SBJ/November 21-27, 2011/Idea Innovators

Alex Turnbull, PGA Tour

Photo by: CARYN LEVY / PGA TOUR

Define innovation: What comes to mind for me is creation. In my line of work with ShotLink, our innovation is focused on the creation of new technology aimed at enhancing the way professional golf is viewed on television.

What’s the innovation you’re most proud of? The successful implementation of the tour’s new putting metric, Strokes Gained-Putting. Earlier this season, and for the first time in more than 15 years, we modified the core set of stats shown for every player on the PGA Tour to include Strokes Gained-Putting, as it is proving to be the best measure currently available of overall putting performance. … This ultimately shows how many strokes are gained or lost due to putting for a particular round, for a tournament and over the course of a year.

What’s the future of your industry? Main goal: That our technological, statistical and analytical innovations created today will become the standard for measuring player performance on the PGA Tour in the future.

What inspires you? Constantly pushing the envelope. Successfully creating something that has never been done before.


Alex Turnbull

Manager, ShotLink Graphics
PGA Tour

Alex Turnbull didn’t go to college to be a guru, but that’s often how he’s referenced. He’s the ShotLink guru, or the PGA Tour stats guru.

Before Turnbull came along, ShotLink was a PGA Tour program conceived in 1999 that spouted raw numbers and stats. But there wasn’t really an answer to “What does it all mean?”

Turnbull, hired by the tour in 2003, was put in charge of analyzing the data and giving it shape and context. That original assignment has turned into his current gig as graphics manager for the PGA Tour, making him the liaison between ShotLink and the producers of the golf broadcast.

Perhaps no one has advanced the weekly PGA Tour broadcast in the last seven years more than Turnbull.

“What we’re trying to do is tell stories with stats and analysis,” Turnbull said. “On air, I’m researching and reacting to what the producers and commentators are talking about, but I’m also using my own research to come up with analysis.”

Before ShotLink, stats had a relatively minor role in golf. There was the occasional reference to driving distance or greens in regulation, but ShotLink took it deeper, revealing the kind of stats that complement the commentary from NBC’s Johnny Miller or CBS’s Gary McCord.

On a broadcast from this year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, commentators were awed by golfer Steve Marino’s 50-for-50 performance on putts from six feet and in that week. That was Turnbull at work. He also chronicled Luke Donald’s amazing run of more than 400 holes without a three-putt, which became a major story line and talking point for commentators. In that case, Turnbull was driving the commentary with his information.

As a student at the University of North Florida, Turnbull studied marketing and management. But he loved golf and knew that he wanted to pursue a career in the industry. Now he’s traveling to nearly 30 PGA Tour events a year, researching stats and trends early in the week, then pumping out graphics and “wow” information that add to the broadcast.

“That’s what we’re looking for, the wow factor,” Turnbull said. “When you come up with that information that is broadcast on the air and cited in print, you know you’ve hit on something.”

— Michael Smith

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