The PGA TOUR’s ShotLink powered by CDW system has transformed golf data and statistics since it was instituted in 2001. The good news for golf fans, television viewers and players who track their own stats is that ShotLink is continually being enhanced. The newest twist is ShotLink+, which tracks balls in motion on and around the greens and collects radar data on tee shots.
It was a major undertaking, requiring the replacement of greenside laser devices with three cameras around every green that feed computer software in the ShotLink trailer to provide data on not only the final location of shots but also tracks how they got there. On the tees, Trackman radar is now in place at every hole on the course instead of just one, and the television networks’ Toptracer technology tracks ball flight.
It’s not yet clear whether the new greenside system will lead to a new set of player statistics, but information like how far a ball bounced forward or spun back or the angle of descent can be used to enhance telecasts. On a cumulative basis, it may provide more insight into putting by incorporating data on whether a putt was straight, slightly breaking or strongly breaking.
We know, for example, that on an overall basis PGA TOUR pros make 50 percent of putts from 7 feet, 11 inches. But the ShotLink+ data could tell us how that percentage varies depending on the amount of break. It could perhaps reinforce—or refute—the notion that right-handed players perform better on right-to-left breaking putts. On approach shots, the new data might show how much of an advantage a player with a high trajectory has on shots to certain hole locations, like those guarded by a bunker where the ball needs to stop quickly.
On tee shots, five or six holes on each course are now set up to provide data on clubhead speed, launch angle and spin rate, while all the holes track the flight of the ball for trajectory, apex, carry distance, angle of descent, and more. “This could give players and their instructors perspective to analyze how they are performing on tee shots compared to a practice session and how variable the results are,” says Steve Evans, senior vice president of information systems for the PGA TOUR.
Many players already utilize the ShotLink data to see how they are doing in various aspects of the game. It also gives insight into particular holes and courses.
“ShotLink data is crucial week-in, week-out for strategy on the golf course, what holes you need to attack and where to be conservative. It has definitely helped me win tournaments,” says Charley Hoffman. “I also look at my statistics biannually to see what I need to work on, and what I’m doing well.”
Coming soon will be a way for players to have easier access to that type of data and tools to help them analyze it. A new phone app was launched for the pros at the beginning of 2019 that so far enables them to commit to tournaments, get tee times, review their rounds, and more. Currently being developed is a performance analytics section that will include not only basic stat lookups but also enable deeper slicing and dicing of data.
It’s all part of the commitment the PGA TOUR has made to data collection and meaningful statistics. For ShotLink+, the cameras need to be put in place, cable needs to be laid down for a fiber optic network, and six servers are dedicated to running software to analyze the video and turn it into data. It takes about three days to set up, typically starting on the weekend before the tournament.
CDW, the official technology company of the PGA TOUR, helps with the technical side of the ShotLink setup, including an upcoming new trailer to work out of and a replacement set of servers that will be in place for 2020.
“CDW continues to partner with the PGA TOUR to find creative ways to use the stream of data collected by the ShotLink system and always aims to transform data into knowledge and entertainment—with the ultimate goal of elevating the fan experience and providing value to the players, spectators, broadcasters and beyond,” says Matt Troka, CDW senior vice president of product and partner management.
This article first appeared in the PGA TOUR June-November 2019 issue, which can be read here.