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Are Robots the Future of Golf Instruction?

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For the past four months, I have been asked, “Are robots the future of golf instruction,” or words to that effect, by almost every student and client. Now that’s a crystal ball question if ever I heard one, and my stock answer at first was, “I don’t know.” Then my answer became an emphatic, “YES!”

So… what changed? Well, I went over to the True Temper Testing Facility here in Memphis, saw their robot, and I got a glimpse of the future. Their machine moves the club the way a human does. I could see the turn and the wrist cock on the way up to a perfect set at the top, and then the swing down and through to a complete finish. I watched this machine hit whatever shot was requested perfectly… every time. I learned that this robot is completely programmable as to speed, plane, and impact.

 

True Temper’s machine, the Miya 5 Swing Robot, was designed to test golf shafts and subsequently, in concert with Doppler-radar technology, motion-capture sensors and high-speed photography, to test clubs and balls as well. Its technology is light years beyond an “Iron Byron.” As I watched shot after shot, my imagination was screaming, “I want to do that! I want to feel that!” The ultimate learning experience would be to hit balls doing that. I want to learn to do that!

The challenge, and I don’t think it’s going to a simple task by any means, will be fitting this technology to humans (without tearing off our arms), but engineers love challenges! The future is out there, but unfortunately it’s not tomorrow.

Surely by now, you have raised the question: “Why is anyone asking this guy about the future of robotic golf instruction?”

This past March, suddenly and quite unexpectedly, a RoboGolfPro, a towering 9-foot high, $150,000 state-of-the-art golf swing training robot, was delivered to Vantage Point Golf Center. I was permitted to use it, teach with it, and learn from as much and as often as I wanted. It was a really big deal, because there are only 15 of these things in the U.S., and they’re mostly all in upscale golf academies like Pebble Beach. I took advantage of the opportunity, using it at a public driving range in Memphis every day for two months and then for five days at the FedEx St Jude Classic, where I gave over 200 very public, one-on-one, introductory lessons using the machine.

I saw mechanical genius at work.

So… what did I learn? Well, the golf swing is fundamentally very simple and easily felt when assisted by a robot. I also learned that I didn’t really appreciate just how difficult it could be for some people to match up their body movements to the movement of the club, even in slow motion. Almost anyone can experience the basics of an on-plane golf swing while using the machine. It’s an engaging and wildly expensive tool, and when used properly it’s a productive experience.

For those who are not familiar with the RoboGolfPro, I will give you a general idea of what it is, what it does, and what it doesn’t do. First, the RoboGolfPro quite simply is a robot with six independently powered and computerized arms that attach to a flexible and responsive “plate” that has a device that holds a training golf club. The arms slide up and down while pivoting and rotating independently of each other to produce the movement of the training club as dictated by the selected program.

 

What the RoboGolfPro does is move the golf club into and through set positions at any speed desired as instructed by the computerized swing program that has been selected for that session. There are hundreds of individual golf swings stored in the computer’s memory. These programs range from very basic one- or two-plane swings to every professional whose swing was ever visually recorded. I really enjoyed taking the swing of Ben Hogan and modifying it to what I can do physically. Using RoboGolfPro, I could adjust the arc, the lag, the wrist cock, the backswing, the down cock, the release and follow-through at any speed. I could stop at each position and allow my body to feel what I suspect Hogan felt. Through the process of “muscle memory,” I am attempting to make Hogan’s swing my swing, truly becoming “Hogan’s Ghost” (which I wrote a book about).

RoboGolfPro’s basic program identifies the 10 basic positions of the golf swing: the setup, takeaway, 9 o’clock up, the top, 9 o’clock down, delivery zone, impact, follow through, 3 o’clock, and the finish. Using it, I can take a student from setup to takeaway and back to setup as many times as necessary to instill the correct feeling of the correct movement at any speed desired. Then I can expand the experience to begin at setup and move the club through takeaway to the 9 o’clock-up position and then back to setup as many times as desired. I learned to move the training club from any position to any other position within the swing sequence depending on the needs of the student. Most movements are done in slow motion into the desired position where there would be a pause so that the student has the opportunity to feel the correct position. Slow motion and stop action in correct positions is the beginning of the “muscle memory” process.

