Nike NG360

To coincide with the launch of their new NG360 Mobile App, Nike invited a small group of media types (not sure how I accidentally became “the media”) out to "The Oven" in Ft. Worth where they could get us liquored up on Jalapeño Lime Margaritas, fill us full of eats from Chef Tim Love’s (of Food Network Fame) catering service, and eventually sit us down for a presentation on their new NG360 Initiative.

An almost completely unrelated aside, I actually went to Calhoun Junior High in Denton TX, with Tim Love. I’m fairly certain he wouldn’t remember me in a million years, but hey…I’m telling a story here…and now that tiny insignificant fact is part of it. Go Cougars!...At least I think we were cougars. I could totally be wrong about that. If somebody wants to Google it and get back to me, I would appreciate it.

The team at Nike isn’t stupid. They understand that well-fed, and moderately intoxicated audience, more often than not, is a receptive one, and by the time I sat down to listen to Dr. Gary Gray (of the Gray Institute) talk about the impetus for NG360, I was of the perfect mindset to listen (though perhaps trying to manually focus the camera wasn’t the best idea).

Apart from the general gratitude Nike expressed to all of the media who came out for the event, the prevailing bit of wisdom I took away from the initial presentation was Nike Co-Founder Bill Bowerman’s famous quote, “If you have a body, you’re an athlete”. Not only did that one line setup the rest of the evening perfectly, it made me feel better about myself, and provided a much needed explanation for the likes of John Kruk, Eric “Butterbean” Esch, and C.C. Sabathia.

Why Are We Here?

When Nike puts on these launch events they always include some sort of tagline in the invitation that gives you a hint of exactly why you’ve been invited to Texas, or Florida, or Oregon, or wherever else they launch whatever it is they happen to be launching.

This time around the invitation included the line “Better Yourself to Better Your Game”. Members of the staff here kicked it around a bit and arrived at the conclusion that Nike had decided to take a run at Titleist’s TPI Franchise. Of course, when Nike trickled out some screen shots of their new app a couple days ahead of the launch I couldn’t help but think I was about to spend 9 hours in the sky to go see an iPhone app? Doesn’t Nike know I have the Internet at my house…and on my phone…on my iPhone?

The truth of the matter is that when the only thing in your stomach is some jalapeño chunks and a few ounces of tequila, checking out a new mobile app at The Oven is actually pretty awesome, and certainly less dubious to someone of my nature than Elk Sausage Sliders with Foie Gras. Pass the app…hold the sausage.

Now as it turns out, while the App (and NG360 website) is central to the NG360 initiative, there’s a lot more to the plan than a fun little mobile app with basic score-keeping capabilities, swing analysis and some exercise videos.

In the grand scheme of things, video swing analysis is, well, for the purposes of this metaphor I’m about to drop on you…swing analysis is like a child; perhaps a 6 or 7 year old. Digital scoring, game-tracking, etc., that sort of thing…It’s a toddler. Golf fitness, as Golf Fitness Expert Rick Smith said, it’s basically in its infancy. It’s fresh out of the womb.

What Nike was the first to do, with the app anyway, is bring all 3 of those young‘uns together for the first time.

So Why Are We Really Here?

After a brief initial presentation (and a stop at the bar) we shuffled over to the driving range for a live demonstration; something to help us understand the practical application of the concepts we’d just seen in slide form.

US Open Winner Lucas Glover was on hand to help illustrate not only the app itself, but to explain how by using the video analysis module, one can identify swing issues that may be due to physical limitations (a tight hip), and then use the fitness module to find an exercise to correct the problem.

We then moved over to a small fitness/stretching area where Lucas, Rick Smith, Dr. Gary Gray, and Dr. David Tiberio talked a bit more about golf nutrition and fitness.

A few points from the discussion really stood out for me.

The NG360 program aims to be inclusive. The fitness programs are effective enough for professional athletes, but easy enough for the average golfer to work through. As was said several times throughout the evening, it’s not for anybody (a specific type of golfer), it’s for everybody. Nowhere is this more evident than in the community-based support system for NG360 Platform. Like most apps today, there is a social element (you can make NG360 friends), but Swoosh Staff Members are available to provide feedback.

