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Golf

AI Golf Commentary Is A New Frontier In Dullness

4:36 PM EDT on April 5, 2023

A view of a green at Augusta.
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Have you ever watched a golf broadcast and thought, "Boy, these announcers are too excitable. Can they just relax already?" The Masters Tournament app has you covered with the debut of what is described in a recent press release as "Artificial Intelligence (AI) generated spoken commentary," developed by IBM. Finally! Golf clearly has too much of the human element.

IBM says this robot broadcaster has been trained in the "unique language of golf at the Masters," and is built with a generative model that enables it to produce "narration with varied sentence structure and vocabulary, avoiding redundant play-by-play iterations to make the clips informative and engaging." Judging by this first-look clip of Austrian pro Sepp Straka attempting an approach shot from the rough during a practice round, this robo-commentary fails to achieve either of those adjectives:

Is that a tough lie, over there at the edge of the pine needles? What's the club? Did the wind grab the ball? Is that green-side bunker hell, or is it a more manageable hazard? Is finding the bunker preferable to overshooting the green? None of that interesting information is given to the viewer. All they will know is that "Sepp Straka, 28 years old, from Austria, is going to hit from the pine straw on hole one. He took stroke two, and the ball traveled 162 yards into the green-side bunker." And this is what the AI geniuses behind this project chose to show as the sneak preview.

Congratulations to the whizzes at IBM for finally settling the question of whether it would be fun to discuss golf with your smartphone's map app. It's a welcome innovation for anyone who has ever found himself surfing a golf tournament's bespoke app on a Friday afternoon for otherwise lost highlights of Seamus Power's unremarkable second round, and thought, "As healthy as this activity is, it would be improved by narration from a lobotomized Donovan." Jim Nantz has spent four decades refining his signature bland inoffensiveness in order to make himself indispensable to golf and its obsession with solemn tradition. With a few short beep-boops, IBM has succeeded in making him look like Elton John.

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