Those campaigning to rein in 350-yard drives on tour best look away now.
What you’re going to see pop up in golf bags across the country in the next few months will leave you thinking, Where on earth can golf club manufacturers possibly go from here?
But don’t worry, they’re already working on an answer to that very question in laboratories filled with robots and supercomputers.
Welcome to the age of artificial intelligence, where golf companies are so hell-bent on squeezing every last inch out of a drive they are now programming computers to ensure they do it, all without bending the Rules of Golf. That’s what happens when you want to change the possibilities for distance and ball speed in a game where the rules seemingly have you hemmed in at every turn. These companies are now thinking not merely outside the box, they’re thinking with a whole new brain. And rest assured, winding back the little white golf ball is going to do little to stop them in their tracks.
This year’s buzz word: face-flexing.
You no doubt saw the shiny new Callaway Epic Flash driver released earlier this year and perhaps wondered what it’s all about? Well, Callaway’s engineers taught a supercomputer to design a faster driver than they’d ever seen before. Using artificial intelligence, the design process produced 15,000 iterations when a traditional driver design process might yield only eight or 10. It required a supercomputer running 24 hours a day, seven days a week for four weeks straight. For perspective, had the same calculations been tried on a typical laptop, it would have taken 34 years. Just take a moment and let that sink in – THIRTY-FOUR YEARS to do things the “old” way. The result, Callaway says, is unique face-flexing where most impacts occur and better energy transfer than was possible before – or as Callaway’s senior vice-president of research and development Alan Hocknell put it, “Your best shots just got a whole lot better.”
Who doesn’t want that?
Staring at the complex rules that govern how much face flexibility is allowed, TaylorMade took a different yet equally impressive approach to its new range of M5 and M6 drivers. The company decided to build every single one of its new clubheads to illegal specifications before winding each one back individually to meet R&A and USGA standards. How? Through an intricate and complex manufacturing process that involves cloud computing, robotic arms and a mysterious resin injected through two tiny holes in the clubface.
With the introduction of “Speed Injected Twist Face”, TaylorMade says it has discovered a revolutionary new process of calibrating every individual head to the absolute threshold of the speed limit.
“If you’re starting below the limit and eking your way up towards it, you have to still be conservative because if you go over, then that head has to be trashed,” says Justin Kleinert, metalwoods product development manager at TaylorMade. “When you go past it and pull it back, it’s a lot easier because you know you just have to bring it back to where it needs to go. You can always go backwards, but if you go past it from the other direction you’re done.”
Why work your way up incrementally to what’s allowed by the rule makers when you can bust through the ceiling then work your way back under ever so slightly? It’s a theory Rory McIlroy needs no further convincing on. After crushing his new M5 driver into oblivion in a recent video shoot with fellow TaylorMade players Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Tiger Woods and Jon Rahm, the former world No.1 turned to his colleagues and joked, “We’re do we go from here? I need a 9,000-yard golf course.”
The spontaneous production was clever marketing but golf course designers didn’t share McIlroy’s sense of humour. If anything, his innocent disbelief in the equipment he had just hit only aggravated them further, reigniting debate around what detriment distance is doing to the game that’s becoming increasingly restricted by the shrinking greenspace it’s played on.
And therein lies the great conundrum of golf: there’s perhaps no other sport more decorated in history and steeped in more untouched tradition than the gentlemen’s game. Yet you’ll do well to find another sport boasting more intelligent and innovative people at its core willing to change to secure its future.
One side works with their heart, the other with their head. Which side is more important to the longevity of the game? The answer to that is BOTH. How do we satisfy both camps? Even a supercomputer couldn’t tell us that.
In the meantime, let’s just applaud their genius and enjoy getting the little white ball in the hole.