Thursday 17 October 2019

Woodland's high praise for no-nonsense coach Cowen

Gary Woodland shows off the US Open trophy after his three-shot victory at Pebble Beach. Photo: David J. Phillip/AP Photo
Gary Woodland shows off the US Open trophy after his three-shot victory at Pebble Beach. Photo: David J. Phillip/AP Photo

James Corrigan

Nobody noticed the man in the corner of the bar at San Francisco Airport.

All eyes were directed towards the screen on which Gary Woodland was winning his first Major title and denying Brooks Koepka a historic third US Open in a row.

When the trophy was lifted, Pete Cowen stood up and walked to his gate. He had just coached the first two home at iconic Pebble Beach and there was not a hint of euphoria. The Yorkshireman was happy, however.

"I was fortunate because my flight to Manchester was delayed by 30 minutes or else I wouldn't have been able to watch the conclusion," Cowen said.

"There was nobody to celebrate with, but that's OK. I don't like all the backslapping that goes on after tournaments, so get out of Dodge early. I did the warm-up with Gary yesterday and he said he'd never felt more at ease with his swing.

"That's my job done. It's like a racehorse trainer, you do your work on the gallops, you can't do anything when they're racing."

Pete Cowen. Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images
Pete Cowen. Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images

Woodland was effusive in his praise of the 68-year-old, with whom he began working full-time in December. "Pete's been amazing for me," Woodland said.

"He sent me an unbelievable text this morning that had nothing to do with technique. It said, 'Every man dies, but not every man lives, and you live for this moment'. I thought about that a lot. I'm 35, but I think we're only at the tip of the iceberg.

Complete

"We've put in a lot of work for me to become a more complete player. I have more shots, I can rely on my short game, and can do things I couldn't even do last year. Because of Pete I can play different courses. People said the US Open wouldn't suit me because I'm a long hitter, and I went out and proved to everybody else what I always believed - that I'm pretty good. I have Pete to thank for that."

Goodness knows what Koepka will make of it all. He has been working with Cowen - primarily on the short game, but also on the mental side - since 2013.

"Yeah, it is awkward when you're coaching the first two," Cowen said.

"You're thinking to yourself, 'I can't lose here', but you know it is going to be tricky. I discovered that when I had the first three home at St Andrews in 2010. One is going to be happy, the other p****d off. Let's face it, if I hadn't agreed to coach Gary then Brooks would probably have won and would be the first player in 114 years to have done a hat-trick on the spin.

"Brooks will be hurting, but I've already spoken to Ricky (Elliott, Koepka's Northern Irish caddie) and he said, 'Don't worry, Portrush is in the bag with my local knowledge'.

"This runner-up will motivate Brooks even more. But Gary will be a match for anyone now. He believes that, like Brooks, he can reel off four Majors quickly. I tell Gary that he is too nice to be a golf pro and wondered if he had the killer instinct. But he showed he has."

The moment of confirmation for Cowen came on the 17th green when, presented with a ridge between his ball and the cup 90 feet away, Woodland elected to pitch. It finished by the hole.

"He's only just learnt how to play that shot and to take it on in those circumstances showed mega balls," Cowen said. "It shows how far we have come and how far we can go."

In that instant, Woodland's glory became all but official. After pulling one shot away from the lead with four birdies in the first five holes, Koepka was finally defeated by three shots.

A fine gauge of the quality of Woodland's display is that Koepka became the first player in a US Open to shoot four rounds in the sixties and still not win.

For Cowen, there are two weeks off before the Irish Open, where he will be preparing his stable for the Open a fortnight later. It is fair to say Cowen has the Major bug.

"It's funny because it was not until 2010 at Pebble Beach when one of my players (Graeme McDowell) won a Major and here I am now with 10 in the last nine years," he said.

"I promised my wife ages ago I'd retire, but I can't do it, not now this chapter has opened with coaching the top US players. I looked on the leaderboard and counted that I work or have worked with something like nine of the top 11. I think they like hearing it in simple terms - there's no bulls**t from a Yorkshireman." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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