Shawn Cox oversees the golf operation at The Grand Golf Club, a private golf club that’s open to resort guests of The Grand Del Mar, recognized by Forbes Travel Guide as one of the world’s six elite Triple Five-Star resorts.
Shawn didn’t pursue golf seriously until after college. Why? He was too busy playing football and winning Rose Bowl championships. Fast forward several years and at the age of 30, Shawn wasn’t happy with his golf game and decided to switch from swinging righty to lefty! Just like another San Diego area resident, Phil Mickelson, who helped design The Grand’s short-game practice area.
Shawn Cox: I was watching a Butch Harmon video where he was saying the ball tells you everything. If you’re a great instructor, you see the ball, you see what it’s doing. You don’t need a Trackman or a device … you know how to fix people’s swings because you’ve given enough lessons and you know about the face and the path.
Golf Conversations: What do you think about that?
SC: I think that there are people that are human Trackmans. Especially in the clubfitting world … there are guys that have fit so many people that they can look at a shot and say, “Ok, that was launched 13 degrees and it was about 4,000 rpms of spin. If you want to get more distance, we’re going to have to try a different shaft.”
A lot of good golf pros are like that, too. They can tell because of the flight of your ball what’s going on with your swing.
GC: What are the implications of all the fitting technology for the average, high-handicap golfer? For the guy/gal who’s shooting 95, does it really matter?
SC: It does.
GC: How so?
SC: Just look at the materials that they’re using on the club heads. I could go into the change in putters – the face technology that helps the ball start rolling faster. You’ve got a lot of Moment of Inertia putters that are very forgiving for the average golfer versus an old blade style putter. Even some of the blades are getting some weight in the heel and toe to make them more forgiving.
GC: How would you compare today’s irons with the irons of four or five years ago?
SC: It depends on which category you’re talking about.
GC: The game improvement category.
SC: Game improvement is probably 25% better.
GC: That’s a lot.
SC: They’ve learned so much from woods. They’ve learned how to get the face very thin. They’ve learned that if they put certain shapes behind the face, those technologies expand the sweet spot. They have an inverted cone behind the face which makes it almost like a driver. And they’re using materials around the head that are improving the MOI.
GC: I ran into a gentleman at your range yesterday who told me an interesting story. He was hitting balls a few weeks ago next to a young girl who complimented him on one of his shots. And then he complimented her on one of her shots. Turned out the girl was Phil Mickelson’s daughter.
SC: That was Sophia. She has a beautiful swing. I’ve given her quite a few lessons. He’s got two girls and a boy: Amanda, Sophia, and Evan.
GC: Are they all golfers?
SC: Amanda is a very good basketball player. And she’s into tennis. Sophia is into competitive dance.
GC: So they’ve got Pop’s athleticism. Change of direction: if you have a member who comes to you and says, “Hey, Shawn, I need some new clubs.” What’s the process you go through?
SC: We have a custom club fitter here, Wednesdays through Saturdays. He used to work on one of TaylorMade’s fitting trucks. We don’t build the clubs here because we’re so darn close to all the club manufacturers, we can have the clubs in two days.
GC: Two days is not fast enough for some desperadoes!
SC: Right! If it’s a stock product like woods, we have them here in the pro shop. Because TaylorMade is anticipating a big sale of all its new equipment, they made us stock up. If you don’t and you go through your product very quickly … and if you call the company in 4 weeks and ask them for more drivers, they say, “Oh, it’s a 6-8 week process.”
GC: Their way of saying “you should have gathered the acorns months ago for the coming winter.”
GC: How does your club fitter determine which club manufacturer to use? Or is it the member who says, “I saw those irons that Phil used on TV…”
SC: It’s a combination. We have a launch monitor. He has them try different clubs. What’s kind of amazing is that you can take a 15 handicapper – he’ll hit a TaylorMade, a Ping, and a Callaway. For some reason, one of the companies just fits their swing and it almost sells itself.
