It’s now day 126 AG(After Gobert), or 126 days since Rudy Gobert tested positive for Covid-19 and all sports as we know it came to a halt.
We’ve had some sports return in the meantime, with NASCAR racing in tracks with empty seats. Golf is another sport you can watch on TV, and even play. Locally, Phillip “Rocky” Winstead is a guy you might want to call if you want to take up the game to pass some time.
Winstead is known throughout the Roanoke Valley as the proprietor of “Rocky’s Golf Shop,” but he’s much more than that. Winstead has a soft spot for kids, and he’s happy to teach them how to make a putt or throw a left hook. He’s done a lot of both during his colorful life of 82 years and he’s always ready to pass on his skills to others.
A native of Zebulon, North Carolina, Rocky had a tough childhood. His mother was very religious but his father was anything but.
“My mom was always Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” he said. “She turned a lot of people toward religion and helped a lot of people who didn’t have faith. I’ve been a Christian all my life.
“My dad wasn’t like that at all. He was tough on me. He used to say ‘I can’t make you do what I tell you, but I can make you wish the hell you had.’”
Winstead quit school in the ninth grade and joined the Marines. He had to be at least 17 years old to join and he signed up just two weeks after his 17th birthday. The Marines introduced him to boxing, and that’s been a big part of his life.
“The first time I tried out for the team I didn’t make it,” said Rocky. “They told me to take up tennis.”
However, he didn’t quit and after winning his division at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina he made the team. He boxed on the Marine team beginning in 1959 and had some great experiences.
“I boxed in a match at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in 1961,” he said. “Jack Dempsey(former heavyweight great) was the referee and I was in the main event. One time he said break and he pushed me so hard I almost went through the ropes.”
Rocky was deployed to Viet Nam in 1967 but after just three months he lost a knee cap. After getting out of the hospital he served as a Marine boxing coach. At one point he trained future heavyweight champ Ken Norton.
Boxing brought Rocky to the Roanoke Valley. The Marine Boxing Team competed in Roanoke in 1961 and Rocky met a girl, Betty Jane Mowles, who caught his eye. They ended up getting married in December of that year and bought a house in the valley in 1962. They rented out the house until 1974 when Rocky retired from the Marines and settled in the area.
His love of boxing helped get him a job with the Roanoke Parks and Recreation Department, where he was Boxing Coordinator for a couple years. He put together teams that won state championships and at one time had over 142 kids in the program. One of Rocky’s former students, Tim Gibson, went on to win the Air Force championship after training with Rocky and he still remains close to his old coach.
“Anything I could do for kids, I was ready to help,” said Rocky. “Boxing was going real big back then. Paul Vest, who was a police sergeant in Roanoke, had been running the program. Boxing kept a lot of kids off the streets.”
Rocky’s next venture was coaching prison teams. In 1976 he was in charge of nine teams from Virginia prisons and doubled the participation state-wide. However, the boxing program was disbanded in 1984 when six death row inmates escaped from Mecklenburg Correctional Center.
“I was disappointed because we helped a lot of guys,” said Rocky. “I had some of the worst guys but they never gave me any trouble. It was ministry is what it was.”
Rocky lived in Salem from 1974-79. He’s moved around to Rocky Mount, Richmond and in 1988 he moved to Bailey, North Carolina. During this time he started selling golf clubs for profit.
“In 1977 I was at a golf course in Wytheville,” said Winstead. “I bought a sand wedge from a guy for four dollars and not long after someone gave me 30 dollars for it. I felt pretty good about that until I found out it was really worth $300. I told my wife I was going to go back and talk to that guy, and she said ‘who, the guy you bought it for four dollars from?’”
From there Rocky’s business took off to the point where he now has over 400 putters alone, including his prized possession which was designed by Arnold Palmer. Rocky has two storage units full of clubs, just as many at a friend’s place in Smithfield, North Carolina who sells for him on e-bay, and a building behind his home where he works on clubs.
Rocky lives in a trailer park and isn’t allowed to sell clubs from his home. However, he’ll be happy to meet you at the storage units if you give him a call at 252-230-4268. Most of his sales these days come from his friend in North Carolina.
“I have about 3,000 clubs there,” he said. “He sells for me on e-bay and I don’t have to do nothing. All I do is get the check.”
It wasn’t always that way. Rocky sold them himself for 14 years, setting up at places like the High Point Furniture Market in North Carolina. He wore out three busses that he drove around full of clubs, selling off the side of the road.
“I would set up along the road in Wilson, North Carolina, right next to Route 81,” he said. “One weekend I sold $2,400 worth.”
Rocky picks up clubs wherever he can find them. He buys out shops that sell clubs.
“I bought Lakeside out last year,” he said. “I find some at Goodwills and other places.”
He has plenty, as well as golf bags and pull carts, thousands of balls and anything else related to the game. He still plays a round or two at age 82, and all the folks at the local courses know Rocky Winstead.
“I still play with Johnny King,” he said. “I used to have a real good short game but I never had a good long game.”
King is a fixture at Blue Hills who has been teaching the game for over 40 years.
“He taught my kids golf and I taught his kids boxing,” said Rocky with a smile.
Rocky is also happy to give any kid who desires golf lessons. He organized youth lessons in Zebulon for over a dozen years and he has special clubs for teaching and is more than happy to help any kid who wants to learn. He’s been teaching the game since 1977. His stepson, Jay Prillaman, is a good golfer and his step-grandson, Landon Prillaman, was on the Ferrum College team.
The reason Rocky moved back to the Roanoke Valley was to be near his son and grandchildren. Phillip Anthony “Tony” Winstead, Jr. has lived in the valley all his life and he and wife Cindy have three daughters.
“I want to be around the family,” he said. “I probably didn’t spend as much time at home as I should have over the years.”
Much of that time Rocky was helping others, ready to give someone a lift who was dealt a bad hand in life. He’s still willing to help anyone who needs a break.
“I’ve always tried to be a Christian,” he said. “I’ve never been in trouble and the Lord has always been there with me, and if I can help someone else I’m glad to do so. There are a lot of kids out there who are hard-headed like I was, who just need someone to care.”