But most amateurs wouldn’t know what to do with a TrackMan if they owned one. Unlike tour pros, amateurs’ swings are usually a mess. There are analytic tools available for the average golfer, however, including a new generation of smartphone apps that use artificial intelligence to pinpoint the most critical swing flaws and suggest relevant drills to correct them.
The best way to take advantage of the new analytics is with a golf instructor whose teaching studio is fully teched-up with launch monitors, sensor-laden body suits, force plates for measuring vertical push-off and more. Your instructor will use the technology to analyze your swing, work with you on fixing one or two high-priority problems and retest before moving on to other issues. The best instructors keep things simple: one or two steps at a time. Such instructors aren’t hard to find, but over repeat visits, the cost can easily add up to $1,000 or much more in a single golf season.
If you’re on a budget, the new AI golf apps do their best to replicate this process. Take 18Birdies AI Coach, the first such app I sampled last spring, shortly after its debut. After downloading the app to your smartphone free of charge, you record a video of your swing, either face on or “down the line” (taken from behind, looking at the target), and upload it. A few minutes later, 18Birdies returns a version of your swing with skeleton-like lines superimposed over your arms, torso, legs and head. As you swing in (pausable) slow-motion, the line colors change from green (good) to red (bad) and various shades in between. It’s cool to observe your swing like this, if also sometimes disheartening.
Next, you click on “View swing analysis.” This displays your swing side-by-side with an obnoxiously perfect pro swinging simultaneously, and a list of things you did wrong, as well as right. If you then click on “Fix your top priority,” 18Birdies singles out one flaw to work on with a series of drills demonstrated in stock videos by a pro explaining exactly what to do and why it’s important. Some of the drills can be done at home without a ball or club. Others are meant for the range. After a week of work, you are encouraged to send another video for analysis to see if you have improved, although nothing stops you from sending more videos sooner.
(Like most similar apps, 18Birdies allows a free trial before inviting you to sign up for a paid plan—$9.99 a month in 18Birdies’ case. For that you have unlimited access to swing analyses and other features such as a GPS caddy to use during rounds and programs that chart your playing statistics.)
On balance, I liked 18Birdies AI Coach. The recommended drills were clearly explained and helped me fix, at least temporarily, the main flaw the app recognized: changing my spine angle in the backswing. Like other AI apps already on the market, however, 18Birdies has limitations. The basic model is to spot the difference between your swing and that of a fit young pro. Some people’s bodies simply aren’t able to duplicate perfect swings. One online reviewer, a scratch golfer, complained that the app repeatedly advised him to make a fuller turn, which he couldn’t do because he is what you might call “extra large.”
Other AI apps I tried were less successful. Golf Boost AI had a similar approach to 18Birdies, returning marked-up swings and identifying the most critical flaws. But I had a personality clash with the intense, humorless instructor who explained the drills. The app’s interface was clunkier, too. For instance, there was no way to rewind or fast-forward through the instructional videos, which tended to go on too long. Golf Boost AI charges $4.99 a month. Another app, called Golf AI, stores only your most recent swing, so you can’t review past swing analyses, but the developers say improvements are coming. This one costs $3.99 a month.
The PerfectMotion app solves this problem by analyzing up to five swings in a row and instantly announcing its verdicts after each one, such as “Too far forward at impact” or “Out of posture, backswing.” (When using the app at a crowded range, you’ll want to use earbuds.) As a result, sessions with PerfectMotion sometimes felt like actual practice under a coach’s eye. The downside is that the app monitors only your torso turn, so the feedback it provides, though useful, is limited in scope. [From PerfectMotion: The app captures body motion and 3D orientations so does far more than the implied description.] The drills it recommends to help fix your most salient flaws are demonstrated by a “personal” coach you choose from an impressive list of names affiliated with PerfectMotion, or from a well-curated list of targeted YouTube videos. After a free 14-day trial, the cost is $5.99 a month.
Two new AI golf apps, currently in late-stage testing, both promise continuous full-swing analysis, as opposed to uploading single swings. Not only should this make using the apps less cumbersome, it will also, in theory, improve the apps’ recommendations since they will be based on a greater, accumulated body of information. The Sportsbox AI and Sparrow apps are expected by this summer. Sportsbox says its patent-pending Kinematic AI technology will create robust three-dimensional video renderings of golf swings based on the two-dimensional videos that users capture with the app on their smartphones. After a free trial, Sportsbox AI will offer tiers of subscription services starting at $10 a month.
As AI golf apps improve, will they put golf instructors out of business? That’s doubtful. For one thing, fewer than one-fifth of golfers take formal lessons in any given year. The apps are more likely to create a new market than undermine an old one. App developers also are building in features that instructors can use to help their students remotely, either as part of a lesson or as something the players can refer to when they practice on their own. That might allow teachers to spend less time with their students on basic swing mechanics and more on equally important topics such as playing strategy, short-game finesse and psychology.
Mr. Newport, based in Nyack, N.Y., was The Wall Street Journal’s golf columnist from 2006 to 2015. He can be reached at email@example.com.
PerfectMotion®, LLC has developed and patented (pending) an AI-based motion improvement platform for sports performance, safety/compliance and health markets. The company’s first product focuses on golf improvement. The PerfectMotion® management team brings a combined century’s worth of expertise in technology development, data science and digital marketing.
The PerfectMotion® app is a personalized AI-based golf training system that allows golfers to quickly groove repeatable, efficient body motion with every club through an innovative process of continuous expert feedback. PerfectMotion® has assembled a distinguished golf advisory board that includes three-time Ryder Cup player Chip “Mr. 59” Beck and top PGA golf instructor Joe Hallett.
The PerfectMotion® app is available from the App and Play Store and can be used at no cost forever. Upon registration, every user receives a 14-day free trial of the Pro version, allowing unlimited daily training sessions. At trial end, the user is downgraded to the free version unless they choose to upgrade for $5.99/mo or $59.99/yr.