We don’t have an allegiance to one of the brands. A lot of people have a favorite brand. Some guys are very loyal to Ping or Titleist. TaylorMade has gotten a lot of everybody else’s business over the last few years. They have some really good technology, they’ve done some great marketing.
Now did Adams have the same type of technology? Yes. Does Adams make a great product? Yes. But TaylorMade’s doing it all. They’ve got the marketing, they’ve got the big players on tour, they’ve got the commercials.
GC: Do you think the average golfer is influenced by which clubs are played by the touring pros?
SC: I do. I really do. I think there’s a lot of factors. I think the club pro has a big influence. If you’re in a private club, you go out and play with your pro and he’s playing a set of Callaways or Titleists or TaylorMade … there’s usually a little bit of an influence there.
GC: “I’d like to play like Shawn.”
“I’d like to be as tall and thin as Shawn.”
SC: I think what’s frustrating for the average golfer is that some of the product lives are so short. You just got the brand-new R11 driver or the new Ping G25 … you’ve had it for six months, you’re really playing well with it … and something new comes out.
GC: I think Mark King, the CEO of TaylorMade, said they’re always trying to come up with a new way to sell their products every year.
SC: I agree.
GC: So you spend $500 for a driver and a year later that driver is being sold at The Golf Warehouse for $129. It makes you feel a little … stupid.
GC: If money is an issue.
SC: It’s a tough business. Because you always have new people coming into the game. So you want to be coming out with the newest/latest/greatest because you might be capturing a brand-new person. But you don’t want to alienate the guy who bought it six months ago.
GC: When TaylorMade came out with that white driver a few years ago … that was pretty smart of them. When you watch golf on TV, you can see which one is a white driver and you know it’s a TaylorMade. Before that, all the drivers looked the same.
SC: It started with the putter. They did the putter first in white. The biggest contrasting color to the color of green – the grass – is white.
GC: What happens with this USGA push to let the courses turn brown? How does white contrast with brown?
SC: White goes with anything.
GC: But not after Labor Day.
Wasn’t there another reason for using the color white?
SC: Yes. Alignment. They brought in some optical experts and got them involved with the putters first. Then TaylorMade threw a Hail Mary and said let’s try it with the woods.
GC: Remember years ago they had that Burner Bubble which was copper colored?
SC: Yes. And if you put that brown club down and put the white club down and saw which one you could aim better, I guarantee you would aim the white one better because of the contrast to the color green.
GC: Speaking of color, what’s your opinion of the yellow balls?
SC: The Srixon yellow ball is a little firmer ball and goes a little further. A lot of the women are playing that.
GC: Watch it, Shawn, there are some men in this room who play that ball, too.
SC: I’ve played it before. It stands out. The yellow ball contrasts nicely with the sky. One of my members just told me that you can make the new Callaway driver any color you want.
GC: We should go up to Carlsbad right now and see how they’re doing it.
SC: We should. We’re in the golf Mecca here in San Diego because of our proximity to the club manufacturers.
GC: Shhh, you can’t say “Mecca.”
SC: I got to know some of the guys who deal with the tour pros, from club fitting to fitness to instruction. You go up to Callaway, they have a world-class practice facility. We took a lot of their ideas and used them for our teaching center here.
GC: I was at the Callaway practice facility two years ago. They were nice enough to put my swing on the Trackman and not burst out laughing.
Ok, that’s enough about the equipment manufacturers. What about you, Shawn? How did you get started in golf?
SC: I started playing when I was six years old. My mother was the Arizona high school state champion. I was born in Phoenix and my mom played golf at Arizona State.
GC: What’s your mom’s name?
SC: Linda Kaufman. She grew up right across the street from The Wigwam. My mom’s dad bought me my first set of clubs and took me golfing a lot as a young kid.
I still remember my first round of golf: I hit a driver on a par-3, 115 yards. Two-putted for a par.
GC: What a great memory! Let me ask you about that shot. Do you remember if you fixed your ball mark?
SC: I don’t.
GC: I’ll bet you did!
