It’s fitting in a fast-paced, technology-driven age, that a company would significantly alter its vision just a year after releasing its first product.
GolfMatch, who we introduced you to last June, is doing just that.
Last month, the company launched an updated version of its original app, but the changes weren’t the minor modifications and bug fixes you find with most of these periodic alterations. Instead, GolfMatch revamped the app entirely, offering its users a far different iteration from the initial product with a significantly modified objective.
The company started its service as a way to connect like-minded golfers on courses they wished to play, dissolving the risk of a random pairing and eliminating the incompatibility and the awkwardness it could entail. And yes, facilitating these matches is still a main feature in the update, but it appears the focus has shifted a bit.
The new version of the app is outfitted with a social feature that GolfMatch Founder and CEO Peter Kratsios describes as a mashup of Instagram and Facebook centered around golf. All users have their own profile and timeline where they can share and track their own golfing adventures, as well as a newsfeed where they can read about and view the golfing experiences shared by their counterparts.
[quote_box_center]”[With this update], we’ve allowed the app to be more content-driven,” Kratsios said. “We want to create a community that connects both on and off course, to have great experiences and then share them with a community that is passionate.”[/quote_box_center]
It’s a noble quest for Kratsios and his GolfMatch team, and they have made sure this new social feature goes a long way in fostering these deep connections among a fervent group of golfers.
The newest version of the app is available on iOS and Android devices, and in the added social setting, users can post in a variety of fashions. There are the run-of-the-mill written messages where golfers can convey their thoughts to their followers. Users can also post statuses with up to 15 photos per entry highlighting the round they played, the clubs they’ve been using or whatever else best conveys their golfing time.
And within the past week, the app has been updated with video capability. Now users can not only share photos, but upload and post about footage of their outings. This new video feature can be shot in real time or in slow motion, an additional setting that allows golfers to put up recordings of their swings and solicit advise on their motion from the GolfMatch community around their profiles.
While this focus is somewhat different from the app’s original sole purpose of matching up golfers, they are attached in the way of fostering attractive golf connections, and ultimately the overarching mission of the app remains the same.
[quote_center]”The end goal is to connect a very fragmented community, solve fundamental problems for golfers and drive meaningful awareness to golf courses,” Kratsios said.[/quote_center]
Still, adding on a sharing-oriented feature to the product wasn’t inevitable from the start. In fact, Kraistos did not have such designs from the outset. The golfer’s initial spark for GolfMatch came about from his long-term experiences being paired up with random partners and the problems the blind match ups could create.
The GolfMatch app wasn’t exactly fledgling either as a partner matchup-only service. There were 2,000 users on the service last June, but interest seemed to be growing, especially as its Instagram followers quadrupled that number. GolfMatch also had business with golf course owners, charging a small fee for marketing campaigns to get players to their tracks. The company already had relationships with bigger corporations like Ship Sticks and PGA Tour Superstore.
As for sharing golf content, social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram could already serve those purposes, one would suppose. Wasn’t it a risk to stray from matchup-making as the sole focus?
Kratsios doesn’t think so.
The GolfMatch headman noted that golf is a visual sport where players tend to remember specifics of their rounds and wish to share these minute details. Sure you can post comments, photos and videos about your golfing experiences on these big social media sites, but most of your followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram aren’t golfers and subsequently don’t care about such documentation.
Users of the app also played a large role in this shift.
As with many enterprises in golf, customer feedback is paramount, and within three months of the app’s launch Kratsios was hearing from users that they wanted more. He realized a solution to the problem.
[quote_box_center]”We started hearing ‘Hey I wish I could use this app on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Days when I’m not playing golf,'” Kratsios said. “That that makes us most happy, when people are coming back to the app every day even though they may not be playing golf that day. And with this content-driven sharing approach, you could have people come to the app even if they weren’t playing on that day.”[/quote_box_center]
The GolfMatch crew got to work and tinkered for four months on the updated version that would include this social content-driven feature before it was released in early April.
