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Smartphones and competitive golf

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By Chris Hibler

GolfWRX Contributor

In a tournament this past weekend I inadvertently opened a can of worms. I asked the tournament director if I was allowed to use my iPhone as a distance measuring device. The answer I received was an unequivocal “yes,” but he added, “just as long as you only use it for distance.”

My cart partner overheard out discussion and promptly lost his marbles!  He began spouting about it being against the rules:

“The tournament director does not have the power to overrule the USGA,” he said.

I decided to play it conservatively, sticking to my trusty rangefinder instead of my iPhone. As soon as the round ended, I jumped onto my iPad to see what I could find out about this murky and misunderstood rule. You know what I found out? It is a murky rule and I have misunderstood it all year long.

Here are the facts: Prior to 2006, all distance-measuring devices (aka DMD’s) were illegal during competitive rounds. In 2006, the USGA and R&A made a ruling saying that golfers could use a DMD under Local Rules during competitive rounds as long as the devices were either dedicated devices (i.e., laser ranger finders or GPS units) or golfers could use smartphones as long as they only used the devices for the DMD and not for weather or any other “illegal” data.  Thus, we as golfers, were on the “honor system” — as it should be.

But, this year, the USGA and R&A came out and essentially reversed their argument saying that smartphones could be used as DMD as long as they didn’t have the capability anywhere on the device of measuring wind velocity or accessing weather data. This rendered all smartphones illegal as, in the case of iPhones, the phones contain an embedded weather app that cannot be deleted.  Also, all smartphones are web-accessible, meaning you could access any website that has weather info from virtually any smartphone on the market.

This is not new news to most of you as the smartphone ban has been widely discussed since the GPS apps that many golfers have bought have been rendered useless for tournament play by the USGA this year. That could give you an unfair advantage by possibly glancing at your built-in weather app to tell you the speed and direction of the prevailing wind (which could vary widely from where the golfer is on the course, but I digress).

Back at my tournament, since I decided that I would not stir up controversy by using my iPhone, I was faced with a day with no access to my device at all — radio silence. It was just me, my clubs, my laser rangefinder and the hope that a TV was on at the turn to check NFL scores. Yes, many of you are applauding this as you would rather have me focus my attention on my round as opposed to sneaking glances at my “DirecTV Sunday Ticket” app – it keeps the round moving you say. I get that. But for me, the issue isn’t about checking football scores, using the latest golf GPS app, calling home, or even checking the wind speed; the issue here is about trust and integrity — and maybe even greed.

By banning the use of smartphones and related devices, the USGA is essentially saying that if a typical golfer uses these devices they are going to cheat. I’ve got news for you USGA, if I am going to cheat, I am going to REALLY cheat.  What are the ways to REALLY cheat?  Here they are in no particular order:

  • “Find” my lost ball in the deep woods by dropping a matching ball down my pant leg.
  • Improve my lie in the greenside rough to make it easier to chip the ball
  • Count my whiff in the long grass as “a practice swing.”
  • Mark my ball closer to the hole to shorten my putt.

Do I do these things? No. Have I seen (or suspected others) from doing these? You bet. I know one thing, nowhere on that list do you see where I think that a device will give me a wind speed reading that will actually help me to lower my score. I also didn’t make any note on that list about how a compass reading would assist me in any way.

I will go so far as to say that at even the highest level of golf, there would be little advantage gained with the knowledge that a smartphone could tell them about wind direction or wind speed that they couldn’t better themselves by dropping grass clippings in midair moments before their shot.

My point is this: golf is a game of integrity. The job for us as golfers is to play the course fair and square. We call penalties on ourselves when the ball moves inadvertently. We mark the ball where it came to rest on the green. We don’t try to cheat our competitors or ourselves. If you do, you don’t belong in this game.

I personally believe two things about golf integrity, which I call “Golf Karma”

  1. The guilt of “getting away” with a cheat weighs heavily on the golfer’s mind resulting in errant shots as the round progresses.
  2. We get rewarded later in the round for calling a penalty on ourselves (that no one else knew about let alone suspected) based on real self-confidence borne from integrity.

