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Inside Ping’s decision to embrace big data and make its clubs smarter

January 24, 2020

When Ping released its G710 irons on Jan. 21, they came with Arccos Caddie Smart Grips and a free trial of the Arccos Caddie app. We’ll get to exactly how that works, but what it means is that Ping is doubling down on smart clubs. At the PGA Show, Ping CEO John K. Solheim and Arccos founder Sal Syed sat down with GOLF.com to explain how the relationship came together.

Solheim’s introduction to Arccos was an unlikely one. “I was playing in a member-guest with Bubba Watson, and his caddie Ted Scott was playing, too,” he said. “I saw he had these sensors on the end of his clubs and was wondering what they were. He’s like, ’It’s the Arccos stuff, dummy.’ I didn’t know that much about it at the time, but I was interested. So when I finally got to speak to Sal, I realized he was onto something right away.”

The idea of using big data to make smarter decisions clicked instantly with Solheim. “It’s so much easier to improve when you have good measurements. It works in business, it works in everything.” The idea of tracking sports activity made sense, too, as Solheim was already using apps to track his running and cycling. Suddenly, he’d be able to do the same with golf.

Solheim became a convert once he’d started testing the app himself. For 15 years, he’d been stuck as a 6-8 handicap, but after diving into his Arccos data, he saw what was holding him back. “I just had no short game,” he said. “I was missing the green and making double bogey.” He didn’t exactly become Phil Mickelson with a wedge, but as he worked more and more at his short game, he dropped to a 2-handicap, and then scratch (though he’s settled closer to a 1). He played more last year than he had since he’d been a junior golfer.

For Syed, the success story was music to his ears. “Golf’s a personal challenge, right? It’s a never-ending quest for improvement. So if Arccos gives you a path to get to playing better golf, it can be energizing and motivating. Look, I wouldn’t make the claim that you’re going to play more golf because of Arccos. But you’ll be smarter about your game and you’ll get better and maybe as a result you’ll get more out of your time on the course and you’ll keep playing.”

As a brand, Ping has always considered itself ahead of the curve when it comes to technology and customization. Solheim points out that the company was the first to invest in a Trackman and were pioneers in club-fitting. Now, they’re just the second major equipment manufacturer (Cobra was the first to partner with Arccos in 2016 and continues to feature Cobra Connect powered by Arccos) to go all-in on the technology.

What does the Arccos integration actually do for golfers? Quite a bit (also detailed here). Among the app’s offerings:

– Automatically tracks shots
– Provides hole information over a map interface (think ShotLink for everyday players)
– Relays your “true distances,” so you have a better sense of how far an 8-iron actually flies
– Analyzes rounds to provide you with Strokes Gained information, breaking down where you need work
– Helps with decision-making by suggesting clubs

Most recently, Arccos announced the release of an A.I.-powered rangefinder that adjusts for wind, slope, temperature, humidity and altitude, spitting out the true yardage you should play — not just the simple number your rangefinder tells you.

The new Arccos Caddie Smart Grips connect the Ping irons to the app, opening up all kinds of possibilities. Wedge-building insights. Club-fitting learnings. “Take the lob wedge,” Solheim says. “We’ve just been collecting data on where golfers use their lob wedge from. Most of the time they’re aren’t using it for a full swing, but maybe from 40 yards away in the rough. That means if you’re just designing and fitting for a full swing on the driving range, you’re going to miss something.”

Syed’s goal is to get Arccos in every club in the world — but in the meantime, getting Ping on board is huge for awareness.

“The vast majority of golfers have never heard of Arccos,” he said. “We’ve been working so hard to get the technology right and slowly building our user base. We’ve got more than 300,000 people on the app now, which is a lot, but there are what, 50 million golfers in the world? There’s a lot more to cover.”

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