A Look Behind the Curtain
PluggedInGolf: Tell us a little about your background in golf and how you started playing.
Sal Syed: I started playing golf when I was 14 years old. My dad played, but I grew up playing tennis in Pakistan. Golf always looked old – hit the ball, walk after it – not real cool. He convinced me to play one day and on the third hole I hit a perfect shot and I was hooked. Golf has the same kind of hooks as Angry Birds. You hit a shot and wait 5-7 seconds and that seems like the perfect anticipation for humans.
PIG: What was your professional background prior to Arccos?
SS: I studied Math and Computer Science in college. I actually won an award as the best high school mathematician in Pakistan. After college I worked at some start ups in computer science before going to business school at Yale. After that I worked with some venture capitalists in Boston on connected devices before embarking on the Arccos journey.
PIG: You partnered with Callaway to develop Arccos. Tell me how that came about and what it was like.
SS: Arccos came about through Callaway. They were developing this shot detection hardware, but when Chip Brewer took over, he had a shareholder mandate to focus on golf clubs and golf balls. As a result, Dr. Alan Hocknell reached out to me to license some of the shot detection technology Callaway had developed, which my co-founder Ammad and I did.
PIG: What were some of the difficulties in developing Arccos?
SS: When we took over from Callaway, the product was about 50% done. The difficulty was making it work for every swing, every time. When you think about the amount of variability in posture, address, waggle, accelerations, decelerations, in the backswing, the downswing, the follow through, etc, there are an amazing amount of different possibilities in the swing. Thankfully we have great engineers and designers. When you think about what Arccos does – pairing 14 Bluetooth devices at once – it’s highly innovative. There’s nothing else like it out there.
PIG: What drives your passion for Arccos?
SS: It’s my passion for numbers and data and golf together. Let me tell you about how it’s helped me personally. I was stuck on a 4.4 handicap and I was tracking my stats in the traditional way – counting putts and GIRs – and I found that my number of putts was very high. I spent a lot of time working on puting, but I didn’t get any better. What the 5 handicaps in Arccos showed me was that my putting was actually excellent, it was my approach game, specifically my 7I, that was holding me back. I could see that many of my 7I shots were short and right, so I clubbed up, worked on my alignment, and now my handicap is 1.8.
PIG: Tell me about the statistics in Arccos. How did you get to the 5 handicaps? How did you decide what to include and what to leave out?
SS: We worked with IDEO, the pre-eminent design firm of this era, to figure out our value proposition. We wanted something that doesn’t get in the way that delivers 10X the value compared to the pain of using it. The traditional stats don’t clearly answer the questions of, “What are my strengths and weaknesses?” so we turned to the strokes gained methodology. We worked with Peter Sanders, who has been working on this for 20 years, and whom I credit for pioneering this concept of strokes gained, to develop the 5 handicaps. Golf is really made of 5 games – driving, approach, chipping, sand, and putting. Golfers are already familiar with handicaps, so our system lets them instantly see where they are good versus where they are not.
PIG: Currently, Arccos does not know where the hole is. Tell me about how it works to generate stats like “Distance to the Hole.”
SS: Those assumptions are based on Peter Sander’s statistics and they prove to be really accurate, especially over the long haul. For example, if you have a one putt after an approach from 200 yards, we can assume that your putt was about X feet based on your relative skill. It’s possible that you made a 60 foot putt and it’s possible that you hit it to 6 inches, but statistically, the likelihood is that you hit a good shot and made a medium length putt. All of this is based on your abilities as a golfer and the difficulty of the previous shot, so the assumptions get better over time. When you have a two putt or more, we use the location of those putts to understand where the pin is.
PIG: What are the changes we can expect to see from Arccos in the coming year?
SS: At this time, I can only say that a lot of changes are coming. Our mission is to keep introducing value added feature that make the system even easier to use, the data even easier to comprehend and the game even more enjoyable.
PIG: Will Arccos eventually learn exactly where the hole is?
SS: Absolutely. We are working on a couple different possibilities including letting the golfer enter it manually and also triangulating the location based on multiple users’ data.
PIG: Realistically, what percentage of golfers do you expect to use Arccos?
SS: My view is that every golfer will have this in 5 years. If you don’t, it will be like playing without a putter. Why wouldn’t you have it? Especially without any work, why would you not want all this information about your game? Look at biking and running and how technology is involved there. That’s where I expect golf to be.
PIG: What is the future of golf and technology? Does golf need more technology to attract young players?
SS: Every avenue of life needs technology to stay relevant. If this was a negative, no, you wouldn’t want to add it, but every technology can be used the right way to ad excitement and enjoyment to the game. For golf, that is exactly what Arccos provides.
I think technology is going to become more present in golf, especially with younger players. They want to extend their mobile life to the golf course. They want the phone to be an integral part of their game. Arccos is the first and only product that makes that happen.
Original article published here.