Changing the game, one stat at a time

by Aman Misra in Mumbai

A year ago, your correspondent met Anirudh at the India Golf Expo in Delhi as he explained his plans to create a device that would combine the best use of technology with ‘numbers’, namely golf stats.

Now, to be honest, I was never one for any additional devices while playing our great game. They tended to be clunky, and as most golfers can probably relate — even a gram of extra weight anywhere in the swing arc would be discernible and unwelcome.

To put it simply, ‘Golfication X’ is a device, that doesn’t only tell you distances, but can also recommend clubs based on those distances, taking into account the millions of other factors you can think of when you step up to the ball.

The idea isn’t new. There have been a bunch of devices that have tried similar stuff over the years. What made this different was the use of AI technology which to our minds has not been implemented fully in any of these devices before.

Anirudh and his team have made effective use of Machine learning, which this correspondent thinks could be the game changer.

In conversation, he takes the analogy of two friends playing together.

Both of you have different ways of playing the game. For instance, on a Par 5, you may go for the green while your friend may not. Based on your preferences and data, the device gives you advice.”

In other words, the algorithm collects data over the course of a season (or seasons), tailoring itself to your game.

This is as opposed to a one-swing-fits-all-model, or a ‘let’s stick to this particular swing theory’ ideal.

Anirudh adds “Machine learning has data sets, which ranks actions higher or lower. This model needs data to give you an outcome, training itself in the process and understanding what you need.”

All this takes places on Golfication X’s cloud servers leaving you to enjoy your game in an uncomplicated fashion.

In theory, the idea sounds workable, it is a question of getting the nuts and bolts together. It wouldn’t be wrong to dub this as golf’s pocket data monster.

The entire system has 14 taggers which you attach to the butt end of each club. That runs a system through to the device giving you the information and so on.
What if I’d like to go in the direction of testing more than 14 clubs? That would cost me more per tag.

Anirudh and his team have raised 89% of their $50,000 goal on a crowdfunding platform Indiegogo, raking up 235 backers.

Production begins once funding ends on the 1st of June in Shenzhen, China. Shipping is due later in August.

Currently, the device is priced at $175 coupled with free shipping. The device will retail at $219+shipping post-August.

Stay tuned for the full-scale review right here by your correspondent.

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Long time coming

by Aman Misra, in Mumbai 

Rahil Gangjee is many things. Golfer, family man, and funny man. In his years as a touring professional, he’s carried with him a bag of never-ending stories and anecdotes.

mischief managed ! …….COMING SOON !!!!!!

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A week after winning for the first time in 14 years on the Asian Tour, your correspondent caught up with Gangjee from Nayoga in Japan.

“Once in an amateur event, a friend was about to hit from a bunker. The referee comes running from behind shouting Penalty! Penalty!
My friend turns around, looks at the Ref and says – Sir, red card or yellow card?”

The affable Calcutta man is never short on laughs. Behind the lightheartedness that he inherited from his father, the late Bashir Gangjee, is a fiery competitor.

Last December, he was in contention for the most part of the Tour Championship on the Indian PGTI.

A less than stellar second shot on the 10th hole saw him slam the club on the ground. Five years removed from his last win anywhere, (Chandigarh 2013, six shot victory) Gangjee finished 3rd.

The beginning of the Asian Tour season saw early withdrawals from tournaments in Singapore and Myanmar, before a missed cut in Malaysia. It was form coupled with a bad stomach that was letting the 39-year-old down.

It was after Malaysia that Rahil found his swing, a few tweaks that he was working on with longtime coach Ajai Gupta came into place. The problem was, that he didn’t have a place to play.

I went into Indian Open week and played three practice rounds with Arjun (Atwal). I played well and looked forward to making my first check of the year, however, was stuck as first alternate. I really wanted to play, but it took a month more(to play on the Asian Tour).”

It was the PGTI that granted Rahil sponsor spots in Hyderabad and Pune where he finished 17th and 38th respectively. Adds Gangjee “I’m grateful to the tour for those spots. It kept my momentum going. The way I saw it, I had to keep playing to keep my momentum going.”

