ShotLink showcased Fowler's win at PLAYERS
June 24, 2015
By Sean Martin , PGATOUR.COM
- June 24, 2015
- Rickie Fowler staged an amazing victory at THE PLAYERS. (Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)
Alex Turnbull had to work quickly as Rickie Fowler played TPC Sawgrass’ famed finishing holes in this year’s PLAYERS Championship.
Turnbull mines ShotLink for statistics that add context to PGA TOUR television broadcasts. He has to stay ahead of the action, so as Fowler stood on the 17th green, Turnbull analyzed Fowler’s past performance on the water-lined 18th.
Making birdie on that hole is a tough task. Turnbull used statistics to show how hard it is.
“When he hit it tight on 17, we’re thinking, ‘He could make birdie here. Let’s look at 18,’ said Turnbull, the TOUR’s Senior Manager of ShotLink Graphics. “I saw that, for Rickie, it’s a really tough hole, so then I used another tool to look at his entire career on TOUR.”
Turnbull discovered that, in 16 previous rounds at TPC Sawgrass, Fowler was 13 over par on No. 18, his worst performance on any hole on TOUR. Turnbull relayed that statistic to the NBC graphics crew, which displayed the information on-air as Fowler prepared to tee off.
Fowler’s birdie putt on 18 was his 11th stroke on Nos. 15-18 in the final round. No one had ever played those holes in fewer than 12 shots. That statistic showed on-screen as Fowler lined up his 15-foot birdie putt. Fowler had never birdied 18, another figure that illustrated the improbability of Fowler’s record run.
He holed the putt and won on the fourth playoff hole, completing a classic comeback.
“The stats help us tell the story better,” said Tommy Roy, Producer, Golf Channel on NBC. “It really increases the drama of the moment.”
Fowler’s finish at TPC Sawgrass was impressive. ShotLink showed that it was unprecedented.
“(ShotLink) brings the ability to demonstrate exceptional performance,” said Steve Evans, the PGA TOUR’s Senior Vice President of Information Systems. “TOUR players make the game look easy, so it can be difficult for the fan to distinguish exceptional play.”
Turnbull echoes the ShotLink vision statement when he said that his job is to “turn knowledge into entertainment.” He does that by finding interesting stats that can be shared on-air. For example, he found that TPC Sawgrass’ second hole has the most drives under 200 yards of any par-5 on TOUR. The hole doglegs sharply to the left off the tee, and players have a propensity to hook their drives into the trees left of the tee.
Rory McIlroy did that in the second round of this year’s PLAYERS. As soon as he did, a graphic appeared on-screen that showed the second hole has nearly twice as many sub-200-yard tee shots as any other hole.
Between 2003-2007, Evans estimates that ShotLink-generated statistics were used in approximately 2,500 on-air mentions or graphics per year. He believes that figure has doubled.
Turnbull has had a seat in the television production trailers since 2007. Evans believes the TOUR is the only sports league that has an employee in such a position. The TOUR also built an interface that allows ShotLink to feed directly into the broadcasters’
Turnbull and ShotLink Data Analyst Luis Rivera alternate attending TOUR events. They sit at one of two work stations in the back row of the television production trailer.
This is the scene from the Wells Fargo Championship. Each of the back workstations has a bank of small screens that show the feeds from several different cameras. Turnbull has two laptops in front of him. One displays the ShotLink data. The other shows a Word document that contains statistical snippets Turnbull has prepared ahead of the telecast. He adjusts those statistics throughout the day, using the real-time data provided by ShotLink.
Approximately a half-dozen people sit in front of Turnbull at a desk that spans the entire length of the trailer. The wall is covered with more screens that show what the cameras are seeing, as well as the graphics that are being built for the broadcast.
Their half of the trailer, separated by sliding glass door from the telecasts’ producers, is the size of a small bedroom. There are no windows, and the gentle rumble of a generator is constant in the dimly-lit room. So is the communication. Multiple voices, which are trying to coordinate the behind-the-scenes chaos, come from speakers in the ceiling. Everyone in the trailer wears headsets, and Turnbull uses a row of switches in front of him to communicate with different people in the trailer.
ShotLink isn’t just about statistics, though. It helps broadcasters determine where to place cameras, which shots to use for highlight reels and alerts them to unique rulings and other on-course situations that happen away from the cameras.
But the statistics may be the most visible benefit. ShotLink helped automate the production of the most common graphics, like leaderboards, so that more time could be spent producing graphics with statistics relevant to real-time situations.
ShotLink can return results to Turnbull’s queries in a matter of seconds and then quickly be converted into graphics. ShotLink data has been collected since 2003, and the TOUR’s previous statistics are also available.
“It’s all at our hands. We’re not flipping through scorecards,” Turnbull said.
For example, he can easily look up a player’s performance on any hole on TOUR. When a player steps to 18 with a one-shot lead, Turnbull can know not only how many birdies or bogeys he has made on the hole, but also his driving accuracy and greens in regulation percentage on that hole.
Seeing a player hit a fairway that he normally finds 33 percent of the time or make his first birdie on a hole he’s played dozens of times adds another layer of context to the broadcast.
“That’s something our announcers don’t have at their fingertips,” Roy said.
Sergio Garcia’s 45-foot birdie putt on No. 17 at this year’s PLAYERS brought the fans to their feet. Perhaps past experience helped him hole it. That’s what ShotLink showed. A 3-D graphic showed on the telecast that he had done it before, holing two similar putts in previous years. It only took a few clicks to generate the graphic. Pull up the graphic for the island green, then ask ShotLink to show where his Sunday tee shots have landed and what score he’s made.
Only about 20 percent of the graphics make the air, though, either because there isn’t space for them before the cameras move to another shot or because the on-course action deems them unnecessary. It’s all about staying ahead of the game.
This year’s Wells Fargo Championship is an example. During the third round, Turnbull discovered that Rory McIlroy and an unlikely name, Rocco Mediate, were the only two players to drive the par-4 14th three times. A graphic was prepared, but there was debate about whether it should be used when McIlrory unsheathed his 3-wood.
Was McIlroy’s club selection a sign that he wanted to leave the ball short of the bunkers that guard the green, or was it proof that he really hits the ball THAT far? Turnbull believed the latter, and so he pitched the graphic to CBS’ producers. It appeared on-air as McIlroy prepared to tee off. Turnbull received high-fives when McIlroy’s ball bounced on the green.
Adding another layer to the on-air action is worth celebrating.
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