Now for what RoboGolfPro doesn’t do. You can’t hit balls with it. The training club, which is attached, is just that. It’s a facsimile of the golf club that you hold on to. Second, it doesn’t directly move your body into correct positions; it moves the club into correct positions. This is where an instructor’s assistance is necessary. Step by step, using stop action at each position, the student can feel the correct process of turning, loading, rotating, balancing and weight shifting while maintaining the best possible posture.

What does all of this mean for most golfers, and how does it apply to you? In my first article for GolfWRX, “Can anyone become a short game legend,” I stated that there are four distinct and separate segments that make up what I call “Perfect Practice.” The most basic, and really the foundation for learned excellence in all fields of endeavor, is Remedial Learning. It’s used to develop a particular skill or shot, and it’s best done step by step in slow motion or in a static mode. RoboGolfPro is an excellent tool for golf remedial learning. Slow-motion and stop-action movements, repeated correctly hundreds of times, is possible with this machine. Doing repetitions in sets of 10 to correct an identified flaw or learn a correct position takes just a few minutes each session.

And that brings us to the next drawback, or misconception, of what this machine does. It isn’t an on/off switch that instantly creates an ideal swing that will allow you to go immediately from your first robotic training session on to the practice ground and proceed to hit perfect golf shots. The RoboGolfPro can guide you through your ideal swing, but it doesn’t teach you to hit the ball. You learned how to hit the ball, in most cases, before you ever saw this machine, meaning you have developed a learned behavior, a habit. And we all know how hard it is to get rid of a bad habit.

Now, to be absolutely fair, I have seen video of pure rank beginners who, immediately following a robotic lesson, did go out and hit perfectly stuck golf shots. To be absolutely truthful, I didn’t personally witness that result myself, but you can see an example below.

The final misconception is that working on the machine is practicing. It’s not; it’s remedial learning, as outlined above. Practice, by definition, is repetition to improve skill. Skills are improved by moving the club and striking the ball correctly hundreds, if not thousands of times. The emphasis is placed on correctly improving speed and fluidity. Correct movement develops “muscle memory,” implicit memory, motor skills, and motor programs. As the motor programs are developed, refined and habitualized, they begin a process known as “feel.” So, within this context, the RoboGolfPro is a useful training aid to feel increases in the speed of a golf swing, but it isn’t directly useful in hitting the ball correctly on the range.

So what’s the bottom line?

As I was working on the RoboGolfPro, all I really wanted to do was to get out of slow-motion and stop-action movements (remedial learning) and go outside and hit perfect golf shots. A machine that allows, assists, directs, and teaches while the student hits perfect golf shots would be fantastic. With such a robot the student could learn draws, fades, punches, half wedges, and stingers, not to mention crushing each and every drive, while at the same time experiencing and gaining the sensations that come from practice.

That’s not to say the RoboGolfPro doesn’t have a place into today’s golf instruction. If you have access to one, it can absolutely help your game in a way no other current technology can. It’s a glimpse into the future of golf instruction, just not the whole picture.

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Ed Myers is the author of Hogan’s Ghost, Golf’s Scoring Secret and The Scoring Machine. He was the Director of Instruction at Memphis National Golf Club, and he is currently the scoring coach for players on all professional tours. "The Ultimate Scoring and Performance Experience" an all day program featuring on course private instruction and unlimited play with "Hogan's Ghost." is now available. More than a "golf school"and more than just short game. Individualized evaluation determines where to start the experience. Learn and work according to your goals, preferences and ability. All practice is supervised and structured to ensure maximum benefit and verifiable results. Program runs Monday -Friday from April through October, 2018. See you in Memphis, Tenn. "The Distance Coaching Program" is now available to all level of golfers worldwide. Thanks to modern technology everyone, everywhere, can train like a touring professional. Learn more about Ed at edmyersgolf.com. He can be reached at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Dave R

    Jul 28, 2017 at 9:55 pm

    Would sooner take a lesson from robot bill than someone who can’t break a 100.

