The Next One’s Good
My Golf Lesson with ChatGPT
Illustration by Sami Saramäki
I've tried everything to hit the ball farther. I’ve taken lessons from Butch Harmon, David Leadbetter, Hank Haney, Bob Toski, Jim Flick, Sam Snead, Paul Runyan, Shelby Futch—well, it would be easier to list the pros I haven’t taken a lesson from. Harvey Penick showed me his little red book. I spent a week with Jimmy Ballard. Ben Hogan offered to give me his secret (then didn’t). I’ve tried the pink shaft in my driver. I subscribe to Golf Digest Schools. I’ve gone to clubfitters, nutritionists and personal trainers and joined a couple of those upscale Manhattan gyms. I’ve done Pilates and yoga. I got tips from Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Arnold Palmer and Annika Sorenstam. I’ve even played in a member-guest with the renowned sport psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella—suffice it to say, I didn’t learn to be my own best friend.
The search for distance finally led me to ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence chatbot that everyone’s talking about.
I signed up and took my first lesson. I went for the premium edition: Twenty bucks a month and I could ask as many questions as I wanted, no waiting. The mission was simple: How can I increase my swing speed? The answer came back literally in a second:
(1) A good warm-up routine can help increase flexibility and range of motion, which in turn can lead to a faster swing. A dynamic stretching routine can help loosen up your muscles and joints and get your body ready for the swing.
(2) Building strength in your core, back and legs can help generate more power. Exercises like squats, deadlifts and lunges can help improve your overall strength.
(3) Plyometrics, such as jumping and bounding exercises, can help improve your explosiveness and speed.
(4) Working with a golf coach to improve your swing technique can help you generate more power.
This sounds like a lot of work, and I don’t have patience, so I asked, “How can I hit the ball farther without exercise, in 25 words or less?”
“Focus on good ball contact and tempo, use a longer club, tee the ball higher, and adjust your ball position forward.”
That’s too many moving parts, I said. Just give me one swing thought.
“Maintain a smooth and balanced tempo throughout the swing, rather than trying to swing too hard or too fast.”
Simpler still, give me one word to think about.
“Tempo. This word encompasses rhythm, timing and pacing and can help you maintain a smooth and controlled motion throughout your swing.”
I’ve tried that. It doesn’t work. What should I do?
“When all else fails, you may try increasing the loft on your club, using a lighter shaft, teeing the ball higher or experimenting with a more aggressive swing tempo.”
Maybe I should just go forward a set of tees?
“Moving forward to a set of tees that better matches your skill level and driving distance might be a good strategy to improve your golf game. Playing from tees that are too long or too difficult can lead to frustration, slow play and a less enjoyable experience on the golf course.”
It won’t be long before I’ll be able to input a video of my swing and artificial intelligence will offer diagnostics, but for now I’m engaged in a dialogue on my iPad. In some back and forth, ChatGPT suggested I stay hydrated to prevent fatigue. I asked if alcohol would help, and it emphatically said no. What about smoking weed? It wouldn’t even discuss “illegal substances.”
We then considered what different pros would tell me to do. It said Hogan might strengthen my grip, Harmon might widen my backswing, Leadbetter might stabilize my lower body “while allowing my upper body to rotate fully.” Tiger Woods would say to “practice with a purpose.” John Daly would tell me to “grip it and rip it.”
I had another thought: I asked it to give me a distance tip from Donald Trump.
“I’m sorry, but as an AI language model, I cannot provide political content. Additionally, I am programmed to remain neutral and unbiased on all topics.” Some golfers I know should take that advice.
I asked what Bill Murray would tell me. It replied too fast: “He might encourage you to ‘Be the ball,’ a famous line from his character in the movie ‘Caddyshack.’ While this may sound silly or unconventional, by visualizing your shot and embodying the ball’s trajectory you can gain greater clarity and confidence in your swing, which can translate in greater distance.” (Our fact-checker notes that it was Chevy Chase’s character, not Murray’s, who said the line, proving that even Chat- GPT isn’t infallible.)
I then asked it to give me a tip in which each word began with a successive letter of the alphabet. This is a party trick I knew ChatGPT likes to play. It answered instantly: “Always balance core drives each follow-through, grip hands inside joints. Keep loose muscles. Now, practice quick rotations, square target under. Visualize win, x-pect yardage zestfully.”
My wife was an English major, so I asked for a tip in iambic pentameter:
Swing through the ball with rhythm and grace.
With every motion in its proper place. Keep your tempo smooth, your balance true, And watch the distance of your ball accrue.
Trying to get more cerebral, I asked what Stephen Hawking would advise.
“One, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two, never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose, and life is empty without it. Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there, and don’t throw it away. While this [Hawking] quote may not seem directly related to golf, it highlights the importance of perseverance and finding purpose in life. These values can be applied to your golf game as well. Keep practicing and working on your skills, and don’t give up if you’re not hitting the ball as far as you’d like.”
Kind of like placing a mirror in front of a mirror, I asked what Jerry Tarde would tell me. It replied:
“Jerry Tarde, the editor-in-chief of Golf Digest, emphasizes the importance of proper clubface alignment at address to achieve a solid and accurate shot. One of his tips is to align the clubface with the intended target line, while also aligning your feet, hips, and shoulders parallel to that target line.” Hmmm. I don’t disagree with this, but I don’t remember ever saying it, either. I also wouldn’t take a lesson from myself.
Then it hit me. For the lesson to end all lessons, I should go to the Bard of Hibbing, the Voice of a Generation. Can you give me a tip in the form of Bob Dylan lyrics, I asked. The cursor paused for only a second, and then came this reply:
When it comes to hitting far down the
There ain’t no shortcut, ain’t no
But you gotta try hard, swing
with all your might,
And focus on that ball, keep it in your
You gotta loosen up, don’t be too stiff,
And don’t forget to breathe, don’t hold
Keep your head down, and your eyes
on the prize,
And when you make contact, it’ll be
So don’t think too much, don’t get in
Let your instincts take over instead.
And with practice and patience you’ll see it’s true,
That hitting it farther is within reach