The world of golf instruction is predisposed to hearing about the latest technology that will revolutionize the way the game is taught and learned. There is so much to sift through in this regard that it makes it difficult to sort out legitimate tools from money-seeking gimmicks.
Some products, however, are immediately recognized as having the potential to fundamentally alter our collective view of the golf swing, a motion that still remains shrouded in mystery for the vast majority who play the game.
Sportsbox AI, developers of a mobile app that transforms smartphone video of the golf swing into a 3D avatar that can be viewed from six different angles, has quickly become an unquestioned leader in the golf instruction tech space since launching in 2020. Its investors include players such as Michelle Wie West and Marina Alex, while coaches David Leadbetter, Sean Foley, Mike Adams and Suzy Whaley are heavily involved as well.
The woman leading the company, CEO and co-founder Jeehae Lee, has earned her own credibility on multiple levels before this venture. Lee was an LPGA Tour player in 2009-11, earned a B.A. in economics from Yale and an MBA from Wharton, served as a representative for Wie West while at IMG and had a five-year stint leading strategy and new business development for various divisions at Topgolf, including Toptracer. When someone with that résumé believes in the technology Sportsbox has unveiled, important people in the industry are rightfully going to listen.
Lee’s latest venture began when her Topgolf responsibilities slowed down during the early stages of the pandemic, prompting her to connect with Sportsbox co-founders Sam Menaker and Stephanie Wei. Menaker, the company’s CTO, has decades of experience in the AI space, having been a driving force in Samsung’s Bixby technology, an equivalent to Siri. In 2020, Menaker delved into visual AI research, looking at how video data can be turned into full 3D information. Wei, a former golf journalist who was among the first to creatively utilize social media in her reporting, joined the team as head of marketing. Like Lee, she was a member of the Yale women’s golf team, and she graduated from the school with a B.A. in history.
That core team converged in November 2020. Phil Cheetham has since joined as the fourth main member of the group as a chief science officer. Cheetham, who holds a doctorate in exercise science and biomechanics, competed as an Olympian in gymnastics and has been known as the “3D Guy” for his innovation in the 3D motion analysis and biomechanics field.
The technology is fairly straightforward. It’s markerless, meaning no sensors have to be placed on the person being recorded. Within seconds of recording a face-on video of a golf swing, an avatar appears and can be viewed from each angle. The product is starting with golf by offering detailed information about the swing, such as hand path, shoulder turn/bend, pelvis turn/bend and other critical angles – but you will notice the name of the company is purposefully broad given Sportsbox’s intention eventually to go into a variety of athletic pursuits.
“The product is basically the ability to put a $100,000 motion-capture system, 3D motion-capture system, into your mobile phone just in the palm of your hand towards doing analysis and game improvement,” Lee told GGP Biz. “And we’d like to think that we’re kind of democratizing access to the best information and technology for game improvement for coaches and golfers.”
“The product that we have today is a cleaned-up and fuller-feature product that we were confident that anybody who wants to access it can figure it out on their own without too much handling.” – Jeehae Lee
A part of the appeal of the technology is that it comes at a fraction of the cost of current 3D motion-analysis tools and has the convenience of no additional equipment beyond your phone. It’s meant as a coaching tool, with a specific coaching app launching last October. Coaches can try the technology for free without the ability to have students join their account, and there are various subscription levels depending on how many students join. For instance, the Pro Premium level allows a coach to have 150 students on an account for $158 per month if the coach pays the annual cost. There are also different options if you have more than one coach at a facility.
Starting in October, Sportsbox began inviting certain coaches to join the platform, limiting the number of overall users so they could get feedback and work closely with each coach. There were some 6,000 people on the waitlist at one point. As with any young company or new product, minor issues were discovered and resolved as the application became easier to use over time. As of this week, the product is available for download for anyone who wants to try it.
“The product that we have today is a cleaned-up and fuller-feature product that we were confident that anybody who wants to access it can figure it out on their own without too much handling,” Lee said.
Lee declined to share how many users there are on the platform, but the number is in the thousands, with the hope of reaching hundreds of thousands. In terms of funding, Sportsbox is in the process of closing its seed round, with the lead investor being Elysian Park Ventures. The private investment firm is the venture arm of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and it has been investing mainly in the sports-technology space. Several top coaches have endorsed the product organically and pushed to be investors.
A lot of that faith comes back to Lee. She has seen the golf industry from every angle, and now she is hoping to put the details of the most complicated motion in sports into a far more consumable and approachable method.
“That is what drives people crazy,” Lee said. “The craziest thing in golf is the mystery of ‘why do I hit that crazy slice when I’ve never done that on the driving range?’ That can actually drive someone insane, so we’re now answering the why. You measure it, and you know exactly how to quantify what the differences are. That, to me, is priceless.”
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