Exclusive: Pete Cowen on Lee Westwood, Henrik Stenson and Graeme McDowell

Golf News

Dan Murphy sat down with Pete Cowen to discuss his teaching philosophy and working with Westwood, Stenson and McDowell

“Six weeks after starting as an assistant, there was an assistants’ tournament at my course, Hallamshire. My boss said ‘I’ve entered you’. I was only 16 years old. I’d never played competitively. I’d never had a handicap in my life. He gave me three balls to play two rounds with, and I hooked them straight over the wall at Hallamshire, all out of bounds. So then I blasted the fourth ball for a 10 on the first hole I’d ever played. I shot 109 and 100. But I finished. After six months I played my second tournament and I shot 79, 73, so it progressed pretty quickly. Three years later I’m playing with Gary Player in the Brazilian Open, because I just worked my socks off.”

“I packed up playing at 28, because I’d got a young family, and I took a club job. From there I just progressed, I was probably the best quick-fix coach in the area, which is what your clientele always is, as a club pro.

“So I tried to become the best. If anybody came to me with a problem I’d fix it, pretty quickly. While I was doing that, because I knew my clientele is 98 per cent quick–fix it, I thought I had to try to develop a better coaching philosophy.

“Some pros ought to have a menu in the pro shop saying ‘quick fix, no long-term guarantees, half an hour, tenner’. Then for longer improvement, 20 quid.

“Ask the customer, which one do you want, instead of saying everybody wants the same. No they don’t. So you want to say well, this is how I go about it, if you want longevity, if you want to improve. The clientele ought to have a choice.

“The pros are trying to develop their business. Sometimes a correct quick fix leads to 20 other guys in the area saying ‘well he’s fixed him, he must be alright’. And that’s what happened with me.”

“There’s only one thing that makes a great coach, and that’s results, unfortunately. You might be good at your job, you might be very knowledgeable, but if you don’t get results, it doesn’t matter. Which is sad really. I think Wenger’s a great coach, but he doesn’t get the results that Ferguson got, so who’s the best coach? Sorry, Ferguson. People might argue that Wenger’s the best coach, but he can’t be, he doesn’t get the results.”

“When he won in 2010, McDowell, at Pebble (Beach), we got there and I knew he was playing well. The week before Westwood had won in the FedEx, and so that inspired him, because we sat at Pebble Beach watching Westwood win, and you could see McDowell, think ‘I’ve got to up my game’.

“He played fantastically in the first round, but he hadn’t got much out of it and he came in and he was fuming, absolutely fuming as he didn’t get enough out of his round. He knew he’d missed a chance to score a lot.

“We were on the range afterwards. I said ‘well you’re playing well, no problem. Patience and what have you’. And he said ‘I’ve got a big one in me, you know, don’t you’. I said ‘yeah, I believe you’. And that was it, and he did it. He actually believed he had a big one in him, and he still does.”

“Within the players I’ve got there’s almost a competition between them to do better than each other. Stenson’s always been ‘oh, you’ve done well with him haven’t you?’ and I say ‘he’s getting the same information as you’. They say ‘what are you giving him then?’ it’s a bit of a joke, ‘what are you giving him that you’re not giving me?’ which is quite funny really.”

“If we can keep on the straight and narrow, which is difficult with Henrik, he could do anything “You look at players in the eye when things are getting tough – that’s when you really know. Great teams are built in adversity not in successes. You think, have they got the inner strength to keep going and doing this and work through it.

“If we can keep on the straight and narrow, which is difficult with Henrik, he could do anything. I’ll tell you exactly why it’s difficult with Henrik. I might tell him 20 things that mean the same thing, to keep him doing the same thing better and better, to try and keep improving the same thing. He thinks it’s 20 different things. So his mind has got 20 things to think about, when only has one thing to think about in 20 different ways. He couldn’t get that. That was a confusion between me and him until he sat down and said ‘you’ve told me 20 different things’, and I said ‘look, I haven’t told you 20 different things’, and he said ‘well it feels like it to me’. So I said ‘alright, let’s reduce it to one, and not even bother about the rest’ and he said ‘just tell the one, I don’t care just bang it into me until I’ve done it right. I don’t want the 20 different thoughts of how to do the same thing’.

Stenson’s caddie is brilliant, he has made a massive difference, Gareth Lord. Without Gareth, we’d be struggling, because Gareth has given him his confidence on the course, telling him ‘you’re a great player, get that driver in 330 down the middle, kill them, rip the course to bits’.
“Lee left, according to Chubby, because he thought I was giving McDowell more attention than Lee. Probably not true, as Lee used to live by the side of me, and I used to be there as often as he wanted. Just 10 minutes away from me. Now he’s moved to America which makes it a bit difficult. And he went to Foley. I like Foley, I think he’s a very good coach. But whether you could change the pattern, it’s a bit like saying I built the engine, and I know how it works, and I know how it didn’t work when it went wrong, so I could fix it. Whereas someone’s going in there and trying to change the whole engine and doing it a different way, which is fine but it might not work under pressure. One thing about Lee is that everything worked under pressure, except his putting. Everything worked.

“But I don’t fall out with him. That’s what you’ve got to remember, I wish Lee every success, I don’t fall out with people.

“I won’t work with him again. If someone leaves now I don’t replace them. I tell them that if you leave, you don’t come back. It’s fine, I’m not going to fall out with you, you can leave whenever you want.

“It’s their choice, I didn’t kick them out. At least when players make that choice, they know the consequence of it. We always make it clear, you can leave if you want. Remember my age – if I were 40, I’d take him back. But not at my age, I don’t want to.

“I would say to a young player thinking of turning pro, how good is your short game? Are you a great putter? Not bothered about your long game. Long game you can sort out. If you’re a great putter and a great short game, and a decent hitter, you’ve got a chance. If you’re a very good hitter, but a lousy short game and a lousy putter, don’t even think about it, you’ll get eaten alive out there. And it’ll destroy you. You will see people holing putts and chipping in and you’ll think ‘I’m a better player than them’. There’s a difference between hitting and playing. I know 1,000 good hitters, but I don’t know 1,000 good players. There’s a massive difference.

“I would say a good putter and chipper would beat a good ball striker nine times out of ten. If you’ve got that ability to get the ball in the hole – however you do it, doesn’t matter, if you’ve always had that ability – and a decent long game, then you’ve got half a chance. I’m talking about the level of plus 3, plus 4, plus 5 – I’m not talking about scratch amateurs. As a scratch amateur you’ve got no chance – a decent player, but with a great short game, I think you’ve got a chance.”

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