Those high-tech belt accessories at the Hero? Here’s what they’re for

rickie fowler hitting an iron shot at hero world challenge

Rickie Fowler at the Hero World Challenge on Friday.

David Cannon/Getty Images

They look like clunky beepers from a bygone era, but, in fact, those devices attached to the back of players’ belts at the Hero World Challenge this week are packed with new-age technology.  

Rickie Fowler was wearing one Friday. Scottie Scheffler and Jordan Spieth, too.

In a few words, they’re GPS trackers. In a few more words, they’re what the PGA Tour hopes will be a key tool in its efforts to expand and improve its ShotLink system, a sprawling network that collects and disseminates players’ scoring and statistical data in real-time.

At most Tour events, ShotLink is powered by a small army of volunteers who gather data from sensors — a combination of radar, cameras and/or lasers — that capture the path and movement of every shot. Distance, flight apex, proximity to the hole: you name it, ShotLink tracks it, beaming the intel almost instantaneously to golf fans, bettors and stats nerds all over the world.

Jordan Spieth was among the players wearing a clip-on ShotLink device on Friday. getty images

Trouble is, the technology is cumbersome and expensive, meaning it’s not available at all events. Overseas tournaments, for example, aren’t wired for ShotLink. Nor are all the courses at events with multiple host sites (i.e., the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am). The more portable tracking devices — with which ShotLink administrators already have been experimenting on the Korn Ferry and Champions tours — could solve for these challenges. And wouldn’t it be wonderful to also see the tech in use on the LPGA Tour?    

“The few pros I asked about it on Wednesday seemed intrigued by the idea and not overly bothered by the clip-on device,” my colleague, Dylan Dethier, reported earlier this week. “But the Tour will undergo more testing before putting the tech into play for tournament rounds.”

The PGA Tour did not immediately respond to a query about the goal of this week’s experiment. But the devices — or “bugs,” as the ShotLink staff calls them — did make a cameo on the Golf Channel broadcast Friday, with roving reporter John Wood noting: “They’ve been in R&D for a couple of years. They take a reading of the players’ location every three seconds, plot it on a graph and then when they get to their ball — once they hit — the walking scorer will hit a button and that gives them their yardage.”

Among endless other data points.

Nifty stuff.

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