I am very lucky to be in the position where I can mix my passions for technology, communications and innovation together with my biggest passion, golf, and my knowledge of coaching as a PGA Professional.
Because of this I sit in the middle of various areas of the industry where I can get a good view of what is happening when it comes to embracing technology and looking at innovative ways to continually advance our profession and the coaching process.
Barely a day goes by without an announcement of an upgrade or introduction of a new piece of equipment that could make a golfer better (or ideally simply enjoy themselves more), and it’s exciting to think where this could go in the future.
Now, as an opening caveat, I no longer coach students as part of my job, but I am exposed to a lot of great coaches who have dedicated their lives to improving golfers’ experiences. So whilst I may not be directly using coaching equipment on a daily basis, I can appreciate the technology behind them and their practical applications.
In speaking with many of these coaches, there is something that continually comes up when you discuss technology – data capture.
The level of detail and sheer quantity of data that we can capture about a golf swing is incredible. Technologies such as launch monitor/radar flight and ball-roll tracking devices, hi-speed camera analysis, and the myriad of other options on the market, mean you can now analyse every parameter imaginable when getting the ball into the hole. And, assuming the user is appropriately trained, this can turn into a very tangible benefit to the end-user.
Previously we featured the Strokes-Gained metrics developed by Dr Mark Broadie that utilises the PGA Tour’s ShotLink® data in which every single shot played in PGA Tour events is recorded into an open-access pool of information that academics can make use of.
This detailed level of data capture has meant that every single aspect of a player’s round can be analysed and new and improved metrics for performance have been created.
With the continued rollout, pun intended, of golf simulators and intelligent, customisable simulated environments, combined with Augmented Reality (AR) technology, we now have ways of mirroring golf course conditions like never before, making coaching more realistic and contextually applicable.
Simulating golf course conditions leads nicely into the potential innovations that we could see in the future.
One thing I think could have huge potential uses would be virtual reality (VR) – imagine standing in a bay, putting on a headset and methodically planning your way around your next golf course of choice.
This could be something that helps the transition of elite amateurs to tour events – often players with little experience of the ‘big stage’ can let things get on top of them. The incredibly immersive experience of VR could help train players to overcome their nerves, ignore the distractions and perform better under pressure by recreating the conditions they could feel. Granted, nothing will ever replace the real thing but this would be a great start.
The future of data-capture looks to be about expanding our awareness and knowledge of areas of the sport that were previously nothing more than theory. We already have equipment with built-in sensors but I can see a future [that is not too far away] where there are completely non-invasive methods of gathering the same data Trackman can for example, but without the need for any external equipment to be setup, with data streaming live and wirelessly to receivers both on and off the course.
I can also see this extending to more wearable equipment that is less intrusive in the practice or practicing or playing (think a biomechanics analysis product that is nothing more than a normal base layer for example with no discernable difference to a normal item of clothing).
Right now anyone can go out and measure their vital statistics using something like an Apple Watch and the relevant apps, but perhaps in future we won’t even need to put anything on, or if we do it will be more akin to wearing a temporary tattoo than an accessory like a watch.
Perhaps a much bigger question to pose from all of this is what will be done with this data – the more you capture, the more you need to process it, and ultimately it needs to be useful to coaches and then to their students.
What will certainly need to happen, no matter what might come in the future, is for the education of coaches to go hand-in-hand with the technological advancement to ensure these fantastic tools are not purely a marketing ploy but are actually beneficial and valuable to their students.
PGA Professionals have a responsibility to keep up with the latest changes in coaching methods to ensure they a) provide what their students want and need, and b) they don’t get left behind when others could be helping golfers play better and enjoy themselves more.