James Robinson knew he was destined for a career in the United States military. But following a chain of events that no one could have foreseen, he's now on his way to becoming a PGA Professional.
After a 20-year career as a medical laboratory technician in the U.S. Army -- including a year-long stint in Iraq -- Robinson is now a 40-year-old freshman, enrolled in Maryland-Eastern Shore's PGA Golf Management Program. And he couldn't be more pleased.
"I loved being a lab tech but I found myself more at peace on the golf course," Robinson said. "It just so happens the club pro at Fort Eustis — Andy Weissinger — felt my game was decent enough that I could get into the business of golf. At that time, I thought PGA Professionals were the guys on tour, like Jordan Spieth. And everyone was a plus-5 handicap.
"He broke it down and explained to me about the PGM program. And I realized I didn’t have to be a lab tech when I got out. I could enter a PGM program, and things just worked out."
Unlike most aspiring PGA Professionals, Robinson didn't pick up a golf club for the first time until he was about to be deployed to Europe. In fact, his mother bought him his first set of clubs at age 25.
Up until then, his favorite hobby was fishing.
"I first started looking seriously into the game around 2004," Robinson said. "I knew I was going back to Germany. My primary love before then was fishing, but fishing licenses in Germany were pretty expensive. So I decided to pick up another hobby and that happened to be golf.
"I had great buddies over there that loved to play, and I just stuck with it."
From an early age, Robinson was wearing a uniform.
"I was a Tiger Scout, Cub Scout, in Webelos and Boy Scouts," he said. "I was in a Navy ROTC program in high school. And I grew up in Hampton, Va., which is a big military town. Those things just fell into place."
In the fall of 2005, Robinson was transferred to Balad, Iraq, as part of the 226th Medical Logistics Battalion -- the Blood Platoon.
"Our job was to transport blood products to the hospitals within all of Iraq," he said. "We’d get stuff shipped in and we’d distribute it out of Balad — to Baghdad, Balad, Mosul, Tikrit. Our main job was to keep blood products flowing to save lives.
"...We were doing our thing all the time with them lobbing mortars and rockets at us."
Soon after that, Robinson began feeling pain in his knee that he thought was from overuse. Instead, it turned out to be much more serious.
"It wasn’t until they did an MRI on my back that they realized I had cracked a vertebra and had nerve impingement," he said. "So they had to go in and lock down my vertebra to keep it from permanently damaging my spinal cord."
Robinson was moved to the Warrior Transition Unit in Fort Eustis, Virginia, something that would help define his future plans.
First, Robinson was elated to find out the surgery would allow him to be able to continue playing golf.
"I lucked out because I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to play golf again," Robinson said. "But the surgeons and physical therapists felt I needed as much range of motion as possible, so they were all for it.
"It ended up being more therapeutic than I expected."
Second, he met PGA Professional Weissinger, who suggested that Robinson make a career out of his hobby. So after retiring from the Army in March, he enrolled at UMES, and is not only getting used to being a civilian, but being twice as old as most of his classmates.
"People from the outside looking in may think this is a 'cupcake degree,' " Robinson said. "It is a time-intensive degree plan that gives you so many resources once you graduate. I’m focusing on hospitality and tourism management, so not only can I work within the confines of the PGA, but I can work within any system of hospitality, restaurant and tourism management."
Robinson has already made one giant stride in his quest to secure PGA membership. He's passed the Playing Ability Test. And in a way, his military background was a huge help, because the PAT is as much a mental struggle as it is a physical test of your golf game.
"From my previous military experience, you learn that you have a goal, you have an obstacle and you then prepare to meet all aspects of it," Robinson said. "The mental and physical challenges — and things that are obvious and things that aren’t.
"And it's about perspective. You won’t hear too many military people talk about it, but anyone who’s been in active duty — or in any of the war zones — they’ve experienced things on a much larger scale than what the average American citizen does. So not a whole lot of things stress out ex-military veterans. That’s part of the military process."
And Robinson's ultimate plans?
"Right now my goal is to be a PGA assistant teaching pro somewhere," Robinson said. "I'm focused on what internships are available and leave myself open to whatever opportunities are out there."
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