Two months after it first held a golf club, LDRIC — pronounced Eldrick — can already hit shots most golfers only dream of. The robot turned heads Wednesday at the Phoenix Open in Scottsdale, Ariz. with a hole-in-one on the 16th hole, defying his co-creator’s expectations.
“If I got close I was going to be happy,” said Jean Parente of San Diego-based Golf Laboratories.
Parente wheeled the 750-pound robot onto the teebox expecting a 158-yard shot. Then a caddie informed him it would actually be 20 yards shorter. Parente didn’t have time to run and grab a more appropriate club, so was left to wield his 7-iron.
The tournament organizers said he had five attempts to hit his best shot. LDRIC isn’t advanced enough to determine on its own how hard to swing. Parente’s first set of instructions — entered on a laptop — overshot the pin.
Parente started to tweak the swing formula to deal with having the wrong club.
“There was no science at this point, it was pure intuition,” Parente said.
On his fifth attempt, Parente picked the perfect set-up. The shot landed on the edge of the green, bounced twice and rolled into the hole.
“Pandemonium ensued,” Parente recalled. Some fans threw cups of beer onto the green in celebration.
Meanwhile Eldrick stood perfectly still, holding his 7-iron perfectly parallel to the ground. It was probably the world’s most understated celebration of a hole-in-one ever.
About 25 years ago Parente started developing machines to test golf clubs for manufacturers and magazines. Four years ago Parente and partner Sean Dynes decided they wanted a mobile version that was capable of playing 18 holes.
The duo figured their robot could make appearances at events and help reverse the declining interest in golf.
The robot’s name is an awkward acronym, LDRIC (launch directional robot intelligent circuitry), which was selected as a homage to golfer Tiger Woods, whose given name is Eldrick.
So could LDRIC replicate that hole-in-one on demand? Parente estimates the odds of a hole-in-one at roughly 1 in 150. A human is far less likely to get a hole-in-one. Even though a machine, the speed of its swings will vary ever so slightly. Between differences in the wind, golf balls and terrain conditions, it’s impossible to achieve consistent perfection.
In one test conducted before the Phoenix Open LDRIC needed 100 attempts to sink a 100-yard shot.
Although LDRIC can hit drives up to 340 yards it has yet to play a full 18 holes of golf. It can be maneuvered around a course with a remote control. He said that teaching LDRIC to play totally independently is on his team’s radar, but may not be realistic in part due to financial constraints.