Tour going from lasers to cameras to track shots on greens
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) The laser machines that have been tracing shots at PGA Tour events for more than a decade were getting old and needed to be replaced. That led tour officials to ask if there was a better method to collect data.
The answer was found in sophisticated video cameras.
It started with small cameras attached to poles on the sides of three greens at PGA Tour events during a testing phase toward the end of last season. As 2016 ends this week, cameras are being used on six greens at Sea Island for the RSM Classic.
''It would be easy to buy new lasers,'' said Steve Evans, the tour's senior vice president of information systems. ''But would there be another way to collect data? And could we be collecting more than we're collecting? What about using video cameras to translate what comes through video into data?''
ShotLink involves mapping golf courses and using lasers to show where each shot lands. That information generally allows for distance (how far off the tee, how close to the hole) and direction (fairway, rough, bunkers, greens).
The cameras bring motion into play, particularly with putting. It will allow for statistics on the percentage of putts that break left-to-right or right-to-left, whether the putt is downhill or uphill.
''From a data perspective, we can learn if uphill is harder or downhill is easier,'' Evans said.
Evans said the cameras also can correct flaws with projected putting paths because it eliminates the assumption on how hard the ball must be struck.
''With this system, let's say it's a 30-foot putt. We'll know a foot off the putter how fast the ball is moving,'' Evans said. ''It's gives us a much more accurate projection on where it will end.''
With the cameras installed only at the green, there are some limitations. The cameras can pick up the golf ball only as it approaches the green. Evans said if it proves worthwhile, cameras could be installed from the tees and along the fairways.
By tracking a ball in motion instead of where it comes to a rest, statistics would be available showing how much a ball rolls once it's on the green. That would relate to the trajectory of the ball in its approach.
Evans said digital and broadcast media are likely to get the most of the information, along with publications that go heavy on analytics. It figures to be useful for players, too, allowing them to spot tendencies in their games.
''All that feedback and analysis on the golf course is nice to have,'' Rickie Fowler said. ''We look at statistics and stuff a lot more. Joe (Skovron), my caddie, does it for feedback on areas that we may have been working on to see the improvement and then what areas need improvement. Some guys use it more than others.''
The tour hopes to have it in place in the first part of 2017, at which point Evans said it will work with broadcast partners and how to make the best use of the data.
WILLET & WESTWOOD: Masters champion Danny Willett decided not to play the World Cup next week in Australia to keep his back from acting up.
That decision also knocked out his partner, Lee Westwood.
Willett was able to pick his partner as the highest-ranked player from England. When he withdrew, the spot first was offered to Justin Rose (he declined as he rests his back) and then to Chris Wood, who accepted. Wood was able to take his own partner, and he went with Andy Sullivan.
Willett said he thinks Westwood still should have been able to go.
''When the guys have booked their flights and done their things, I think it's potentially not quite right just because one guy pulls out that it means the other guy has to kind of withdraw without having a say in it,'' Willett said Tuesday. ''I think you then just go down the list and see which guy potentially then wants to play. With such short notice, I don't see why they have kind of completely switched it around and made it two brand-new guys.''
Willett said he has apologized to Westwood. They belong to the same management group.
''Westy has been pretty good about it and stuff like that,'' he said. ''So yeah, it was a shame, really, how it ended because we were both looking forward to going down there and pairing up.''
OGILVY'S PRAISE: Jordan Spieth is playing the Australian Open this week and is in the same group as Geoff Ogilvy and U.S. Amateur champion Curtis Luck.
Ogilvy loves the draw, mainly because of Spieth.
''More than anyone, he seems to always sign for one or two (shots) less than you think he should have,'' Ogilvy said. ''That's always the sign of a great player. Tiger was like that. He always seemed to sign for five less than he should have. Jordan is one of those guys who gets the best out of his round almost every time you play with him.''
FATHER AND SON: Jack Nicklaus has been playing the PNC Father-Son Challenge so long that his son is older than seven major champions in the field.
Nicklaus and his oldest son, 55-year-old Jackie, will be among 20 teams on Dec. 10-11 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Grande Lakes in Orlando, Florida. It's the one tournament Nicklaus won't miss. He is playing for the 15th time and calls it ''one of the most anticipated events of the year for me.''
''I was looking at the incredible field they have assembled again this year, and I see several fathers you are actually younger than my son,'' Nicklaus said. ''At a combined age of 130 years, is it too late for us to ask for shots?''
Among the newcomers is John Daly, who will be playing with his 13-year-old son who goes by ''Little John.''
DIVOTS: Two players are not defending their titles this week. Padraig Harrington (Indonesia Open) qualified for the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. Matt Jones (Australian Open), who lost his full PGA Tour card last year, is playing the RSM Classic at Sea Island. … Paul Levy was elected president of the PGA of America last week during the 100th annual meeting in New York. Levy is president of club operations and development for Sunrise Company and the CEO and general manager of Toscana Country Club in the California desert. He had served as vice president and secretary over the previous four years. … Luke List has broken par in 15 of his 16 rounds in the new PGA Tour season. His worst finish is a tie for 26th, and he had a runner-up in Mississippi. … Kevin Chappell, who had a Nike equipment deal, has PXG irons and wedges in his bag this week at Sea Island.
STAT OF THE WEEK: The European Tour will have a one-week break before starting its new season.
FINAL WORD: ''I've still won twice and finished second in a major. If that's a valley, then it's going to be a lot of fun when we get back up to a peak.'' – Jordan Spieth on his 2016 season.