Retrospecting on his two wins in Asia 14 years apart, Gangjee has a few interesting details. He says “Back in 2004, I wasn’t thinking of winning. This time I was thinking of closing the door. Have been in this position many times before. In 2004, it just kind of happened. Both times though, I wasn’t playing very well coming into the event!”

Rahil also notes that spending time with the next generation has played a sort of ‘assist’ to this win.

“Playing with guys like Shubhankar (Sharma) and Khalin (Joshi) has been fun. There is always competition between us friends. These guys are younger, and apart from looking up to us, they believe that they can win. Just look at them turning professional much earlier nowadays.”

When did he think of dad? “He’s been on my mind for a long time now! I wish he could have seen this, he would have been over the moon. He would have gone straight to Tollygunge Club in Kolkata and told everyone about it!”

So how is newfound membership of the Japan tour treating the not so young man?

Stepping onto the first tee was amazing. They show the tournament on live TV here, there are a lot of knowledgeable fans who are congratulating me in Japanese and asking for autographs. Major respect. I’ve been coming here since 2004 and have loved it ever since.” signs off Gangjee.

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Georgia on Shubhankar’s mind

by Aman Misra in Pune

Another Saturday round in the books and Shubhankar Sharma is in contention again. This time it isn’t in faraway Mexico but on familiar turf saddled with the comforts of home at the DLF Golf and Country Club in New Delhi at the ongoing Indian Open.

At the beginning of the week, Augusta National Golf Club announced that it would invite the 21-year-old to play the 82nd edition of the famed Green Jacket tournament to be held in the first week of April next month.

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This makes him part of a select group who the Green Coats have invited as per their discretion. The last one handed out was to Ryo Ishikawa in 2013, while it makes Sharma the fourth Indian to play the tournament after Jeev Milkha Singh, Anirban Lahiri, and Arjun Atwal.

Your correspondent caught up with Guy Yocom, senior writer at Golf Digest, a veteran of over 30 years in sports journalism who has seen countless Masters tournaments apart from the other majors to talk about the significance of this invite and Sharma’s play internationally.

Guy Yocom. Credits – Twitter @guy_yocom1

On the phone from his home in the United States, Yocom says “The Masters committee vetted him very closely. This being a tradition that goes back to the origins of the tournament in 1934, they don’t only look at what kind of a player he is, but also the kind of person. The player has to be very worthy. Shubhankar is all of that. ”

“Sharma is a breath of fresh year. When he first played in America last week, the golf world knew nothing about him. Americans were very intrigued.”

He also added that he was knocked out by a number of things in the Indian professional’s swing. Yocom said “He has a fantastic technique which is very sound. There’s power in his classical golf swing but he stays within himself. Even when he was off on Sunday, his tempo didn’t change much. All these things are the mark of a good player.”

There was also something that Yocom noticed on the back nine Sunday in Mexico when Sharma slammed his club after missing a putt. “I liked that. Not to undermine etiquette of any kind, but it shows that he has a fire in his belly even though he was out of contention by then. These are good signs to see in a young player.”

Coming to the question of the Masters, the veteran writer is quick to note that Augusta has not been very kind to Masters rookies, with only three wins by a first timer in the tournament’s history (Horton Smith 1934, Gene Sarazen 1935, and Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979).

Zoeller in 1979

“On the other hand take the case of Daniel Berger who wasn’t too clued up about the Augusta history and all of that. He played approximately 18 holes in practice, nine each day before finishing 10th in his debut two years ago so ignorance could be bliss.”

Yocom is also quick to mention how overwhelming a Masters debut can be. “It’s not like any other week in golf. Very busy, so it can get physically and mentally demanding all things considered. He should perhaps rent a house for the week, and keep his environment quiet. When you get tired, it can make your confidence swirl in a hurry.”

“There’s no reason why he shouldn’t play well if he plays close attention to his practice rounds, apart from making sure he has an experienced caddy on the bag. A good caddy at Augusta is invaluable – that should not be taken lightly,” adds Yocom.

Whatever said and done, Yocom who has taken a lesson from Ben Hogan and won 20$ off Phil Mickelson is certain of one thing – “He’ll have the week of his life!”

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