What We Tried:
SwingU – A golf GPS and shot-tracking app for your mobile phone.
Who Tried It:
Tony Covey – MyGolfSpy Editorial Director and data nerd who loves tracking his stats … when he’s playing well (which hasn’t been often lately)
The SwingU Advantage
Let’s start with a simple fact. The GPS functionality of every golf GPS app is similar. They’re all using the GPS chips on our phones and it’s not like anyone in the golf GPS game has their own satellites.
The real differentiation is found in the features so the logical first question is What differentiates SwingU?
While SwingU offers a robust set of features, the biggest differentiator is what the company describes as the fastest and simplest data entry in the shot-tracking world.
To be clear, “simple to use” shouldn’t imply simplistic results.
SwingU – Easy to use?
I’m going to level with you. Despite the promise of being easy to use, I struggled with my first few rounds using SwingU.
That’s totally on me.
I’m a man and, true to the cliché, unless there’s like an 85-percent chance improper use will kill me, I’m not reading the instructions. Once I wrapped my head around the finer points (fine, I watched the videos), I learned there are two key things you need to understand about SwingU.
Distance Tracking is Optional
While SwingU’s GPS functionality gives you the ability to track the actual distance of each shot (this is especially easy if you have smartwatch), you don’t actually have to. I’d generally recommend you try and, obviously, if you want to know things like your actual driving distance, you need to.
That said, sometimes I forgot to hit the “Track Shot” button. While that was initially frustrating, once I understood that not tracking a shot doesn’t compromise SwingU’s ability to track meaningful statistics, I got over it.
Big picture: In the SwingU universe, tracking the distance of every shot can be informative but, strictly speaking, it’s not necessary.
If you do track distance, the app will show you your per-club averages and use the info to make club recommendations.
You can also input your distance manually. For example, if your measured driver distance is 250 but, deep down, you really and truly feel like you average 315, you can override the system. Not that I would advise it.
Like Eminem Said, You Only Get One Shot
The second thing to know—and this is the one that initially tripped me up bigly—SwingU only wants to know about your first attempt in any facet of the game.
What do I mean by that?
If you’ve got an approach shot of 150 yards and you duff it 10 yards, you’ll want to note the duff in the Approach section of the app when you enter your data but SwingU isn’t interested in your second-chance approach from 140.
Likewise, if you have a pitch shot from 40 yards and you miss the green, SwingU doesn’t need you to tell it about your second pitch attempt.
The software is intelligent enough to fill in the holes (no matter how many you dig) based on your first attempt of each shot type, your eventual score and the number of putts it took to complete the hole.
SwingU – Data Entry
At the end of each hole, SwingU needs you to input up to nine pieces of information.
I know what you’re thinking.
Who has time for that?
Settle down. I know nine sounds like a lot but you don’t need the keyboard for any of it (every input is effectively a drop-down box) and, once you understand what the app actually is looking for, I suspect most will complete all nine inputs in 15 seconds or less.
To idiot-proof things (yet again, I’m the idiot), the app will display a warning message whenever it thinks there’s some irregularity in what you’ve entered. I’ve found that the app, much like my wife (to hear her tell it, anyway), is right more often than I am, though in some rare situations the warnings can be a little heavy-handed—also not unlike my wife.
A quick double-check of your inputs and you should be all set.
So, with all the above in mind, I’m comfortable saying SwingU delivers on the promise of speedy data entry.
The caveat is that you’ll need to take 10 minutes or so to learn how to do it right.
Other Useful Features
As far as more nuanced features are concerned, within the data entry screen, a couple of small features make for what I think is a sensible approach to shot tracking.
First, it’s on you to describe the lie condition resulting from your drive. You have universally understood options like Fairway, Penalty and OB/Lost but some descriptions (Good Lie, Bad Lie or No Shot) are for you to decide. The recommendation is to be consistent but, ultimately, you are the one who gets to quantify what’s in front of you.
Keep in mind that what you decide will have some influence on your approach game.
SwingU defines an approach shot as your first real attempt at hitting the green. Only you know when you’re going for it so if you’re laying up on a par-5 or your tee shot left you with no shot for your second, neither counts as your approach.
I also appreciate that SwingU has a “Picked Up” option under Putts. It’s a little thing but it provides a means to accurately track your score when the ball is in your pocket without having to otherwise doctor your stats to make the numbers work.
What About Putting?
