Fore! How Big Data Will Improve Your Golf Swing (and a whole lot more)

Gator mouth agape TopCoder BlogMy ball landed a few feet from a small pond, perhaps it was a lake, I can never judge those sort of things. As the cart rolled over a gentle Sarasota hill, I peered out the open right side and noticed something close enough to my ball, which was close enough to the aforementioned body of water. It was a dinosaur, OK that is incorrect, but it was a gator. Mouth agape, taking in some of that famous Florida sun, the gator was motionless. I looked at my cousin, a Florida native, seeking proper golf etiquette on this one. Do I drop far away from this dinosaur? Do I throw a Snickers over it and hope it has a sweet tooth and gives chase? Again, I’m out of my element here. My cousin looks at me calmly and says; “Just zig zag if he comes at you, he probably won’t.”. I had seen enough Discovery programs to recognize his advice was at least founded in truth and frankly, I wanted that Snickers for the back 9. So I gussied-up in a very tender-foot fashion, settled on the ball as quickly as I ever have and with one eye on Al, I took a sharp, compact swing and struck the ball better than I usually do. The ball launched at the appropriate altitude a 4 iron would generate, a small divot careened forward, all I needed was Jim Nantz to whisper sweet nothings about this apogee and decent and I would have thought I arrived in golf heaven. I sprinted back to the cart as soon as I finished my follow through, zig-zagging just in case. My other cousin who was up ahead in another cart then chimed in; “Nice, stuck it!!!” Indeed I had. The ball landed about 8 feet below the hole and cozied-up to within 2 feet of the cup. I sunk the putt for a par. I know, you would think I birdied after a tale like that, but alas, it was for par. Still, it was one of the greatest golf shots of my life and in terms of a fairway iron, it was my best. And I have always wondered… why?

SwintTIP sensor technology and mobile app for golf swingWe are entering an era of real-time data generation capturing and near-time visualization that will give an on again, mostly off again golfer like myself the answers I’m after. And it will all be based in creating value from data emerging from sensor technologies and visualized for end-users in brand new and persuasive ways. Believe this is just fairway fantasy and not based in reality? The technology already exists and the first wave of mobile applications have already hit the market. Currently, they rely on sensor technology that “clips” to a golf club. The sensor takes in several pieces of data including speed, swing tempo and the overall path of the clubhead and then visualizes the 3-D image on your iPhone or Android. Pretty nifty right? But this is literally the beginning of this movement.

Be Like Mike 2.0 – The Quantified Self

The next logical phase is to then take these sensors and embed them inside the equipment, eliminating user error and user fatigue. Inside the club-head, the ball itself and the grip are three distinct places that we’ll likely see embedded sensors placed in the near future. Then all that is needed is the near-time visualization of the data generated and paired with advice, tips and gamified elements that allows a golfer to better understand what is working in their game, and what is not. Top all of this off with a platform like a NIKE+, tied to a virtual community of competitors and peers and you have an incredibly powerful mechanism to affect a whole litany of behaviors ranging from a physical swing to a purchasing preference. There are 3 questions to ask:

  • Can near-time data visualization and all these sensors really help a golfer improve?
  • Can it at least make someone “feel” like they are improving?
  • Can a comprehensive platform, tied to user data, bolstered by a community of peers drive a user to only play a certain brand of golf ball and clubs?

I believe the answer is yes to at least 2 of the questions above and quite possibly all 3.

Related Read: What is the Quantified Self Movement?

And now to you… This discussion and story was about golf. This is a fun story to share and it is quite obvious that sensors will make their way into these types of sporting “tools”. But what about your world? How will it be affected by new sensor technologies and neo-data creation and visualization? Think deeply about your users. What data are they generating that is not currently being captured? Is it something you can capture? Can you translate that data to value creation or at least perceived value creation for your end users? Never stop thinking about them and how you can better their user experience by eliminating a current source of friction. I can’t, nor do I truly want to replicate the conditions that led to the best iron shot of my life. But I sure would like to understnad what I did differently because of my dark green friend’s presence. I can only guess. The era of guessing is over. Think deeply about what this means for your users. Start right now.

image credit: prairiefriends.org, mashable.com
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