If you don’t want to go it alone, a growing number of Certified NG360 Performance Specialists are available to work with you one-on-one with an individualized program.

Even on tour, golf fitness truly is in its infancy. Lucas Glover talked about the inclusion of health-conscious menu items being relatively new on tour menus. They weren’t readily available as recently as a few years ago.

While many have always thought about fitness in terms of strength training, when it comes to golf, the guys behind the NG360 program believe other aspects of fitness training are more directly applicable to the game of golf. Balance, flexibility, stamina, and then strength.

Now About that App

Bob D. from NGNation has great overview of the App and its features. I’m only just beginning to use it (first time out today), so I’d encourage you to read his breakdown as well as his thoughts on our little "Oven" trip.

What I like is the small download size, the apparently sizeable course database (everywhere I play with any regularity I’ve found), and the simple interface.

Yeah… the Gear module which features info on Nike’s current club lineup (including who has them in the bag) is slightly gratuitous, but is easily-enough ignored if you’re not in to such things.

While we expect new content will be added almost continuously, the current database of pro swings is limited (only 6 Nike staff members currently), and curiously, Tiger Woods isn’t among them. My how the times have changed.

Now there are definitely some aspects of version one that I’m not keen on, for those details, check out the forum thread I posted immediately following the presentation.

What I do like about the Game Section is the inclusion of trophies and levels. Levels are simply based on things like scoring average, putts, driving average, and greens in regulation.

If, for example, you average below 75, you’re a STICK. Average above 120 and you’re a seeker (which sounds nicer than “Hopeless Hack”). Me, I’m either a GAMER or a GRINDER. Here’s hoping the latter leads to becoming the former.

Appropriate thresholds have been set for those other areas I mentioned.

Like Foursquare’s badges the NG360 App gives virtual rewards for reaching specific goals on the course. While some, like the KICK-STARTER (Birdie or better on the opening hole), or Cool Customer (6 or more pars in a round) are attainable for many golfers, trophies for THE SCHWARTZEL (4 consecutive birdies), DIALED IN (Hit every fairway), and DANCE PARTY (hit every green) are probably outside of the short-term realities for most of us, but I suppose they do offer incentive to keep grinding (or gaming).

The Body module provides individual exercises designed to help improve your performance on the course (the practical application of better yourself better your game). While there is already enough there to keep most of us busy, I expect we’ll see more exercises and more programs added in the coming weeks and months.

One small bug with the iPhone version is that the full description of the exercises gets abbreviated, so it’s at times unclear what the target area of the exercise actually is. Since one of the talking points of the presentation was having the ability to identify a specific problem (tight hips), and find an appropriate exercise or routine to address and resolve the problem, a better illustration of “If you’ve got this problem…do this exercise” needs to find its way into the app.

NG360 Beyond the App

While the NG360 App is central to the initiative, what was crystal clear from the presentation is that functional, golf-specific fitness is the cornerstone for Nike’s new platform.

For me, it’s next to impossible to discuss progress in golf fitness without discussing TPI (so I won’t even try). The NG360 Staff mostly limited comparisons to the “other guys”, and what comparing there was focused on fundamentally differences in the Nike approach.

The example I heard several times is that the other guys evaluate balance by having you stand on one foot. The problem is that sometimes you might be able to balance on one foot for 2 minutes, another time you may only be able to do 10 seconds. That test, according to Dr. David Tiberio, lacks continuity, and has limited practical application. Nike evaluates balance as it directly applies to the golf swing.

The other guys have programs and exercises to target specific muscles and joints. The Nike program is, according to Dr. Gary Gray, “authentic to the movement of the game. It looks like golf, and it feels like golf”.  The NG360 exercises might focus on specific muscles and joints, but they don’t do so in isolation. The golf swing requires several muscles working together, and so do the exercises in Nike’s library.

