WENDELL — Rocky Winstead has been a sports instructor for 42 years. Whether it was boxing for the first 31 years or golf for the past 10 years, the 75-year-old has never wavered from his approach to teaching youth about sports that are not wildly popular in the United States.
With the summer approaching, the former Marine plans to begin his 11th year of instructing youth golf clinics at Zebulon Country Club on Thursday, May 16. As in years past, Winstead has recruited some of his former pupils, including William Lewis and Neville Burton of Bunn and Wake Forest-Rolesville high schools, respectively, to help teach the clinics.
“I try to use golf as a way to teach kids how to live their lives,” Winstead said. “When I moved down here, I moved over from boxing to golf and I’ve found that golf is a better example of teaching how life works than boxing is.
“In golf, you’re going to have a lot of failures. That’s just like life … but you have to learn how to cope with those failures.”
Lewis, a sophomore with the Wildcats, was named to the 2A Northern Carolina all-conference team and was the boys golf player of the year this past year.
The Bunn standout has been instructing for Winstead since he was 12 years old and accredits much of his success to Winstead’s approach to the game.
“I’m only 16, but what Rocky has taught me about the mental side of the game has made me a much stronger golfer,” Lewis said. “Whenever I’m struggling on the course, I remember what Rocky told me to do. No matter what I do, I know I’ve always got to try hard on the next shot.”
Winstead’s clinics have always been free, which is not only by his doing, but by the Zebulon Country Club as well. David Windley, the golf course’s manager, doesn’t charge Winstead to use the course and has designated a space that lies between several holes on the back nine as a practice facility where Winstead teaches his classes.
Windley, who has managed the country club for the past 14 years, said making room for Winstead’s clinics has led to good things for the country club.
“The youth play has increased tremendously since Rocky started his clinics out here,” he said. “Not only that, but also our membership among families has increased as well. Rocky has been a godsend for us.”
Winstead does more than just offer free instruction – he brings his collection of clubs to the clinics for young players who don’t have their own sets. His golfers also get the chance to play on Zebulon’s youth golf team in the Eastern N.C. Junior Golf League, which begins June 18 with a match at Willow Springs Country Club in Wilson and runs through the summer with several matches at different courses in the region.
As a mentor who’s had a hand in several success stories among the young players and the Zebulon course as a whole, Winstead says his biggest secret is having the help of his former students.
“I may not be able to drive the ball at my age, but these guys can show them what I’ve taught them in the past,” he said. “William (Lewis) teaches classes on how to drive the ball. He can hit it 300 yards, which is amazing, so they’ll listen to him. Neville (Burton) has a natural ability with his wedges and can make it talk like Phil Mickelson.
“When you have kids like that teaching others, the only thing I have to instruct is the mental side and how to treat the golf course.”
And for the last 10 years, that’s exactly what Winstead has brought to local youth athletes – an astute mental golf game along with a strong respect for the sport.
For more information on the summer youth golf clinics at Zebulon Country Club, contact Winstead at 252-230-4268.