying to do the same thing, just with different ways to get there. ”

In the future, the crunch of the ball also means the crunch of the numbers.

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Rothman, former editor-in-chief of GOLF Magazine, is now a remote freelance contractor. His main task is custom publishing, which includes writing, editing and obtaining customer approval for travel advertisements. Since 2016 he has also been writing the popular monthly column “Rules Guy” pseudonymously and often writes the recurring “How It Works” page. Rothman’s freelance work for both GOLF and spans everything from equipment, training, travel and feature writing to editing previews of major championships and service packages.