Women's History Month
These former Yale women's golf teammates reconnected to change golf instruction
Editor’s Note: In celebration of Women's History Month, we're shining a light throughout March on women who have created, own and run businesses in golf—from apparel, to golf schools, to golf courses.
Good golf instruction is a mixture of art and science—building a player up while obeying the laws of physics that govern a swing. But one of the biggest historical challenges has been getting reliable, accurate—and accessible—information about what players are actually doing in a swing.
That’s where SportsboxAI aims to change the game. The Sportsbox app uses the camera on your smartphone to translate video into 3D motion capture—a trick previously reserved for kits costing tens of thousands of dollars and requiring custom suits studded with reflective markers.
The company started in 2020 as a merging of three veterans of very different spaces in the sports world. Jeehae Lee and Stephanie Wei were teammates on the Yale women’s golf team. Lee would go on to play professional golf on the LPGA and in Europe before moving to IMG and the Wharton School of Business at Penn, eventually landing at Topgolf. Wei established an enormous following as a golf blogger and reporter. When she linked up with consumer technologist Sam Menaker and saw the possibilities for his 3D motion capture in golf instruction, she reached out to her old teammate—who had quickly moved through the ranks at Topgolf and was their director of strategy.
“Topgolf was an interesting place to be because it went from being hospitality focused to acquiring a game business and acquiring ProTracer and creating this incredible golf technology in its own right,” says Lee. “When Stephanie reached out, I saw it as a chance to really show people how technology can transform golf experiences.”
The goal? Shrink the learning curve in a sport where most players never take a lesson, and those that do often give up before seeing any real progress.
“I thought back to my own time in junior golf, and how if I had access to something like this, I could literally keep track of my progress—what does a good day look like vs. a bad day, instead of guessing,” says Wei. “And the priority from the beginning has been to build something that is relevant to golfers and golf instructors—something that is more than just cool. It’s a meaningful tool players can use to get better.”
Where a launch monitor registers what’s happening with the club and the ball through impact and down range, the Sportsbox app uses the camera's images mixed with machine learning and predictive AI (artificial intelligence) to reveal what the various body segments are up do during a swing—giving a coach with some biomechanics expertise a look under the hood, so to speak. And because it requires nothing more than a decent smartphone camera, it can be deployed instantly both during an in-person lesson and for a coach working with students remotely.
Golf Digest Top 50 Teacher Terry Rowles was one of the first coaches to experiment with the tech, and he was so impressed by it that he joined the company’s advisory board, which also includes legendary teachers David Leadbetter, Mike Adams and Sean Foley. “What you’re really after is a second set of eyes to confirm what you’re seeing as a coach,” says Rowles. “What this technology can do, there’s just nothing out there close to it for the price. It’s making real information available to the masses.”
It wasn’t so long ago that even launch monitors made skeptics think players were being turned into robots. But Lee sees a familiar kind of breakthrough happening. “Back in 2015, when I was at Topgolf, we saw a lot of pushback from people inside the industry who didn’t understand why they should care about these people coming from the outside who weren’t traditional ‘golfers,’” says Lee. “But Topgolf was solving a lot of the problems the game had been seeing, with it being so hard for people to learn how to do it, and the expense and the time it took. Now, with SportsboxAI, I’m seeing coaches who had their reservations about this new thing taking it and trying it and coming back so excited because they connected with their students in a new way. They can get a point across in 30 seconds and give their players real, immediate feedback.”
The app has been rolling out to coaches by invitation through early 2022, and the next step in the plan is to make it available to players to use directly by mid-year.
When that happens, the engine driving the artificial intelligence will have the benefit of the largest existing library of tour player swings captured in 3D—including more than 100 from the LPGA.
“We’re going to be able to talk about the golf swing more intelligently in general, and about women’s swings more specifically, because the talk can finally be based on real data,” says Lee. “The body measurements and launch monitor data can work together not just to make golf instruction less potentially frustrating, but for clubfitting and golf fitness—all the areas that can make somebody improve and enjoy the game more.”
For Wei, it was the chance to combine emerging technology with a platform that could make golf instruction—and, by extension, the game itself—more inclusive and accessible for women, younger people and potential players who might have previously been turned off by some of golf's "traditionalist" tendencies.
"For my whole golf career, even when I was on the blogging-journalism side, I came as an outsider," says Wei. "I came from this different world where I saw what new media entrepreneurs were doing to connect with much bigger and more diverse audiences. In a lot of ways, the golf industry has always been a very rigid, color-inside-the-lines place. There's definitely a desire to expand the box so everybody can play."