I would like it if the USGA would actually trust us. But, I have a sinking suspicion that the answer lies somewhere in the dirty underbelly of golf merchandising: the groups that benefit most from this inane ruling are the companies that specialize in the “legal” yardage devices. By quashing the low-priced app competition, the USGA has essentially ruled in favor of the handful of companies that create dedicated GPS units and laser rangefinders.

The other point is that common sense tells us that essentially banning smartphones in 2012 and beyond is just not practical in this day and age. Yes, I can recall the old and simpler days where I would leave my phone in the car, take my four hours out on the links and just tune out of life. But, we are simply not wired this way anymore. Our devices have become an extension of ourselves. For golf, it’s simply not practical to ban my possession of a smartphone on the course. I track my stats for later analysis. I keep my scorecards on my phone to see how my game is progressing. Yes, there’s is some wishy-washy part of the rule that states that you can have your phone in your pocket or something along those lines if it’s not in use.

But, I don’t like your chances with a hardline tournament director trying to argue, “I wasn’t using it, it was just in my pocket, kind of off with no weather app and stuff.”

At the end of the day, I would just like the USGA to trust and allow me as a golfer to do a few simple things in 2013:

  • Not cheat with my smartphone while using it during a competitive round.
  • Not slow play by device distraction.
  • Actually speed up play by knowing my yardage quickly without wandering around looking for sprinklers or yardage markers.
  • Save money in a tough economy by using affordable GPS apps on smartphones
  • Use mobile devices versus feeling obligated to purchase expensive “legal” yardage devices.

One final thought and a note to the USGA: what exactly am I supposed to do with my handy and convenient “Rules of Golf” app that you offer through the App store anyway?  I just want to be sure I know what to say when my competitor “finds” his ball in the woods a minute before I find it.

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum. 

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Chris Hibler is an avid golfer, writer and golf gear junkie. If he's not practicing his game with his kids, he's scouring the GolfWRX classifieds looking for a score.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. troy

    Nov 12, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    Great article Chris about the intersection of golf and technology. I agree with you — ultimately, the rules of golf are about integrity and self-regulation. You are expected to penalize yourself for infractions and as such each golfer should be trusted not to break the rules with their smart phones.

    I believe in golf karma as well! You will pay for “cheating” and be rewarded for playing by the rules!

  2. dapadre

    Nov 12, 2012 at 8:02 am

    Apologis for my misspellings.

  3. dapadre

    Nov 12, 2012 at 8:01 am

    Nice article. Sometimes I think that we humans love to complicate VERY SIMPLE things. Um, why dont they simply create or approve/sanction a DMD application. Nowadays, this can be ctreated (application) at fractions of the cost. Thsi application would pnly relay distance. Problem solved or am I missing somthing.

  4. tlmck

    Nov 11, 2012 at 7:40 am

    The USGA and R&A are so passe’. It is time for them to go away before they drive all others away.

  5. Dane

    Nov 11, 2012 at 5:25 am

    Golfshot app is what I use too. It’s great, simple, useful and keeps all your stats.

  6. ConradMacDonald

    Nov 10, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    Smartphones should be legal for all competition with the exception of professional tours where it is there job to play golf. For 99.9% of golfers they don’t make there money there and there work could call. In this day and age some people cannot take 4 hours off the phone. I play with many business owners that take calls all round because they have to, business comes before pleasure…

  7. Mats B

    Nov 10, 2012 at 4:18 am

    Great article! We need to get this debate on top of the board. You mension a whole deal of great points and from different perspective.

