J.P. Thornton is a self-confessed math nerd.
In high school he was a member of the mathematics honor society Mu Alpha Beta. He graduated with a degree in accounting from Texas Southern University, where he played on the men’s golf team. After a brief stint working at GOLFTEC, he decided to pursue a playing career on the Advocates Professional Golf Association (APGA) Tour. (You can follow him on Instagram at @golfurball)
The APGA Tour began working with Arccos at the end of 2020 to provide access to the Arccos Artificial Intelligence platform so when J.P. received a set of Arccos Caddie Smart Sensors and an Arccos Caddie membership last December, it was like a reunion of two old data-loving friends.
“I started using it immediately, didn’t even wait a day or two because I wanted to get my five rounds in,” Thornton says. “I’m big on numbers and advanced analytics, so the Strokes Gained Analytics (SGA) feature was the first thing I gravitated to.”
Thornton thought he knew his own game, cold, but it turned out he had a few blind spots. While he’d always been a good ball-striker with a high greens in regulation percentage, Arccos quickly revealed his distance to the pin on approach shots was holding him back from scoring better.
“The flip side of it is I thought I wasn’t a good putter, but it turns out I was pretty good,” he says. “I was putting myself in position of having really long first putts, and that was leading to extra three-putts.
Established in 2010, the APGA’s mission is to bring greater diversity to the game of golf. It hosts professional tournaments, player development and mentoring programs and introduces the game to inner-city youths.
Tour members are offered up to eight tournaments to play in each year with prize money up to $250,000 annually. The APGA also conducts the Charlie Sifford Player Development Program to aiding young minority golfers.
Thornton competed in his first APGA tournament in 2011 at the Chester Washington Golf Course in Los Angeles. Fellow APGA Tour player and Jacksonville, Fla. native Jarred Garcia also received the Arccos system in December, and the pair has been fully immersed ever since.
Taking Dead Aim
Garcia, a 31-year-old University of North Florida graduate, initially thought Arccos was designed for high-handicappers. He played a few rounds with it, tracking his shots via Link, and had something of an “a ha moment.”
“I looked at all the stats and then flipped to the strokes gained section and thought ‘well, that might be useful,’” Garcia says. “Golfers at this level know we do certain things well, but Arccos takes the bias out of it.”
For Garcia, it was his wedge game. After tracking several practice and competitive rounds, the Arccos club-level data revealed dispersion in his distance control. Coupled with his strokes gained results for approach shots, he was able to create a practice plan for improvement.
“On mini tours, the way the course is setup, you can’t just hit to the centre of the green, you have to go right at pins,” he says. “Arccos has affirmed for me when I can take dead aim and go for it. You have to shoot 13 or 14 under to win out here, all these guys are capable of going low.”
Getting a Preview
Both Thornton and Garcia were drawn to the Arccos Caddie Preview. The majority of courses they play on the APGA Tour don’t have yardage books, and oftentimes there’s limited hole-by-hole information available online.
“I go through the alternative options and see what the percentage of hitting the fairway is off the tee with different clubs. Then I’ll make notes to use during the tournament,” Thornton says. “The other day [at a tournament], the Optimal Strategy was 3-wood with a 55% chance of hitting the fairway, and the Alternate Strategy was 2-iron with a 75% chance of hitting the fairway.”
Because there was only a one-club difference in the approach shots for the Optimal and Alternate Strategies – a nine-iron versus a pitching wedge – Thornton went with the 2-iron off the tee. He stuck the approach within three feet and made the birdie putt.
Garcia uses the Arccos Preview Caddie in conjunction with the A.I.-powered Rangefinder during his practice round prior to tournaments. He’ll play multiple balls from several spots and make notes about “plays like” yardages and distances to hazards, as well as turning points for doglegs.
“It gives me a lot more confidence off the tee,” he says. “I can just trust the numbers.”
Drilling [Way] Down
As you might expect given his background, Thornton is drilling down on various aspects of his game using Arccos proprietary SGA feature. He’s has tapped into an often-overlooked component of the “Driving by Hole Type,” to enhance his performance even further in competition.
“I was missing the fairway on a lot of short, straight holes 400 yard and under because I was trying to fit the ball into the landing area,” he says. “On longer par 4s, like 450 yards, I’d just let it [driver] go and not try to guide it.”
Thornton was hitting a high percentage of fairways on dogleg right holes, according to his player data, so he started hitting cut fades with his driver on short, straight par 4s, or using his 2-iron instead. Now he says he’s more confident in tournaments having a go-to shot off the tee on 400-450-yard par 4s.
“It hadn’t occurred to me before to play a left-to-right shot on a straight hole,” Thornton says, laughing. “That’s what data will do.”
For Garcia, repeated deep dives into the Arccos SGA feature informed his club selection on the final hole of the APGA Tour Classic at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Fla. back in February. The resulting decision helped him walk away with a one-stroke victory.
“It was a long par 4 and normally I might have taken a hybrid off the tee just to hit the fairway and have a long iron approach to the green,” Garcia says. “Instead I hit driver 356 yards and landed it on the right side of the fairway. From there I had a [86-yard] flip wedge into the green and made par.”
Words of Wisdom
When asked to select his favourite Arccos features for golfers of all handicap levels, Thornton, ever the numbers guy, quickly distilled his answer into three parts. First and second, he says, are benchmarking your game against your target handicap and the “Top 3 Insights” in the SGA Feature, respectively.
“Like a lot of guys, I’m married with kids and I don’t have all day to go to the range and hit balls,” he says. “Arccos helps make the most of your practice time.”
Third is the A.I.-Powered Rangefinder and the course management it provides during a round, Thornton adds.
“Part of being a professional golfer is being able to make calculations for yardages, wind and slope,” he says. “But I use the rangefinder to calibrate by own calculation, especially elevation. It can really help average golfers with their game and even speed up play.”