Coach Pete Cowen was amazed when Padraig Harrington told him he “hadn’t a clue” where he was going with his game.
But the man who has coached three of the last six major winners - Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen and Darren Clarke - reckons he has a plan that could help the struggling Irish ace emerge from his slump following his split from Bob Torrance less than two weeks ago.
Speaking for the first time about helping Harrington, Cowen said: “It is very, very difficult to take anybody on at my age. Padraig asked me for an opinion of his golf swing and what I thought. Knowing him from as long has I have known him, and I’ve known him since he started, we’ve been friends for a long time.
“So he asked me as a friend if I’d give him an opinion on his golf swing and why it’s obviously not working as well as it should do. Obviously I asked him a bit what he was working on and he actually didn’t know, which I found amazing. He said, ‘Well I don’t know. I haven’t got a clue.
“I asked what he’d worked on in the past and he said, ‘This, this and this but I don’t really understand.’”
Harrington seemed happier than he has been for some time on the range in Atlanta yesterday as he contemplated the possibility of taking his relationship with Cowen to a player-coach dynamic.
“I’ve talked to Pete Cowen last week, he’s obviously the man of the moment,” Harrington said. “I’ve known Pete for a long number of years and I’ve talked to him about the golf game before, generally the short game and things like that.
“I asked him last week about my swing and what he’d do. He gave me his opinion and I had a session working on it but obviously I’m wise enough at this stage to realise I’m not going to work in a new golf swing in the week of a Major.
“So, while I’ve talked to him and asked him different questions about the golf swing, I haven’t got into hitting balls that way because I’ve got to play a tournament this week and you’ve got your head straight rather than anything else when it comes to a Major Championship.
“I’m putting it on the long finger and waiting until the tournament is over before I get into the nitty-gritty of seeing where I want to go.”
Cowen, 60, coaches more than 20 players including Clarke, McDowell and world No 2 Lee Westwood.
He doesn’t want to take on more clients as he eyes early retirement but reckons he can produce a plan that could stop Harrington hitting thousands of practice balls to his efforts to combat a fundamenal flaw in his swing.
Explaining his problem, Harrinton said: “Essentially for me, I have issues with my shoulder stability and in the golf swing I lose stability with my shoulders. It’s a question of making a move that keeps my shoulders packed.
“Both my left and right shoulders tend to lift in my backswing when I lift my arms and that changes the backswing which, obviously, if I’m off plane, I have to try and correct.
“The correction obviously requires timing and timing requires you to be on form physically and mentally. So, what we’re trying to do is cut that out a little so I play decent golf when everything isn’t firing on all cylinders.
“I know I’ve had a problem with the lifting of my arms and shoulders, it’s been a bugbear for quite a long time. Without being solicited, he went for that straightaway so I liked what I heard.”
Renowned as a ‘fixer” of golf swings, Cowen offered solutions that would not require the soon-to-be 40-year old to spend hours hitting balls and risk breaking his body down further.
Cowen said: “We spoke about the shoulder and he doesn’t understand the stability of the shoulder and the movement of the shoulder, which is a killer in the golf swing. Everybody calls the hips the killer and they are, but not as much as shoulders do.
“I am giving him an opinion as a friend and telling him what he has got to do to improve. I am not saying it would be full time, because I don’t think I could give him the time that he would need because he is high maintenance but I could occasionally go to his house on my weeks off and just do a day with him and put him on the right track because really, he doesn’t need the high maintenance he thinks he needs.
“But he needs to understand that his practice is not as productive as it can be to give him the improvement. He is just a ball-basher at the moment. I did that. I thought that bashing more and more balls would do it and if I had my time over again I wouldn’t bash anywhere near as many balls.
“I would do much more structured practice on what the body needs to do and tell the body what it needs to do, which is what Steve McGregor does with Rory (McIlroy) and Lee (Westwood), through me. Reaffirm it, reaffirm it, muscle structure, muscle structure, muscle structure.
“The body does four things in a golf swing. It is the engine room. You want you body to not miss a beat and be stable. Great engine. It’s what people talk about with footballers. So if you have a great engine and it never really misses a beat then you can rely on it. It’s like driving a car.
“You have a great engine and a steering column, perfect steering. But the car performs poorly. So what’s the problem? Well the linkage between the engine and the steering is poor. Golf is very similar, the body action is the engine room, your arm, handle and club are the steering wheel and you have to link them together and if the linkage is poor, you are going to struggle. The only linkage there is, is the shoulder turn - that links the engine to the steering wheel.”
Harrington likes what Cowen does because he allows his players to work with what they have and does not impose a specific style of swing on a player.
He’s looking forward to getting to grips with his problem after the US PGA but recognises that it will be a major change.
Harrington explained: “I like the fact that all his players swing the club differently. It’s a big plus when you’re looking for a coach. You don’t want a coach who forces one swing onto everybody. You want a coach that teaches the player and you only have to look at the players he coaches to realise he does that.
“What we’ve talked about so far is a large change so I’ll have to go with a large change here.”
Having fallen from third to 69th in the world inside three years, Harrington can afford to wait another couple of weeks to begin working on his new technique.
He said: I think I’d be very optimistic if it was December and I’d a winter break to look forward to. In mid-season, it’s awkward, there’s a bit more trepidation involved. You don’t want to sacrifice any week. I don’t feel like I have the comfort to lay back for the next two or three months in order to get this right. I’m anxious to play well as soon as possible and that obviously makes any change all the tougher to handle.”
He will have to be content with his old swing this week if he wants to win the US PGA Championship. But he is optimistic about his game going forward.
Torrance wanted Harrington to find his swing “in the dirt” as Ben Hogan used to say. But Harrington did not want to continue on that road after burning himself out physically for over a decade. Quality not quantity is what is required and if Cowen got to work with Harrington, he would draw up a structured programme based around moving the body efficiently so that the club can be delivered consistently.
Harrington explained: “My old swing requires me to be right on form with the timing and to be very strong mentally. This going down the road reduces my requirement to go to the range and find it every week.”
So whatever he does this week can’t possibly be any more frustrating than the last few years or even last week.
“Last week was a frustrating week but again I played well in practice,” Harrington said. “But as I got into the tournament it got worse and worse.”