Stephen Moriarty named 2022 Golfzon Leadbetter Instructor of the Year
Each year, Golfzon Leadbetter awards an instructor who has gone above and beyond making an impact with the Golfzon Leadbetter teaching community. This year’s recipient, Stephen Moriarty, is a Senior Instructor based out of LGA Singapore. Stephen is now the Director of Leadbetter Golf Academies Southeast Asia and oversees the LGA’s operations in Indonesia, Vietnam and Singapore. Stephen has over 12 years of experience with LGA and nearly twenty years of coaching experience helping to build his extensive skill, expertise, and knowledge of the game. This year, Stephen was recognized for his contribution to growing golf instruction throughout Asia, specifically his mentorship of aspiring coaches.
Learn more about Stephen’s accomplishments in the interview below.
Congratulations, Leadbetter Instructor of the Year 2022. How did you feel hearing you’d been awarded that.
It was fantastic news. Receiving recognition from your peers feels like a validation of all the effort and work put in over the years as a Leadbetter coach. It feels like a significant milestone in my career and certainly puts into perspective how far I’ve come since becoming an assistant coach back in the UK. There have been some difficult decisions about career moves over the years, and of course, working abroad away from family isn’t always easy, but moments like this are really reassuring that I’ve made good decisions and it’s certainly all been a worthwhile endeavor as it’s led me to where I am today and I’m very proud of that.
Tell us a bit about how you came to be part of the Leadbetter team?
I grew up living next to a golf course and my father was an avid golfer, he got me into the game and made sure I had a lot of opportunities to practice and develop my own game. I was playing competitively as a teenager and it was then that I started taking lessons with David Whelan at the Leadbetter Academy at Wynyard before he moved to America and then continued with Andrew Nicholson who took over from him. My parents encouraged me to join the PGA to get a qualification if competitive playing didn’t work out. When I began coaching people I found that I really enjoyed helping others improve, more so than working on my own game in fact, so I found myself gradually doing more of it and quickly became interested in establishing myself as an instructor. As I became PGA qualified, I managed to secure a position at Leeds Golf Centre which enabled me to coach full-time. I continued going up to Wynyard, viewing my lessons with Andrew as a way to learn more about coaching. I always held him in high esteem as a golf instructor, and I felt like there was a lot I could learn from him. Andrew knew I would like to get into Leadbetter one day and always said I should take any opportunity to do so. So, when a job was advertised in South Korea, I applied and got the role.
How was your experience coaching in South Korea?
Phenomenal! I feel like I moved to Korea at the best possible time, the industry was beginning to boom there and I was lucky to work under Robin Symes who is a very talented coach. He has an incredibly professional and proactive approach to coaching. I learned to apply a similar sense of structure and dedicated mindset to my coaching from him as we were teaching a lot of students who were at an elite level. A vast majority of our students were either competing at a professional level or aiming to, in South Korea, where the absolute best players were condensed into the same tour circuits with so many of them dominating the world scene. Coaching in South Korea was a world away from recreational coaching in the UK where a student is often just looking to play once a week and beat their friends. There was a sense of pressure to ensure students improved and performed in competition, it forces you to develop your understanding of every aspect of golf: not only technical understanding but also getting students to a point where they can perform under extreme pressure and find enjoyment and longevity when they’re practicing for 9 to 10 hours a day in most cases. The fantastic thing is that as part of the Leadbetter network, there are so many people around you to learn from. I was able to go to ChampionsGate and meet David Leadbetter and learn more from him and the rest of the team there. All of it served to motivate me more as a coach. I feel that the combination of those years in South Korea and the Leadbetter organization really put my coaching development journey into hyper-speed in a sense.
You moved on to Indonesia after being in South Korea, how was that role?