To that end it shouldn’t surprise anyone that many of the exercises included in the initial release require no equipment, and none so far require more than dumbbells or a medicine ball.

Getting Certified is Tough

The guys from the Swoosh Advisory Staff are also quick to point out that becoming a Certified NG360 Performance Specialist is extremely rigorous. The process which requires one complete 21 hours of video training, prior to attending a 2-day hands-on, certification seminar is designed to limit the pool of certified specialists to the very best of the best among qualified movement professionals (physical therapists, chiropractors, personal trainers), and golf teaching professionals.

In the short-term what that means is that many of those who wish to step beyond the app, and want to work on their golf fitness one-on-one with a NG360 Performance specialist are either going to have to wait or do some traveling.

Nike currently lists only 2 Certified Specialists in my home state of New York. Contrast that to the well over 100 practitioners certified by the other guys, and it’s clear that Nike has a little bit of catching up to do on the certification front. The upside for Nike is that they are the biggest and most recognized sports company in the world, so they’ve got that going for them, which is nice.

It also means that Nike should be able to gain ground as quickly as the certification process allows for.

What’s Next (Speculating on the Future)

We can’t help but think this is just the beginning, and wonder what the future of NG360 holds from a technological perspective. Sure…a mobile app is technical, but even that may prove to be relatively basic stepping stone to a practical, technology-based fitness presence.

The team at Nike was asked by several media members about NG360 integration with Nike’s Fuel Band. While answers were coy, and non-committal, the fact that attendees of the presentation were given Fuel Bands suggests that something might be in the works there.

Side Note: the Fuel Band is actually really cool, even if mine keeps popping up with digital light renderings of what I'm fairly certain is a three-toed sloth. What do you think that means?

Most intriguing to me from a possibility perspective… the other guys have their K-Vest technology for motion analysis throughout the golf swing. Might we see Nike implement similar technology down the road? Obviously I’m in no position to say with any certainty, but one has to assume Nike’s goal is to be competitive across the board.

If it’s true that golf fitness is truly in its infancy, than the NG360 initiative is barely embryonic at this point. I’m not even close to ready to pronounce it the next great thing in golf. What I am is curious, so let’s give this thing 2, 3, maybe 9 months, to see what it grows into.

Wrapping it Up

With the presentations over, most of the group moved back to the main building, while a few of us first-timers at The Oven took a little mini-tour of the facility.

I rejoined the group in time to stuff myself full of Quail Quesadillas (if I had known it was quail I probably wouldn’t have eaten it…ignorance truly is bliss) with Chipotle Crème Fresh, pulled pork, and what I thought was marinated beef (considering elk and quail was already on the menu, it could have been anything).

While chilling out in the Nike lobby a few of my fellow bloggers and I missed out on what could have become a legendary story told as “That time We stole Lucas Glover’s 9-iron while eating Tim Love’s cheesecake  on a stick (covered with chocolate ganache and chocolate sprinkles)”. We assumed the bag next to us was nothing more than one of many equipment displays in the lobby. Only when Lucas Glover walked over, slung it over his shoulder and walked off, did we realize we’d been sitting next to the real thing.

Your Impressions

Unfortunately the emphasis on the fitness aspect of Nike’s NG360 initiative has largely been lost on the golfers I’ve talked to. The people I’ve spoken with who have downloaded the app mostly talk about the Game module and its scorecard functionality. A few have talked about the ability to capture swings, but no one I’ve discussed it with has started a fitness program from the Body module.

These things take time, so I remain optimistic. Overall, I like what I heard from Nike, and I believe bringing in experts like Dr. Gary Gray and Dr. Dave Tiberio to build NG360 Fitness from the ground up (rather than trying to develop the fitness piece in house) was the right move.

Ultimately the success of Nike’s NG360 initiative will be determined by how average golfers such as yourselves respond. So you tell me…

  • What are your impressions so far?
  • Have you spent much time with the Body/Fitness Component?
  • Has NG360 motivated you to start a golf fitness program?