Despite the obvious threat artificial intelligence poses to the livelihood of writers, along with the fear it may well wipe out humanity one day, I no longer resent it like I once did.
I concede it’s a U-turn to rival Greta Thunberg suddenly espousing the benefits of burning oil.
But contrary to what you might see on social media, people are still permitted to change their minds (and if you enjoy country music, I highly recommend doing so).
The reason for such a drastic change of heart came about all because of a tiny plastic window on Odyssey’s new Ai-One putter.
Forever at the coalface of innovation, Odyssey are one of the first to call on artificial intelligence to design a putter. And to prove it, they’ve included a viewing pane on their new Ai-One putters that reveals exactly what the new virtual tech-tyro in the Odyssey design department has been up to.
There have already been several generations of A.I. development across the driver and iron categories but because it’s hidden inside the club head, it’s been out-of-sight and out-of-mind.
To be honest, A.I.-designed faces make about as much sense as the crayon scrawlings of an irritable toddler, hence my expectation Odyssey’s effort would be similarly incomprehensible (although I was secretly hoping it might look like something out of the Terminator).
I should point out that while A.I. face inserts are standard across the Ai-One range, the viewing window isn’t: the premium Ai-One Milled models are sealed units, and therefore off limits to prying eyes.
But before we get to the big reveal (spoiler alert: it's not that big) the exterior of the Ai-One range is also worth a mention.
It’s replete in a navy blue PVD finish, a safe colour choice that likely won’t turn anyone off, nor turn any heads.
However, eagle-eyed golfers will notice a darker shade of Navy has been applied to the Milled models to provide a slight differentiation between models.
The Milled putters also sport a copper-coloured titanium face insert, while the Ai-One and Ai-One Cruiser putters go with a traditional White Hot insert.
A new version of Odyssey’s Stroke Lab shaft also appears in the Ai-One line-up. It’s a heavier shaft with 20-30g of counterweighting in the grip to smooth out a stroke.
The Odyssey grip seemed nice, offering enough tackiness without making the hands feel too clammy.
THE BIG REVEAL
The blade models in the Ai-One collection offered the best view of A.I.’s handiwork, with much of the rear cavity real estate taken up by the transparent viewing pane. The mallets, however, had the window located on the sole, which made it much harder to comprehend what was being exhibited within.
So, what exactly was the Ai window showcasing? A.I. churned out what appeared to be a protruding elbow pressed into the rear of the aluminium insert.
It was about as appealing and exciting as reading through the Terms and Conditions of an insurance policy.
However, in my experience the absence of any obvious aesthetic appeal, along with the extreme randomness of the design, was an excellent indicator the insert would prove very effective out on the greens.
WHAT ODYSSEY'S A.I. INSERT ACTUALLY DOES
Odyssey’s A.I. experimentation is aimed at creating consistent ball speed off the putter face to improve your misses.
Much like expanding the sweet spot of a driver to maintain ball speed from off-centre strikes, the insert is designed to standardise ball speed off the face across the entire width of the blade.
More consistent ball speeds should boost the odds of a putt falling in the hole, or at least travel the intended distance.
But how did it work out in the real world?
HOW IT PERFORMED
The Ai-One range extends to 27 different putters, accounting for every head shape, hosel and shaft length available.
It’s a massive variety for a putter release and I was lucky enough to secure five models to test: two Ai-One putters, a Double Wide and #7, and three Ai-One Milled putters, a #1, #3 and #7 (the more unorthodox Ai-One Cruiser models will be released next year).
After trying all five models it became apparent the difference in roll between a heel-side strike and one out of the middle was almost negligible. Toe-side strikes weren’t quite as consistent but still, the roll out was only slightly diminished compared to out of the centre.
Based on what I was seeing, the A.I. insert seemed to do a very decent job of rolling the ball with consistency, however, an obvious concern was whether it impacted the overall feel of the putter.
It wasn’t surprising to discover the urethane-based White Hot A.I. insert (fitted to the standard Ai-One and Cruiser putters) felt much softer than the titanium insert on the Milled models, which felt livelier and offered more of what many golfers would refer to as “pure feel”.
The ball seemed to really ping off the face of the Milled putters and, as you’d expect of a milled titanium face, provided a level of strident and direct feedback comparable to an irate Gordon Ramsey.
Despite being a devout milled blade believer, I was actually most impressed by the Ai-One #7 fanged mallet, fitted with a slant hosel and A.I. White Hot insert.
The putter seemed to automatically connect with the neural pathways joining my eyes and hands and it felt extremely balanced and in-sync with my putting stroke (the similar Milled #7 was face balanced and therefore didn’t suit my arcing stroke).
While it didn’t offer the same feedback as the Ai-One Milled putters, somehow it just seemed to click.
Meanwhile, the classic compact profile and plumber’s neck hosel of the Ai-One Milled #2 is destined to be the showstopper of the line-up, while a similar sentiment applies to the White Hot-enabled Ai-One Double Wide.
Milled putters feature square sole weights with an intricate pattern scalloped into them while the regular Ai-One putters offer more ordinary and unremarkable circular sole weights.However, if seeing too much of the face is a bugbear of yours, you’ll probably prefer the Ai-One Milled putter and its titanium insert: the White Hot insert did seem a bit more prominent, and shouty, at address.
THE FINAL WORD
While the viewing window did seem a little mickey mouse at first, Odyssey have cleverly made sure it can’t be seen at address, thus removing any chance of it ever being blamed as a distraction.
It’s also no coincidence the window doesn’t appear on the premium Ai-One Milled putters, which seems to strengthen the argument that it’s a minor sideshow.
However, I can fully understand why Odyssey chose to include it.
Explaining the A.I. concept in a putter is a nebulous task, kind of like telling your kids to wear sunscreen despite them never experiencing the pain of sunburn.
The window provides a visual vignette to sum up neatly how the Ai-One sausage is made, a bit of “seeing is believing” that explains the concept far better than any marketing campaign could (although that must peeve the hard-working people in Odyssey’s marketing department).
Off-centre strikes felt more consistent (Odyssey reckon 21 per cent better) so in that regard a massive pat on the back must go to Odyssey’s A.I. investment.
However, the tightrope Odyssey are walking with in the Ai-One line-up is that while performance gains offered by the new A.I. insert are readily backed up by data, in the real world the look and feel of a putter are invariably what sells a putter.
And it’s those intangible elements of performance that A.I. design simply can't replicate, which kind of puts the Ai-One range back at the starting line along with every other putter on the market.
The performance is clearly there; the challenge is to convince golfers of the benefits even if it doesn't suit their eye.
The fact Jon Rahm put an Odyssey Ai-One Rossie straight in his bag says quite a lot about the Ai-One being a superior putter to anything Odyssey produced previously.
Written by Jamie Martin
Jamie Martin is currently locked in a battle to keep his handicap hovering around the mid-single digits. Despite his obvious short-game shortcomings, Jamie enjoys playing and writing about every aspect of golf and is often seen making practice swings in a mirror.