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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Cowen can help McIlroy see the light 

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Given all the films I’ve referenced down the years in this column, I can’t believe it’s taken until now to pull inspiration from one of my favourites, The Blues Brothers. 

Standing at the back of the church with the Reverend Cleophus James presiding, Jake Blues, played by the hilariously obnoxious John Belushi, is struck by divine inspiration and sent on a mission from God to get his old band back together in order to save the catholic home in which he and his brother, Elwood were raised. 

“Do you see the light, have you seen the light, the Reverend screams from atop the altar, pointing and sweating and willing Jake Blues to step out of the darkness. And just when you think maybe he hasn’t seen it, and he’s destined to repeat the mistakes of his past, a reborn Bluesfreshly released from prison, boldly announces, “Yes! Yes! Jesus H tap-dancing Christ, I have seen the light!” 

Now don’t imagine Rory McIlroy’s sudden enlightenment came as a gift from the golfing gods, but I’ve felt like that preacher atop the altar for years, willing the Holywood star to one day see the light. The messiah to McIlroy’s Major ambitions is swing-guru Pete Cowen, enlisted by the world number 12 to return McIlroy to the Promised Land of Major titles. 

Now if you’ve been lighting candles like my Mam, praying for something to click with Rory so he’ll one day win the Grand Slam, I know what you’re thinking – he hasn’t seen the light at all. It was Harry we wanted changed. Not Michael Bannon! 

Well the fact is, neither caddie nor coach has been changed, rather Cowen is an addition to McIlroy’s performance team, though I can’t see how that will sit well with his lifelong teacher, Bannon. How two great minds with two very different methods can co-exist peacefully over one golf swing remains as mysterious to me as the meaning of life. 

What’s not so mysterious, however, is that McIlroy has been crying out for change in one form or another. Like Jake Blues, he too has been imprisoned, locked in a jail of unhelpful thoughts that led him to do the unthinkable and unravel the most enviable swing in golf in search of more power ala Bryson DeChambeau. 

What Cowen brings to the table is a fresh approach, free from bullsh*t. The straight-talking Northern Englishman was responsible for injecting belief into the likes of Henrik Stenson and McIlroy’s fellow four-time Major winner, Brooks Koepka, and he will demand of his new student precisely what I believe to have been missing in Rory of late. 

“Belief,” is what Cowen says makes a great player stand out. “I always say with players, they’ve got to have a bit of tw*t in them. A bit obnoxious, without being outwardly obnoxious but within themselves they’ve got to have it. That real bit of spark that if you can just set it off, it’s going to be great,” he told the McKellar Golf Podcast. 

Rory McIlroy didn’t reach number one in the world and win four Majors by the age of 25 without the self-belief that Cowen describes. Somewhere deep inside him is the killer that slayed the field by eight strokes at the US Open at Congressional in 2011; the ruthless competitor who once looked to be the heir apparent to Tiger Woods’ throne. 

Taking nothing away from Bannon, who was pivotal in creating the mercurial McIlroy who waltzed to four Major wins, but something has been getting lost in translation of late. The message hasn’t been getting through to McIlroy that he still has what it takes to be the dominant force in golf. 

“You’ve got to have the right attitude,” Cowen adds. “That’s always going to be the number one priority – having an attitude where you understand that your talent can’t come through with a poor attitude. You can have the best swing in the world and a poor attitude will destroy it.” 

The sight of McIlroy chipping balls with his legs together one-handed, back to basics on the range ahead of the WGC-Dell Match Play told me all I needed to know. It’s back to basics for McIlroy, but to his credit, he’s clearly lapping up the humble pie being served by his latest mentor, Pete Cowen. Far from seeking a quick fix, McIlroy is in it for the long haul.

“I’m trying to see the big picture here,” McIlroy said on Tuesday. “I’m obviously focused on this week, but it’s bigger than that. It’s a journey, right, and it’s a journey to try to get back to playing the game the way I know that I can play the game. So obviously this week is very important, but I’m still looking beyond that. I’m just at the start of a journey here that I know will get me back to where I want to be.”

It was sister Mary Stigmata, or ‘The Penguin’, as Jake and Elwood Blues described her, who lamented the bad language and worse attitudes of the suited up brothers in the 1980’s cult classic before sending them on their mission from God. Let’s hope Cowen can whip McIlroy into shape so he can also make that move towards Major redemption.

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