PGA Fans To Get New Scoring System

Thursday, March 1st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MIAMI (AP) _ Birdies and bogeys, even who is leading the tournament, soon will tell only part of the story on the PGA Tour. A new scoring system will report everything fans want to know about every shot by every player in every round.

Wondering how Davis Love III played the first seven holes in 8-under par at Pebble Beach? The Shotlink System will explain that he missed only one fairway, had only two putts longer than 8 feet and even holed a wedge from 104 yards for eagle.

Only two players made birdie on the 18th hole in the final round at Riviera. Shotlink will give the length of every drive, where it landed, what clubs were required to reach the green and how many of the 79 players in the field had a putt at birdie.

Clearly, golf has come a long way from manual scoreboards, televised leaderboards, running scores at the bottom of the screen, even scoreboard updates every 10 minutes on the Internet.

``I don't think any other sport has anything with the potential sophistication of this,'' said Henry Hughes, chief of operations for the PGA Tour.

Shotlink is a $15 million system developed to replace a 15-year-old method of keeping score and will be a platform for more information than even the most avid golf fan can grasp.

By tracking every shot at every tournament, Shotlink can inform fans what percentage of players went for the green on a par 5 and their average score; how often Tiger Woods makes birdie when he has nothing more than a 9-iron into the green; even the club of choice on a tricky par 3.

And that's just for starters.

``We're going to end up calculating 200 new statistics,'' said Steve Evans, vice president of information systems for the PGA Tour. ``There's going to be stuff that nobody cares about. But other things will be interesting, and we'll learn what those are.''

Shotlink remains a work in progress.

It was supposed to be launched this week at the Genuity Championship, but a few bugs in the software were exposed during a test on the Senior Tour two weeks ago. Also, the PGA Tour is still working with caddies to get club selection, and trying to assure players that gathering information will not disrupt their play.

Several parts of the package should be available at The Players Championship.

When Shotlink is fully operational, it is expected to take golf to new levels of fan participation. One aspect of the system will allow people at home to compete in a computer game against the pros playing Bay Hill or the Byron Nelson Classic.

``A lot of people who love golf are going to think the world of this,'' Jeff Maggert said. ``I think we've only touched the tip of the iceberg as far as fan interaction.''

But concerns come with this complex scoring platform.

Satellite technology to provide grid maps of every course and lasers to measure distance will enable the walking scorers to chart the exact length of every shot. Still, some players question whether their caddies should be giving out club selection.

``I don't have a problem with it, as long as there's not interference by the person taking the information, interrupting the flow of my routine,'' Mike Weir said. ``If they're antsy and want to get a number, that's going to be an issue.''

The tour said club selection will not be recorded until everyone in the group has hit.

Other players question whether it compromises the integrity of the game to have real-time access to such information.

But giving out club selection, or even getting an idea of how the course is playing, is nothing new. That kind of information is already available on television.

For one thing, most caddies flash the club selection to television spotters. And at some major championships, players who tee off in the afternoon can watch television coverage in the morning of how the course is playing and what clubs are being used.

Still, Love wonders what will happen when someone in the gallery with a hand-held computer logs on to Shotlink, finds out what club players in the group ahead hit into a par 3 and pass that information on to the players.

``You can watch four or five hours of the British Open or U.S. Open on television,'' he said. ``You could also camp out on the 18th and watch for yourself. But you can't go running around and looking in everyone's bags for four hours, which is what we'll be able to do.

``I don't think the rules guys and the staff thought about that part.''

Woods, who might need the Shotlink System to help develop Internet games on his own web site, also isn't sold on the idea.

``I don't think it's very good at all,'' he said. ``It's compromising some principles. Players need to be able to play without fans knowing exactly what happens.''

Hughes believes these concerns will be allayed over time, just like anything new. Tour officials also said the players will benefit financially because Shotlink will add value to the tour and help increase prize money.

Television will have access to a myriad of statistics, which they can package to use however they want.

``I think it's pretty cool,'' Phil Mickelson said. ``Ultimately, we're going to create value for the PGA Tour and create more excitement about the telecast. If I were a fan and I had an opportunity to see what guys are hitting and where, I'd feel like I have a much greater participation in the telecast.''