The 5th PGA Junior League Golf National Championship presented by National Car Rental is getting plenty of recognition this year by man, woman, child, and yes, even machine.
LDRIC, the 7-foot tall, 600-pound, moveable talking golf robot (which famously made a hole-in-one earlier this year on the par-3, 16th Hole at the Waste Management Phoenix Open) participated in a Skills Challenge Friday at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, with 80 of the best junior All-Star golfers from around the country.
The competition set the stage for the PGA Junior League Golf National Championship, which is in full swing Saturday through Monday.
FULL COVERAGE: PGA Junior League National Championship
The panoramic, picture postcard-like backdrop of the McDowell Mountains was the setting, as the boys and girls competed in an informal Drive, Chip & Putt competition, plus a par-3, closest-to-the-pin contest with the friendly neighborhood robot.
On hand to support and encourage the kids were CBS Sports Analyst Gary McCord (who is a proud part owner of LDRIC), Phil Mickelson’s caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay and Rickie Fowler’s caddie Joe Skovron. Special video messages also were played for the kids competing in the National Championship from PGA Junior League Golf Ambassadors Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson.
“It’s the only robot in the world that plays a sport,” boasts McCord of LDRIC, whose top club speed is designed to max out at 130 mph, which allows it to duplicate the swings of the best golfers on Tour. “We could get it up to 152 mph, but then he would be the freak of freaks.”
LDRIC can literally hit it as far as anyone, or better yet, anything. The robot golfer can also chip, pitch and putt.
"We want LDRIC on our PGA Junior League Golf team," said Austin Tran, 14, of Team California. "He'd be our long hitter, and first in our lineup to take the pressure off of us."
A Computer Chip Off The Old Block
While LDRIC’s name brings thoughts of Tiger Woods’ given first name (Eldrick), designers insist it stands for “Launch Directional Robot Intelligence Circuitry.” Talk about being wired for greatness, Eldrick had a hole-in-one in 1997, on the exact same hole as LDRIC.
No matter the name, LDRIC hits virtual moonshots off the tee. With an ability to hit it into orbit, he can still easily adapt to replicate any golf swing, even those of beginners.
“It has been very interesting to take something on the cutting edge—no actually this is the edge,” adds McCord. “Artificial Intelligence as a way of life is around the corner for these kids.”
So, while LDRIC’s swing is robotic, it is also adaptable. Designed by Golf Laboratories in San Diego, LDRIC is not bashful in boasting about its intricate wiring and circuitry. Scientific case in point, when asked about the droid’s dream foursome, LDRIC did some futuristic trash talking: “It doesn’t matter. I would beat them all…I can hit the ball as well as you want.”
"He's sassy,” remarked Ethan Jaehn, of Team California. Jaehn, 12, played on “Team Thompson,” which won the Skills Challenge.
McCord sees LDRIC as a scientific method to help bring in juniors to the game and is pleased with the prospects of PGA Junior League Golf’s growth, which saw a record 36,000 kids compete on 2,900 teams nationwide this year. “It’s like the roots of a tree that you plant in the winter, and the tree comes up. It starts with the foundation, and the whole feel is right.”
Through PGA Junior League Golf, boys and girls ages 13 and under learn and enjoy the game with instruction and direction from PGA and LPGA Professionals. The kids wear numbered jerseys and play on teams with their friends, competing in a popular scramble format that reinforces the team concept and creates a nurturing environment for learning the game.
Captains are allowed to substitute players every three holes, so that all team members can participate.
PGA Junior League Golf is the key youth program of PGA REACH, the charitable arm of the PGA of America. For more information about PGA Junior League Golf, visit PGAJLG.com. To join in the PGA Junior League Golf National Championship conversation: #PGAJLG.
Skills Challenge Results
The PGA Junior League Golf National Championship Skills Challenge on Nov. 18 had teams mixed from the eight participating squads in a contest for points in driving, chipping and putting, as well as a closest-to-the-pin, where LDRIC competed for each team with his own shots to the hole.
Team (Lexi) Thompson - 2,801 points
Team (Rory) McIlroy - 2,174 points
Team (Michelle) Wie - 2,001 points
Team (Rickie) Fowler - 1,477 points