SC: I also played baseball, basketball, and football. In the 6th grade, we moved to Seattle.
GC: Who was teaching you how to play? Your mom?
SC: She did a little bit. But it was mostly my grandfather.
GC: So your grandfather passed the good golf genes on to mom. And what about dad?
SC: He wasn’t that great of a golfer. We played golf every vacation. But I was also excelling at baseball. I went to the University of Nebraska to play baseball my freshman year.
GC: You got recruited by Nebraska to play baseball?
SC: Yes. But I got a little bit homesick for Seattle and transferred back to the University of Washington, where I played football and baseball.
GC: I’m going to guess the position you played in football. I would say – because you’re a smart guy – you were a quarterback or a wide receiver.
SC: I was a wide receiver. I walked on to the football team and the first year…
GC: Which year?
SC: 1988 in Nebraska, 1989 at the University of Washington. We were on the upswing then and we had a game in the Freedom Bowl in Anaheim. We were playing the University of Florida against a running back named Emmitt Smith. We put 9 guys on the line of scrimmage to stop him and held him to about 20 yards in his last college game.
The next year we went 10-2 and won the Rose Bowl against Iowa. The year after that we went 12-0 and beat Michigan and Desmond Howard in the ’92 Rose Bowl.
GC: And you were on the team?
SC: Yes. At that time I was a defensive back. And in the spring I played baseball – third base – for the Huskies. I had a couple of injuries and graduated from college.
GC: And where was golf through all this?
SC: Playing it for fun.
GC: Playing it for fun? What about high school? Did you play golf in high school?
SC: I was too busy playing football, baseball, and basketball. This was before Tiger Woods. In the state of Washington, junior golf didn’t have that many tournaments. Golf wasn’t huge.
GC: What did you major in at college?
SC: I was a sociology major. I was going to maybe go to law school. Maybe go into the FBI. I had a couple of fraternity brothers and we moved to San Diego. The first place I went to look for a job was Torrey Pines.
I was fortunate to walk into the pro shop the day after a couple of guys got into trouble for having some beers in the cart barn the night before. And the manager asked me when I could start.
GC: And you said, “I’m looking for a job, I’ll do anything”?
SC: Yes. The next day I was in the cart barn. I was parking carts and started working on my game and playing after work. I got a job in the pro shop within about six months. Then they decided to start a junior golf program and I was appointed the director.
One girl who I taught was Charlotte Mayorkas. She was an All-American at UCLA and then went on the LPGA Tour. Then I went to the La Jolla Country Club and worked there for
GC: Obviously, you’re a PGA member.
SC: Yes. I’ve done a lot of other things: I’ve been through the Jim Hardy School, all the levels of the Titleist Performance Institute, I’ve studied under a guy named Mac O’Grady.
GC: Oh, really? He’s the teaching guru of the desert. Ambidextrous.
SC: Yes. In baseball, I batted left-handed. And every time I hit a golf ball left-handed, my golf pro friends would tell me my swing looks better left-handed than it does righty. So I switched after being in the golf business for seven years … at age 30.
GC: That’s amazing!
SC: I putt right handed but I do everything else in golf left handed.
GC: But when you sign a check…
SC: Right handed. I felt like I had more potential as a lefty. And I wanted to become one of the better playing professionals in my PGA section. In year two of the switch, my driver was struggling, so I teed off right handed and I played the rest of the shots left handed.
I was playing in a US Open qualifier at La Jolla Country Club and on the third hole, the guy I was playing with said to me, “What the hell are you doing?”
GC: So you’re like Mickelson. He’s a born righty but learned lefty.
SC: There are so many lefties that play righty and righties that play lefty.
GC: Hogan was a lefty.
SC: Johnny Miller. A lot of it has to do with the patterning of your hips and that comes from what sports you played as a kid.
GC: But now if you find yourself stuck behind a tree you have an advantage because you can hit the ball righty or lefty.
SC: Yes. I keep one right-handed club in the bag – a 6-iron.
