The best description of the robotic swing of Ben Hogan was authored by our late columnist Charles Price, who said Hogan hit the ball "like a machine stamping out bottle caps." So it came as a bit of a surprise that the United States Golf Association's golf robot was named "Iron Byron" after the more artistic swinger, Byron Nelson.
Nelson became known as "the Mechanical Man" when he won 11 consecutive tournaments and 18 total in 1945. The True Temper shaft company built the first swing robot in 1967, modeled on Nelson's "perfect swing," and for decades the USGA used it to test balls for compliance with the rules. Most of the USGA's testing is now done indoors, but modern versions of Iron Byron can be cranked up to 130 miles per hour, matching the fastest swings on tour today. The USGA's robot is stationary, so it's kind of a one-trick pony, hitting perfect drivers.
Now along comes Gene Parente, the man behind one of "Golf's Futurists" in our cover story this month, who runs a company called Golf Laboratories Inc. Parente is the inventor of a robot on wheels with an adjustable swing that can hit balls out of bunkers and putts on the green as well as every imaginable tee shot. His partner Gary McCord named it LDRIC after Eldrick (Tiger) Woods, a gibberish acronym for Launch Directional Robot Intelligent Circuitry. "At his peak, Tiger was able to take emotion out of the moment and hit pure shots," McCord says. "Our LDRIC is a tribute to that spirit and resolve."
So it was quite a coincidence when Parente and McCord rolled out LDRIC onto the stadium par-3 16th at TPC Scottsdale on Wednesday of the Waste Management PGA Tour event and made a hole-in-one (on its fifth try). Beer cans rained down on the green from the stadium seats, reminiscent of the 1997 ace made by the original Tiger on the same hole.
Parente has been a longtime technical advisor to Golf Digest and performs the robotic tests for our annual Hot List evaluation of equipment. His overnight success began when he graduated in 1989 from UCLA with a major in International Relations and a plan to work in foreign service. His father is Richard Parente, the former Palm Springs golf pro who started the wedge company, Hickory Stick USA, later purchased by Ely Callaway and renamed Callaway Golf. (You've heard of them?)
Richard had another idea for an independent testing company and knew of a swing robot for sale by Titleist. Gene agreed to give his dad's plan a try as a temporary job before graduate school, and 27 years later his evolving robot, built jointly with Sean Dynes of Dynes Unlimited Products, has become the go-to device in the industry for testing clubs and balls. It can also replicate hooks, slices and other flaws inherent in the human swing, which is the basis for a new venture by Gene and Gary and another partner, Mike Abram, to use LDRIC as a teaching tool.
You might have seen the European Tour promotion showing Gene's robot competing in a skills challenge against Rory McIlroy hitting balls into washing machines on a practice range. Or in a match in Japan against Shingo Katayama. More to come as LDRIC combines robotics, information, education and entertainment with golf learning. "You only have to see how kids react to a seven-foot talking robot in junior clinics to appreciate the impact on teaching science and promoting the game," Parente says.
No kidding, Golf Digest has signed up LDRIC as our newest Playing Editor and will feature his tips based on Parente's research over the coming year.
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In this issue (May 2016), Bob Carney's instruction piece, "Are You a Badass Golfer?" derives from the best-selling book by Jen Sincero, You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life.
I realize this is a family magazine, and I apologize in advance to those offended by the term, but there's a rich heritage in the language of the game referring to the critical role played by this body part in the striking of a golf ball. I couldn't resist supporting the argument with a glossary of terms that might suggest a future book title:
• BADASS GOLF: Zach Johnson epitomizes it today.
• KICKASS GOLF: Tiger Woods, 1996-2008.
• DUMBASS GOLF: Laying up and hitting it through the fairway.
• LAZY-ASS GOLF: Hitting the wrong club because you don't feel like going back to the bag.
• DRAG-ASS GOLF: Uphill, par-5 18th hole.
• KISS-ASS GOLF: Losing to the boss on purpose.
• HARD-ASS GOLF: Remembering the way Raymond Floyd used to play.
• WHOOP-ASS GOLF: See the description of Rickie Fowler's finish in the Players Championship.
• HALF-ASS GOLF: Finishing double-double to lose by one.
• SMART-ASS GOLF: Patrick Reed in the Ryder Cup, and I mean it as a compliment.
• STUPID-ASS GOLF: Leaving your umbrella in the trunk before it downpours on the back nine.
• WISE-ASS GOLF: Blogs done by (fill in the blank).
• BARE-ASS GOLF: Something exhibited by one of our columnists in a water hazard after he was overserved in his club's member-guest.
• SORRY-ASS GOLF: My finish in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am this year.
• HAUL-ASS GOLF: The golf shop's closing, and they need the cart back.
• CANDY-ASS GOLF: See what age has done to my tee shots.