Pete Cowen Exclusive Interview: King Of Swing

Pete Cowen enjoyed modest success on tour, but he’s coached five Major Champions since 2010. Jeremy Ellwood finds out more about his life in golf...

pete cowen exclusive interview

Pete Cowen enjoyed modest success on tour, but he’s coached five Major Champions since 2010. Jeremy Ellwood finds out more about his life in golf...

Pete Cowen Exclusive Interview: King Of Swing

Pete Cowen enjoyed modest success on tour, but he’s coached five Major Champions since 2010. Jeremy Ellwood finds out more about his life in golf...

How did you progress from playing into coaching?

I went to America in the 1970s and had lessons from Gardner Dickinson. He was one of Ben Hogan’s disciples and a great teacher. He gave me ten lessons over a two-week period, which were very expensive – $200 an hour, it was. But I was prepared to spend my money to try and get better. I’ve always been interested in technique and I wanted to know why I’d failed as a player. If you don’t learn from your mistakes, there’s something wrong.

How did your tour coaching start?

It started with Ian Garbutt. As a 17-year-old he was the youngest English Amateur Champion. I started working with Ian when he was 12 or 13, and he evolved as I did. We called him Iron Byron – he could hit the ball incredibly well. His stats on tour from tee to green were unbelievable. But Ian was a poor putter, to put it mildly!

Pete cowen exclusive interview

Cowen working with 2016 Open Champion Henrik Stenson in Abu Dhabi earlier this year (Kevin Murray)

Is there one thing all the great players have in common?

If you look through the ages, the body action, which is the engine, has to be perfect almost every time for you to hit a consistent shot. I always use the analogy of a perfect car. If you’ve got a perfect engine that you know is absolutely never going to break down and it’s got plenty of power when you need it; you’ve got the best steering in the world; and you’ve got the best driver and the best fuel, why does the car not drive very well? It’s simply because the linkage between the engine and the steering or transmission isn’t working very well.

In the golf swing, your body action is the engine room; your arms, hands and club are the steering wheel; and your brain is the driver and fuel. You could have four perfect components, but the ball is still going all over the place. Why? Because you haven’t used the transmission, or transfer of energy. So what is our transmission? It has to be the shoulders. The muscle structure of the shoulders is so important.

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Is it hard to remain frank and honest with players when they become really successful?

No, I actually get more decisive about what I want them to do. A lot of it is observing practice, because you’ve put everything in place and you’re observing to see if they are doing it better. It’s as simple as that really.

Are the players receptive to ‘negative’ feedback?

Yes, because they want to get better. It’s like I’ve always said about Henrik Stenson – he has three qualities of striking: good, very good and perfect! He doesn’t like good and very good, though he could win on all three.

pete cowen exclusive interview

Cowen working with Danny Willett, another of his pupils to win a major last year (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

What is it about his technique that makes his ball striking so good?

He actually uses the muscle structure in his body. He’s left-handed, and it’s easier than for a right-handed player to get the muscle structure right. But it’s the pressure he puts on the ball. When everybody listens to Henrik hit a ball, it’s different. Tom Watson had that for a while in the 1970s.

What’s your take on TrackMan and can players become too dependant?

For fitting, it’s very good. I used TrackMan way back in 2003, I think, when it first came out. They asked me what I thought and I said, “It’s great, because it proves that what I’ve been saying about ball-flight laws for the last 25 years is correct.” It’s a great piece of kit, but again, use it sparingly.

Is it tricky helping players who have an unusual technique?

It doesn’t matter. I’ve been helping Kiradech Aphibarnrat, and everyone says that’s a funky golf swing. But from delivery position to impact and just beyond, it’s perfect for the shot he wants to play. If you can get the club in the perfect delivery position, it doesn’t matter how you get it there.

You work with Matt Fitzpatrick – what is it that he does so well?

Matt has been working with Mike [Walker] and myself for an awfully long time, and with one of my other staff at the range, Nick Huby. We’ve tried to instil great mechanics. Everybody says, “What about the grip? What about this?” But if you’ve got great mechanics, you can have whatever grip you want. If you’ve got poor mechanics you need a grip to compensate for poor mechanics.

pete cowen exclusive interview

With Matt Fitzpatrick after the Englishman won the DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates last November. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

What does great mechanics mean?

Getting the club in the delivery position consistently and being able to hit a driver – straight, fade or draw – blindfolded, because it’s muscle structure. If you’re lifting a weight, you don’t keep looking at your bicep and hand – you can do it while looking away. If the muscles are in the right position, they should deliver the correct blow.

Which player do you think you’ve helped the most?

I’d say Henrik. Lee Westwood, as well. When we started in 1995, Lee was struggling and over the next five years he won 25 tournaments. Darren Clarke and Lee were the two best players in the late 1990s and early 2000s. One year, I think Lee won seven times and Darren won four times – that was pretty impressive.

pete cowen exclusive interview

European Captain Darren Clarke and Pete Cowen at the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

Quickfire Questions

We asked Cowen a series of rapid-response questions about the players he’s worked with over the years…

Who’s the hardest worker?

Padraig Harrington.

Who has the deepest understanding of the golf swing?

Probably Danny Willett.

Which one player should our readers copy?

Thomas Pieters, if you’re big and strong and want 330-yard drives!

Who’s the best ball striker?

Henrik Stenson. To be fair, Clarkey was unbelievable back in the day, as was Lee.

Who’s the harshest on themselves?

Clarkey, without a shadow of a doubt. Henrik’s close though.

Who asks the most questions?

Probably Danny Willett.

Jeremy Ellwood
Contributing Editor

Jeremy Ellwood has worked in the golf industry since 1993 and for Golf Monthly since 2002 when he started out as equipment editor. He is now a freelance journalist writing mainly for Golf Monthly. He is an expert on the Rules of Golf having qualified through an R&A course to become a golf referee. He is a senior panelist for Golf Monthly's Top 100 UK & Ireland Course Rankings and has played all of the Top 100 plus 91 of the Next 100, making him well-qualified when it comes to assessing and comparing our premier golf courses. He has now played 1,000 golf courses worldwide in 35 countries, from the humblest of nine-holers in the Scottish Highlands to the very grandest of international golf resorts. He reached the 1,000 mark on his 60th birthday in October 2023 on Vale do Lobo's Ocean course. Put him on a links course anywhere and he will be blissfully content.

Jezz can be contacted via Twitter - @JezzEllwoodGolf

Jeremy is currently playing...

Driver: Ping G425 LST 10.5˚ (draw setting), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 55 S shaft

3 wood: Ping G425 Max 15˚ (set to flat +1), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 65 S shaft

Hybrid: Ping G425 17˚, Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro Orange 80 S shaft

Irons 3-PW: Ping i525, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts

Wedges: Ping Glide 4.0 50˚ and 54˚, 12˚ bounce, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts

Putter: Ping Fetch 2021 model, 33in shaft (set flat 2)

Ball: Varies but mostly now TaylorMade Tour Response