How Callaway is using AI to change the driver game

How Callaway is using AI to change the driver game

Artificial Intelligence Might be the Future of Golf Club Design

What do companies like Tesla, eBay, Johnson & Johnson, and Callaway Golf have in common? Each utilizes Artificial Intelligence (AI) for tasks previously reserved for human intelligence.

Callaway just wrapped up its initial foray into AI, which determined the liveliest (“fastest”) clubface for new Epic Flash drivers. At the outset of the project, the R&D team fed large amounts of data into the company’s supercomputer. Using AI and “machine learning” algorithms, the computer cycled through a whopping 15,000 virtual clubface prototypes in one month. Upon completion, the development process had generated the hottest face within the Rules of Golf based on Epic Flash’s head shape, sole, carbon crown, moveable weight along the rear of the titanium head, “Jailbreak” technology (two titanium bars connect the crown and sole), and more.

Turns out the prized clubface is vastly different than previous ones by Callaway (or any club company). Driver faces typically have “variable thicknesses”—thickest in the middle; thinnest near the edges. However, the Epic Flash has “random” waves and ripples of various sizes and depths. Here’s the real shocker: “The center of the face is one of the thinnest areas,” says Dr. Alan Hocknell, Callaway’s Senior Vice President, R&D, “and the waves surrounding it are maximum thickness. The notion that areas of max thickness could be near a thin center region is counterintuitive to what we humans [previously] thought made sense.”

Coming up with an out-of-the-box face geometry was one thing. Devising ways to manufacture (and measure) the clubface in a consistent, repeatable manner provided its own set of challenges. “We had to go from an AI world to the physical world,” says Dr. Hocknell. So, Callaway upgraded the face material to a stronger, lighter titanium alloy. The back of the “Flash Face” is precision-forged to displace metal and create peaks and valleys, and the front is precision-milled to exact thicknesses for top-notch performance. In addition, new laser-based quality-control devices measure the faces for uniformity.

Callaway Epic Flash Driver

Was it worth it? “Players are getting 2 to 4 miles per hour more ball speed on shots in the center region of the face,” says Dr. Hocknell. All this while conforming to the USGA’s “Characteristic Time” test that measures clubhead flexibility. Elevating performance in the middle of the face—where 70% to 80% of shots are struck—improves output across the entire face, too. Chris Marsh, General Manager at Hot Stix Golf, concurs: “We can see gains as much as 2 to 3 mph on ‘off-center’ hits.” There’s more: Epic Flash was the number-one selling driver in March 2019, according to Golf Datatech’s U.S. On- and Off-Course Retail Market reports.

Callaway used AI this time to conceive the driver face. Could AI help with other parts (i.e., crown, body, “Jailbreak” technology), or product categories such as fairway woods, irons, or golf balls? Absolutely. Callaway won’t reveal specifics but plans to explore more AI-driven designs. “Ball speed is a good metric for the computer to analyze,” says Dr. Hocknell. “And, as for golf balls, the ability to use AI to determine ideal core size and hardness could potentially produce ‘mind-blowing’ findings.”

Before you get too caught up in the AI craze, Dr. Hocknell points out, “AI isn’t the only way we can delight golfers.” Understood. But, it’s fun to daydream about how Artificial Intelligence might help us play better golf for years to come.

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