Swing coach Pete Cowen knows a thing or two about winning major championships.
The plain-spoken Yorkshireman – is there any other kind? – has taken the likes of Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Danny Willett and Henrik Stenson to Grand Slam glory in his time, so when he speaks out on what it will take to win the US Open at Shinnecock Hills this week it is best to pay attention.
Cowen calls the picturesque Long Island lay-out a “second-shot course.” Which is not to say that driving the ball well does not carry with it some significance – this is the US Open after all. But with the fairways a few yards wider than in 2004, the last time the year’s second major visited the course many believe to be the best in America, the United States Golf Association have given the 156-strong field a little more margin for error off the tee.
“There are probably only six or seven driver holes,” says Cowen. “So the second-shots are going to mean more than the tee-shots. I’ll be surprised if we get a surprise winner.”
Indeed, Shinnecock Hills already has even the elite players panting in anticipation. Jason Day for one. Australia’s leading hope for what would be a first victory since Geoff Ogilvy in 2006 was not slow in talking up his chances on what he called a “spectacular course.”
“When you come into an event like this, you usually hear guys moaning and groaning about the setup,” he said. “But this week, there's none of that.
RIGHT: Jason Day hits a drive during practice at Shinnecock Hills ahead of the US Open starting Thursday. PHOTO: Getty Images.
“If I want to be the best player in the world, I'll be the best player in the world. And that's more the mindset that I have to take. I mean, a golf career is kind of like this (indicating), you know, and for me, how I work, that's just my mindset. If I want to put my mind to something, I know that there's pretty much nothing people can do about it. Because if I put my mind to it, it's going to happen.
“It's always easier chasing to get to No. 1 than it is to get there and stay there. Right now, I'm chasing a guy playing phenomenal golf. Dustin (Johnson) just won last week. And he got back to the top of the world rankings. He's very dominant in the way he plays. When things are going my way and I'm doing the right things, I feel like my game is just like that as well.”
Day wasn’t done there either. Not by a long way. The 30-year old Queenslander clearly fancies his chances in an event he feels is well-suited to his powerful game and currently confident demeanour.
“It’s the mentality part of the US Open,” he continued. “You can write people off straight away if they're complaining. The US. Open tests every part of your game and the mental side as well. So whatever you get, you get. You just got to suck it up and keep going. I like the stressful part of trying to win a tournament. I like the stressful part of playing a tough tournament in front of a lot of people and trying to win a major.
“You just keep grinding and that's my biggest thing. I enjoy tough conditions because I feel like I perform better than on an easier course where everyone can come in and play.”
It wasn’t all me-me-me though. Amidst his relentlessly positive self-analysis Day did find time to comment on his pal, Tiger Woods. The 14-time major champion is playing his first US Open since 2015.
RIGHT: Dustin Johnson and Tiger Woods talked course strategy during their practice round. PHOTO: Getty Images.
“Everyone realises it's different when Tiger turns up,” said Day. “He definitely moves the needle when it comes to ticket sellers, more fans, more media, more players on the putting green. When I got there, there were only four or five guys. Then he rolls up and there's 30 guys on the putting green. It was hard to do my work. But that's just the Tiger effect. Everyone wants to see him. Everyone wants to see what he looks like.
“I know that he's still hungry. He's hungry for that next win. He wants to come back and compete and play well against this generation. I think that's what he's looking forward to.”
Clearly, Day is too.