This robotic training machine fits his golf game to a T

This robotic training machine fits his golf game to a T
Times columnist Chris Erskine works on improving his golf swing with the Robogolfpro at So Cal Golf in Irvine on March 11. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Golf is my opposite sex ... my femme fatale, the one sport that got away. Of all the ways to torture yourself, right? I find it about as joyous as a kidney stone.

Seriously, I could shank a putt.


How can so many total tools excel at golf while I flail about? The ball just sits there on the tee. It doesn't move. No opponent is shoving his hands in your face, or coming in cleats up. The ball just sits there. It has dimples. It probably worships Katy Perry.

There's no reason you couldn't whack the stupid thing 300 yards with a garden spade.

My struggles come despite an elite athleticism. I had a short but very sweet pro basketball career, and ran wild across the intramural fields in college. They once gave me a trophy. Not a Heisman exactly, but it got me some free suds.

So back to golf, which I am now poised to master. I am poised to conquer this mad game thanks to a new robot that looks like a corpulent version of R2-D2. Might be hocus-pocus, but as with any revolution, early skepticism often gives way to spiritual enlightenment and appreciation.

"At some point, you're going to have an 'oh my God' moment," promises the robot's keeper, Matt Falese.

Good, now he's bringing religion into this. Generally, I have too few oh-my-God moments.

Since September, this robot has resided in a nondescript Irvine teaching facility run by Falese. The former airline pilot believes the robot will do for golfers what he'd seen flight simulators do for him and his fellow pilots, letting them establish muscle memory and confidence.

"I can't tell you how many thousands of dollars I've spent," Falese says of lessons and golf camps. "It's the first thing I've found that lets you feel the golf swing."

Essentially, the robot uses a series of computer-controlled pistons to groove your golf swing. You just grip a club attached to the robot, known as RoboGolfPro, and the German-designed training machine guides you through the ideal parabola of an effective windup.

Does one type of swing work for everyone? Dumb question. Next?

OK, as the saying goes, there are no dumb questions, only dumb duffers. If your swing is already respectable, robot operators tap a few commands into a laptop to tweak it here and there. If the swing is a complete hot mess, they might make a total overhaul.

Among the swings you can choose: Ben Hogan's classic pendulum. You can also choose Tiger Woods' stroke (the Hank Haney edition).

In my case, we needed some pretty serious surgery. Video analysis showed my motion was too over the top, producing 1,700 RPMs of spin and — too often — a slice that followed the curvature of the Earth (part of why I've had shots wind up in neighboring countries).

Falese and his co-pilot this day, PGA teaching pro George Henry, programmed the machine to bring my swing plane into sync, mimicking the swing that Vaughn Taylor used to win at Pebble Beach a few weeks ago. During the tournament, Taylor did sessions on the robot and credits it, in part, for his surprise win.


For me, the robot reduced the outside-to-inside club head path, while dropping my hands earlier, bringing them out wider than I'd been doing the past half-century or so. Falese said my swing plane changed a full foot.

Oh my God!

Hitting live, away from the machine, I found the sweet spot much better. It also drove my seven-iron true and high, about 170 yards, with very few RPMs.

Is this robot a real game-changer? Time will tell. My golf struggles have as much to do with temperament as technique. What I probably need is a robotic pharmacist.

Meanwhile, there are only about a dozen of the robots open to the public around the country: two in Pebble Beach, this one in Irvine, one in downtown Chicago, among others. Purportedly, Vaughn Taylor has one of these $150,000 contraptions in his garage.

Were I a rank beginner, I wouldn't hesitate to book one of the $150 teaching sessions. Imagine taking up golf with a near-perfect swing. Imagine the frustration that might save you, the psychic anguish you'd avoid.

You might even manage to enjoy this miserable, mind-bending game. You might go on to win your first major.

Yeah, that's what you'll do.

Follow Chris Erskine on Twitter @erskinetimes

Robot lessons are available at SoCalGolf Lessons, 17145 Von Karman Ave., No. 104, in Irvine. (949) 743-2097,