PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Pete Cowen is leaning on his umbrella at the back of the driving range Wednesday at the Honda Classic, a sturdy oak in the storm of preparation around him.
He always looks deeply rooted, no matter what panic may be swirling around him, with Tour pros often desperate for fixes.
As a swing coach, there’s always some mystery for Cowen to solve on the eve of a tournament, but you wouldn’t know it looking at him. He is Philip Marlowe without the fedora.
“Pete is just this strong, calming influence with a vast amount of knowledge,” Graeme McDowell says.
It’s no different this week, with eight players in Cowen’s stable teeing it up at PGA National.
Cowen is used to this juggling routine, although there was this one morning at the Scottish Open back in 2003, when Cowen’s cool equanimity was as tested as it’s ever been.
“I walked out on the range, and 17 of my players were out there at the same time,” Cowen said. “There was no working that out.”
Cowen was that popular among European Tour players back then, though the world outside that tour didn’t know as much about him.
At 66, Cowen is even more popular today. He is a coach in full bloom.
Cowen didn’t begin making his mark in Europe until he was in his 40s, and in the United States until he was in his 50s.
McDowell will tell you Cowen helped take him to another level winning the U.S. Open in 2010, but Cowen will tell you it worked the other way, too. McDowell took Cowen to another level with the victory at Pebble Beach.
Cowen’s players have won 230 titles on major tours around the world, but McDowell gave Cowen his first major. There was a blast of new worldwide appreciation for Cowen in that, though he still doesn’t get the recognition Butch Harmon, David Leadbetter and other coaches get.
“It doesn’t matter,” Cowen said. “I just want to do my job well. If I get appreciated, great; if not, tough. I try to do my job well, and that’s it. I’ll let the players do my talking for me.”
Cowen is working with McDowell, Danny Willett, Louis Oosthuizen, Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Thomas Pieters and Matthew Fitzpatrick this week. Henrik Stenson, Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood are also his pupils.
McDowell is the guy, though, who opened the floodgates for Cowen’s boys.
A month after McDowell’s Pebble Beach triumph, Louis Oosthuizen won The Open with Cowen guiding him. Cowen’s pupils finished 1-2-3 at St. Andrews with Westwood finishing second and Stenson tied for third.
With Clarke, Stenson and Willett going on to win majors, that’s five now for Cowen’s guys.
“The journey, for me, is more satisfying than the recognition,” Cowen said.
The Honda Classic has become a home away from home for the Europeans, with another strong Euro cast teeing it up this week. Nobody will be surprised if one of Cowen’s players wins here.
“You trust everything he says,” McDowell said.
McDowell remembers his first lesson with Cowen. McDowell’s caddie, Ken Comboy, set it up.
“It was like getting a lesson from the principal of your school,” McDowell said. “He had this aura about him. You were kind of scared of hitting a bad shot in front of him.”
McDowell said Cowen is at his best when the pressure’s the greatest, in the shadow of a major championship.
“You can get a little PMS as a player, pre major stress, where you are questioning everything,” McDowell said. “Pete’s got a very physiological method he teaches that’s very hard to question, and he’s going stick to his guns.
“Pete’s been around. He’s seen it all, and he’s very confident in what he does. He’s not a guy who’s going to change his tune when you’re under pressure.”
McDowell said Cowen’s belief in what he teaches is infectious.
“When I gained my confidence with Pete, he brought a lot of consistency to what I was doing,” McDowell said.
Cowen, an Englishman, is a former European Tour winner. He said he developed a sounder understanding of how swing fundamentals should work by studying the physiology of the swing with the late Ramsey McMaster, the Scottish-born physiotherapist based in Australia. Cowen’s challenge became translating what he learned into a feel his players could understand.
Cowen is devout to the principles they developed.
“Players like Thomas Pieters, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Danny Willett, they don’t get stage fright because they understand their mechanics are so good, they can withstand the extra pressure they’re going to get when they hit the big stage,” Cowen said.
Cowen said his struggles as a tour pro were integral to lessons he shares today. They helped him steer Stenson and Westwood back from the terrible slumps they both spiraled into. Stenson came all the way back to win The Open, and Westwood came back to claim the world No. 1 ranking.
“I know about the ups and downs in golf, because I’ve been there,” Cowen said. “I became a better coach trying to understand why I failed. That helps me with these guys today.”
McDowell said Cowen uses Stenson as an example of what can be overcome getting back to basics.
“To actually take a player who can’t keep it on the range to winning a major, that’s fairly satisfying,” Cowen said.
It’s a work as deeply rooted as any sturdy oak.