New US Open champion Gary Woodland revealed how a message on the eve of his final round from his coach Pete Cowen helped him to win his first major championship.
Woodland, who held off Brooks Koepka to win by three shots at Pebble Beach said: “He sent me an unbelievable text this morning that had nothing to do with my golf swing or technique. He said: Every man dies, but not every man lives, and you live for this moment.
“So that - I thought about that a lot today. He's been amazing for me.”
Woodland’s win will have come as no surprise to Yorkshireman Cowen or members of his Rotherham academy. Last December during the annual Q&A he delivers free to his members, Cowen told the assembled audience that Woodland had all the attributes to become one of the top 10 players in the world.
“Gary is like Brooks [Koepka] in that he is a big athlete who can hit the ball a mile. In fact, I think he could be the biggest hitter out there, but he only goes at 80 per cent. If he can harness all that power, which he is learning to, and improve his short game, which again is coming, then it will be one hell of a package," said Cowen.
In his first 27 majors he did not have a single top 10 but since moving to Cowen with his long game last December he has had three in his last five. “He is 35, but there is so much more to come,” added Cowen.
Cowen knows what he is talking about when comparing Woodland to Koepka. He has been overseeing Koepka’s short game since he was on the European Tour in 2013 and has also become something of a motivational coach to the world No 1.
When Koepka was “feeling sorry for himself” at the start of 2017, Cowen also revealed at the Q&A that he had scolded him for his attitude and the transformation was immediate.
Woodland is a different character and would not be as receptive to what Cowen calls “an old-fashioned Yorkshire rollicking”, but he has still used tough-love with the man from Topeka, Kansas, making him accountable for his own game.
Koepka added: “ I was with Pete the week before the [US] PGA and he told me, ‘Here’s the deal – you Butch [Harmon, his former coach] have done great work, your golf swing is great, but you need to learn what you’re doing, you need to understand your golf swing’. It was almost like going back to school. We spent two days, teaching me why I do things, what to do when things get awry. It’s more difficult when Pete’s across the pond than getting on the plane and seeing Butch. But Pete told me he doesn’t want me to text him all the time. So, I have to learn so I don’t have to make that phone call.”
Woodland believes his short game is the crucial difference. Cowen has ripped up his chipping and bunker technique and Phil Kenyon, the Southport putting guru, has gone to work with him on the greens.
“I’ve always been a pretty good ball striker, I’ve relied on my ball-striking on my whole career, athletic ability,” Woodland, the former college basketball player, said. “But the short game and putting has kind of held me back. “
Arguably the shot of the week was his par saving chip on the 17th. Woodland said: “Wasn’t too many options. If I putted it, I don't think I could have got within 20 feet. Fortunately, I did have that shot earlier in the week. And I was just trying to get it down there, trying to get it past the hole so I could be putting back uphill, and it came off perfectly. I clipped it nicely. Pete and I were working on trying to hit spinners off that early this week. That's what I was thinking about when I was standing over it. And it came out perfectly.
“I was just trying to fly it over the ridge. You're trying to take your medicine a little bit. And 4's not going to be the end of the world. So, it came off beautifully, and I thought it had a chance to go in there. But that's definitely one - it gave me a little cushion on the last.”
And he acknowledged the role Butch Harmon played in encouraging him to also entrust his long game with Cowen. “I worked with Butch for a long time. Butch is the one that recommended me to go to Pete a year and a half ago for the short game. When Butch decided to retire, it was an easy transition for me to full swing everything with Pete.
“Pete to me is like a coach. He's not really a teacher, he's a coach. He tells you this is the game plan, this is what we're going to do, and then it's up to me to go out and do it. But like Butch, he knows what to say and when to say it.
“We were working on short game shots, he's like, no, I don't think you can execute that under pressure. Let's go back and do it this way, let's simplify things. That's huge having him here. I didn't hit it well on Thursday. I went straight to the range, and we worked for a long time to figure it out. And that's nice to have him here under huge moments and guided me along the way. It's a work in progress. We've only been full swing since December. I'm hitting as good as I ever have.
“He's been great for me. But I think we're only on the tip of the iceberg.”