In the short time of the new version of the app, Kratsios has heard plenty of positive feedback from his customers and the user numbers that had jumped to 10,000 before the launch. And since the updated app launched on iOS in the first week of April, GolfMatch has gained 2,000 new users.
And lest one thinks this all has to do with the new sharing feature from the timelines, GolfMatch has upgraded its pairing service as well. Users can now post “Golfers Wanted” messages under the Matches tab in the app.
[quote_box_center]”People say what they’re looking for,” Kratsios said. “‘Hey I want a competitive match with single digit handicappers with any course near me.’ We then geo-target those match request posts. People from around the U.S. and Canada describe the types of golfers they are looking for and the types of rounds they want to play and what we do is target golfers within 100 miles of you that have put up play requests. So the play requests you see in the matches tab are all within 100 miles of you.”[/quote_box_center]
The product is now getting its footing on this two-pronged approach, and one might believe the company will put its full energy just into these efforts. But for Kratsios and his four other employees, GolfMatch is more than a company — and takes seriously its mission to get people’s attention to golf courses and grow the game.
Kratsios is commencing talk with golf courses about GolfMatch advertising deals at these places to users of the app. GolfMatch produces its own golf content through its website. The company has also started event promotion. Last week Kratsios was in Greensboro, N.C., for the National Collegiate Club Golf Association National Championships. He created an NCCGA user account on GolfMatch and put up a post with 10 pictures from the event twice per day to raise awareness.
But possibly the coolest feature is yet to come.
GolfMatch has a PGA tour Brand Ambassador team compromised of three pros: Padraig Harrington, John Senden and Andrew Svoboda. The trio joined the program to become more engaged with the people that watch them, Kratsios said, and all three have committed to playing a round with a GolfMatch user once per year at the pro’s home course. That’s right, one lucky GolfMatch user will get to play with John Senden at Olympic, Andrew Svoboda at the Bears’ Club and Padraig Harrington at a course to be named.
Kratsios expects these rounds to take place over the summer and the criteria for being a candidate for a spot is simple.
[quote_box_center]”It’ll be randomly selected with who will get to play with them,” Kratsios said. “We’re literally going to take three random GolfMatch users. It’s not going to be anything beside users who have posted on our newsfeed this year. Anyone who’s engaged with the app and has posted on a newsfeed is eligible to play with a pro. For these outings with the pros, we would pay for airfare, the hotel and the round.”[/quote_box_center]
The idea is for the program to grow rapidly, and Kratsios hopes to have 10 total pros committed to this opportunity in the next three months. It’s an ambitious goal, but why not aim high for a company that has dipped its foot in so many different avenues?
After all, in addition to everything else, GolfMatch is in talks with the largest golf publications about potentially pushing additional content through the app and the company is targeting the biggest manufacturers to help promote new products to the user audience. But even with that caveat, Kratsios’s vision for GolfMatch numbers is his most ambitious quest yet.
[quote_box_center]”Our goal is to get to 1 million users,” Kratsios said.[/quote_box_center]
Much ink has been spilled over the decline of golf in America. Well, if a golf app can indeed get 1 million dedicated players to come together, maybe the game won’t be in too much trouble after all.
Korea’s FreeFlex shaft proves that lightning strikes twice
The biggest obstacle to success is said to be a closed mind. If past innovators had not been bold in trying new things and testing conventions, we may still be playing with featheries and hickory shafts. Thanks to their pioneering ways, the game was able to evolve into the wonder that it is today and I am grateful for all the advantages I have enjoyed.
According to a recent YouTube video uploaded on TXG, one such innovative product they have tested in recent years is the Autoflex shaft. Despite the shocking pink color and a high price tag, the whippy shaft from a relatively unknown Korean manufacturer has won over a significant number of golfers with its promise of distance and accuracy while going easy on the body. The shaft opened up a whole new shaft category by itself, and after almost three years it is still pretty much the only fighter in the ring.
So why haven’t more companies been entering this niche pioneered by Dumina? The market is clearly there. Surely, there must be other manufacturers capable of putting out their own versions? Is KHT really something that no one else can figure out? Whatever the reason, there hasn’t been any serious contenders making a run at the champ. Until now, that is.
