It does not matter if you are Tiger Woods, an aspiring amateur, a club-shop pro, or a recreational golfer – the truth is anyone who has picked up a club at some point or another has hit a duff shot.
Don’t even lie about it. You’ve done it, I’ve done it. Every professional golfer has at one point or another done it. It’s okay, it happens – after that initial fury bubbling up inside you subsides, you realise it’s all part of the learning process.
Now, in a bygone era it may have been a friend or relative offering ‘advice’ as to why your ball has gone inexplicably careering to the right.
You lifted your head too soon, you over-rotated, you’re swinging too quickly. Yes, dad, alright, I get it, that was a terrible shot.
But, the experience of the driving range is meant to be fun and is only being enhanced thanks to the Toptracer technology, which Omnisport checked out at Royal Portrush’s practice range ahead of the 148th Open Championship.
For those unfamiliar with the company, the funky ball-tracking lines on broadcasts following the progress of a player’s shot are made possible by Toptracer.
The idea was essentially to enhance the viewing experience of fans watching at home by tracking the flight of a ball and adding graphics so you can see the height, trajectory and destination of a shot.
In 2012, Toptracer expanded its reach to driving ranges in a bid to improve the experience off the practice mats.
“I think this really suits every standard as a golfer. As a beginner your eye isn’t particularly well trained on what the golf ball could be doing and so very often you see when a beginner will look for a golf ball and see where it’s gone,” Paul Williams, General Manager of Toptracer Europe, told Omnisport.
“By having the information right there in the [driving range] bay on a 21-inch touch screen, giving you feedback on how high it’s gone and what direction, gives them insight, education and a journey into the sport.
“They instantly become more engaged, we’re seeing lots of our venues running beginner golf groups and booking straight onto improved courses because they’re getting hooked straight way.”
Ever seen those funky lines and graphics showing the trajectory of a golf ball on TV or at the driving range?
That’s the work of the folks at @Toptracer
— Peter Hanson (@PeterHanson89) July 17, 2019
Even at just shy of 5.30pm on Tuesday, when Omnisport visited the Toptracer tent, there were still plenty of professionals out honing their skills and throughout the day the grandstand behind the practice range was packed with patrons trying to get a glimpse of their favourite golfer – a certain local hero by the name of Rory McIlroy proving a particularly popular draw.
The LED screens to the left of the range – featuring Toptracer graphics – do provide a genuinely enhanced experience in this part of the week, but the players also gain useful information such as ball speed, curve and apex.
“The tournament range set-up has been used at The Open since St Andrews four years ago. Each year more players are becoming more familiar with the technology available to them,” Williams added.
“It’s quite interesting. We see very similar reactions from the best players in the world to people we see at our driving ranges, where they’ll hit a shot and after watching a second or two of ball flight they’ll look at the screen and go ‘right what did the ball do?’
“It’s just for that confirmation of data that they’re looking for to improve their game and, for these guys here, making sure they’re in the best condition for The Open Championship.
“We have some of the players’ caddies pop into the station to the side of the driving range. They’ll come in and ask for their player to be put up on the boards.
“Each of them can have their data on their warm-up rounds, and obviously before they go out in the tournament – the tech is live until Sunday when they leave the range.”
Tuesday at #TheOpen:
Total Shots for the day: 14,817
Longest drives of the day:
#1 C. Kim 319.0
#2 D. Johnson 314.9
#3 K. Kisner 314.7
#4 C. Shinkwin 312.9
#5 M. Schmid 312.8 pic.twitter.com/JkPVtElNJG
— Toptracer (@Toptracer) July 16, 2019
So, what about behind the scenes? If you’re imagining a futuristic room packed with funky gadgets then you’d be very much mistaken. It is a beautifully simplistic set-up, with only a handful of staff in the tent with laptops and screens.
One such man helping to bring the practice sessions to life is Dustin Thomas, who helps run Toptracer’s range operations.
Part of his job involves hitting a few practice shots prior to the players arriving and picking which names to include on the LED board.
“I pick and choose based on what they’re hitting and we do like to listen to the fans and also the players,” he said, while demonstrating the different features available.
“If someone is requested we like to choose them. But also we like to use the long hitters out there and use some pretty cool drives.”
So, who have been the big hitters so far at the practice range at Portrush?
“Right now we have Dustin Johnson, Kevin Kisner and C. [Chan] Kim on the leaderboards. That was when the wind was kind of down,” Thomas added.
“The top drive is 320 yards. Johnson is following with 315. We can do some cool features with those long drives and show it in fireworks mode. We take all of the long drives, put them into a group and send them all off at once.”
‘Fireworks mode’ is a pretty apt term considering the field at The Open this week will be looking to produce sparks out on the course at Portrush.
And who knows? Perhaps the man who gets his hands on the Claret Jug on Sunday may have done so with the aid of information they gleaned from Toptracer.