The secrets to success...
What went on behind the scenes at the Ryder Cup and new kid on the block Cameron Champ were just two of the talking points when Peter Cowen hosted his annual Q&A for members of his Rotherham academy.
It was an unmissable evening as Europe’s leading coach lifted the lid on what it's like to work with some of the best players in the world and reflected on 2018 which yielded ten wins and two Majors for his clients.
And he revealed how European talisman Ian Poulter might not have made the team in Paris had he not begrudgingly taken Cowen’s advice.
At the Dell Matchplay championship a couple of weeks before The Masters Poulter was incorrectly told that his morning win had improved his ranking sufficiently enough to get him a spot at Augusta. But just before he teed off a European Tour official told him that was not the case and that he would need to win his quarter final tie.
“He was devastated and got hammered 8 and 6 by Kevin Kisner in the afternoon match and was on his way home vowing not to play until sometime after the Masters, but I suggested to play the following week at Houston.
“He eventually decided to play but didn’t arrive until late on Wednesday looking like he didn’t want to be there and then after a rain delay in the opening round he couldn’t finish and had to be up at 4.30 am to play one hole of his first round. He signed for a 73 and looked like missing the cut, and he went off alarmingly at me when we sat down for breakfast.
“He said it was all my fault that he was there and called me every name under the sun. I told him all he had to do was shoot three successive 64s and he could win!"
'The Postman’ almost delivered on Cowen’s prediction with rounds of 64, 65 and 67, holing a huge putt at the last to get in a play-off with Beau Hossler before landing his first strokeplay title on American soil at the first extra hole and a spot in the Masters to bring alive his dream of competing in another Ryder Cup.
Having worked with Poulter for the previous 2 years, Cowen knew how important he could be in Paris. As the team was taking shape, he told European captain Thomas Bjorn that he would need more leaders in the team.
"Thomas took it the wrong way and had a go at me in the Press claiming I had said we couldn’t win, and he still has a go at me, but I never said we couldn’t win.
“Then he ended up picking Poulter and Stenson (who claimed five points between them) and Garcia and those guys made such a difference to the atmosphere in the team room.”
Cowan worked with Bjorn “on and off” for 15 years in what he described as a love/hate relationship and Bjorn did not endear himself to Cowen and his peers when he described all coaches as “blaggers.”
“As I had players on both sides, I got to walk the course in practice with both teams and I could see the Americans were struggling to get to grips with the course especially off the tee. Fair play to Thomas who did a superb job in setting up the course in our favour. Slowing the pace of the greens was a masterstroke as it took the Americans until Sunday to start holing putts.”
Coaches, caddies and managers were all put in the hotel on the golf course but there was a 2-mile exclusion zone around the course with special forces everywhere and snipers on the roof.
"We were only allowed out one night and that was under supervision.
“There was a late-night drug testing by the local authorities on four random players from each team which they say upset the Americans, and also talk that Mickelson had too much of a say in the team room, but it was the course that did them.”
Rory McIlroy was struggling with his bunker play and sought out Cowen.
“I first worked with him when he was 13 and in the Irish men’s squad I coached. The selectors asked me how good he was. I said he’s very talented and so is the little fat lad with glasses,” – who was none other than Shane Lowry.
The role of the vice captains is often underplayed, and Cowen revealed how they persuaded Bjorn to play Francesco Molinari in all the games rather than just the foursomes which was his original plan.
Cowen is no stranger to having a world number one on his books, but with Brooks Koepka he shares the coaching with Claude Harmon.
“I do his short game, so anything from 350 yards and in,” he joked.
He is also not shy of handing out rollickings and taking names later, and Koepka first had one of Pete’s no nonsense lectures back in 2016.
“I could see from his body language that his attitude was all wrong. I suffered from a poor attitude as a player and I sat he and his caddie down on the range. I told him I could see this poor ‘why me’ attitude and told him get his finger out as he was the only one who could change it.
“He took it as a challenge just as did with the challenge I set him at Shinnecock in June when I threw down the gauntlet of defending the title.”
Along with Koepka he’s working with Jeff Woodland and Kevin Kisner from the other side of the pond and admits to shunning approaches from other top Americans as he doesn’t have the time. That might change, however, if the European and PGA Tours merge as he predicts they will.
But if a certain Cameron Champ came knocking it might be a different story.
“He’s very impressive, has long levers, and generates tremendous power from a great technique. I expect him to be challenging for World No.1 within 2 years.
“I have watched him quite a bit and I have never seen such effortless power in a player.”
Haitong Li is another to have had a tongue-lashing about his attitude from the straight talking Yorkshireman who admits that he is the antidote to the agents and other hangers on who “stoke the egos of their players and don’t tell them the truth,” and reckons Li will win twice and become be a top 25 player in 2019.
Cowen admits having broken more than the odd club in anger, but when he saw Li snap his putter at the French Open and throw it in a lake - which his mother then unsuccessfully tried to retrieve - he had to step in.
Having a thick skin is one of the best attributes of a coach according to Cowen. He pays his own expenses and gets paid on results. “That’s the way I started out and it’s the same today as when I left a nice job at Lindrick in 1997 to work with Clarke and Westwood.
“If you are looking for praise as a coach you are in the wrong job. It’s all about results.
“I have always believed that you have to pay to learn. I’m living proof as back in 1978 I paid $200 an hour for 10 lessons with one of the supposed top coaches in the USA. It was horrendous. What he told me wasn’t relevant then and isn’t now and I paid him $2,000 for the privilege.”
Graeme McDowell is the most prepared of any of the players the former Dore & Totley professional has won a Major with. “When he won at Pebble Beach, he knew every blade of grass and he knew he could win. He kept telling me that he had a big one in him and he was right."
Cowen's stable includes 9 of the top 50 and his clients have averaged 10 wins a year for the past 23 years, a record which speaks for itself. He expects Henrik Stenson to return to form after struggling with an elbow injury which restricted him to just 17 appearances throughout last year.
“He can kick on again next year if he’s fit. And Poults is desperate to win a Major but probably only has 4 or 5 years left to do that.”
He took much satisfaction from Belgium’s win in the World Cup from another of his clients, Thomas Pieters, and his partner Thomas Detry, having worked with their Federation to put a plan in place to produce world class golfers.
They were 12 years old at the time and as well as developing their techniques Cowen introduced a special 15-minute exercise plan which he still carries out himself to this day. “They obviously continued to do the exercises, but over the years plenty haven’t, and we can tell straight away who they are.”
And what of the supposed fight between Koepka and DJ at the party after the Ryder Cup? Well that never happened – but there was a coming together of the two heavyweights when DJ took exception to a comment from a “gobby” member of the European team and wanted to “give him a slap” before Koepka intervened and held him back.
“It was drink talking but I wouldn’t fancy taking either of them on," Cowen added.
His latest challenge to world number one Koepka is to retain that crown for the next five years, and it will be interesting to see if he can hold of Cameron Champ and the chasing pack … which will no doubt include more Cowen disciples.