If there’s a part of SwingU’s approach that some of you might see as a pain point, it’s that you have to measure your first putt distance. If you come from the world of sensor-based shot tracking, this is going to feel like a bit of extra work.
SwingU suggests pacing off your putts and while goose-stepping across the green for longer putts can feel awkward, the better players among us are probably doing it anyway.
For what it’s worth, I find it encourages me to read the green along the way (and from the other side, too).
And, not for anything, the accuracy of any GPS app is plus or minus a few yards which means most automated putting data is suspect at best.
So, yeah, first-putt distance will likely prove to be the most taxing of your SwingU stats but you’re going to get better data for it.
Over time, I’d wager you’ll get good at making reasonable estimates but if it’s really a hassle, you can always use a rangefinder.
What About The Stats?
Ultimately, any stat tracking is only as good as the insights it provides.
How’s that for stating the obvious?
If what you’re looking for in a stat tracker is hassle-free understanding of the weaknesses in your game (along with some tips to address them), SwingU is impressively adept at providing just that.
As part of its stat package, SwingU provides a relative Strokes Gained handicap for each facet of the game.
What that means is that when looking at Strokes Gained data for an individual round, you have the option of comparing your performance against a target handicap.
In my case, I finished last season just under an 8. I’ve done nothing but make one big mess after another since (to the point that GHIN has soft-capped me) but I’m trying to work my way back. With that in mind, I’ve set my target handicap at 6-9 so I can see how I compare to players within my target range and better understand what I need to work on to get back to where I was.
(Spoiler Alert: Stop hitting the ball OB, jackass.)
The first step is admitting you have a problem, right?
Relative Strokes Gained values are available for all your rounds in the app as is your relative handicap data. The latter can be particularly depressing, though deeply enlightening.
Additional data, including cumulative performance relative to your target handicap, is available through SwingU’s web interface.
The app also provides a historical view of performance (Last Month, Last Year and All Time) of basic scoring stats like score by par, average putts,and greens in regulation. The same stats are also available on a per-round basis.
While, generally, the app does a solid job of giving you key stats within the limited confines of a mobile screen, I’ve come to prefer the web interface as I find it a bit easier to navigate. Also, my eyes ain’t what they used to be.
The web interface is responsive and easy to navigate. The charts are clear and easy to understand.
SwingU – Helping you improve.
For each round, SwingU will identify your No. 1 Improvement Priority. Frankly, I’m surprised mine wasn’t simply suck less. With that, the app will recommend a drill from its extensive drills library.
There’s also a selection of rules videos that may come in handy.
What I Like and Don’t
I’m enamored with SwingU’s ease of data entry and, frankly, a little surprised at how detailed the data coming out the other end is.
I appreciate how easy it is to use. It’s not the absolutely most robust stat platform on the planet but the ratio of detail to time invested is world-class. It’s surprisingly data-rich given the minimal effort involved in inputting data.
Again, we’re talking roughly 15-seconds of effort on each hole.
If you’re not part of an official club, you may appreciate that SwingU will track your handicap. While we need to tread lightly on how we describe the underlying calculations, I think you’ll find it aligns very closely with the World Handicap System.
Access to green-reading maps is a nice feature, though I find I don’t use it on my home course where I play 80 percent of my rounds.
Little things that can be improved include the ability to drill down to individual facets of the game from the main Strokes Gained page. For example, I’d love to be able to click on the putting portion of the Strokes Gained chart and drill down to learn more about my +4.7 putting handicap.
I prefer to focus on the positive.
We don’t need to discuss the 28.2 handicap sand performance. (Look, there were some bad lies, and some of the bunkers don’t have an appropriate volume of sand, and basically, it’s not always my fault … and yup, that’s what I’m going with.)
I’m still new to the SwingU universe so with more rounds, things should level off a bit (and my putting handicap will creep up).
Finally, as you should expect, full SwingU functionality comes at a cost. Fifty bucks a year gets you what I would call an ad-free enhanced golf GPS app features. That’s things like “Plays Like” distances, handicap tracking, green reading maps and a good deal more.
To take advantage of SwingU’s robust stat tracking (including the Relative Handicap and Strokes Gained features), the cost jumps to $100 annually.
All things considered, it feels like a fair price given the ease of use and the volume of insightful data provided but it’s not lost on me that it might be more than some want to spend.
SwingU is available for both iPhone and Android devices.
For MyGolfSpy readers, SwingU is offering a 40% discount (use code: MGS) on your 1st year of membership ($59.99 for the first year).
For more information, visit SwingU.com.