    I suggest we all put this article on our Facebook walls, Twitter accounts, and make a copy paste mail to our local golf club, our local golf union and national PGA society. USGA and R&A has simply made a mistake changing this rule or adding a change to the rule in 2012. It needs to be corrected sooner than later otherwise it will harm the development of the game and the growth of new players enthusiast joining the game. Which teenager shuts off his mobile phone and put it away for 4-5 hours? No one I know and they are the future for this game…. Todays society demand that you’re accessable almost 24/7, I’m not stating that it’s good, but it is reality. If we are not allowed using our phones on course, we simply don’t go out to the course. And while having your smartphone out there, why not try to use it for the best? Where players can choose themselves how much they want to engage in the game, point down scores and use statistics in order to improve their game and so on….. Why having isolated devices for each task or function, when the technique allows us to gather all we need and require in one device. It’s a time saver, using one device instead of having to go through a number of devices during a round of golf.

    Wake up USGA and R&A, it’s time to realize that future won’t allow for silly roule changes simular to the changes you made last year, it will hurt the game of golf and the sport of golf, in a wider perspective than a few Manufacturers of DMD:s.

    As a reply to your last question Nate, I use Golfshot to my iphone and it works great for me. Once you’ve got used to it, it’s simple, a time saver and gives you an increased awareness of you game and capabilities, if you use the functions for statistic.

    Again, great article and great subject.

    /Mats

  8. Nate Leeds

    Nov 9, 2012 at 9:31 pm

    Great article with many interesting points I’ve never considered. I completely agree, the use of a smartphone should be allowed with the honest onus on us.

    What is the best app to track stats? What kind of stats can I track?

    Thanks in advance.

    Nate

  9. Princeton_TN

    Nov 9, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    I had the exact opposite hit me last week. While playing in a tournament my job called me on three different holes. I had to answer, it was my job! Of course it was a smart phone, and at the time I was leading the tournament or so I was told. After the conclusion of the three hole stretch that I had to talk on the phone, one of the rules officials came up to me on the tee box and informed me that a two stroke penalty was given to me for each hole in which I used my smart phone for phone calls in which I was inside the players ropes! WOW a stretch of holes I just went birdie, birdie and par were now bogey, bogey and double bogey! I asked for an explanation because I was using it for only the call, and was told by my caddie to shut up cause he thought that I should have been disqualified! None the less after words I was destroyed and ended up loosing the event by 8 strokes, I shot an 82 and 74 won the event! It was on holes 10, 11 and 12 and I was 3 over at the turn and had just gotten it to one over before the penalties were assessed… I mean really!!! I think that with the yardage books used today, range finders leagal for USGA and R&A play, why not allow the use of cell phones and any measuring devices that they can hold! It isnt as if only one or two would gain an advantage, because we all have access to them today!!!

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Gear Dive: USC head golf coach Chris Zambri on the challenges that will come with the new NCAA rules

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In this Special Edition of The Gear Dive, USC Men’s Head Golf Coach Chris Zambri discusses his thoughts on the new NCAA mandates, how to get recruited, and the pros and cons of recruiting can’t-miss superstars.

  • 9:55 — Zambri discusses thoughts on new rule
  • 17:35 — The rule he feels is the toughest navigate
  • 26:05 — Zambri discusses the disadvantages of recruiting a “can’t miss” PGA star
  • 32:50 — Advice to future recruits
  • 44:45 — The disadvantages of being tied to an OEM as a college golf team

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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A new NCAA transfer rule gets passed… and college coaches are NOT happy

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New rules just keep on coming from the NCAA; college coaches are not happy about this one.

In a summer of block buster coaching changes, the NCAA has done its best to stay atop the news cycle by making some significant changes, which will impact the recruitment process. In an article two months ago entitled “The effect the NCAA’s new recruiting rules will have on college golf,” I spoke to college coaches about a new rule, which will not allow unofficial or official visits until September 1 of the players Junior Year. To go along with this rule, the NCAA has also put in place a new recruiting calendar which will limit the sum of the days of off campus recruiting between a head and assistant coach to 45 days starting August 1, 2018.

The 45-day rule will have several potential impacts for both recruits and assistant coaches. For recruits, it is likely that after a couple (2-3) evaluations, coaches will make offers and ask for speed responses to ensure they are not missing out on other options. I also think you will see far less assistant coaches recruiting, which ultimately hurts their opportunities to learn the art of recruitment.