It was a difficult decision at the time as golf in South Korea was still growing there and there were plenty of opportunities to develop my career there but a position was offered to me that would enable me to work with people who were passionate about growing golf in Asia and it really felt like the right project to become a part of. The role was extremely different, golf in Indonesia is driven massively by a select few people who are passionate about the game and want to grow it in their country and create opportunities for the next generation. In Indonesia, I had my first opportunity to bring new coaches into the team which had proven difficult in Korea with work visa restrictions. A couple of years into being in Indonesia I became the Director and then worked on overseeing a restructuring of the company to help facilitate growth. With the help of the shareholders, we expanded the brand in the region and I moved to Singapore to oversee the opening of a new academy there along with our locations in Vietnam and Indonesia. Working closely with the Indonesian shareholders and my team in Indonesia, we’re opening another location in Indonesia and we’ve been able to achieve the first part of the vision which is to grow golf in the region in unison with the Leadbetter brand. We’ve had some fantastic success with Indonesian students competing on the Asian tour and we’re proud to see the sport growing rapidly in Indonesia now.
Was it necessary to adapt your coaching style much for each of the countries you’ve lived in?
Absolutely, every country tends to have slightly different learning styles that are culturally influenced. Language can be a barrier for coaching in South Korea and the learning style preferred by students there tends to be heavily focused on demonstrations and video feedback. My Yorkshire accent made my early years in South Korea an additional challenge. I had to adapt so I could get my message across to the translator in the simplest way possible but I think this created a positive outcome. Finding ways to simplify your message is important, you have to convey concise messages to students so that they can easily follow them step-by-step regardless of their ability or prior knowledge of the sport. In Indonesia, I worked with a lot of students who were very successful business people and this often translates to people who expect fast improvements and good results on the course. This essentially means you need to work from impact backward to ensure they leave the lesson hitting the ball better. It may seem like an obvious thing, but it’s amazing how many coaches forget that this is the goal for almost all students. In Singapore, the mix of students we have at the academy is wider but something that I think is important in all avenues of coaching making sure that students enjoy the learning process. If they do, then the results can follow.
What is it about your coaching that you feel most proud of?
Before joining Leadbetter, I recognized the brand was viewed as the best within the industry and now as a part of it, I try to hold myself to the highest standard possible by having an open mind to continuously learn and improve. I believe that when you stop trying to learn and invest in yourself, you’re doing a disservice to your students who are trusting you as the coach. As coaches, we may not always get it right but we should always be coming from a place of care and do everything possible to get it right as much as we can.
Do you have any specific coaching highlights that you’d like to share?
When I arrived in South Korea as a trainee Leadbetter coach, Robin had arranged for me to shadow him for the first week so I could adjust and learn. However, the manager at the time seemed to be focused on the immediate revenue and scheduled my first lessons within a few days. My first student was a 16-year-old who was a +3 golfer and the second student had just recently won on the Korean Women’s Tour. Thankfully, I made it through those lessons and quickly dived into the Leadbetter certification program. I’ve also coached former presidents and current vice-presidents, having the academy room swept by armed security before a lesson was something I never expected.
To someone looking to get started in golf, what would be your best advice?
Golf is an individual sport but if you can learn with a friend or at least begin with other people who are golfers it can make it far less intimidating to get started. Signing up for group or individual coaching gives you structure and keeps you accountable with your practice, which is ultimately how you’ll progress the quickest.
Tell us the top three most important factors in being a good student?
To be a good student you need to be involved in the learning process, this means trying to educate yourself through watching golf, watching instructional videos, and making notes to refer back to. Ultimately, you need to be accountable for your learning and improvement, which means practicing, using the information from lessons, and keeping to a structured plan set by your coach.
What about the Leadbetter methods of coaching do you think makes it the leading coaching brand in the world?
The British PGA gave me a good footing into coaching, Leadbetter gave me the pathway to truly learn and develop to the top level. I truly believe that as a brand, we’re all working towards a collective goal of making the game simpler for students. I’ve been fortunate to spend time with David in person and his ability to make a student feel at ease, enjoy the time, and communicate a simple message that results in improvement is impressive to watch. I think the Leadbetter methods ensure all of the coaches have a good understanding of the fundamentals and mechanics of the golf swing and what sets us apart is the ability to communicate this in a simple way and build in the correct feels for the student through drills, exercises, and demonstration.
What is next for you in your golf career?
I’m fortunate to work with a fantastic group of people who share a collective goal of growing golf in the region. We are about to open a new academy in Indonesia with plans for a further two new academies later in the year in Southeast Asia. The vision after that is to expand to more countries in Southeast Asia, creating opportunities for more coaches, and helping all levels of golfers to improve.