GC: Which club are you keeping out of the bag to make room for that 6-iron?
SC: I drop a wedge. But Pelz makes a pretty good point that the more wedges you have the better.
GC: Yes. This is why I took the 1-iron out of my bag.
SC: Yeah, right.
GC: So you were the assistant pro at La Jolla Country Club.
SC: Then I moved up to be the First Assistant. I was on the greens committee, the golf activities committee. Then the job became available here at The Grand to become the Director of Golf. That was in the beginning of 2006.
I came over about four months before we closed the course to the public and became a private club. The resort was already under construction and it opened a year later.
GC: It had been a public course?
SC: Yes. This was a high-end, daily public facility open since 1999. We went private July 1, 2006. At that time, we did a bunker renovation, we built a million dollar-plus water feature on the 18th hole.
GC: Did Tom Fazio, the original architect, do these renovations?
SC: We had him come back and approve it. The superintendent, David Yanez, and I, went over to Bighorn and The Quarry over in the desert to look at the Fazio water features there.
GC: So the course is a private club but guests of The Grand Del Mar resort can play here. Is that right?
SC: Yes. The beauty of this place is that the resort is 400 yards from the pro shop. So the guests can be shuttled up here in 2 minutes and you’re ready to go hit some balls.
GC: The resort is beautiful. I was in a suite last night that was just spectacular. Spectacular!
SC: In southern California in the summer time, we have a very interesting climate. If it’s 75 degrees at the beach, every mile that you go inland, it gets a degree warmer. We’re about 3 miles from the ocean so we get that coastal breeze. We stay away from that marine layer that you get at the beach. And we’ve got this 380 acres that we’re on, surrounded by the Los Peñasquitos Preserve, so there’s not a lot of homes on the golf course. We’ve got coyotes, bobcats, and deer.
GC: Well, as you know, where you have deer, can the deer antler spray be far behind?
SC: I did some research about it.
GC: About deer antler spray?
SC: Yes. The two guys that own the company that makes this stuff are fitness trainers. They have full-time jobs because they don’t make enough money on their deer antler spray.
GC: They didn’t make enough money! I think they charge $3000 or so for this stuff. You think the mark-up on drivers is big? Deer antler spray is where it’s at!
I have to tell you, I am really impresssed with your practice facility here. It is certainly among the top-three of all the golf resorts I’ve been to. I do have, however, but one criticism. I see that you use Pro V1s as your range balls. About two weeks ago, Titleist came out with the new generation of Pro V1s so you guys are really behind the times.
SC: There are brand-new ones coming in the next few days.
GC: Serves me right for being a smart ass.
You mentioned to me that Phil Mickelson was involved with designing some of your practice facilities.
SC: I said to Phil that we were going to build a short game area … “What are your thoughts?”
He asked, “When are you doing it?”
I told him, “We’re starting tomorrow. We have a shaper who worked for Fazio; he’s flying down from Seattle to start moving all the dirt and the sand.”
He goes, “I’d love to help.”
GC: When was this?
SC: Five years ago.
GC: How had you known Phil Mickelson?
SC: He’s a member at the club I used to work at, La Jolla Country Club. We became friends there. The day he came by here, he was working with Dave Pelz on his short game.
He wanted to help and he said, “I’ll meet you tomorrow morning at 7:30.” He came out the next day and explained to the shaper all the undulations he wanted. It took us two days; we got it all shaped out.
GC: This is the short game area we’re talking about; not the entire range?
SC: Right. It was a three-time visit: first, to show us what he wanted; second, to come and say it wasn’t quite what he wanted; and third, he came out to see the finished product. He said, “Oh, my gosh, this is so cool. This is perfect!”
He would show up on Mondays a lot of times because typically, most private clubs are closed on Mondays. He would practice his short game around those little greens. Then Tuesday he’d fly out to the next tour event.
GC: Speaking of flying, why don’t we zip up to your teaching area at the other end of the range? I want to see that amazing video camera you’ve got up there.
SC: Ok, let’s go.