The new transfer rule

In the past, players were subject to asking their present institution for either permission to contact other schools regarding transfer, or a full release.

Now, starting October 15, players can simply inform their institution of their intensions to leave and then start contacting other schools to find an opportunity. This is a drastic shift in policy, so I decided to poll college coaches to get their reactions.

The poll was conducted anonymously via Survey Monkey. Participation was optional and included 6 questions:

  1. New NCAA Legislation will allow players to transfer without a release starting October 2018. Do you support this rule change?
  2. Do you believe that this rule will have APR implications?
  3. Who do you think will benefit most from this rule?
  4. What are the benefits of allowing students to transfer without a release? What are the potential harms?
  5. New NCAA Legislation will make December a dead period for recruiting off campus. Do you support this legislation?
  6. What implications do you see for this rule?

In all, 62 Division I golf coaches responded, or about 10 percent of all Division I coaches in Men’s and Women’s Golf. The results show that 81.25 percent of DI coaches said that they do NOT support the rule change for transfers.

Also, 90 percent of coaches polled believe that the rule will have APR implications. APR is Academic Progress Rate which holds institutions accountable for the academic progress of their student-athletes through a team-based metric that accounts for the eligibility and retention of each student-athlete for each academic term.

The APR is calculated as follows:

  • Each student-athlete receiving athletically related financial aid earns one point for staying in school and one point for being academically eligible.
  • A team’s total points are divided by points possible and then multiplied by 1,000 to equal the team’s Academic Progress Rate.
  • In addition to a team’s current-year APR, its rolling four-year APR is also used to determine accountability.

Teams must earn a four-year average APR of 930 to compete in championships.

While the APR is intended as an incentive-based approach, it does come with a progression of penalties for teams that under-perform academically over time.

The first penalty level limits teams to 16 hours of practice per week over five days (as opposed to 20 over six days), with the lost four hours to be replaced with academic activities.

A second level adds additional practice and competition reductions, either in the traditional or non-championship season, to the first-level penalties. The third level, where teams could remain until their rate improves, includes a menu of possible penalties, including coaching suspensions, financial aid reductions and restricted NCAA membership.

Clearly coaches are not happy about the move and feel that the rule unfairly benefits both the student athletes and major conference schools, who may have a swell of calls around middle of October as Student athletes play great fall golf and look to transfer. Although coaches are unhappy about the new rule, it is very difficult to predict what direct impact the rule will have on teams; coaches are extremely smart and understand recruiting and development within the frame work of college better than anyone can imagine. As a result, I think coaches will react in many ways which are impossible to predict.

The survey also asked, “new NCAA Legislation will make December a dead period for recruiting off campus. Do you support this legislation?” For this, coaches were more divided with 45 percent in favor of the rule, and 55 percent not.

Although coaches supported the legislation, many (41/62) suggested that it would potentially hurt international recruiting at tournaments like Doral and the Orange Bowl and they had, in the past, used December as a time to recruit.

As we move forward with these changes, here are some potential things that recruits, and their families should consider, including consequences of the rules:

  1. With a limit of 45 days and these transfer rules, it is likely that coaches will be doing significantly more investigation into a player’s personalities and family situation to make sure they know what they are getting.
  2. Coaches may also start skipping over better players in favor of kids they think will be a good fit and are likely to stay
  3. Rosters may get bigger, as coaches are trying to have larger numbers to potentially offset transfers

Unfortunately, we enter a new era of rules at the worst time; we have never had a more competent and deep group of college coaches, the clear majority of whom are tremendous stewards of the game. Hopefully this rule will have insignificant effect on the continued growth of college golf but only time will tell.

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Is golf actually a team sport?

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Do a little research on the top PGA Tour players, and what you’ll see is that most (if not all of them) employ a team of diverse professionals that support their efforts to perform on the golf course. Take two-time major champion Zach Johnson; he has a team that includes a caddie, a swing instructor, a sports psychologist, a physiotherapist, an agent, a statistician, a spiritual mentor, a financial adviser… and of course his wife.

