Eileen Jurczak, BESc’97, was halfway through “a good round of golf” when she started slicing the ball.
Jurczak, a lifelong player with a handicap of 10 (below the average handicap for golfers), was frustrated.
“I kept tinkering, trying to fix it and nothing I was doing was helping,” she said. “I remember thinking if I just had a caddie next to me who knew my swing and could give me a tip, I would stop struggling and get on with my game.”
Getting on with things – and getting things done – has been a hallmark of Jurczak’s career, first as an engineer, then in business, where she developed an interest in artificial intelligence (AI) and technology.
Her background, coupled with a strong entrepreneurial spirit, led her to create the iTQ golf app as CEO of Xonic Golf, recently named one of the world’s top 10 most innovative companies in sports for 2023.
More fun, less frustration
“I just want golfers to have more fun and less frustration,” said Jurczak, who’s been playing the game and taking lessons since she was five years old. She spent her first days on the links as a toddler alongside her grandmother.
“She and her golfing buddy Betty would stick me in between the two of them in the golf cart,” Jurczak said. “There were rules. I wasn’t allowed to leave the cart until we got to the green. I could play in the sand trap, but they taught me to rake it when I was done, so I learned course management early.”
With a seven handicap at the peak of her game, she briefly considered a career in golf.
Instead, she chose engineering after attending a Western open house and hearing the late biochemical engineering professor Argyrios Margaritis speak.
“He talked about the central role biochemical engineers played in the synthesis of modern-day penicillin and I knew that was what I wanted to do.”
Jurczak landed a job in pharmaceutical research and development straight out of Western, a career she enjoyed for ten years.
When it was time for a change, she pursued her MBA and certification as a Chartered Financial Analyst. She was quickly recruited to the trading floor at BMO, where she won the 2016 Women in Capital Markets Rising Star Award.
In 2018, she was recognized as one of Canada’s Top 25 Women of Influence for founding Bay Street Deconstructed, a non-profit organization offering students workshops on the financial services sector, addressing a gap Jurczak saw missing in the high school curriculum.
Award-winning, AI-powered app
That same ability to drive an idea into a reality saw her launch Canada’s first female-founded golf tech start up, and the first ever AI-powered “quick tip caddie app.”
“The iTQ is like having a caddie in your pocket,” Jurczak said. “I say ‘caddie,’ and not ‘golf pro,’ because like a caddie, it’s not teaching or coaching, it’s offering quick fixes so people can have a nicer game. The quick fixes are the ‘how not to do’s.’ For example, ‘How do I stop slicing the ball?’ The quick tips are the ‘how to do’s,’ as in ‘How do I hit a shot out of a deep rough?’”
The three-to-five second fixes and tips are written by a team of PGA teaching pros and based on the AI analysis of two uploaded slow-motion videos of the golfer’s swing (face on and down-the-line). One of the app’s algorithms uses computer vision (the same technology used in driverless cars) to analyze the player’s swing to provide customized tips and fixes.
“These are small adjustments to help you quickly in the moment,” Jurczak said. “And the more you use it, the better the app gets at giving advice.”
The Xonic iTQ has been well received by players and pros alike, winning titles including ScoreGolf’s Canadian Golf Product of the Year for 2022 and the number one golf app by Australian Golf Digest.
Last season, PGA Ontario named the iTQ as its official AI Quick Tip Caddie App, calling it “a pivotal tool in the golf industry’s efforts to help drive golfer retention and participation rates.”
Jurczak has also secured partnerships with the PGA of British Columbia, the PGA of North Florida, the Pacific Northwest PGA and the PGA of Southern California.
Leading a team of 15, she recently oversaw the implementation of a new interface and other features, with the app now available in six languages: English, French, Spanish, Japanese, Korean and Mandarin. She’s currently focused on a marketing campaign, with an eye to develop a short game version of the app next season.
“I’m really proud of my team and what we’ve accomplished,” Jurczak said. She also credits her undergraduate studies for arming her with the “foundation of skills” she drew upon to help build the app, file an international patent and get her product to market.
“I couldn’t have done all that without my engineering degree,” she said. “It taught me how to think, how to problem-solve and how to work hard. I am a big touter of an education in engineering. It opens a lot of doors.”