SAN JOSE - I'd always thought of myself as a good putter ... until technology reminded me otherwise.
"That was an ugly shot!"
No, this wasn't my usual playing partners mocking me after another choked three-footer. It came from Puttr, a new AI-powered putting mat set up in my dining room.
It was one of the many insults hurled my way after missing a putt during a round playing 'Metal', the most vocal of the games Puttr CEO/Founder Matt Allard incorporated into the new toy he dreamed up during the pandemic.
Allard, 41, a self-professed "tech guy" and scratch golfer who played collegiately at George Washington University, created Puttr in hopes of training his young son to be a whiz on the greens. He now sees massive commercial potential in it, both as a training aid and home entertainment.
It's been a short but wild ride from finding investors in 2021 on IndieGoGo, a crowdfunding platform, to selling the first 1,000 prototypes despite a worldwide computer-chip shortage that delayed shipping until January of this year. A recent story in the Wall Street Journal has vaulted Puttr onto a potential fast-track to mainstream success.
"I am excited to see where this goes," Allard said. "It makes putting fun. Golf is booming right now and so many people are coming into it. It seems like the right place at the right time.
"You look at Topgolf. This can be an entertainment console. It is very accessible. I think that this can go beyond golfers for anyone who wants a fun game night or a man cave or while watching sports. Anyone can putt."
Everybody but me, it seems. Over the years, I've had numerous putting lessons and been analyzed by a SAM PuttLab. Practicing on indoor putting mats of all shapes and price points hasn't helped me improve much, either. I have a feeling, though, nothing I've done in the past will have as profound an impact as Puttr.
Puttr's app is equipped with the ability to chart data that help identify weaknesses and strengths. Best of all, the Puttr game play and practice modes make putting fun for the first time. Launching at the 2022 PGA Show, Puttr's $599 price tag might sound steep until golfers realize what they're getting: a path to potentially lower scores, all from the convenience of home.
How Puttr works
The first thing you'll notice is how easily Puttr sets up and transports from place to place. This is important to me, living in California, where I don't have the space to keep the putting mat rolled out and ready to go every day.
Puttr comes in a heavy duty box with carry handles on either side. The mat simply rolls out and stays flat without any extra effort. It's details like this that Allard obsessed over during the early stages of development. He tested more than 100 carpet fabrics until he decided on the current version, which is tacky on the bottom and doesn't slip or kink.
The green mat stretches to 11 feet with markings to set up 27 different putts from 3 to 11 feet. It runs 11 on the Stimpmeter. Like all putting mats that slant upward at the hole, there are tracks to assemble that form a ball return. Allard is already making modifications for the second generation of customers, so lefties can stand on the track and putt without interference.
Puttr uses computer vision technology to track the line and speed of the ball in real time. The camera turns on when you plug Puttr in, which activates a bright light within the console. Your smart phone can plug into Puttr and power up while using the app to play or practice.
Allard admits there has been a learning curve with the computer vision technology in the first batch of units, but he believes a new, darker shade of carpet will help the camera read the ball at potentially 100 percent accuracy in the next version. During my first session, there were a few makes that were read as misses or didn't register at all (I didn't mind when the misses didn't register). Allard's suggestion to vacuum the pet hair off my mat definitely helped improve things, though the odd miscalculation did still occur.
Analyzing the stats created by Puttr
In just two days using Puttr, my stats have already revealed some enlightening insight into my skills. I'm mad good on left-to-right breaking putts from 3 to 8 feet and a total dog from 6 to 8 feet straight on and from right-to-left breakers. Check out my percentages from the Puttr app below:
The practice mode is simple to use, setting up a series of drills to make putts from certain distances. The games, though, are what bring the fun. Allard used the Peloton model of creating online competitions with virtual leaderboards to motivate golfers to participate and practice more. On my first try, I putted my way into the top 100 playing the 'Dirty Dozen' game, scoring 59 points by making 50 percent of my putts from 9 to 11 feet.
A minute later, I was humbled by "On Fire", a game inspired by Phil Mickelson's practice routine of making 100 putts in a row at Arizona State. I laughably never sank more than two in a row, proving just how inconsistent my putting can be.
I turned to 'The Lab' for some more answers. The Lab goes deep down the rabbit-hole of putting statistics, spitting out accuracy numbers that detail how close (percentage-wise) a putt comes to hitting the center of the hole and another percentage representing the perfect speed. Practicing from five feet, only once did I get within 15 percent of the center of the cup and most of my efforts averaged 130 to 140 percent speed, a number deemed "too fast" by the app. I drained 6 of 7, though, so I wasn't totally distraught.
"You don’t get that kind of feedback from any training aid out there," Allard said. "I was trying to make it as easy to use as possible. You don’t have to attach something to the shaft. There are no special balls with chips in them. I wanted people to practice like they play with their own balls and putter."
An optional Puttr Club membership for $19.99 a month or $199.99 a year unlocks online tournaments for real prizes, AI video analysis and exclusive event access.
Allard sees a future where PGA pros teach young golfers using Puttr. We all know kids love tech and games more than going outdoors on real grass anyways. It's not just a kid's toy, though.
I can't wait to see the look on my friends' faces when 'Metal' starts mocking their blunders with one-liners and funny GIFs. It's hilarious when Puttr starts throwing shade ... until it's my turn to miss.