  2. ButchT

    Jul 28, 2017 at 6:13 pm

    I will keep an open mind until I get a chance to try it. Anything that gives you a little insight might be helpful.

  3. Lloyd

    Jul 28, 2017 at 5:20 pm

    I hear RoboGolfPro are developing an accessory robot that clamps on to the golfers hips with a shaft up the spine and another clamp for the head. It will be behind the golfer and rotate his hips, align his spine and keep his head still while he uses the swing robot. A controlled swing from the front to the back and on the head. I’ll wait for it.

  4. Lloyd

    Jul 28, 2017 at 12:42 pm

    Your the negative one here. You reject science truth. sooo obvious.

    • Lloyd

      Jul 28, 2017 at 5:15 pm

      No I’m not but I like to read scientific comments. Stifle yerself.

      • Lloyd

        Jul 28, 2017 at 7:11 pm

        I read to learn and understand. Your a stupid troll. sooo obvious

  5. Jason

    Jul 28, 2017 at 6:46 am

    Robots are basically the future of everything. As an accountant I’m watching computers and robots filling roles around me, that 10 years ago we all thought were automation proof.

    At first they came for our checkout clerk’s…then they came for me the golf instructor..

  6. Matt

    Jul 28, 2017 at 1:29 am

    Terrible story for someone who admires Hogan to see his name attached to this. I hope it isn’t the future of golf.

    • Lloyd

      Jul 28, 2017 at 2:13 am

      It’s just another ripoff perpetrated by devious people scamming vulnerable golfers.

  7. leon

    Jul 27, 2017 at 3:52 pm

    Sell it to Bubba Watson, John Daly, or Jim Furyk to see how it works. Golf swing is very personal and there is no “standard” method to swing a club.

    I tried this machine couple months ago and I have only one thought: what a waste of time and money.

    • allan

      Jul 27, 2017 at 9:10 pm

      Would you call yourself ‘gullible’ for trying this machine as stated by Obsrvant and Penick?

  8. George

    Jul 27, 2017 at 2:42 pm

    Looks like a haptic feedback system to me, where a pre-programmed correct-at-every-point path has been established. If it adjusts for individual height and physical limitations, then I think it has great potential. Too many golfers, myself included, think we’re doing it the correct way and are a little surprised when the video tells a different story.

  9. George

    Jul 27, 2017 at 2:31 pm

    It looks like a haptic system to me, where a pre-programmed path is inputted. I think it has great potential for both the beginner and for those with ingrained habits. I’d be curious to see what 100-200 repetitions per session x 3 per week would accomplish over the course of a month or so.

  10. Chris B

    Jul 27, 2017 at 12:05 pm

    Looks like an expensive way of learning a sport that is rapidly becoming expensive to play again.

  11. marc

    Jul 27, 2017 at 11:31 am

    From one PGA professional to another a friendly piece of advice: muscles don’t have memory nor ever will.

    • Lloyd

      Jul 27, 2017 at 12:21 pm

      But some muscles have a response reflex… like when the doctor taps your knee and your lower leg kicks out on it’s own …! Too bad you can’t kick a golf swing into some non-athletic golffing klutz’s.

  12. DK

    Jul 27, 2017 at 9:18 am

    David Leadbetter predicted something like this 20+ years ago.

    • Lloyd

      Jul 27, 2017 at 12:23 pm

      It took Leadbetter 2 years to rebuild Faldo’s golf swing, and he admitted it was a lot of guesswork too.

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