There is a lot of cool gear in the golf equipment world that doesn’t always fit neatly into Most Wanted Tests or Buyer’s Guides. You still want to know how it performs. In our We Tried It series, we put gear to the test and let you know if it works as advertised.
What We Tried
OTTO, the mobile Bridgestone ball-fitting machine
John Barba: Teller of stories, hitter of golf balls and occasional sinker of putts
Just What the Heck Is An OTTO, Anyhow?
OTTO is Bridgestone’s unique, self-contained golf ball-fitting “robot” on wheels. It leverages Bridgestone’s 15 years of ball-fitting data and a proprietary algorithm to help you get into the right Bridgestone golf ball.
And it will do it after just three driver swings.
Sound too good to be true? That’s what we aim to find out.
How OTTO Works
We introduced you to OTTO back in January, but here are the Cliff Notes.
This mobile unit includes a computer, a touchpad interface and a FlightScope MEVO+ launch monitor to capture your data. OTTO is completely autonomous (OTTO-nomous. Get it?), meaning you can operate it yourself with no attendant. OTTO talks to you and guides you through the entire process.
After a formal welcome, OTTO asks what brand and model ball you use and whether your ball-fitting goal is distance or spin. Once that’s done, OTTO tells you to hit three drives.
After each shot, OTTO will post carry distance, swing speed, ball speed, launch angle, back spin, side spin and smash factor. After three drives, OTTO compiles the data. And based on Bridgestone’s proprietary algorithm, OTTO recommends a ball it believes will be best for you.
Getting to Know OTTO
OTTO made his New England debut last weekend at the Golf and Ski Warehouse store in Hudson, N.H. Bridgestone Regional Sales Manager Matt Ussery was on hand to introduce me to OTTO. As mentioned, OTTO can fly solo but he was there to show OTTO to the store staff.
As mentioned, OTTO wants to know your current ball and whether you’re looking for more distance or more spin. Of the half dozen people I watched use OTTO, plus myself, no one chose more spin.
The Golf and Ski Warehouse in Hudson features a large driving range. OTTO was set up in the enclosed section near a power outlet so Ussery could recharge the battery. We were hitting off a mat with a plastic tee and were using Callaway range balls—ball-fitting limitations, to be sure.
After watching OTTO do his thing for a few minutes, my number came up.
OTTO In Action
My three shots were pretty typical of any three I’d have over any three-hole stretch: (1) a tight draw with some decent roll, (2) a low fade with a little less roll and (3) a pull that would roll a lot if it didn’t hit any trees.
After each shot, OTTO tells you the carry distance and says to hit another. After the third shot, OTTO averages the data and gives you a recommendation. OTTO told me my swing speed was 96 mph and my average carry was 236 yards. Based on real-world and hitting bay experience, he was spot on.
Launch angle, ball speed and smash factor were also pretty much what I expected but backspin was higher than I’d normally see on a Foresight GC Quad. I put that down to Callaway range balls and the rubber tee being lower than what I’m used to.
Ultimately, OTTO fitted me into the 65 compression (as measured by Bridgestone) Tour B RX. I had been playing the firmer (85 compression) Tour B X. Why, you may ask, was a 96-mph swinger playing the Tour B X? The answer is simple. Bridgestone fitted me into that ball’s predecessor nearly six years ago and it has performed well for me.
And in the name of full disclosure, I do see other balls on the side.
Ease and Accuracy
If you can use an ATM, OTTO will be a piece of cake. The touchscreen interface walks you through the process simply and quickly. While an attendant is helpful, OTTO is meant to be el lobo solitario.
It was interesting to watch OTTO fit different types of golfers. A sweet-swinging 70-year-old was also fitted into the Tour B RX. A tall, strapping youth of 22 with a legit 112-mph swing speed was surprisingly fitted into Bridgestone’s spin-killing e12 Contact. The kid was hitting very low, very spinny missiles that didn’t optimize his speed. Ussery told him the e12 Contact would help him launch the ball a bit higher while cutting his spin rate. He also suggested a driver fitting to help the kid get the most out of his athleticism. A 106 mph player with an aggressive over-the-top swing was also fit into the e12 Contact.
One of Bridgestone’s ball-fitting precepts is to fit the golfer into the ball that’s best for them. That means OTTO won’t automatically fit golfers into Bridgestone Tour-level B X or B XS golf balls. Of the 70 or so OTTO fittings done that weekend, 15 were fitted into the X and only six into the XS. The RX and the e12 Contact were by far the most common recommendations.
The Big Question
Can you get an accurate ball fitting with just three driver swings? Especially if the fitting is done in front of a talking computer? That’s a fair question and not even Bridgestone will argue that OTTO is better than—or even equal to—an in-person fitting session.
But Bridgestone does have 15 years and millions of swings’ worth of ball-fitting data. Drill down enough and patterns will emerge. Algorithms can then be written to serve as an excellent starting point. And, not for nothing, that’s way better than no ball fitting at all.
Give Bridgestone credit for giving you ball-fitting options. Along with three OTTO machines out now (four more are planned for Q4), Bridgestone has VFIT, a video-based ball-fitting app. There’s also a “Find My Ball” section on Bridgestone’s website. You answer some simple questions about your game or you can enter actual swing speed and launch conditions to get a ball recommendation.
If you firmly believe a ball fitting should start with greenside spin and then work back to the tee, you won’t get much argument here. All of Bridgestone’s tools ask if your priority is distance or spin. If you select spin, you’re more likely to get fit into the “S” version of Bridgestone’s Tour balls.
Again, no one will equate any of these options to an in-person, on-course fitting. But life is imperfect. And OTTO (and the others) are free so it’s best to consider these fittings as a starting point. If you try the ball and are happy with it, then it’s a win-win.
OTTO: Final Analysis
Equipment geeks like us often think everyone knows how a ball can affect launch and spin. And that ultimately affects performance. But the truth is that most golfers don’t even realize what a difference the right ball can make. OTTO’s biggest advantage is bringing basic swing data to golfers who may have never been on a launch monitor or, at the very least, aren’t sure how to interpret the data. Having Ussery there made a big difference to some of the golfers who tried OTTO that day.
Some elements aren’t perfect (short rubber tees in the hitting bay, for instance) but for what it is, OTTO earns two thumbs up. One addition that might be helpful for fitting newbies would be a brief explanation of what the numbers mean and how to interpret them.
And if you’re worried about a driver-only ball fitting, Bridgestone will be adding a more detailed option to OTTO that will add irons and wedges into the fitting mix.
It’s very fair to say Bridgestone offers you more ways to get fitted into a ball than the rest of the industry combined. From the online tools on Bridgestone’s website to the VFIT app and OTTO, you have every opportunity to get an idea of what type of ball you should be playing.
The next step is up to you. That means trying a sleeve or two of whichever ball you’re fitted into and seeing how it performs off the tee, from the fairway and around the green.
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