Wednesday, June 13, 2007

SkyCaddie

If you’ve watched TGC’s coverage of women’s golf very much this year, you are probably aware that SkyCaddie is the Official Range Finder of the LPGA. SkyCaddie uses GPS technology and applies it to thousands of golf course layouts across the country, resulting in accurate yardage readings to pins, over hazards, etc. You can read more about it here if you like. A friend of mine has thought about purchasing one of these after having had access to one while playing a round. He is somewhat consistent with his yardages, especially irons, so knowing the exact yardage helped his game that day immensely. Since he doesn’t play golf two or three times a week (he does have to work occasionally), he decided the $349 price was a little too steep. Sounds like a good retirement gift.

For an on-course tv commentator, SkyCaddie is a godsend. No longer does Kay Cockerill have to walk the course prior to the event and meticulously note yardages so she can guesstimate what Player X needs to clear that bunker. Just stand next to the ball, press a button or two and SkyCaddie does the rest.

This post is starting to sound like an advertisement, so I should get to the point. A couple of weeks ago,
Larry Smich mentioned in a blurb on his Caddy Corner site that there was talk of allowing SkyCaddies to be used by players during LPGA tournaments. Now, I know there are some really good caddies out there who are world-class yardage takers. But if this device gets used during tournament play, you will see at least one player break 60 within a month. Generally speaking, professional golfers hit shots with one club the same distance (give or take a couple of yards, and depending on the club) every time, with some small changes due to wind, elevation or direction off-line. Changing yardage estimates to yardage certainties will shave 3-5 strokes per round, in my most conservative estimation. One thing is certain – average scores WILL go down.

If you have played most any golf video game – Tiger Woods PGA, for instance – you get your exact yardage to the hole for each shot. If you’ve played your golf game enough, you probably break 60 on a regular basis, depending on the course, because you consistently hit your shots the same length. You do that because you have your “swing” trained to get a consistent shot. Imagine now that you’ve deleted the yardage information from the screen in addition to turning off that automatic club-picker setting. You are rarely going to post those incredible scores now because those valuable “givens” have been subtracted from the game. If you have to guess the yardage for every shot other than the tee ball, you will be wrong occasionally if not usually. Reverse what I just described and you should understand why LPGA scores will go down because of SkyCaddie.

I might be jumping the gun here – a rumor doesn’t necessary mean a rule change, and Larry isn’t the most reliable of sources – but even if they are only talking about it, the LPGA has to be aware of the ramifications. Perhaps the discussion is to allow the device to be used in practice rounds before the tournament begins. There has already been some criticism of caddies being allowed to assist a player in setting her alignment, as well as the use of carts in selected events. If the LPGA allows SkyCaddie to be used during live competition, they had better be prepared for the outrage they are going to receive from the many traditionalists in the golf community.

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