In the absence of established shaft makers, I did see a lot of individuals on various online forums trying to find their own version of a cheaper Autoflex. Affectionately dubbed as OttoPhlex, I have come across several impassioned posts where golfers have detailed their endeavors to find an effective replacement. To their delight, many have said their bargain shafts also produced noticeable distance gains while retaining accuracy.
That’s just awesome. I think it’s great that Autoflex generated such an interest in golfers to turn over every stone in our search for all the advantages we can get. One caveat, however, seems that an OttoFlex shaft that worked wonders for one guy sprayed the ball all over the place for another. Of the various OttoPhlex shafts I have seen online, I have yet to see a true contender that worked for a wider group of golfers like Autoflex.
In a way, Autoflex reminds me of Floyd Mayweather, Jr., the unbeaten boxing champ. Love him or hate him, one can’t deny that his boxing skills are effective. Similarly, whatever Korea Hidden Technology may be, it simply works and deserves its just dues.
A Korean Lightning Strikes Again
Now a promising new challenger has entered the ring to contend for the title of the ultra-light premium shaft. The contender, also hailing from South Korea, goes by the name of FreeFLexx (OttoPhlex was taken, obviously) and comes with an extraordinary spec sheet. And to save you readers some time, the shaft is nothing short of amazing.
Dr Seung-jin Choi, founder and CEO of SJ (Special Joy) Golf Engineering Lab, is a lifelong golfer/entrepreneur with an impressive resume and some pretty unconventional ways of thinking. With a PhD in materials engineering, he has over 30 patents in various fields, including materials engineering, architecture, and industrial design and 12 patents (and growing) in golf clubs and shaft design. His appetite for knowledge is only rivaled by his keen ability to adapt and apply them effectively to his research and inventions.
Ever since AF came on the scene, I’ve been waiting for other OEMs to offer similar tech and performance to the AF at a lower price tag so that it can be more accessible to a wider audience. Err… let me return to that idea later.
When I first met Dr Choi, I thought I’d stepped into a golfer’s version of Dr Frankenstein’s laboratory. I’d love to mention some of the jaw-dropping golf innovations he is working on, but an embargo dictates otherwise. But I guarantee you will hear more of his mind-blowing creations soon. Just remember I said it here first.
Opening the box, I half-expected to see the color pink and breathed a sigh of relief at the sleek matte black carbon weave design. But aesthetics aside, the shaft had to first check all the requisite boxes for me to even consider it a true contender to the AF. After all, this weight class is not for just any AF wannabes or conventional senior-flex shafts.
To be clear, I am a big fan and user of AutoFlex shafts. But seeing the FreeFlex shaft check all the same WOW factor boxes gave me goosebumps. “Has AF finally found a match in the FF?“
From Theory To Reality
According to Dr. Choi, FF technology is a totally different animal from KHT in concept and manufacturing method and is solidly rooted in measurable and verifiable science. It all began over two years ago with a single question, “Which part of the swing most determines the performance of a golf shot?”
After consulting hundreds of top amateurs and pros along with top professors in sports sciences, he determined that an effective downswing transition was key to long and accurate shots. This led to his next question, “Can a shaft be made to provide golfers with a repeatable and effective downswing transition for better impact and ball control?” With this specific goal in mind, Dr Choi embarked on his research, drawing on his 30+ years of golf experience and scientific background. To many people’s surprise, he was able to prove some pretty eye-opening facts along the way.
I’ve often said that some of golf’s commonly-held conventions should be re-examined lest we may have overlooked anything. With new materials and applications for its use being discovered each year, I definitely think new ‘breakthrough’ discoveries are possible. AF and FF are just the tip of the iceberg.
Before I begin, let me also state that I am an absolute novice when it comes to shaft engineering and manufacturing. I still don’t know what KHT is about, and I am just as ignorant about FreeFlex technology (FFT) as it, too, is veiled in secret and awaiting a patent. So bear with me as I try to explain the idea and innovation of FFT, as translated from speaking with the inventor.
