Liam Sullivan - From picking balls from the range in Middlesbrough to coaching in Florida

Liam Sullivan - From picking balls from the range in Middlesbrough to coaching in Florida

06/12/2023

Liam Sullivan charts his career path from picking balls off the range at Middlesbrough Municipal Golf Centre to his current role as Director of Coaching at Eagle Creek Golf Club in Orlando, Florida.

My career path to date…

Born and raised in Middlesbrough, I left school in 2008, aged 16, and my first job was working as a YTS trainee at Middlesbrough Municipal Golf Centre. I started out picking the golf balls off the range and then worked in the pro shop, where I got a good insight into golf retail and the industry. I worked there for two years and then moved to nearby Saltburn-By-The-Sea Golf Club in 2010. The head assistant at Middlesbrough Municipal had got the head pro’s job at Saltburn and he asked me to go with him as his assistant. It was at that point, aged 18, that I began my PGA training.

I qualified three years later, aged 21. I worked at Saltburn for almost a decade and this is where I developed a passion for coaching. I began running junior programmes and Get into Golf classes and as my knowledge developed, into private coaching for all levels of player including county level juniors and aspiring professionals. I completed my advanced certificate in golf coaching in 2018 at the University of Birmingham, which gave me a great insight into long term athlete development.

In 2019, I was approached to work for GolPhin, a world leader in quality junior golf equipment. I knew the product range well through my work with junior golfers and I took on the role as sales manager for the North of England. I really enjoyed the job and after about six months I was promoted to sales manager for England, which I really liked, because this allowed me to enter the sales world, but also meant I could follow my passion for coaching.

At the PGA show in 2020, we launched the MyPathway2Golf APP, which was named the coolest product at the show by Golf Digest, something the whole team were really proud of. Unfortunately, shortly after, the COVID pandemic arrived, after which I began coaching full-time at Stokesley Golf Range in North Yorkshire.

In October 2022 I began my coaching role at Eagle Creek Golf Club in Orlando. Working abroad, and especially in a climate that is offered in Florida, had always appealed to me as it would enable me to coach year-round. I’d taken quite a few coaching trips to Spain and Portugal with members at previous clubs and always wondered what it would be like to be in that environment full-time. Having spent all my working life in the North East of England I was keen to broaden my horizons and see what it would be like working in different parts of the world and what the opportunities might be out there.

How did you find out about the job at Eagle Creek and what was the job interview process?

I found out about the job through a fellow PGA Member, and long-time mentor, Kenny Nairn, who is now my employer at Eagle Creek. He's a really accomplished coach and works with a number of PGA Tour and LPGA Tour players in the US and beyond. He’s given me a lot of advice over the years and during one of ours calls I mentioned that I would jump at the opportunity work in Florida, luckily Kenny was at that time looking to expand his coaching business, so it made sense for both parties for me to come onboard.

What facilities are on offer at Eagle Creek?

We have an 18-hole, par 73 championship course and a double-ended driving range that can accommodate more than 50 players at any one time. We also have USGA-spec short game area, several practice putting greens, an awkward lies area and wedge distance range, so we have everything we need to offer coaching to a wide range of golfers.

The golf course is highly respected and hosts the Annika Sorenstam Invitational each year for the best under 16 girls in the world. We also host a Division 1 college championship for the University of Central Florida. There are six sets of tees, so we can look after all levels of golfers, from young juniors all the way up to college players and pros. And we also have a beautiful clubhouse, so it's just a nice place to come to work every day.

What does a typical working day involve?

A typical working day normally involves about five or six hours of coaching with clients of various ages and abilities. Some individual coaching and some group coaching. The remainder of the day I dive into the operational side of the coaching business or marketing planning for the future, speaking to potential new clients and new student assessments.

What are the most rewarding and the most challenging aspects of your job?

As I’m sure most coaches would agree, the most rewarding thing is just seeing golfers improve, whether that's an absolute beginner, junior or a college player or elite level amateur. Seeing them walk off the lesson tee happy because they've improved that day is very rewarding and gives me a lot of job satisfaction. It really reminds me how lucky I am to be able make a living by do a job that enables you to help people. And how you can improve somebody's day, or even somebody's week, by delivering a good golf lesson and educating them.

The most challenging element of my job is leading a team of people. It's something that's fairly new to me, and there's a certain level of responsibility you feel when you're in charge of driving a business in a direction that affects someone’s income and their career progression. Although I have been working in the golf industry for 15 years now, I still feel quite young and inexperienced for this role so I go to work each day with the mission of proving myself to myself.

How would you describe your coaching style?

I think my coaching style really differs depending on who I'm coaching. I coach a wide variety of clients, anything from adult beginners and kids all the way up division one college players, so I'll coach them all in very different ways.

