Twenty-year-old Philip Dawson Jr. wishes he had 38-year-old Philip Dawson Jr. to learn from.
If so, he would have earned a college degree, wouldn’t have pursued pro golf before he was ready, would have developed and stuck to a plan to reach his golf goals and, with some luck, qualified for the PGA Tour and forged a career playing the sport he loves.
While today’s older and wiser Dawson is too late to help the younger version, an increasing number of the Sacramento area’s best young golfers are benefiting. He’s part teacher, part coach, part friend to his students, but here’s his gist: Don’t do as I did, do as I now know I should have done.
As a player, Dawson was obsessed with swing mechanics. “I was always looking for the magic pill that was going to make me the player I wanted to be,” he said.
As a result, he said, in the biggest moments, “I didn’t have the self-image to believe in myself and my system that it was really going to hold up.” While the more successful players were focused on getting the ball in the hole at crunch time, “I was thinking about a new move I was working on.”
Dawson, who blossomed as a player at Ponderosa High School before earning an athletic scholarship at Sacramento State, spent seven years on minitours and made nine trips to the PGA Tour qualifying tournament without reaching the final stage. He believes he had the ability to reach the PGA Tour, but he didn’t have a cohesive plan. And he didn’t stick to the fleeting plans he had.
He’s now determined to help young players avoid his mistakes. Since setting up shop at Morgan Creek four years ago with two students and a vision to provide players with a system on which they can depend, he’s become the area’s go-to guy for serious up-and-comers. He counts 60 competitive junior, college and young pros as students. Three of the four local qualifiers for the U.S. Junior Amateur the past two years worked with Dawson. The final group of the State Fair has featured a Dawson-coached player the past four years, including Cameron Park’s Corey Pereira, a top-50-ranked amateur in the world and winner of the Pacific Coast Amateur and State Fair this summer.
Pereira and Dawson credit each other for their success. It was under Dawson’s guidance that Pereira, a sophomore at Washington, went from being an OK player to one of the best in the nation. Pereira’s rise, meanwhile, helped give Dawson credibility and exposure an aspiring coach needs.
The relationship between the two, however, illustrates what seems to set Dawson apart. They text every day, mostly about golf, but the bond goes deeper. Dawson, divorced without kids, is closer in age to his students than many of the area’s established teachers and is available to them during most of his waking hours. And they take advantage.
“We have a personal relationship that’s more than just go to a lesson and hit balls for 45 minutes,” Pereira said. “He wants to know how I’m doing. We’re close. We hang out outside of golf.
“He knows the mistakes he made in his career and he doesn’t have a big ego about that.”
Josh Sedeno, a top-50-ranked U.S. junior, was going nowhere with a previous teacher before hooking up with Dawson two years ago. A swing transformation helped Sedeno earn a scholarship offer from SMU, one of the top programs in the country.
“He’s more involved in my life than a typical golf coach,” said Sedeno, a Del Oro High School junior who lives next to Morgan Creek. “We text. We play nine holes outside of lessons. We go to lunch. We talk about girlfriends, parents. We probably spend 15 hours a week together.”
Dave Sedeno, who foots the bill – at $100 an hour, Dawson’s rates are at the top of the scale – for his son’s lessons, said he’s getting a deal.
“I’m a lucky father,” Sedeno said. “Speaking personally, as a firefighter, I spend a lot of time at work. Phil Dawson has emerged as a brother figure to Josh. He’s one of the biggest influences in Josh’s life, and it’s all positive.
“I probably get $1,000 worth of golf and experience for every hour I pay for.”
Dawson utilizes video and a high-tech FlightScope launch monitor but spends only about one-third of each lesson on technique before turning to “performance practice” where players shape shots at specific targets. He talks about scoring more than swinging. He offers input on fitness, nutrition and psychology. He’s relentlessly positive and inspires self-confidence.
He’s everything he needed while he was competing, in other words, and has success stories all over town.
“I love what I do,” Dawson said. “I still love playing and competing. My playing career gives me credibility. That was my education.
“Playing the minitours was the best time of my life, and I was dead broke when I quit. If I can help one of these kids make it, that would be amazing.”