FreeFlex Tech – The New Secret Sauce?
Prototypes of the FreeFlex shafts were first launched in April 2022 exclusively in Korea and were tested extensively among the pros and the club fitting community. Soon, word of mouth began to spread among the pros, who were taken aback by the performance benefits of FF. More interestingly, the FF also came under scrutiny from the sports academia as well as the club fitters, most of whom were absolutely skeptical that the shaft can do what it claimed. And Dr Choi was more than happy to show the science and the research to back up his work with FreeFlex.
Having listened to the inventor, however, I can’t really fault them for being doubtful. After all, Dr Choi’s questions and unconventional thinking challenged many of the established notions that I also thought were rock solid. For example, can a single shaft exhibit two different flexes? That is, can one side can be stiff to promote accuracy while the other side is flexible to add an extra kick for more distance?
When everyone said that’s impossible, Dr Choi said “I’ll show you. Let me boot up my computer.”
“We have developed a unique shaft to which the pronate and supinate principles have been applied by considering not only the swing toque acting upon the shaft; but also in considering the warping moment and bending torsional moment to optimize Impact and MOI.” – Dr. Seung-jin Choi, inventor of FreeFlex Technology
Before all this, I thought I knew the relationship between a shaft’s flex and torque. Namely, a low torque corresponds to a stiff flex and vice-versa, and more flex may lend itself to more distance, but at the risk of less accuracy. Despite what I thought I knew, Dr. Choi informed me that this was not always the case. In fact, he found that torque and flex (CPM) can be independent of each other and that a 35g shaft with 170cpm can have a torque as low as 2.0. That’s even lower (and firmer feeling) than an extra stiff tour shaft!
In explaining how he can manipulate torque and flex in any combination desired, the actual math and science went straight over my head but I was offered a simpler explanation. Imagine that one side of the shaft has a limiter on it, while the other side has an accelerator. The limiter prevents the shaft from twisting and bending past a certain threshold to increase the chances of the shaft returning back to its original position for accuracy. In turn, the accelerator would activate on the downswing to increase club speed for added distance. As improbable as it sounds, this is the basis for FreeFlex.
But hey, we all know that anyone can talk the talk and all is for naught if it can’t perform. So can FF really put its money where its flex is?
Battle Of The Flexes
Over the past three years, many golfers have given testimony to the effectiveness of AF and I have also enjoyed my own AF to mostly good ends. While I’m not the foremost expert by any means, below is my own assessment of the similarities and differences that I have observed between AF and FF.
Overall, I found that FF not only was comparable to AF in both distance and accuracy, but it also offered three key differences which may be welcomed by golfers hesitating to pull the trigger on the pink bomber.
The first difference was the swing weight recommendation for both shafts. The AF 405 and FF 405 had similar weights (45g raw) and flex (190cpm), but the swing weight was totally different at C8 and D1.5, respectively.
From the beginning, AF shafts have frustrated many a golfer trying to get the swing weight down, since the average driver heads were too heavy. As a result, it required switching to lighter head weights or removing them altogether. In addition, certain brand club heads were not suitable for AF, and sometimes the overall driver build length had to become shorter as well. Needless to say, this irked a lot of players and golf fitters who had never encountered such hurdles in their drivers. It is a testament to AF’s performance that so many golfers have put up with it at all.
In comparison, the FF shafts seem more accommodating in this department. The recommended SW for the 38-series is at D2~D5, which should make club fitting all that much easier for a wider variety of driver heads.
The second key differentiator between the two is swing mechanics. By nature, I am more of a swinger than a hitter, and AF suits my swing super well. With a slow and measured backswing and a smooth downswing transition, I have gained nearly 20 yards over my past conventional shaft. As such, many golfers have testified to benefit from slowing down and smoothing their transitions to unlock AF’s performance. However, for golfers with an aggressive or quick transition, the AF proved difficult to tame, which has led many to believe that AF is only suitable for smooth swingers.
