Exclusive: Pete Cowen on helping Danny Willett to Masters glory
Danny Willett was a very promising amateur, world number one amateur in fact, before turning pro in 2008.
His first win came at the BMW International Open in 2012 but it was his victory at the 2014 Nedbank Challenge which would propel him into the world’s top 50.
Willett never looked back, securing further wins at the Omega European Masters and Dubai Desert Classic before landing his maiden major title at the 2016 Masters.
While there were many who influenced Willett and helped him to where he is now, it was arguably his work with Pete Cowen and right-hand man Mike Walker which helped him truly fulfil his potential.
Speaking to NCG at his academy in Rotherham, Cowen explained how they helped ‘get him over the line’.
How did you come to work with Danny Willett?
“I started working with Danny three years ago along with Mike Walker and Nick Huby. We’re all singing from the same hymn sheet in terms of the mechanics which I have honed over the last 50 years or so.
“There’s a good continuity in what we teach in terms of the mechanics which means the players can then trust it under pressure. That really came through on the Sunday afternoon where Danny could trust his golf swing implicitly. That’s what we do really.
“There have been a lot of people involved with Danny’s rise to the top, at Birley Wood, Pete Ball – without that we wouldn’t have seen Danny Willett at all. Then he went to Rotherham, Graham Walker coached him through the England Golf set-up.
“With certain players like that, we add the finishing touches. I always say that what we do is get them over the line.”
On helping Danny Willett overcome back injuries
“Danny had a bad back, and I know all about that as I suffered with it for a good few years. When you’ve got a bad back you’re wondering if it’s ever going to go. Unfortunately for Danny he had far too much shape on the ball – too much right to left.
“There wasn’t a great deal of control and it was spinning too much. We worked on giving him a much better body action, more control in the movement so that he can rely on it under pressure.
“It’s about repetition, repetition, repetition. I like to think with a player like Danny, we’re training the elite player to get elite results. It’s a bit like the guys who train the SAS lads. That’s the final element.
“There have been a lot of people in the chain to get them to that stage but for them to get to that elite point. And that level of elite is about repetition under pressure so that when the pressure is on they don’t even have to think about it.
“Danny does drills all the time. That’s how you become elite. If you start thinking about being elite when you’re in the SAS, that’s when you’re going to get shot – you can’t think you’ve got to be able to do it automatically. Any thing that is done to an elite level should be done without thought.
“He obviously wasn’t at that level three years ago. He wasn’t in the top 100 in the world when we started working with him.”
What did you change in Willett’s swing?
“Danny was crushing his right side instead of doing what we call getting more ‘on it’. That takes some off the shape off the ball. It’s all about the technique and making sure there isn’t any deviation.
“That’s what we try and do with all the players – you see that with Stenson, you’re saw that with Westwood at his peak. You’re starting to see that with Thomas Pieters – he’s been doing the drills since he was 12 years old so he can totally rely on them. That’s how he won twice last year because when the pressure was on he could rely on it.
“Some people ask whether or not we get the kudos for making the players. Sometimes we take them from 10 or 11 years old right to the top and other times we get them when they are near the top and they just need to get over the line.”
Pete Cowen on helping Danny Willett win the Masters
“On the tee at 16, I knew Danny would be able to cope with it when the chance came – he’s a very confident lad so there were no real problems there.
“That confidence just came through. Saying that, it was lucky he wasn’t first on the tee on 16. He had a little bit of time to calm down.
“Westwood was first on the tee and I don’t know whether Lee rushed it a bit. He hit it slightly heavy. Danny then had to make a decision, he’s hitting the same club as Lee but he’s just seen him come up 40 yards short. Does he change his mind? No, he actually said that he though Lee had just hit it a little bit heavy and said to himself ‘no this is right’ – and then he nailed it.
“People talk about the chip on 17 but he wouldn’t have been in that position had he not hit it close on 16 and holed the putt. But throughout the week, he made a lot of difficult chips from around the greens at Augusta look very easy. He’s imaginative, creative and he’s got good technique. He can imagine the shot and then play it – that’s the artistic element to his short game.
“On 18 when there was something disturbing him in the crowd he had the presence of mind to stop and and say to his caddy ‘let’s start again’. That shows his competitiveness and professionalism.”
What do you expect from Danny Willett now?
“I’d expect him to push on, as I said he’s a confident lad. He putts really well, Paul Hurrion should take a lot of credit for that as Danny has improved massively over the last few years with his putting. His short game has always been good, he’s a great bunker player.
“I think at Doral he was 18 out of 20 for up and downs – people often miss that but it’s the sort of thing that turns an average score into a good score if you have that in your armoury.
“When we started working with Danny he was a good solid player but you couldn’t say he was going to go on and win majors.
“He had a chance to win the Open last year too which people forget about. Sometimes you fall at the first hurdle and then at the next opportunity, you take it. You’ve got to. Lee Westwood’s had seven or eight opportunities and not been able to take them.”
You’ve got a few players who come down here to practise right?
“Danny and Matt Fitzpatrick will both come down here and spend time in the bays doing drills. They are always doing drills. They are both very hard workers, they are very determined to be the best that they can be. Everyone asks plays about what goals they have but you don’t need goals. If you set goals you are restricting yourself. If you just say I’m going to improve to whatever extent I can improve then you will always keep going forward.
“Matt’s only 21. Do do what he did and finish in the top 10 on his first visit as a professional is almost as good as winning the Masters. In those tough, tough conditions on a tough golf course, that is very impressive.
“I’ve got a lot of very good players now, I could have three playing in the next Ryder Cup, I could have seven. If Pete Cowen Golf Academy has got seven players in the Ryder Cup then that’s great.”