Four years on from a successful playing career as a collegiate golfer, former ProDreamUSA client Stuart Winsby returned to the impressive golf set-up at Webber International University in Florida – but this time as Head Coach of the Warriors Men’s and Women’s teams, highlighting a different but very exciting route to developing a career in the golf industry after graduation.
The Northern Irishman, who hails from Whitehead Golf Club in County Antrim, says he is “loving life” in the hot seat of the Head Coach role and has set his sights on leading the team to the National Finals, just as he did as a player during each of his final three seasons.
“I probably push them very hard at times, but I have high expectations and want them to do well. The players know I have been there and done that when I was on the team and I’ve told them all what an incredible experience it was competing at the National Finals. They’ve all heard my stories and they want some of that for themselves, so hopefully I can use that experience to inspire them and drive them on.”
Winsby and his then Warrior team-mates advanced to the NAIA Men’s Golf National Championship in three consecutive years from 2014 – 16, finishing in tenth place during his Junior year, their best placing in the program’s history.
“I loved being part of that team and we were really close as a group. Most of us were room-mates and we all pushed each other to get better. The bond between us was really strong and we played together a lot. I played a lot of football as a youngster so to get back to being part of a team within an individual sport was something I really enjoyed.”
It wasn’t all a smooth ride in the Florida sunshine and Winsby admits that his first year was a challenge, but offers sound advice to other young golfers considering a move to the States:
“It was a massive culture shock coming out here initially. I didn’t play my best golf and was in and out of the team. It’s difficult to adapt to the different types of grasses but its important not to get disheartened and you need to use your first year just to settle in. I learned to be patient and my confidence grew over time.”
As a Senior in 2015-16, he was named an NAIA All-American but opted not to pursue a career in the professional game. After a spell caddying, he returned to Webber as a Junior Network Administrator in the IT department, while undertaking an MBA in Sports Management, before eventually being offered the coaching position last summer.
So, what’s his coaching philosophy?
“I really push my players to work on their short games and it’s such an important aspect of the game. I’m not one to stand on the range for hours with them but devoting time to the short game worked for me, 100%. I also encourage them to get out on the course and play to keep them competitive. I’ll give them targets with a scorecard in hand and give them rewards if they achieve those targets. That was something my own coach Wills Murray (an apprentice of Sean Foley) drummed into us – go and play! They know they need to work hard academically too and with me knowing many of the professors well, that helps with the balance that the players need to achieve.”
Having recently signed two ProDreamUSA clients in Tom Youds and Harrison Hodson, who has transferred from Cypress College, naturally, he is a huge advocate of life as a Webber student-athlete.
The big lure for me when I came here was the weather. I had options with bigger schools but the opportunity to play golf all year round in great conditions, with fantastic courses to play on, was a big attraction. Webber is also a relatively small school and the academic learning feels a bit more intimate and personal, which was a big selling point for me.”
“The location is superb and as student you’re certainly never short of things to do. Disney and Universal are just 45 minutes away and we get discounted access to those, as well as cheap tickets for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers games, which the students love.
“From a golf perspective, Lake Wales (pictured above) is our main club, but the players can also use four other courses close by. We generally have to travel less than other teams across the country as many of them want to host matches here in Florida, which I would say is a big advantage for us.”
When he left Northern Ireland in 2012, he may not have set out to pursue life as a coach but Stuart Winsby now has ambitions to go places with a career he is clearly enjoying, firstly with his beloved Webber Warriors team, and perhaps at a higher level in the future with an NCAA D1 team.
“That would be the long-term goal. I’ve got to establish my name as a coach here and reaching the National Finals on a consistent basis with Webber would be a huge accomplishment.”
Watch this space at Webber.