Barbasol Scoring is Just a ShotLink Away—By Dr. John Huang
(NICHOLASVILLE, Ky.) – For Central Kentucky golf fans and media alike, the ShotLink scoring system is a virtual gamechanger. Think about this—rather than suffering personally through ninety-degree heat and humidity out on the golf course, patrons can now choose to sit leisurely behind their computers in air-conditioned comfort while digitally tracking every single shot from their favorite golfers.
Too good to be true, you ask? If you’ve never previously experienced or utilized this rapidly evolving technology, I’d encourage you to download the PGA TOUR application, and check out ShotLink at your first available opportunity. In fact, what better place to explore it in action, than at the Barbasol Championships being played this weekend at The Champions at Keene Trace?
Digital and electronic technology has “intruded” rapidly into the sporting world. The Hawk-eye Live system has already been overruling line calls at tennis tournaments for years now. For football fans everywhere, the ubiquitous yellow first down marker plastered across our high definition television screens is pretty much old news. And Major League Baseball fans are quickly warming up and adapting to the utilization of the electronic strike zone. The ShotLink system, however, seems to have surpassed them all. The ShotLink website claims that it’s “a revolutionary platform for collecting and disseminating scoring and statistical data on every shot by every player in real-time. The vision of the system is to turn data into information, information into knowledge, and knowledge into entertainment.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m not quite sure I know what all that means. So, I sought out a producer and operations coordinator for PGA TOUR ShotLink to personally explain and demonstrate it to me. “The technology nowadays is really advanced,” said Tyler Daly, who’s been applying his expertise with the PGA TOUR for the past year and a half. “We’re already operating under what we call the ShotLink+ system. We’ve incorporated three cameras on each green that searches for an object that acts and moves like a golf ball. It then tracks the ball in motion, sets the end point, and is then verified prior to appearing through the system on your screen…the accuracy of the data is really phenomenal.”
“In addition to all that, we now have Trackman at all the tee boxes on all eighteen holes,” continued Daly. “So when the tee shot is hit, we’re gathering all the tee shot, flight, and radar data from that struck ball—which is then extrapolated to its expected landing point. That’s really ramping up all the sophisticated data we’re gathering.”
Realize, that the ball tracking just doesn’t happen magically. It takes an army of ShotLink volunteers at every single tournament to successfully operate the numerous lasers, cameras, and green side tablets required to gather the data. You generally have about 175 or so laser or tablet operators on the ground shooting the endpoint of balls. In the meantime, you have about 75 or more walking scorers who are actually inputting when that stroke was hit, recording the scores, and marking the vantage point from where the shot was hit. All these volunteers must simultaneously work in coordination with each other to verify that their information submitted is indeed correct. Producers in the truck stand sentinel—constantly on the lookout for any errors, alerts, mismatch of information, or data out of the norm.
“If a player supposedly hits a ball 375 yards, an alert pops up,” Daly explained with a smile. “Sometimes that’s absolutely accurate. They crushed it. At other times, after reviewing the data, we determine that it needs to be corrected immediately.”
So other than following your favorites online, what else is all this voluminous data good for? Garbage in, garbage out—right? The average golf fan is certainly benefitting. They’re having a blast crunching numbers like a bona fide golf geek. For media members gathering and reporting on facts and figures, their efforts have also been radically streamlined.
But for the guys on tour, the information is pure gold. According to Daly, the players all have access to their ShotLink data. They use it quite heavily to gage their progress and deficiencies. Sometimes the data is even used by players to determine which courses they should play—the ones that best fit their style.
Is it possible to go overboard with this proliferation of data? “Statistics are objective data,” Daly rationalized. “Especially when in the game of golf, when a stroke can mean missing the cut, making the cut, or potentially making hundreds of thousands of dollars and FedEx Cup points—the margins are so fine that you need to use every resource available. The statistics that are charting every single stroke you hit that year on tour are invaluable.”
I wondered where all this technology was headed. For the record, all the PGA TOUR events, and all the associated media, TV, and web applications are already utilizing the ShotLink system.
“It’s going to be impressive and unprecedented as things keep moving on,” bragged Daly. “To think where ShotLink started and where it is now, I’m sure it’s going to be amazing in the future.”
Yeah, all that sounds fine and dandy. But it’s only when ShotLink cuts twenty strokes off my score, will I be adequately impressed. In the meantime, I’ll be following all my favorites the old fashioned way—by walking the course. That is until it gets way too hot and tiring. Then I’ll readily dial up ShotLink on my smartphone and track every single one of their shots from the climate controlled comfort of my seat at the media center.
Dr. John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Group Media and currently serves as lead writer for Sports View America. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.