“I know this seems like a lot, and maybe even too much,” Johnson readily admitted. “But each individual has their place. Each place is different in its role and capacity. In order for me to practice, work out and just play golf, I need these individuals along the way. There is a freedom that comes with having such a great group that allows me to just play.”

My best guess is that Zach Johnson commits hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to this team, and I assume most players on the leading professional tours are making significant investments in their “teams.” There are three questions that jump out at this point. First, is a team necessary? Second, how can anyone compete without one? And third, how to pay for it?

From the club player to the collegiate player to the aspiring/touring professional, everyone can benefit from a team that offers individual instruction, support, guidance, and encouragement. Such a team, however, needs to be credible, timely, beneficial and affordable.

To be affordable, serious golfers should build their team one piece at a time. The obvious first choice is a swing coach. Golf swing coaches charge from $100-$1,500 per hour. The cost explains why players have historically been responsible for their own practice. The next piece, which is a newly developing trend, should be a performance coach who specializes in the supervision of practice, training and tournament preparation. Performance coaching on-site fees range from $200 to $3,000 per day.

So is team support essential for a player to be as good as he/she can be? My research says it is. When a player schedules a practice session, that session is usually based on what the player likes to do or wants to do. “Best Practices” utilized by world-class athletes suggest strongly that great progress in training always occurs when someone other than the player writes, administers and supervises the programs and sessions. The team approach says the player should focus on what needs to be done. Sometimes what the player wants to do and the things needed to be done are the same thing; sometimes they aren’t.

Now for the question of how to pay for it all. Wealthy players, or those with substantial or institutional support, have access to what they need or want… whatever the cost. If you use an on-site coach, teacher or other professional you will be paying for blocks of time. Fees can be hourly, weekly, monthly, yearly or lifetime arrangements based upon several factors. If your coach of choice is not local, you can also incur travel and per diem expenses. The process of paying for someone’s time can really add up. You can review what I charge for various services that require my attendance at edmyersgolf.com.

For those of you who don’t have easy access to on-site expertise or don’t want to incur the expense, I want to offer an approach that business, industry, colleges/universities and entrepreneurs are turning to: “Distance Coaching.” Distance learning is made possible through modern technology. In today’s world, expertise can be delivered using FaceTime, Skype, texting, email and (old fashion) phone calls. Textbooks, videos, specific programs and workbooks can be accessed from anywhere at any time by anyone with a desire to do so… and who knows what’s coming in the future. Through Distance Coaching, individuals can employ professional expertise on an as-needed basis without incurring huge costs or expenses.

The primary team expenses that can be avoided are those associated with face-to-face, on-site visits or experiences. Distance Coaching brings whatever any player needs, wants or desires within financial reach. For example, a player in Australia can walk onto the practice ground and have that day’s practice schedule delivered to a personal device by his/her performance coach. The player then forwards the results of that session back to the coach — let’s say in Memphis, Tennessee. The player is then free to move onto other activities knowing that the performance, training and preparation process is engaged and functioning. In the same vein, that same player in Australia may have moved into learning mode and he/she is now recording the golf swing and is sending it to the swing teacher of choice for analysis and comment.

So what is the cost of Distance Coaching? Teachers, trainers and coaches set their own fees based upon their business plan. Some require membership, partnership or some other form of commitment. For example, I offer free performance coaching with the purchase of one of my books or programs, as do others. Where face-to-face, on-site fees for performance coaching is available for $200 a day, the same expertise from the same coach can cost as little as $50 a month using the distance format, tools and technology. I highly recommend that players responsibly research the options available to them and then build the best team that fits their games, desires and goals. I’m happy to forward a guide of what to look for in a performance coach; just ask for it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Back to Zach Johnson; he recently admitted that his lack of recent success could be traced to his lack of focus and practice discipline. Additional, he concedes that he has been practicing the wrong things. “It goes back to the basics,” he said. “I have to do what I do well. Truth be told, what I’m practicing now is more on my strengths than my weaknesses.”

Zach Johnson has a great team, but as he concedes, he still needs to put in the work.

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