Friday, July 19, 2019

Baltimore-Based Golf Instruction App Bolstered by European Tour

From left: Joe Plecker, Rick Geritz and Michael Hudak from Swing AI

A handful of times during a European Tour telecast, an instructor from “The Swing Index” will be brought in to give an evaluation. While it is free to download the app, Swing AI is charging subscribers a fee of $9.99 to get their swings assessed. The costs vary after that, depending on how many times golfers use the app and the level of instruction given. Online coaches are provided free of charge to the membership of the First Tee of Greater Baltimore.

The idea came to Rick Geritz in the middle of a member-guest event at Baltimore Country Club in the summer of 2015, the Baltimore Sun reported. Geritz had suddenly sliced some shots on the ninth hole. As he and playing partner Bob Phillips made the turn one shot off the lead, Phillips saw longtime Baltimore teaching pro Joe Plecker giving a lesson on the practice range.

Instead of going straight to the 10th tee, the pair went to see Plecker, The Sun reported.

“Bob yelled over to Joe, ‘My partner’s broken,’” Geritz recalled. “Joe said he was in the middle of a lesson. Bob convinced him to come over and he said, ‘I want to win this, you need to fix his slice right now!’”

In a matter of minutes, Plecker straightened out Geritz’s swing. Though he and Phillips wound up finishing second, the immediacy of the mini-lesson stuck with Geritz, The Sun reported. Three years later, Geritz joined with Plecker and Michael Hudak to form their company, Swing AI, in launching a golf teaching app.

A little more than a year after introducing what was then called “Play With The Pros” to the local golf community—fittingly the event was held at BCC while the Big Ten men’s championship was being staged there—what is now called “The Swing Index” is hoping to find a much larger, worldwide audience, The Sun reported.

In the leadup to The Open Championship, which began July 18 at Royal Portrush in Ireland, the European Tour announced its new partnership with Swing AI, The Sun reported. With the technology being integrated into every telecast of a European Tour event, “The Swing Index” has the potential to reach millions.

“This will go to the European Tour [on the Golf Channel] broadcast of 40 million viewers a week in 150 countries,” Geritz, who as the company’s chief executive officer used his background in technology to help fine-tune the app, The Sun reported.

According to Hudak, the Baltimore-based company’s chairman, “The Swing Index” will be utilized to follow why players are moving up and down the leaderboard and explain it in layman’s terms to those watching, The Sun reported.

The television analysts “don’t have the technology of what a top instructor would have and what he is seeing,” Hudak told The Sun. “What we can do is relate it to the everyday player—how did he hit that shot? A ball spins back to the hole. A lot of people would love to do it, but how do you do it?”

A handful of times during the telecast, an instructor from “The Swing Index” will be brought in to give their evaluation, The Sun reported.

“It’s going to be interactive, on-demand for that 4-hour broadcast,” Hudak said.

After turning off the telecasts, Geritz and his partners are hoping it leads weekend hackers to download the free app, The Sun reported. Instead of plunking down hundreds or even thousands of dollars for lessons, Swing AI is charging subscribers a fee of $9.99 to get their swings assessed. The costs vary after that depending on how many times golfers use the app and the level of instruction given.

“Once you send in your swing to be analyzed, you’re going to go on a journey,” Hudak said. “Your journey may be anywhere from $50 to $130. You can’t get a private lesson from a top instructor for less than $150 an hour.”

Since relaunching as “The Swing Index” in December, the app has recently passed 10,000 downloads, The Sun reported.

“That represents some 300,000 swings,” Geritz told The Sun.

“Our technology of evaluating that shot is no different than somebody sending in their swing,” said Hudak, a former club champion at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Md.

Geritz said he and his partners—another Baltimorean, Mike McSally, was brought in as the company’s president—have raised around $4 million from investors, who include 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott, The Sun reported.

Golf Magazine and have also invested and have used Plecker, who has been one of the magazine’s top 50 instructors every year since 2017, to analyze Tiger Woods and, more recently, Brooks Koepka using “The Swing Index,” The Sun reported

“I even did Ben Hogan’s swing,” said Plecker, who is Swing AI’s chief swing officer.

Geritz knew that Plecker was the perfect teaching pro to be the face of the product, The Sun reported. A few years ago, Geritz was struggling to break 80 when he went to Plecker for a lesson.

“After three lessons, I broke 80,” recalled Geritz, whose handicap is now in single digits. “I was like, ‘Why is it the way that he teaches and talks to you and chooses what to go after makes a big difference?’”

Among those to benefit from “The Swing Index” is the First Tee of Greater Baltimore, where online coaches are provided free of charge to the membership of the two groups, The Sun reported. It was Hudak’s involvement with First Tee, where he has served as the local chapter’s vice chairman, that led him to joining up with Geritz and Plecker. Ironically, the introduction came from Phillips, whose need to have Geritz’s swing fixed by Plecker during a tournament planted the seed for the app itself.

“He knew I was trying to find some way of giving instruction to all my kids at the First Tee,” Hudak told The Sun. “At the time, I had 1,200 kids in the program and I couldn’t get them scaleable lessons. When I went down to the [golf] lessons and see the kids be coached, they all had cellphones. I was scratching my head and thinking, ‘If I can get affordable, accessible and personable lessons on a cell phone, I think I could give these kids the gift of golf.'”

Plecker personally coaches “a couple of thousand” players worldwide online, according to Geritz, but that number will grow exponentially as more find their way to “The Swing Index” app, The Sun reported. Geritz said Swing AI utilizes the expertise of 35 teaching pros worldwide, with the hope of expanding to around 100 with the exposure it will receive from the European Tour.

“Think of it as Uber,” Geritz said. “We have pros all over the world. Somebody sends in a swing from India, that might come into the pro in South Africa. It alerts them and within 10 minutes the pro looks at the swing and that artificial intelligence engine points to drills that they need to do. It will allow Joe Plecker to coach 100,000 people at one time.”

Geritz said getting a lesson with the help of “The Swing Index” is more comprehensive than spending an hour with a pro on the practice tee, The Sun reported.

“In many ways we’re decoupling the human action,” Geritz said. “In an in-person lesson, you’re with Joe, he’ll talk to you, you’ll hit a ball, he’ll look at your swing, and he’ll choose one of five things he’s going to fix. We can really only digest one fix [at a time].”

Plecker, who in 2016 was selected by the PGA of America as a Master Teaching Professional, said the foundation for “The Swing Index” is similar to what he and others, including his father—fellow Master Professional Coleman Plecker—have done for years on the practice tee, The Sun reported.

“This replicates what great teachers do on the lesson tee,” Plecker told The Sun. “Every pro, every golfer, has a mishit. Every golfer struggles with something in their game. What this does is that it helps identify with a teacher and creates a relationship online. It definitely calms the mishits.”

Said Hudak: “At the end of the day, we get an opportunity to interact with everyday golfers and help them get proper instruction for game improvement and enjoyment. They’ll play more and the game of golf grows. I want to grow the game of golf because it changed my life.”

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