SWING DR TO THE STARS
PETE COWEN ON HIS FIVE MAJOR CHAMPIONS, A PRANK WITH A LION AND A TRAGEDY THAT HAUNTS HIM
IT'S early tuesday morning of the 2011 Open Championship at Royal St George’s, and Darren Clarke is a mess. He’s trudging towards the range with his head down and shoulders slumped. When he gets to me, I ask,“Are you all right, Darren?” He says, “No, I’m f------ not. I can’t hit the ball. I’m wasting my time. I might as well go home.” I had seen this before in Darren. I had talked him down off the ledge many times. I said, “Look, the weather is going to be terrible, and you’re the best bad-weather player in the world.Why would you think you’ve got no chance? Let’s have a look at you. ”After watching him hit balls briefly, I gave him one thing to think about. Within two hours, his demeanour changed completely: “Watch me hit this stinger . . . . Watch me hit this high draw.” It was an incredible exhibition of shotmaking. As he left the range, I said, a little sarcastically, “Are you okay now?” Darren replied, “Yeah, but I still can’t f------ putt.” We laughed. He won by three. i’ve had five players win major championships while I was working with them: Darren Clarke, Louis Oosthuizen, Graeme McDowell, Danny Willett and Henrik Stenson. Some other very good players: Lee Westwood,T homas Bjorn, Sergio Garcia and Charl Schwartzel (before they both won the Masters) among them. And now, Thomas Pieters and Matthew Fitzpatrick. Over 200 tournament titles worldwide. I’m proud of that, but you might have noticed I keep a fairly low profile. It’s not about me. I had my shot at fame when I played professionally for 10 years during the 1970s. I had very middling success – I was a failure, really – and my time to be famous came and went. As a coach, it’s good to be part of something special. But let’s face it, it’s about the players. ●●● lee westwood told me that at his first Ryder Cup, at Valderrama in 1997, Seve, who was captain, approached him on the practice range and held out some balls of cotton. “Lee, I want you to put these in your ears before you go to the first tee,” he said. “The noise there will be deafening.” Lee replied, “I’ve worked a long time just to hear that roar. No thanks, Seve. ”Which tells you something about world-class players. They love the stage. ●●● improving at golf is not that big a deal. I can guarantee dramatic improvement from 15 minutes a day, without even using a club. But that commitment is way out of the range of most people. I spoke recently at a seminar attended by 500 Australian club pros. I said, “We’ve long known that exercising 15 minutes per day will add several years to our lives. Those of you who have spent 15 minutes daily over the last 10 years, raise your hands.” Not a hand went up. I said, “If you won’t commit 15 minutes to lengthening your very life, what makes you think you’ll devote 15 minutes to golf? ”The problem comes down to actually doing it. It’s a very tough sell.
●●● the fascinating thing to me is how all these great players are different. They’re gifted in varying ways – physically, emotionally, temperamentally and ambition-wise. Louis Oosthuizen’s gift was to never be tempted to change the awesome swing that won the Open at St Andrews in 2010. It’s the same basic swing I saw when he came to me as an amateur.That’s a gift, believe me.When a player has success, there’s always a voice that whispers they can be even better if they make this one change. It can be disastrous, but Louis never heard that voice. He also has never changed his priorities in life. His family comes first, his farm second and golf third. Nothing will ever change that. ●●● danny willett’s greatest gift is something that can’t be taught. I’m talking the total absence of stage fright. Did you watch him win the Masters? Here it was, the biggest moment of his career and maybe his life, yet he seemed no more nervous than if he were playing with his mates at home. It was incredible. Stage fright is a form of choking, a fear of embarrassing yourself. It happens in everything, from singing karaoke to giving a speech to playing a weekend round with your pals. Overcoming it is something that can’t be taught. It has to be sorted out, alone, the way Bernhard Langer did with his yips. What’s killing Tiger Woods? Stage fright. This great athlete, who once laughed at bad shots and had no self-consciousness at all, is now terrified of looking like the rest of us. He’s done what most stage-fright victims do, which is try to overcome it by dissecting his technique.That stanches the flow of creativity, robs from the player’s inherent talent. ●●● tiger woods’ last year as an amateur in some ways was the high-water mark of his swing. He had height on his backswing. He had a drop on his downswing that was to die for, a moment of deceleration with his upper body that allowed his arms to catch up. He then exploded into the ball in a way that was incredible. He will never have that again, if for nothing else than age. Age eventually makes everyone look ordinary. ●●● i spend my share of time around miserable millionaires. If you assume tour players are unimaginably happy and content, I assure you that is not the case. Many are, but most aren’t.They are healthy, rich and living the dream, but something in them – the perfectionist tendencies, perhaps – leads them to not being happy people.When you think about it, there are only two things in life that are essential: food and shelter. Beyond that, it’s all window dressing.A new iPhone? New car? Bigger house?You’ve got to be kidding. If there’s a fact of life I see hit home on an almost daily basis, it’s that money and fame do not bring happiness. ●●● as a coach, I can’t look at Adam Scott and not see sort of a puzzle. On one hand, I see all this natural ability and wonder, like many people, why he hasn’t been more dominant. On the other hand, he has accomplished a lot: Masters champion,WGC titles and wins all over the world.Who’s to say he’s underachieved?You cannot criticise him. It’s his life. Contentment is not a crime. ●●● when i began teaching other professionals, I immediately formed a fee structure that is quite different from that of many teachers in America. My company, Top Ten Golf Limited, is a service that is strictly performance-based. I get 4 percent of the players’ tournament winnings, but only for finishes in the top 10. If they don’t finish in the top 10, I don’t get paid. I cover all my expenses and am available on short notice. I’m very proud of this.What other coach in the world of sports has the confidence to structure their fee schedule this way? There have been times when the results of my coaching have produced revenue for me that the players’ agents felt was excessive.This led me to add a corollary to my offer: If the player leaves my camp, for any reason whatsoever, and doesn’t leave a token bit of compensation in place, said player cannot come back.This happened several years ago with a very good player I was helping.A Ryder Cupper who became top 50 in the world.The player’s agent rang me one day to say his player was going to “do his own thing,” was leaving and choosing not to keep a bit for me intact. I warned that said player couldn’t come back. Some time later, the player’s performance declined.The agent phoned me, asking if I would begin working with his player again.To that I said,“You obviously weren’t listening.” I couldn’t take the player back. But good luck to him. He’s a nice lad, and still a good player. ●●● i dislike putting. It carries too much weight, scoring-wise. If it were up to me, each putt would count only half a stroke. I give you two golfers. Player A hits a 3-iron over water to a back-right pin. Hits it to 10 feet, then misses the putt. Player B hits a big pull left of the green, pitches it to six feet and holes the putt. Under my system, Player A scores a 2 on the hole, while Player B scores 2½.That’s called justice.And it would speed up the game. ●●● i helped the Irish men’s team when Rory
‘IF YOU ASSUME TOUR PLAYERS ARE UNIMAGINABLY HAPPY AND CONTENT, I ASSURE YOU THAT IS NOT THE CASE.’