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December 2019

Understanding the Mechanics

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Is AI Instruction the High-Tech Future of Golf? 

By Steve Eubanks

Golf lags most industries in terms of innovation. But on the instructional front, the future is clear. With apps and off-site video instruction becoming the norm – Golf Channel/NBC’s investment in Revolution Golf being just one example – virtual golf lessons are coming soon.
 
Hank Haney does it now. Send him a video and he will give you a tip. So do Cameron McCormick, Martin Hall and Sean Foley through their Revolution Golf contracts. But the missing element is real-time instruction and feedback – hit a shot, get a tip, hit another shot. Unless you have a top-level coach on Skype, that is currently impossible. And even if you did video chat with a coach, the complications of camera angles, ball flight and sequencing make teaching from afar a rudimentary exercise at best.
But AI could solve that problem, as it appears to be doing in the health and fitness space. 

In mid-July, San Francisco-based Pivot announced that it had raised $17 million in series A funding — led by DCM with participation from Bling Capital, Founders Fund, Khosla Ventures, Signal Fire and Y-Combinator – for in-home workouts that bring the gym to the living room through a combination of sensors and machine learning. The artificial intelligence counts reps and tracks a subject’s form in real time, just as a personal trainer would do in a gym.

“In my own life, having someone who could teach me, inspire me, and hold me accountable made all the difference,” said founder and CEO Moawia Eldeeb, an Egyptian immigrant who worked as a personal trainer while studying computer science at Columbia University. “A workout video, even if it’s broadcast live, just doesn’t compare. That’s why Pivot is building technology to bridge the gap between the trainer and you, build that core relationship, and deliver the same hands-on guidance you’d expect from an in-person class.”

Launch monitors, KMotion vests, sensors and other data-driven technologies already exist in golf. The only missing component is the AI software to analyze that data, compare it to a series of pre-recorded instructional videos and merge the two, along with follow-ups.

The Pivot service will be much more complicated than anything needed in golf. It will require an individual to purchase equipment, including heart-rate monitors and weights (at a consumer cost of roughly $2,000) along with a monthly service fee. But for that, those so inclined will receive live and recorded strength training, high-intensity interval training, and cardio classes from group fitness trainers. Live instructors will be able to view the data and get alerts when participants are using poor form.

Golf will require a launch monitor, of which the price is tumbling below the $500 mark, an iPad with a built-in camera and an internet connection. The scale wont’ be there (the U.S. fitness industry is estimated at $30 billion) but neither will the upfront capital needs.

Don’t be surprised if a tech company announces the emergence of something similar to the Pivot model for golf in the near future. With AI advancing at a record pace, it is only a matter of time. 

Steve Eubanks is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and New York Times bestselling author.

 

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