For the first time since he was eight years old, Rory McIlroy is set to sign up with a new swing coach. The four-time major winner is in the process of cementing his relationship with Pete Cowen as he tries to recover his form in time for The Masters, the season’s first major that begins two weeks on Thursday.
Cowen has worked in an unofficial basis with McIlroy before, but only when his long-time guru Michael Bannon has not been present at a tournament. Most recently, the much-lauded Yorkshireman was seen with McIlroy on the range at Bay Hill and then at Sawgrass a fortnight ago.
Cowen told reporters that he “was just giving Rory my opinion” and pointed out that he has known him since he was a consultant coach to the Ireland amateur youth team. Yet now Cowen is being employed on an official basis, as Mcllroy seeks to benefit from the expertise that has brought 10 majors and more than 275 Tour wins in the last quarter of a century.
Cowen’s roster has featured the likes of Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Danny Willett and Tommy Fleetwood and currently includes Brooks Koepka, Henrik Stenson, Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter.
While McIlroy’s management company and Cowen, himself, refused to comment when approached by Telegraph Sport, it is understood that the four-time major champion has told fellow pros of his “change in direction” in appointing Cowen. The news will lead to raised eyebrows, not least because of the longevity of the McIlroy-Bannon partnership. “Michael knows my swing better than anyone knows it, inside out,” Mcilroy remarked, as recently as July.
It will be intriguing to see which sort of role Bannon retains in the McIlroy backstaff, if indeed, any at all. Sources say that the Co. Down veteran has a long-term deal. Bannon first met the boy wonder when he was the head pro of Holywood Golf Club in Mcilroy’s hometown, near Belfast. As McIlroy took the pro ranks by storm, Bannon quit his position at Bangor Golf Club in 2012 to work solely with his protege, the year in which he won his second major.
Two more followed in 2014, but he has frustratingly remained majorless since. McIlroy is very close to Bannon, and it will be a surprise if that changes, but now down in 11th in the world rankings, he is without a win of any description in 17 months and with his missed cut at The Players clearly feels it was time to freshen things up.
Bannon has not been seen on the PGA Tour for the last few events and part of the problem may well be the travelling issues caused by the pandemic.
McIlroy is playing in this week’s WGC Match Play in Texas, his last scheduled appearance before attempting to become just the sixth male player to complete the career grand slam. Ironically, he has been drawn against Ryder Cup teammate Poulter in first round-robin match tomorrow [Wednesday]. It is the opening game out at Austin Country Club and as a collision between former champions is clearly the best encounter of the day.
The other two players in Group 13 are Masters runner-up Cameron Smith and American Lanto Griffin, with one to go through to the weekend knockout stages.
Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia are part of an all-European quartet headlined by Tyrrell Hatton, the current leader in the Ryder Cup qualification standings, while Matt Fitzpatrick has been given a tough opening clash against Jordan Spieth. World No 1 Dustin Johnson opens against debutant Adam Long, with Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre also in that group in his maiden appearance. Tommy Fleetwood is in the same pool as US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau.