ShotLink eyes new technology for greater fan experience

By Rex HoggardJune 28, 2017, 2:37 pm

Tucked behind the 10th green at TPC River Highlands, Jeff Howell and his team watched last week’s action at the Travelers Championship through a different lens.

From his perch inside the PGA Tour’s ShotLink trailer, Howell, the circuit’s director of ShotLink Technologies, studies a black-and-white image of the ninth green in real-time, a dizzying display of fixed points and potential tracks.

“Everything that moves the system has to identify if it’s a golf ball; if it is a golf ball is it moving; and if it’s moving let me track it,” Howell explains.

Howell calls the new system ShotLink Plus, a video-based model that will eventually replace the lasers that have been used since the system was introduced 17 years ago.

When it was unveiled, ShotLink was a revolutionary way to enhance the fan experience by using lasers to track shots from tee-to-green. For example, the system noted that Jordan Spieth’s tee shot on the first playoff hole last week traveled 220 yards into the fairway and that his approach shot ended up 205 yards away in a greenside bunker.

What ShotLink can’t do, however, is show that Spieth’s tee shot clipped a tree and bounced back into the fairway or that his approach caromed off the lip of the greenside bunker before settling at the bottom.

As useful as ShotLink has become, the inherent limitations of a one-dimensional system have become evident in recent years.

“We were looking for a replacement for our lasers, we’ve been doing that for 17 years now and we’re still using the same lasers we started with,” Howell said. “They are getting older and needed replacing and the thought came up we can get newer lasers or we can look at what is innovative and what will be new and increase the fan experience.”

A look behind the cameras of the ShotLink system being tested by Tour officials.

The new system, which was developed by SMT, utilizes fixed cameras instead of lasers to identify and track the speed, break and distance of shots. Where the current ShotLink lasers can quantify a player has made a 5-foot putt for birdie, the new system tracks the line and speed of every putt.

Currently, Howell and his team are testing the cameras only on greens, and for good reason considering the amount of data the new technology produces, but the system could easily be expanded to include all shots.

“If we can improve and perfect the system in small increments on the greens, then moving it into other areas of the golf course becomes much easier,” Howell said.

Currently, the new cameras have been set up on six greens at each week’s Tour stop as Howell works with the software engineers to perfect the system. Howell explains that the cameras are accurate about 80 percent of the time, compared to about 97 percent of the time using the current lasers.

The challenges of creating a digital snapshot of a sprawling field of play that changes every week are many.

“Camera placement needs to be specific, you have to place the cameras in such a fashion that they are going to cover the greens if one or two of them lose the track, we have to have at least one camera on the track,” said Howell, who explained there are currently three cameras per green.

The amount of information the new system collects can also be staggering. Consider that a single shot from the lasers that currently power ShotLink is about 10 bytes of data, whereas a single second of video imagery from the new cameras is about 400 megabytes of data.

It takes one server to process nine cameras’, or currently three holes’, worth of information. Without getting too deep into the math just imagine how much information will need to be processed if every shot of every player is tracked under the new system.

How that information is processed and presented during a telecast or to an individual user is also part of the challenge of bringing the new technology to the masses.

“We’re capturing 20 points per second of that ball moving across the green and all of that is getting stored in a data base and we’re working with the developers to figure out how we’re going to provide that data in real time and display it,” Howell said. “You’re going to be able to see the exact track.”

Howell said there’s no timeline for when the system might be ready to go live, but the benefits of an automated platform, compared to the current laser-based system that depends on the accuracy of volunteers on the course, will lead to a more precise track as well as a more detailed picture of an actual shot.

“The volunteers do great, they are the reason we’re up in the 97 percent [accuracy] of every shot, but it does take away the human element, thinking they are shooting the golf ball with the laser when you may be over shooting it and hitting a couple feet away,” Howell said. “Now the camera can see it more clearly.”

Which means we will all see shots more clearly, and comprehensively.

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x