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Can AI make you a better golfer? I took a whack with this driver and got a big surprise


AI and golf. What more could you want?

Callaway Golf

Every golfer wants to be better.

It’s a compulsion. Perhaps a slightly sad one.

People pay a lot of money for lessons and even more money for golf clubs in the insistent belief that they’ll get close to PGA Tour standards.

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Still, I confess that I love to play golf. So when I saw that AI — the bliss that will soon envelop us all — had entered the golfing sphere, I simply had to see if it could turn me into a world-beater. Or, at least, get me a little closer.

Some context: I’m an OK golfer. On a good day. Those good days don’t happen too often.

I prefer playing when it’s extremely windy because I learned to play on courses like that. I also enjoy being outside, preferably with a good friend, and hitting the occasional shot that a professional would, ahem, envy.

I don’t succumb, however, to the tech fads and fancies that many golfers do. I don’t use a range finder. I don’t upgrade my clubs every year as if they were iPhones. Indeed, several of my clubs predate the George W. Bush administration.

An AI golf club? Of course, I want to try it

Still, the allure of Callaway’s Paradym AI Smoke collection of clubs was just too much. 

So I committed some credit card points to get a Callaway Golf Paradym AI Smoke Max D Driver.

Callaway’s claims for this thing are very simple. It’s supposed to offer “distance and forgiveness.” If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of forgiveness in golf, it’s the idea that even if you offer a deeply imperfect swing, the club adjusts to make your shot rather better than it deserves.

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Marketing’s appeal to the human ego is never-ending, but where does the AI part come in? Well, Callaway claims this is the “world’s First AI Smart Face Designed Using Real Player Data.”

Essentially, like any other AI model, Callaway says it has scraped “the swing dynamics from thousands of real golfers.” Those dynamics include “swing speed, club delivery, and face orientation just prior to impact.”

The result? Allegedly: “Optimal launch conditions and tight downrange dispersion.”

Imagine, so Callaway’s promise goes, that you can have “sweet spots in the center [of the clubface] and all over the face.”

That’d be like having five lovers, and they’re all happy with you.

Taking my expectations to the house

Off I went, then, with my good friend Pat to the Links at Bodega Harbor, a tough course where the sea lions in the ocean make the same kinds of shrill, guttural screams as the golfers on the adjacent 16th hole.

As with all things AI, I had high expectations. I lined up for my first tee shot, believing that the ball would explode from the club face like a SpaceX rocket and soar beyond sight.

Surprisingly, this wasn’t the case. I hit a house on the right side of the fairway. Nerves, you understand. Excitement, too. I’d also just got off a cross-country flight the night before. 

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I feared what Pat would say. He came out with this: “AI, eh? Sweet.”

Yes, I’m making excuses. Every golfer does.

Every golfer also knows you’re allowed a so-called breakfast ball. It’s the first tee freebie.

My second attempt went straight, but certainly no further than my previous driver. It also made a slightly soft, thwackless sound, not one I’d associate with additional distance or optimal launch conditions.

Indeed, over all 18 holes, I didn’t manage to hit a single drive that gave me any more distance at all, which distressed me a little. I live with the promise that AI will make us all better and smarter, yet here I was being an entirely recognizable version of myself.

Golf, AI, and life

On the positive side, the club is very forgiving. It strains to hit the ball straight, even if your swing is to alignment what OpenAI is to consistent candor.

The driver is nicely balanced and easy to hold, and I want to believe that, in time, we’ll become at one with each other and soon achieve optimal launch conditions, thanks to the thousands of people who allowed their swings to be committed to AI.

I’m a touch concerned, though, that many companies are adding AI to their wares — just those two letters — without there being any tangible benefit. It can feel a little like, dare one suggest, smoke and mirrors.

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My experience with the Callaway Golf Paradym AI Smoke Max D Driver — please be careful, this thing retails at just under $600 — might mirror my experience with AI in the rest of the world.

Somewhere in the margins, it might make me a little better, a little more productive in small parts of my life. Ultimately, though, I’m still myself, for better and for worse.

I’d love to philosophize a little more, but I’m off to the golf course. I need to try the Smoke again.

My first round with the AI driver may, after all, have just been a hallucination.


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