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The PGA Tour's new ShotLink System debuts today. With the help of computers, lasers, satellites and volunteers, it will provide fans more stats than imaginable.
By BOB HARIG
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 1, 2001
MIAMI -- Technology already has revolutionized golf, in the form of titanium clubs that propel turbo-charged balls into orbit. Now it is set to have an impact in another form.
The PGA Tour's highly anticipated ShotLink System kicks off today -- although in a limited, testing capacity -- at the Genuity Championship (formerly Doral-Ryder Open).
With the help of computers, lasers, global-positioning satellites and volunteers who follow each group with hand-held computers, ShotLink will eventually take statistics to a new level.
The plan is to collect and report the details of every shot, by every player, in every event. The computers will show data that will give fans and players a comprehensive look at regular and senior players' games.
"We're going to be calculating 200 new statistics," said Steve Evans, vice president of information systems for the PGA Tour. "There's going to be stuff that nobody cares about. But other things will be interesting, and we'll learn what those are."
For instance, fans will know the distance of every putt made or missed or the club used on every shot. They'll learn who the best players are with a 4-iron or a wedge. And statistics, such as driving distance, will give a far better gauge of who is the best. The driving distance category is calculated by taking information from two predetermined holes at each tournament. With ShotLink, every drive will be used in determining stats.
Other interesting tidbits to be learned: the percentage of players who went for the green in two on a par 5; the club of choice at a particular par 3.
"The ShotLink System will change the manner in which fans watch golf," Evans said.
How will fans get the information? They can log on to either www.pgatour.com or www.PlayAgainstThePros.com, where they can follow their favorite player or compete against them in real-time on a personal computer at select events.
The system, however, has not come about without some controversy. Players and caddies have expressed concern over their role in the process. In order to get information to volunteers and their hand-held computers, caddies are being asked to relay club information.
That has become a sore spot for many players, who believe it could become a distraction; and to the caddies, who worry about an increased workload.
Last week at the Nissan Open, Tiger Woods expressed competitive advantage concerns. "Since it's live, you can have one of your friends out there in the audience with one of those Palm Pilots logging on to get the whole thing, find out what the last eight guys have done on the tee box, what they've hit," Woods said. "That's a huge advantage."
"If I'm playing at 12:30, I can get on the computer for four hours and see what club everybody has hit on the par 3s," Davis Love said. The tour thinks those problems can be resolved.
"Personally, I don't think it provides that much of a competitive advantage," Jon Podany, PGA Tour vice president of brand development, said. "Conditions change throughout the day, the wind shifts, greens get firmer. Obviously we wouldn't do anything we thought violated the rules of golf. So if it's an issue, we could delay when club selection information is available, delay its release until the first player tees off."
Because of those hang-ups, the tour will wait to implement parts of the system, including club selection. The tour must also resolve the issue of paying caddies. The Professional Tour Caddies Association has proposed that caddies receive $75 per round to help assist scorekeepers. The tour said that will cost them $1.4-million per year.
"People have to realize that ShotLink will be trial and error, working with caddies and players," said Mike Hulbert, a PGA Tour player and member of the tour's policy board. "We'll work through the bugs. It won't be 100 percent from the beginning. This is a process like anything else."