EASTERN WAKE COUNTY — Rocky Winstead says there’s only one effective way to play golf: in the present.
“If you throw a club, you’re playing in the past,” the 76-year-old retired U.S. Marine said. “And if you’re thinking about your total score, winning or getting a prize, that’s in the future – you ain’t gonna get it.”
Young golfers that join Winstead’s summer youth program at Zebulon Country Club learn lessons like this one, designed to improve one’s golf game but just as applicable to the game of life.
The program run by Ben Yeargin, the club professional at Wendell Country Club, has its own exercises for both the swing and the soul.
The No. 1 skill Yeargin wants young golfers to take away from his lessons is patience.
“The game is hard enough as it is,” Yeargin said. “Just be patient, work at it, practice.”
The Wendell and Zebulon programs both compete in the Eastern N.C. Junior Golf League. The golfers, ages 10-18 (divided into four age groups), compete in six matches from June to August.
Both local country clubs will host a league round. Willow Springs Country Club of Wilson, Cardinal Country Club of Selma, Southern Wayne Country Club of Mount Olive and Birchwood Country Club of Nashville will host the other four matches.
The Zebulon squad has won four consecutive regular season team titles, while also producing several individual standouts, such as 2013 boys divisional winners Robert Henderson (10-11 age group), Peyton Windley (12-13), Blake McShea (14-15) and Neville Burton (16-18).
Winstead preaches the importance of two-shot golf and a sound short game, but the techniques he teaches are secondary to the values of teamwork and togetherness.
Every young golfer must abide by two rules in order to play on Winstead’s team in Zebulon: Everyone must agree to help others, and the coach is always right.
“And (the golfer) must agree to run wind sprints,” Winstead tacked on with a laugh.
Winstead taught fellow Marines how to box at Camp Lejeune from 1968-70. He’s not as tough on teenagers on the links.
“I can’t take kids out there and have them run an hour’s worth of wind sprints,” Yeargin said about coaching his Wendell team. “You’ve got to talk to them about their mindset and thinking their way through the game of golf.”
Yeargin believes the game differs drastically from sports like basketball or baseball. In golf, the athlete with the strongest mind is often more successful than the athlete with the strongest body. A positive mindset can be a powerful advantage on the golf course, Yeargin said.
“You’ve got to keep (the kids) motivated,” said Yeargin, who has served as club pro in Wendell for six years. “They’ve got to keep trying. You’ve got to get them sticking with their buddies, trying to play the game together.”
Yeargin is a competitive coach, and his golfers want nothing more than to claim a home-course victory when Wendell hosts the league on July 15. Even so, Yeargin is the first to tell you nothing – not even the thrill of a first-place finish – beats golf’s camaraderie.
Winstead echoes Yeargin when he puts the game of golf in perspective.
“I tell the kids this is a game,” Winstead said. “You cannot try to be perfect. If you play golf and try to be a perfectionist, you’re going to be miserable. One of the biggest things I try to teach is to play in the present.”
Connor Jones, a longtime student of Winstead’s now about to graduate from Bunn High School, still holds tight to some of the life lessons he’s picked up over the years on the Zebulon youth team.
“Golf is not life,” Jones said. “Enjoy the days when you’re playing, but also enjoy the days you’re not playing. You must take every day and enjoy it.”