FreeFlex, on the other hand, claims that its shafts can be swung effectively regardless of the type of downswing transitions. From my own limited testing with three friends in this regard, I can say that FF did fare better than AF for hitters with a more aggressive swing. More specifically, FF shafts were noticeably more resistant to the left side and kept hard hooks to manageable draws to keep the ball in play more often. Dr. Choi also added that the shaft is less prone to break, as it uses higher grade carbon content over its counterpart.The third big difference noted by most testers is that the FF shaft feels more stable throughout the swing. Keep in mind that feel is subjective, and “stable” here is only referring to the feel and not the actual shot result. From my experience, the AF shaft is soft and malleable on both the backswing and the downswing, which took me a few weeks to get used to and trust that the head will return to square.
In contrast, FF has the same low CPM but the shaft is noticeably firmer especially on the downswing, giving a feeling of stability. I was better able to feel where the club head was at all points of the swing, and that gave me a slight edge in confidence on the money shots.
The three aspects were the biggest differences that were reported by FF users, and I can also agree on the observations. On a Trackman, my current AF was on average longer by 2m with a 4% smaller dispersion, while the longest single drive by each shaft favored the FF at 239m to 231m.
What gave me pause was that while AF has been my trusted gamer for the past 2+ years, I only hit the FF a couple of times since receiving it. And despite the short duration and novelty, FF performed just as well for me as AF, with the alluring promise of further fine-tuning and additional improvements to be had. Welcome to the weight division, FF.
Price And Availability
Unfortunately, FreeFlex tech shafts are currently available in Korea for the time being, though an English website is in the works at www.freeflexshaft.com for February. According to the company, offline retailers and custom fitters will soon be available to offer FreeFlex in three color options; matte carbon black, glossy carbon blue, and a one-of-a-kind custom watercolor design.
All these ultralight and performance-enhancing factors do not lend themselves to low pricing either. The retail price of the FF driver shaft is set at $650, and while it is much higher than most premium shaft offerings on the market, it is nearly 20-percent less in comparison to the Autoflex at $790.
For a limited time starting in February, SJ Golf is also taking applications from professional golfers and reviewers to test the FreeFlex demo shafts. Applications and inquiries can be sent to [email protected] and the company will notify the results individually.
And there you have it. The FreeFlex shafts have arrived to join the party and I can’t wait to see who else joins this exclusive club. It would be great to see who rules this ultra-lightweight division, but no matter who is crowned champion, it will be us golfers who will be the ultimate winners.
Coolest thing for sale in the GolfWRX Classifieds (1/31/23): Bettinardi Hive BB0 putter
At GolfWRX, we are a community of like-minded individuals that all experience and express our enjoyment of the game in many ways.
It’s that sense of community that drives day-to-day interactions in the forums on topics that range from best driver to what marker you use to mark your ball. It even allows us to share another thing we all love – buying and selling equipment.
Currently, in our GolfWRX buy/sell/trade (BST) forum, there is a listing for a Bettinardi Hive BB0 putter
From the seller (@Tyrick24): “Bettinardi Hive BB0 – $1500 or trade. Indoor rolled only. Bettinardi SS Pistol GT 1.0. 35″. Lie 68*. Loft 2*.”
To check out the full listing in our BST forum, head through the link: Bettinardi Hive BB0 putter
Modern Classics (Ep. 3): Testing the TaylorMade Rocketballz RBZ Tour from 2012
GolfWRX recently launched a new 8-part video series, called “The Modern Classics,” in partnership with 2nd Swing Golf. Throughout this video series, GolfWRX’s Head of Tour Content, Andrew Tursky, tests out 8 legendary used golf clubs that are still being played on Tour today. How do the older, less expensive products compare to modern technologies?
For episode 3, we highlight the TaylorMade Rocketballz RBZ Tour 3-wood, which first hit the market in 2012. The fairway woods are currently available for $84.99 on 2nd Swing’s website.
Check out the video at the top of the page for more on the product, design, and how it stands up in testing against a modern 3-wood.
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