By Neil Helsper
Return of the Robot:
Creating a New Golfer in 90 Minutes
Last month when I traded in my self-taught method for a trip to the golf robot, I was amazed at what happened: my swing, ingrained over 20 years of playing, got better in less than two hours. But it's one thing to help a single-digit handicapper improve-it's quite another to teach someone in their infancy.
So after I had experienced the Tour Bound Golf Robot, direction of instruction Scot W.R. Nei, I wondered: using the robot, how quickly could he turn a non-golfer (in this case, my wife) into a real player?
To give you an idea of what we were dealing with, let me tell you about my wife Caili. She has little interest in sports and will gladly tell you, "I'm not coordinated." In fact, as a bright-eyed adolescent, she was actually advised by a golf pro to quit the game and "stop wasting your parents' money." Little did she know that she'd grow up to marry a golf-obsessed maniac.
So of course, forcing her to visit an R2D2-style coach wasn't the first golf influence I'd had on Caili. From our courtship to our first two years of marriage, she has put up with my golf addiction: faithful weekend viewings of PGA Tour events (even the boring ones), interminable trips to Golfsmith ("How many times can you look at putters?") and a small fortune spent on Ryder Cup tickets. After all this, she didn't hate golf, but she didn't love it either.
Caili's lesson at Tour Bound's Chicago location started out with some swings at the hitting area. Most balls never left the ground, and some she missed completely.
After this initial assessment, Scot took her to meet the robot: a freestanding unit with a club attached that helps you learn the perfect golf swing. Through repeated swings on the robot, you start to feel what a Tour player feels.
The reps began as Scot and his assistant pro Mike grooved her movements on the robot. Meanwhile, she threw out the kind of questions that would baffle even Confucius: "Is your swing the same no matter what club you're hitting?" "What part of the ball should I be looking at?" As the two other golfers and I stared at our feet and mumbled answers to these impossible questions, Caili kept at it.
While the robot did its work, I wandered over to talk to Tour Bound's head teaching pro, Geoff Lound. An Australian native who competed on his home country's tour, Geoff sees the golf robot as the future of golf lessons.
"As pros, our mission is to grow the game," Geoff said. "So if we can help someone improve faster, they'll stick with it. We'll keep them interested and keep them as a golfer."
After alternating between the hitting station and the robot for about an hour, it was time for Caili's big test: filming her new swing and checking out the launch monitor as she hit balls.
She immediately impressed everyone with a perfectly struck wedge shot: 75 yards and dead on-line.
"What have you done to me?" she shouted, spinning around immediately.
Just to push her, Scot gave her a few more tests. "Try hitting one with your eyes closed." She did.
"Hit another one at least 50 yards in the air." Check.
We left Tour Bound that night blown away by what Scot, Caili and the robot had accomplished in just 90 minutes. I was texting Caili's swing video to my golfer friends like a proud grandparent at graduation, astounded at how much progress the robot had made with a brand-new player.
Does Caili have a future as a golfer? We'll see-learning the swing is just the tip of the iceberg in this sick game. But could she be a golfer? Absolutely, and way faster than I ever expected. And at least the next time I spend an entire weekend watching the Frys.com Open or the John Deere Classic, she'll understand.