Nicole Broch Larsen is a professional golfer. She uses data to optimize her game, but there are downsides to datafying the the sport. Both in terms of human skills and the risk of abuse of sensitive personal data. The tools that help professional athletes should focus at giving athletes control over their data.
How close does she strike the flag. How does she put. How does she swing. How is her recovery score. How close is she to the competitor. Did she sleep seven or eight hours last night. Did she drink alcohol. Does she have her period. Has she taken a cold bath before going to bed the night before. What is her stress level.
There is almost no data that a professional golfer can not use to optimize her game. Nicole Broch Larsen has tried a lot with her data, but she has also skipped some of it.
“I use most data for statistics. To find out exactly where I need to optimize my own training and to compare myself with those I play against. Unfortunately, there is not that much data for women, so often I have to compare myself with men,” she explains.
With the male golfers, staff follows the players in order to write down all the details about their performance, which are used for the statistics. No one walks around with the women. They have to write it down themselves.
“These are important data, because if you can just get one percent better or save one stroke, then it’s a huge thing,” says Nicole Broch Larsen.
In golf, there is not one recipe for how to look or how to swing, she explains. It’s very individual, but new digital services are trying to help the golfers even further. One of them is the American service whoop.com. Via the American golf tour LPGA, which Nicole Broch Larsen plays in, she has received the service free of charge and for voluntary use.
With Whoop, you get a score between 0 and 100 every day, and the score reveals how recovered you are: Are you in the red, yellow or green zone, she explains. Each morning the user can choose to fill out multiple questions; whether you have taken a cold bath, how much alcohol you have drunk, whether you have been out flying or are menstruating. A tracker around your wrist measures heart rate, sleep and stress levels. Not your steps, because they obviously do not matter much. When you sign up to the app, you give it your age, height, weight and activity level.
“Those who use it a lot and who are really good golfers are really aware of what makes the slightest difference in their score. I haven’t used it myself in the last few months, because I have to go out and play, even though I’m in the red zone.”
With Whoop the users give the service a lot of personal data, and Whoop does make an effort to describe how well they protect users’ privacy.
“I did not think about all the data I was giving away. But there were some – especially caddies – who did not want to use it. They feel that both the LPGA and Whoop are surveilling them,” says Nicole Broch Larsen.
“Although I think Whoop helps a lot of people and is a trustworthy company, it gets a little too nerdy and technical for me. I did not use my data well enough, and sometimes there is too much to think about, rather than just doing it.”
She says that technology and data are taking up more and more space in golf, and that it is both good and bad.
Nicole Broch Larsen has been a professional golfer for eight years. She is 27, and when she turns 30, she will consider her career. Because she also wants to start a family.
Another Way of Doing It
If Whoop and other services fully lived up to the intentions of European data laws, they gave Nicole Broch Larsen and other professional golfers full control over their own data. For example, they could partner with a so-called ‘personal data sharing intermediary,’ as the EU Commission describes in its draft of a new piece of legislation, the Data Governance Act. It is an organization that helps individuals control their data – on the individual’s own terms. In the United States, it could be Solid, founded by Tim Berners-Lee. In Denmark, it could be Data For Good Foundation. Services like Whoop would then only be able to accessing anonymized data about the golfers, unless the individual golfer chose actively to provide her identifiable data to a service.
“It would be mega nice if it was anonymous,” says Nicole Broch Larsen.
There is extreme openness about the performance of professional golfers. For example, you can see online who hits the longest, who hits the most straight from the tee, and who makes the most money.
“I think I could use more data to optimize my body. We have different body types. And in terms of statistics, it could help everyone. But it should probably be anonymous, ”says Nicole Broch Larsen.
The Danish service Trackman is a good example of this. Nicole Broch Larsen uses it daily in her training to enhance her game. Here she can constantly compare herself with an average of similar players – not with individual players.