Taking golf lessons, while universally recommended if you want to improve your game, is a daunting proposition. Every instructor has a different theory, it seems, and communicating the particulars of a motion as complex as the golf swing is no easy task. Instructors will tell the student what to do, show them how to do it, give them tricks and tips for getting the feel for the motion – “Hold this ball between your knees”, “Hold this towel under your arm” – and then tell them to go to the range and work on it, and come back next week.
There is, however, an alternate to the flesh-and-blood golf pro—a device, and a technique, which combines the expertise of an experienced golf instructor with the best that modern computerized motion-control systems can deliver – the RoboGolfPro.
The RoboGolfPro unit is basically a specialized motion-control system which wouldn’t look out of place controlling a motion picture camera in the special-effects department of a movie studio where they’re making the latest sci-fi epic. The business end of the machine is three pairs of servomotor-controlled arms which are connected to a plate with an arm holding a simulated golf club. The three pairs of arms enable the system to control the attitude of the plate, and therefore the club, in all three axes of movement—pitch, roll, and yaw—as well as translating the plate in the x, y, and z planes.
While all that might sound like incomprehensible engineer-speak, what it boils down to is that the RoboGolfPro unit can move the simulated club through an infinite variety of motions, and simulate just about any possible golf swing. And what that means is that the machine can take the flat-footed, chicken-wing, over-the-top, slice-o-matic swing that you have built for yourself over years of reading instructional articles and practicing with rock-hard range balls off of beat-up mats, and turn it into the smooth, efficient, baby-draw-maker of a swing that you have always imagined yourself having.
Your session with your RoboGolfPro instructor will start off with a warm-up (of course…) and some video evaluation of your existing swing to build familiarity with your tendencies (and quirks), and very importantly, your flexibility and range of motion. Building on the observations of your existing swing, the instructor programs swing changes into the machine through a graphical computer interface.
The RoboGolfPro unit can guide you through the golf swing at a range of speeds from dead slow up to nearly full speed. You will be started off at a slow speed, with guidance from your instructor on the foot and lower body movements that complement the hand, arm, and upper body motion which the machine is guiding you through, and all the while you can see your swing on the machine’s built-in video monitor.
A lesson with RoboGolfPro CEO Scot Nei
I got my experience with RoboGolfPro at the Pebble Beach Golf Academy, with RoboGolfPro CEO Scot Nei putting the machine through its paces. Joining me on the trip was former LPGA pro and 18Birdies Director of Community Relations, Kris Tschetter, who had been singing the praises of the RoboGolfPro to me for weeks. I was happy to be there with Kris because it allowed me to watch another player on the machine as well as experiencing it for myself.
A RoboGolfPro lesson is about more than just working with the machine. After a bit of warmup on the Pebble Beach practice range, right outside the door of the instruction room, Scot put me on camera in front of an indoor golf simulator. After a few shots with a 7-iron under the unflinching scrutiny of the video camera and Scot’s practiced eye, I was then put on the machine. The changes that Scot subsequently worked on with me on the machine were practiced and evaluated on the simulator, and later scrutinized on the range.
It worked for me; it can work for you
The issues that Scot saw in my swing primarily involved my footwork (weight shift) and the path of my downswing. Tinkering with the machine’s settings, as well as getting hands-on to put me through the positions, Scot and the RoboGolfPro machine soon had me swinging on a nice in-to-out path, with a much-improved hip turn and weight transfer—and if this machine and a good instructor can tune up a 60ish 24-handicap who took up golf in his late 40s, it can help you, too.
What impressed me about working on the RoboGolfPro unit was the way it helped me connect all of the changes Scot was making to my swing. The change in my arm positions in the downswing felt forced and uncomfortable until I incorporated the correctly timed hip turn and weight shift from back foot to front. And it is because the machine was guiding me through the motions that I could feel the connections and put them all together.
And let’s get one thing straight: A session on the RoboGolfPro is a workout. Even though working with the RoboGolfPro involves the student being taken through the motions of an improved golf swing by the machine, the robot is NOT doing all the work. You will be guided through the recommended swing shape by the machine, slowly, then faster—and you will be asked to hold positions, and change familiar motions, bringing on a few aches both during and after the lesson.
Another way that the RoboGolfPro can be used to work swing changes was demonstrated to me when I watched Scot working with Kris Tschetter. You may ask, “What does a professional golfer need with lessons?” Well, they’re human like the rest of us, and they can fall into bad habits, perhaps in reaction to an injury; and they experience loss of flexibility over the years, too—all things that can throw their swing off-track.
What Scot worked on with Kris during our visit was a change in hand position and wrist flexion in the transition, and with the RoboGolfPro unit he did something I had never seen before—and which is only possible with this machine. He put her through an exaggerated version of the changes, allowing her to really feel them and enabling her to put them into effect on her own when we went back out to the range after working on the machine. That’s the versatility of the system.
Give it a try; you have nothing to lose but your slice
There are lots of teaching pros out there, at your local golf course and in golf centers around the country. If you have tried the conventional approach of lessons with the pro, even with the sophisticated motion-capture systems that some teaching centers are using, and it hasn’t taken your game where you want it to be; or even if you have had success that way, but feel there is more that you could achieve, you owe it to yourself to try the RoboGolfPro. If there isn’t a location in your area (and there are as yet only 16 in North America and four in Europe) look them up online and schedule your next golf vacation to an area near one of their locations. It will be worth your while.
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