When you think of technology helping drive data-driven performances in professional golf, the first names that come to mind may be young stars like Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, or Jordan Spieth. But for the 2016 Masters, IBM is teaming its Watson computing power with 66-year-old golf legend Tom Watson, playing in his final tournament at Augusta National.
"The name IBM has a little known moniker called Watson and I've always had in the back of my mind that it would be a cool partnership since another Tom Watson started the company," says Watson, who won the 1977 and 1981 Masters, and stars in the new IBM ad "Watson & Me."
Beyond the obvious name gimmick, Watson says IBM's tech help both him and fans enjoy the tournament more. This year, it's the first time the tournament will be streamed in 4K video. The new Apple iWatch and Android Wear app features a tournament leaderboard, player details and other real-time tournament data. Also for the first time, fans can track their favorite players on their mobile devices, and an enhanced version of Track for iPad and desktop includes picture-in-picture, player comparison features, and real-time view of every shot for every player on each hole of the course.
"A TV broadcast doesn't follow more than a handful of players," says Watson. "Sure you see the leaderboard, but you could never see what was happening further back in the field. Now you can track anyone, shot for shot, round by round, which allows fans to be right up to date with their favorite players."
John Kent, program manager for IBM Worldwide Sponsorship Marketing, says this is the first time the brand and Watson have teamed up, and IBM thought the partnership would be a great opportunity to celebrate his illustrious golf career and his final Masters. "It's also an opportunity to show how fans and athletes, including golfers, can harness the power of data and analytics—and Tom knows first hand that using deeper insights can help to improve a golfer's performance."
For his own game, Watson says the opportunity to access his performance data helps him in game strategy. "To know through your round of golf, you made bogey on No. 7 from the right front bunker when the flag was on the left, and if I was in the middle or left bunker, the chances of me getting up and down are much greater than from the right bunker, so the data confirms what you already know to a certain extent, but also adds in new information," says Watson. "You can use that data to help form your strategy of playing Augusta. You have to have a strategy playing a golf course, and if the data that Watson can provide me can help me shave a stroke or two off a round, that can be the difference between winning and losing."