Shot-tracking systems provide amateurs with useful information

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Shot-tracking systems provide amateurs with useful information

Equipment

Shot-tracking systems provide amateurs with useful information

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the August 21 digital issue of Golfweek

Arccos Golf this spring debuted a feature designed to help golfers make smarter on-course decisions. Arccos Caddie crunches data collected about a golfer and compares it to other golfers using Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform. The feature then makes recommendations about what clubs to hit and anticipates where a missed shot might go. It tries to make suggestions based on a player’s game in the same way a caddie would.

Last Monday the company announced it had updated the system. The “Plays Like” feature adds forecasted wind speed, direction and elevation changes into the equations and allows the artificial intelligence mechanisms to make better recommendations.

Arccos Caddie is available to golfers who use an Arccos 360 system and have at least five recorded rounds. After the five-round free trial, a subscription to the added service costs $7.99 per month, with discounts for longer terms.

“Arccos Caddie leverages the power of (artificial intelligence) to help any golfer go beyond guesswork and have even more confidence in their club selection,” Arccos’s CEO, Sal Syed, said in a release.

Syed’s remarks encapsulate what the study of golf analytics is all about, trying to go beyond assumptions and guesses, and instead observe what is actually happening. The aim is to develop informed opinions and decisions based on facts.

Preconceptions can cloud judgments. For example, Jordan Spieth is known for being a great putter and has made some huge putts this season. But going into last week’s Wyndham Championship, the British Open winner was not even ranked in the top 50 in strokes gained: putting this season on the PGA Tour, having dropped from 0.758 in 2016 to 0.287 in 2017. The best putter on the PGA Tour this season has been Rickie Fowler (0.896).

Similarly, because Justin Thomas hits the ball so far with his driver (310.5 yards, ranked sixth), many people assume the PGA Championship winner has a huge advantage against most pros off the tee. His strokes gained: off the tee is a solid 0.399, which ranked 43rd after his win at Quail Hollow, but his advantage is diminished slightly because he is one of the least accurate drivers on Tour (54.64 percent of fairways hit, ranking 175th). The real strength of Thomas’ game is his play into the greens – he ranks seventh in strokes gained: approach the green at 0.718.

I gave an Arccos Driver unit to a friend last year, a good player who played college golf and who won our local club championship last summer. He was shocked to learn his actual driving distance and admitted he’d been overestimating his length off the tee by 12 to 15 yards.

I bring up that point to show that all recreational players, even good golfers who compete and win events at the local level, can learn things about their games when they are presented with data. Until recently, data had been limited to stats such as fairways hit, greens in regulation and putts per round. Devices like Arccos 360, Game Golf and Sky Caddie LINX GT are evolving, improving and getting better at revealing information to amateur golfers.

There are improvements that need to be made to shot-tracking systems, especially in the area of putting. Holes on the greens are positioned in different places every day, so while the systems know where the bunkers and water features are based on GPS coordinates, they rely on user input for the actual spot where the hole is located, and that can make putting stats a little fuzzy. Still, I’m confident improvements will come.

There is no substitute for getting quality instruction from a PGA of America professional and swinging clubs that were made by a good custom fitter. Playing golf with a shot-tracking system and using data to improve your course management will soon be another thing every wise player does.

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