With beginners and juniors, it's all about making them have fun and feel at ease. And then, with my college players, who want to go on and have a career in professional golf, I'll push their buttons a bit more, be a bit more assertive with them and kind of try and know help them recreate situations that they're going to face in future tournament golf.

You've got to get to know each client individually, and try and understand what each of them is going to respond to best.

What are your favourite technology aids that you use when coaching?

I'm very data driven and like to measure things so that we can improve them. So, we have TrackMan and we have Full Swing to measure all of our students swing. More recently, we have become heavily involved with the use of Clippd, which is fairly new to the industry, but it's becoming very popular. Clippd is a data performance app, which helps players of all levels, have access to all the stats that we need as players and coaches to identify areas for improvement and can quickly give people precise areas for improvement within their game. We really enjoy using that because we can then keep track of our golfers when they're practicing away from the course by seeing the videos that they're uploading and all the practice sessions they're doing. So that's something that we're excited to continue to grow as part of our coaching business.

How many staff are in your team and how are you looking to development the coaching side of the club’s operations?

We're a team of four at the moment and that covers coaching and custom fitting, alongside Kenny and I we have Adam Andrews a former England youth international. We will be looking to further grow our team in the future as we look to be able to accommodate more golfers. My vision for the business is for The Golf Academy at Eagle Creek to be the best publicly accessible golf academy in Florida, we have a great team in place and a plan to make that happen with a lot of hard work infront of us. We’re located just 10 minutes from Orlando airport, so we are in a really great location, not just for local golfers, but also golfers traveling in for golf schools from all over the world, which we will be an important part of the business in the coming years.

What further qualifications are you looking to gain?

The next thing for me is to continue on the TPI pathway just to help me understand more about how the body can affect the golf swing. Our team are very lucky to be members of proponent group, which includes some of the world's leading golf coaches. To be able to attend seminars, with coaches who have that level of experience and knowledge is something that obviously we're all very privileged to be able to do. So we'll continue to attend those and grow our knowledge to better to better educate our students.

Have you had any mentors during your career or someone who you have been able to lean on for advice? If so, who and what have you learned from them?

I've been very lucky to have some amazing mentors. First of all, my dad, who does not work in the golf industry, but he's been really successful in business. So he's somebody that I have looked up to and learnt from.

In the golf industry my first mentor Mike Howes, who was my golf coach from seven years of age and then became my employer for almost a decade, and we're still really good friends. Mike was so important to me, he guided me through my first 20 years of my golfing life. Everything I learned was from him, and I'm something that I'm very thankful for. Finally I owe a lot to Kenny Nairn, he is somebody that I can learn from on a daily and weekly basis. To have a mentor of that level of experience and knowledge in business and coaching is obviously something that I make sure that I make the most of and I always make sure my ears are open. I really believe these 3 people have been the key to my success so far.

How has your PGA training, support and resources helped prepare you for your current role and throughout your career?

I really enjoyed my PGA training. I learned a lot, and I met a lot of good people that I still stay in touch with. The PGA was very helpful when it came to getting me what I needed during the immigration process of getting into America so that's something I'm also really thankful for. Resources-wise, I really like the new PGA learn programme, that was something that I used a lot during the COVID period. It was a great move to introduce that.

What do you know now that you wish you’d have known when you first started out?

I think the main thing I’ve learned is how far having a good work ethic, being a good listener and being open to taking advice can take you. Perhaps early in life, you don't always see the value of that. As a young man, you probably think you know more than you do, and it just takes a bit of maturity to know that you don’t and that the best skill you can have is to be a sponge, soaking up advice and being more open to other people’s knowledge & experience.

How easy has it been to settle into life in Florida?

It’s been quite easy. I've been coming to Orlando on holiday and for warm weather golf ever since I was a PGA trainee, so I know the area well and over the years have been able to build up a bit of social circle of Brit’s that I knew over here, and also some American friends that I've met along the way. Having those connections has definitely helped me to settle in and was a big factor in deciding to move more than 4,000 miles from home. I can't say that there aren’t days when I feel a little homesick, but that’s all or part and parcel of moving away. But I’ve absolutely no regrets about coming to live and work here.

What advice would you pass on to other PGA Members who may be thinking about working overseas and in the US in particular?

My first piece of advice would be to just go for it. It's easy to tell yourself that you're not quite ready yet, but you just need to jump in with two feet. The worst thing that can happens is that it doesn’t work out, and if that’s the case, you can go home. But I would say absolutely go for it, broaden your horizons, and take the risk. You can reduce the risk by doing your research. Finding out as much as you can about the job, the area, and talking to others about their experiences. It worked for me, so it can work for anybody!

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