For as long as he can remember, golf always has been a focal point of Lee Sanudo’s life. His love of the game stemmed from his father, Cesar Sanudo, who played on the PGA Tour for 14 years and was a beloved icon in San Diego golf circles.
Lee followed his father’s footsteps. After a brief playing career, Lee has become a respected teaching professional at Encinitas Ranch. We recently caught up with him to chat about all things golf.
The Sanudo family has a rich golf history in San Diego. What was it like growing up?
“I grew up on a golf course. I remember when I was older spending the weekend in the desert with Fred Couples and John Cook. And we were really close with Lee Trevino. The funny thing was when I started teaching I was teaching what I thought people already knew but I soon found out that what I had learned was nuggets of information from some of the best players in the world.”
Any memories stand out from your childhood?
“I remember going to a senior event in Las Vegas with my dad and out of the blue I started getting a playing lesson from Dave Stockton. Then I remember some guy with a funny accent would call my dad and ask for advice. And I found out it was Gary Player. Random stuff like that would happen all the time.”
When did you turn to teaching as a career?
“I attended the University of Arizona and after college I wanted to play professionally. I gave it a go but I learned early that my game wasn’t where it needed to be. I grew up with guys like Pat Perez and Charley Hoffman. My college roommate was Rory Sabbatini. It’s funny because I know a lot more now about the golf swing than I did back then. But even when I was in college, my teammates would ask me about their swings so I feel like I’ve been teaching for a long time.”
What do you enjoy about teaching?
“I work with all skill levels, from someone who has never touched a club to the touring pro. It’s super rewarding on every level and I just want to work with golfers who can play to their potential, whatever that potential is for them. When I’m working with kids, I sometimes tell the parents, “You can’t teach talent but you can screw it up. I promise I won’t screw your kid up.”
If a golfer is looking to improve, how do they balance practice and playing?
“I have some people say that want to improve something and when I ask how much they practice they say they don’t practice at all. That’s a different player from someone who hits three buckets of balls each week. You really need a game plan for where you want to take your game. What I think isn’t done enough is practicing out on the golf course. It’s my favorite way to teach because not only can you work on mechanics but you get into people’s heads and ask them what they are thinking about going into a shot. Most amateur golfers get caught up in the mechanics instead of just playing golf.”
How much should golfers be working on their short game?
“If you really want to score, don’t even hit balls. Learn how to chip and putt. Many people are bad at it, and that’s the difference between a pro and a 5 handicap. The 5 handicap might even hit it better than the pro, but the pro knows how to get the ball in the hole.”
What drives your passion for this game?
“I’ve tried to quit golf a couple times. That was when I was playing. Now when I’m teaching I don’t even feel like I’m working. I love it. My wife doesn’t understand me (laughs). I’m at the course all day and then I come home and watch golf videos. It’s just a passion that doesn’t feel like work. I’m never bored. I just feel really blessed to be doing this.”
Marc Figueroa is a freelance writer who has been covering golf in San Diego for more than 20 years.