As one of Europe’s leading coaches Sheffield swing guru Pete Cowen has long had an eye for spotting talent as he did over 20 years ago with new Open champion Shane Lowry.
Last December during the annual Q&A he puts on for members of the Pete Cowen Golf Academy in Rotherham, he recalled the first session he conducted as the new coach of the Irish Boys squad.
The player with the most potential was a young kid by the name of Rory McIlroy. And at the end of the day, officials from the Irish Golf Union were keen to hear what Cowen thought of their potentially outstanding prospect.
“Rory’s going to be great,” confirmed the man who these days works with the likes of last week’s WGC champion and multi major winner Brooks Koepka, plus Henrik Stenson. “But there’s another good one out there. The little fat lad with the glasses.”
Today, the spectacles are gone and a beard has grown. But the talent so astutely identified by Cowen is still there. In fact, it has matured nicely. Shane Lowry went on to win the Irish Amateur and the Irish Open – before he turned professional. There has been a World Golf Championship victory, too, as well as a couple of other European Tour titles. And now, the 32-year-old County Offaly native is the champion golfer of the year. Not for the first time Cowen clearly knew what he was talking about.
Following Lowry’s victory Rory sent him a picture of when they were foursomes partners in that same Irish boys team. In return, McIlroy’s presence in his teenage life is something Lowry views as a huge plus in his own development.
“I got to play with a superstar,” he said. “And when I was younger, playing amateur events, thousands of people used to come and watch. Because of him. So, I was playing in front of big crowds early on. It was all great training for me.
“At the end of each round, we would speak with the journalists. So, when I won the Irish Open as an amateur, I was used to playing in front of big crowds and answering questions afterwards. I’d done plenty of interviews. That all helped. The minuses were that I was always living in Rory’s shadow. When I turned pro, and even now, people in Ireland expect me to be as good as Rory.”
Lowry may not quite be there yet. But, along with compatriots Harrington, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell, he and McIlroy have now won 10 Grand Slam titles since 2007 which is a remarkable record for a small nation with a population of fewer than five million.