Speed and innovation at the Masters

By | 2 minute read | April 5, 2021

The game of golf is not often associated with speed and innovation. In fact, it’s more likely to be described with words like “timeless” or “tradition.” But try telling that to Bryson DeChambeau, who last year used science and data to add 40 pounds of muscle, tinker with his swing and equipment, increase his club-head speed to more than 130 mph, and outdrive everyone on tour en route to winning the U.S. Open.

The truth is that success in golf has always been highly dependent on the ability to adapt and innovate with speed, from adopting the latest clubs to changing the shape of your swing. In the business world, we call it first-mover advantage. And if there is anything the digital economy has taught us, it’s that faster is better when it comes to innovation.

That is why for the last 4 years, the Masters has been on a journey with IBM, building out a technology infrastructure specifically designed to accelerate the introduction of new innovation to the Masters app and Masters.com.

How much faster? Since 2017, we’ve doubled the rate with which we can bring new fan-facing features to the digital experience, like the Round in Under 3 Minutes, which uses AI to assess the excitement levels of video clips and generate highlight reels for every player’s round. Or My Group, which allows fans to personalize their viewing experience of the Masters, watching every shot, on every hole, of all their favorite players. And that doesn’t even include dozens of more subtle enhancements along the way, like improvements to the design and user interface.

This year, the Club introduced Masters Fantasy, just 6 months after the 2020 Masters. The game itself is elegant and easy to use. You can start a league, invite friends, and then follow along with a customized leaderboard. And every participant in the league chooses golfers from four different categories: First timers, former champs, US Players, and International Players.

I know what you’re thinking: “What’s so innovative about that?” But here’s the thing: There’s usually about 90 golfers that play in the Masters. Most people know a little something about the favorites. But how much do you really know about the first timers or some of the international players?

To help, IBM Watson is serving up AI-generated insight on each and every player. It’s using the natural language processing of Watson Discovery to analyze what the media are saying about every player in the field. And we even used machine learning and AutoAI to surface the most insightful and relevant golf statistics.

They key to quickly integrating new features like My Group or Masters Fantasy is the Masters’ hybrid cloud with Red Hat OpenShift. I’m not a developer, but from what my team tells me, OpenShift has been a game-changer in terms of how quickly they can develop and deploy new capabilities, because it allows them to write new applications once, and run it anywhere, on any cloud, from any vendor.

The bottom line is this: speed matters. This is true whether you’re trying to hit a golf ball 400 yards, or be the first to market with a new and improved customer experience. Our friends down in Augusta have understood this for a long time. That is why they have embarked on the journey to hybrid cloud and AI with IBM. And that is why the Masters continues to be in a class of its own.