For a guy you couldn’t pay to stand on a driving range and analyze a golf swing, Will Robins has an interesting professional goal: Revolutionize golf instruction worldwide.
He appears to be making progress. His program at Empire Ranch in Folsom is flourishing, his coaching model is being used by 70 teachers around the world and in October he was named by Golf Digest one of 72 “Best Young Teachers in America.”
Robins emphasizes group fun and competition, scoring within 100 yards and doing it all largely using the swing with which you were born.
“I’ll show you how to put the ball in play and get the ball in the hole,” Robins, 38, said. “If you want a video of who has the prettiest golf swing, I might not be the best guy because I know plenty of guys with beautiful golf swings who can’t play.”
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Wave of doom
Robins was an aspiring professional golfer on his honeymoon on a small island off the coast of Thailand on Dec. 26, 2004, when he and his wife, Amanda, were caught in a tsunami triggered by a 9.3-magnitude earthquake in Indonesia 250 miles away.
He and Amanda were battered but survived the rising water that led to about 230,000 deaths over 14 Indian Ocean countries. After weeks of hospitalization, the Robinses returned home to Sacramento, where Will started to dabble in teaching as his body healed.
He quickly learned his students had little idea of what they needed and he had little ability to help them. Both parties were frustrated.
“My mindset was, I’m only going to (teach) for a little while, so I don’t have to do it like someone else would do it,” he said.
So Robins started taking his players on the course and telling them where to hit it. Not dwelling on how to hit it, they flourished.
“They were saying, ‘This is fantastic. This is amazing. But what about my swing?’ I said, ‘Who cares?’ I’m not working with tour players. I’m working with guys shooting 97s wishing they were shooting 87s,” Robins said.
Over the next two years, as the pain from his injuries endured and Robins more clearly saw how he could help others in golf, it became evident that teaching, not playing, was his path.
“It may sound cheesy, but everybody has a tsunami in their life,” he said.
A new direction
In April 2008, Robins gathered 16 players he wanted to work with around a table in the Empire Ranch clubhouse.
“I will not do private lessons anymore,” he told them. “I’m not going to teach you how to swing the club. I’m going to teach you how to score. You’re going to practice like I practice. You’re going to play like I play. You’re just going to go out there and compete.”
He required a 12-week commitment. All 16 signed up.
The average score dropped 11 shots in those 12 weeks, he said. A guy who hadn’t touched a club shot in the high 90s. A guy who hadn’t shot lower than a 75 broke 70. Guys were playing against and feeding off each other.
A group of 22 followed. Will Robins Golf was born. Then as now, Robins offered three keys to unlocking golf potential: 1. Have a golfing mindset – accept that the path is paved with failure. 2. Play the real game of golf – keep the ball in play and have a short game. 3. Purpose of practice – if you practice like a 25 handicap, you’ll play like a 25 handicap.
Robins started thinking of himself as a coach rather than an instructor. He wasn’t giving answers but helping players figure out their own.
“A coach gets the result out of his player. An instructor helps facilitate that change,” he said.
Seeds were sown
Robins was 17 when he left Stratford-upon-Avon, England, the home of William Shakespeare, to come to California in pursuit of college golf. He landed with a family friend in Monterey and started caddying at Cypress Point.
“A lot of what I do now is because of what I did as a caddie,” he said. “A lot of very successful, rich people who want to have a nice day out. I can’t help them with their golf swing because I’ll kill them. How do I get them to avoid trouble? How do I get them to take more club? Play their slice instead of try to fix their swing? My goal was always to get them to enjoy the round as much as I could.”
Robins played community college golf in Monterey and college golf at a small school in Florida before turning pro. Like so many, he became engrossed with swing mechanics, convinced he needed to swing better to play on the PGA Tour.
That’s when he met California mini-tour legend John Wilson, who was 48 and dominating the Spanos Tour.
“He was hitting his 7-iron 155 yards,” Robins said. “First tournament he shoots 63, 63, 64. I say to him, ‘I out-drive you. I hit it better than you do, but you outscore me.’ He said, ‘Your short game is not very good.’ I’m like, ‘That’s the best part of my golf game. If you think that’s no good, I’m screwed.’ ”
Robins said he played alongside Wilson whenever he could, even offering to pay for the experience. He considers Wilson a mentor.
“I had to learn the scoring zone, 150 yards and in,” he said. “Get down in two every time. The short game is the scoring game. I thought the short game was chipping and putting.”
Robins now teaches what he calls yardage gapping, as a result.
“How do you hit it 85 yards? How do you hit it 95? How do you hit it 105? With a trajectory. If there’s a back pin, go in low. If there’s a front pin, go in high,” he said.
“Guys today rely so heavily on the laser. I’m teaching them how to use yardage.”
Young person’s game
Young person’s game
Juniors make up about 80 percent of Will Robins Golf business. Same 12-week commitment. The motto: “Our No. 1 goal is instilling a love for the game of golf.”
Every junior starts with a white hat and on a course that consists of nine 100-yard holes. Shoot a 39, get a yellow hat and move back to 150 yards. There are similar goals for acquiring orange, red and blue hats.
The short holes encourage juniors to shoot good scores and help build confidence, Robins said.
“They understand that if you want the trophy, if you want to move back, work on the scoring and master scoring,” he said. “Why would you play a full-length course when you’re still five-putting from 3 feet?”
Detailed scorecards are used because statistics reveal the real – not the perceived – problem areas.
The lessons are simple: Square putter face on short putts. Descending blow on chip shots. Balance on full swings. Grip, alignment, posture can come later.
“A parent might ask us why we haven’t worked on his (child’s) grip yet because his grip is separated,” Robins said. “Well, he’s 6 and his hands don’t close over yet.
“We teach the simplest skill sets to accomplish what I could call playing golf.”
Craig and Amy Dolley enrolled their sons, Nico and Matthew, in Robins’ programs four years ago. Neither had touched a club. Now, both are still going strong with Nico, 16, potentially a college-caliber player and Matthew, 15, also thriving. Their continued involvement is a testament, Amy says, to Robins and his assistants.
“I have never met a better group of coaches,” Amy said. “They are perfect as far as meeting the needs of the kids and talking to the parents. They’ve made it a lifelong sport for our kids. They role model it, too. I’m going to be sad when my kids leave.”
Spreading the word
Robins has skeptics among instructors considered more conventional. He has his PGA Class A certification, yet some still question his technical know-how.
He’s unwavering. He knows his program is not for everybody. If a tour-pro-caliber player sought his counsel, he said he would be more interested in what’s going on in his head than during his backswing.
“Tiger Woods, when he was struggling ... I wouldn’t have said, ‘Your golf swing is the problem,’ ” Robins said. “We all know it’s the noggin.
“The better the player, technical is the last thing you look at.”
So who might he best serve?
“Somebody who is locked up and wants to play better golf and is frustrated,” he said. “Most people are looking for the solution of swing. When, for me, the solution of golf is lower scores.
“If they want to learn to swing the club really, really well, there are phenomenal instructors all over the place.”
Robins started Robins Golf Logistix three years ago to help others launch and run effective and profitable coaching programs. Golf instructors, he said, love teaching but don’t often get rich doing so.
“This is part of my journey and I love sharing what I have,” he said.
He’s increasingly in demand as a speaker at national golf summits. And so the instruction revolution continues.
“To do that, we have to get better results for our players at less cost and guarantee those results,” Robins said. “There’s no way I can do that myself. It’s about having loads of people believe in this idea of coaching.”