The RoboGolfPro helps capture feel


Talk about a robotic golf swing: Professional Ben Ferguson assists me during a session on the RoboGolfPro at the ClubLink Academy at Glen Abbey GC in Oakville, Ontario.

If you get in a conversation with some mid- to low-handicappers about the technicalities of the golf swing, you might wonder why these guys aren’t teaching the game.

Seriously, some guys know a helluva lot about the swing—from reading, taking lessons and just working on their games.

Consider me: I’ve written a golf instruction book on Moe Norman’s swing and edited one on Ben Hogan’s golf swing. I’ve written and edited hundreds of instruction articles over about 25 years.

For an amateur, I’m a scratch in terms of technical mumbo jumbo, but as a player, I’ve never been better than a 6 handicap. That’s my best ever, so it means I can shoot in the 70s sometimes, but I’ve had far more rounds in the 80s.

Thinking about about the golf swing or how a body part is supposed to move doesn’t help you when you’re hitting a ball; it’s a hindrance. Striking a golf ball is a physical act that’s influenced by emotions, nutrition, flexibility and all kinds of things.

Besides, no one really knows how to swing a golf club, Fred Shoemaker writes in his classic book, Extraordinary Golf. “The amount of muscle movement involved is far beyond the type of understanding that we often feel we need to have. You can’t figure out how to do it, but you can do it.”

Shoemaker is the anti-technical coach. Some folks mistakenly think of him as a mental coach. One of his main gifts to golf is his focus on awareness. He helps people become aware of their own innate talent and athleticism to play golf well without getting stuck in paralysis by analysis and tip-obsessed “golf culture.”

“It’s the experience that counts. You must realize that understanding is the lowest step on the way to learning—it’s the booby prize,” says Shoemaker, one of the most respected golf professionals in the world.

Ironically, I was reminded of Shoemaker recently when I attended the One Day Golf School offered by the ClubLink Academy at Glen Abbey in Oakville. (These schools are a great way to get a refresher on your game and worth checking out.)

At the school, my swing was analyzed with the latest digital devicees, including the TrackMan system, which measures ball speed, launch angle and so on. I also hit balls while standing on a BodiTrak matt, which tracked how my weight moved during the swing. Finally, my swing was videotaped. I declined blood work. (Kidding!)

After collecting data on my swing, Sean Casey showed me the good and not-so-good things in my swing. ClubLink’s Director of Instruction noted I was jumping off my right foot and moving my lower body toward the ball, which made me prone to hitting it left and the occasional shank. “Holy crap,”  I gasped. The only instruction he gave me was to think about rolling my heels laterally toward the target during the downswing.

Casey invited me into the next bay which houses a tall and menacing looking machine with great long arms called RoboGolfPro. (I immediately thought of a Japanese horror movie where robots run amuk, killing people in loud plaid pants.) To use it—or did it use me?—I stood in front and held on to clubshaft in the same way I’d stand at address. With input from a ClubLink professional Ben Ferguson, RoboGolfPro then guided me through the swing.

RoboCop—er RoboGolfPro—seemed like the epitome of golf culture’s increasing fascination with wiz-bang technology. I wondered aloud if it would force me to swing better whether I wanted or not.

The club guided me down into a sitting position that felt strong and balanced. Tim, the disruptive one upsetting the class, shut up. I was floored by the feeling: powerful, connected, balanced. It was new, it was great. What’s more, in my mind’s eye, I could see great ball-strikers such as Moe Norman and Sam Snead in the same sitting down position coming into impact. The only advice that Ferguson gave me was to keep rotating my hips through the motion. This felt even better.

I ran through a number of swing sequences on the machine, and then off, and the feeling stayed with me. I realized that I had finally felt myself move through that beautiful—in a golf way—squatting position as if I had discovered it. I’d thought about it, but I’d never felt this before. Now, I had experienced it.

“Its greatest advantage is that the machine helps the golfer get a feel for the proper or better movement. It fast tracks the process by getting right to neurological patterns and feels. I have seen golfers make huge strides and breakthroughs in changing old patterns the first time they’ve used it,” Casey says.

Since then I have been able to replicate the feeling on the range. It will be a long time until I own it, but that will come with reps.

My first foray with RoboGolfPro was fascinating and taught me a lot about how my own preconceptions can blind me to the value of new things. It still seems strange that a machine that took brilliant people to conceive and build  helped me with the greatest and most basic thing a golfer requires when hitting a golf shot—a wonderful feeling.

 Photo: Steve Woods, GolfScene

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID—a Guelph punk band!