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Jordan Spieth is not the longest driver on the PGA tour. In fact, he’s 49th. He’s also not the most accurate driver on tour at 91st. And he’s 124th in hitting greens in regulation.
In category after category, Spieth’s rankings would lead you to believe that he’s a middle-of-the-pack golfer at best. And yet, he managed to win the Masters and the U.S. Open in 2015, and the World Golf Rankings put him at number 2, just behind Jason Day.
So how does he do it? He outthinks the competition.
“He consistently makes the right adjustment — in his swing, in his strategy, in his assessment of the course environment,” said Cameron McCormick, Spieth’s long-time coach, in an interview with Golf Digest earlier this year. “When we go over his rounds, he’ll explain to me the considerations, the rationale and the process for those adjustments. His self-awareness facilitates this agile adaptation.”
Rationale? Process? Agile adaptation? It almost sounds as if McCormick is describing corporate strategy, rather than a professional athlete. Maybe that’s because golf is at least as much about thinking as it is about doing. Maybe more.
Golf is a game of analysis and decision-making. If you’ve ever watched Spieth’s intense consultations with his caddy before every shot, you understand what I mean. Together, they analyze every shot, using all available information: heat, humidity, wind, time of day, the lie of the ball, hole location, the leaderboard, and more.
And that’s just the empirical data. There are other factors that inform a golfer’s shot selection, like confidence in a particular club, how a hole fits your eye, or how well you are driving and putting the ball.
It’s a tremendous amount of information — both structured and unstructured — to process in the few, short minutes you have before starting your swing.
But what if you had a secret weapon in your bag? What if you had a service that could calculate far more than your distance to the hole?
I’m talking about a cognitive computing caddy based in the cloud that intimately understands your strengths and weaknesses as a golfer, can perform a real-time analysis of your swing, and knows the results of similar golfers with similar lies at similar times of year.
I’m talking about a system with the ability to advise an amateur golfer by processing the entirety of golf data instantly. A system that learns from experience, calculates risks and rewards, and generates recommendations that support sound decisions (even if that means laying up every once in a while).
The system I’m referring to is IBM Watson, of course, but the cognitive caddy service does not exist yet.
Watson, however, is already advising doctors on disease treatment, lawyers on strategic litigation, and CEOs on the risks and rewards of mergers and acquisitions. And it is helping the Toronto Raptors to evaluate talent based on how well a player will fit into a particular offense or team culture.
As you can tell, this is beyond what we have come to expect from traditional, programmable computers. We are no longer dealing with structured data sets or information that fits neatly into a spreadsheet.
With Watson, we’re able to analyze more information, but also more human information; or information that is visual, textual, or emotional. And we are interacting with these systems using natural language.
The result is a step-change in the way humans interact with information. And that has major implications for the business world. But it also has major implications for your golf game. And I, for one, would welcome Watson’s advice the next time I’m staring at a 220-yard second shot over water to a front-right pin location.
IBM operates the official digital platforms of the U.S. Open for the United States Golf Association. Follow the action this week at usopen.com/ibm as Jordan Spieth and other professional golfers compete to win the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pa.
A version of this story first appeared on Forbes.com.