FIXING A ‘MANIPULATOR’ tenson was an accomplished badminton and soccer player, and at 6-2 and 91 kilograms he produced plenty of speed. But his athleticism and coordination had covered up what Cowen considers one of the prime flaws in a tour swing. Stenson was a “manipulator” – a player who relies on elite reflexes to instinctively adjust the clubface through impact to produce a quality shot. Manipulators can play great in streaks, but being so reliant on timing causes more valleys than peaks – and makes a player prone to collapsing under pressure.
The 26-year-old version of Stenson drove his legs hard at the target in the downswing and came down at the ball with a steep angle of attack. He relied on lots of hand action to save shots at the last second.And when he lost the feel of that fine motor control during his yip period, Stenson’s misses were historically ugly.A typical tee shot wasn’t just going into the trees. It was going off the property, 200 metres from the intended target.“Shockingly bad,” Stenson says.Adds Cowen:“He had no control of where the ball started, or the trajectory. He was hitting 5-irons and 7-irons the rebuild would require. “The only reason I’ve been successful as a coach is because I went down all the blind alleys myself as a player,” says Cowen, who had two top-10s in 101 starts during 10 seasons on the European Tour.“A lot of players get lost in those alleys. I did. I should have succeeded, and I didn’t. But now I understand why I didn’t.”
Cowen and Stenson tore it all down to the foundation and began again, setting out to build the assembly-line efficient swing that would produce singular 7-irons that sound like gunshots – shots that even other tour players recognise as exceptionally pure. Stenson learned how to correctly use his powerful legs and a new piston-like right-shoulder movement back and through to produce what Cowen calls “pressure” on the ball – a heavy, precise strike that doesn’t rely on lots of hand action or timing. “If you look at the mechanics of the golf swing, you have to understand what the control element is,” he says.“How are you going to control the movement, without forcing the movement? It’s repetition, repetition, repetition of the correct movement.”
Stenson was always a worker, and he wore out practice ranges from Rotherham to Dubai, slowly building what Cowen calls the “pyramid of learning” – basic fundamentals followed by dynamic movements, finished with power, pressure and mental performance.“It’s the only time I’ve ever done it with a player at that level, and it was very hard, because there are scars,” says Cowen, who works with 20 mostly European players, joined by Walker out of their base an hour outside of Manchester, in the north of England.“When you’re helping somebody, you have to leave them playable. It wasn’t playable for him when we started. But it was either take it or leave it, and Henrik decided he wanted it.”